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  • Bloomberg

    ByteDance in Talks to Sell Its Indian TikTok Assets

    (Bloomberg) -- ByteDance Ltd. is said to be exploring a sale of the India operations of TikTok to rival unicorn Glance, in an attempt to resuscitate the once-thriving short video sharing app that’s been banned indefinitely in the South Asian nation.The discussions have been initiated by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. conglomerate, according to people familiar with the talks, who declined to be identified because the talks are private as well as early and complex. SoftBank is a backer of Glance’s parent InMobi Pte as well as TikTok’s Chinese parent, ByteDance.The discussions involve four sides, the people said. The talks are between SoftBank, ByteDance and Glance and any deal will need a final seal of approval from Indian authorities. India banned thousands of Chinese apps including TikTok last year following intense hostility on the India-China border.TikTok Among 59 Chinese Apps India Bans on Security FearsSoftBank and ByteDance didn’t respond to emails seeking comment outside of business hours. A Glance spokesman declined to comment.SoftBank has been attempting to salvage TikTok’s India assets and had been hunting for local partners even as the new U.S. administration put on hold the unwinding of the American operations of the popular short video platform, asking a federal judge to pause a lawsuit after former President Donald Trump banned it.TikTok Sale on Hold as Biden’s Team Reviews U.S.-China PoliciesIf the talks progress, the Indian government will insist that user data and technology of TikTok stay within its borders, said the people familiar. That’s because relations between New Delhi and Beijing remain strained, and India will make no allowances for China-based technology companies, they said. China’s new rules around export of technology make the negotiations even more intricate, and any sale of TikTok could need approval from Chinese authorities.The dramatic reversal in TikTok’s fortunes came last summer after the app had hit over 200 million users in India, its biggest market. The Indian government cited threats to its sovereignty and security to outlaw a slew of Chinese apps such as the artificial intelligence-powered TikTok, and last month indicated the ban was permanent. ByteDance then started unwinding its local operations, firing hundreds of Indian employees, many of whom have since gravitated to homegrown rivals.TikTok’s India Rival Booms With 500,000 Users Added Every HourTikTok’s potential partner, Bangalore-headquartered Glance Digital Experience is a mobile content platform started by Harvard Business School alum Naveen Tewari. He is the founder of InMobi, India’s first unicorn. Glance’s short video sharing platform -- 20-month-old Roposo -- saw a massive growth spurt after the TikTok ban, and it became a unicorn in December after a funding round by Google Inc. and billionaire Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital.Dozens of short video app rivals mushroomed in India after the TikTok ban, which accelerated Glance and Roposo’s growth and pushed the user base to over 130 million.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm Protest Nvidia’s Acquisition of Arm Ltd.

    (Bloomberg) -- Some of the world’s largest technology companies are complaining to U.S. antitrust regulators about Nvidia Corp.’s acquisition of Arm Ltd. because the deal will harm competition in an area of the industry that is vital to their businesses.Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp. and Qualcomm Inc. are among companies worried about the $40 billion deal and are urging antitrust officials to intervene, said people familiar with the process who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. At least one of the companies wants the deal killed. Nvidia shares fell as much as 3.1% in New York trading on Friday.The acquisition would give Nvidia control over a critical supplier that licenses essential chip technology to the likes of Apple Inc., Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., Inc. and China’s Huawei Technologies Co.U.K.-based Arm is known as the Switzerland of the industry because it licenses chip designs and related software code to all comers, rather than competing against semiconductor companies. The concern is that if Nvidia owns Arm, it could limit rivals’ access to the technology or raise the cost of access.Nvidia has argued that the purchase price alone means it has no incentive to mess with that neutrality but some rivals and Arm customers are unconvinced.“As we proceed through the review process, we’re confident that both regulators and customers will see the benefits of our plan to continue Arm’s open licensing model and ensure a transparent, collaborative relationship with Arm’s licensees,” an Nvidia spokesperson said in a statement. “Our vision for Arm will help all Arm licensees grow their businesses and expand into new markets.” Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Arm declined to comment. CNBC reported Qualcomm’s objections earlier.Before the deal can close, Nvidia must get through a long review process by antitrust officials in the U.S., U.K., European Union and China. Government agencies globally are in the process of reaching out to those they believe may be affected by the transaction.A groundswell of opposition from large tech companies may make it difficult to win approval, delay the process or force concessions that change the value of Arm to Nvidia. This is also a risk for SoftBank Group Corp., the current owner of Arm. The Japanese conglomerate has been trying to sell some assets to pay down debt and buy back stock.In the U.S., the deal is under review by the Federal Trade Commission, which has opened an in-depth investigation of the merger and has sent information demands to third parties, according to a person familiar with the matter. The FTC declined to comment.The changing leadership of the FTC could make winning approval tougher for Nvidia. The commission is generally split 2-2 along party lines at the moment, with Democratic commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter holding the acting chair position. Power will shift to the Democrats when U.S. President Joe Biden picks two candidates to fill an open seat and the seat held by Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who has been nominated to take over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.Deals like Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm, known as vertical mergers, are typically seen as less worrisome in the eyes of antitrust enforcers because the companies don’t compete head to head. But that view has come under fire from advocates of more aggressive antitrust enforcement who say regulators have downplayed the competitive harm from such deals.Slaughter’s elevation signals a tougher approval process for vertical deals. Before taking over the agency, Slaughter criticized new guidelines issued last year by the FTC and the Justice Department outlining how the agencies would evaluate vertical deals. She said the guidelines overemphasize the potential benefits of such mergers and are “inexplicably mute” about the harms.In December, Slaughter and Chopra said companies should no longer rely on the guidelines as an indication of how the FTC will police vertical deals.“Moving forward, we need to aggressively enforce against the harms of vertical mergers,” they wrote. “We look forward to turning the page on the era of lax oversight and to beginning to investigate, analyze, and enforce the antitrust laws against vertical mergers with vigor.”(Updates with chart after fifth paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Jack Ma Spotted Playing Golf, Easing China Detention Fears

    (Bloomberg) -- For months, speculation over Jack Ma’s whereabouts has run rampant. Maybe the embattled billionaire had fled to Singapore, some posited. Or he had been placed under house arrest. Or worse yet, he was locked up in a high-security jail.As it turns out, China’s most talked-about tycoon has been working on his golf game.The co-founder of Ant Group Co. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. teed off in recent weeks at the Sun Valley Golf Resort, a secluded 27-hole course on the Chinese island of Hainan, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing private information. Located near the island’s southern tip, the course offers expansive greens and stunning views.It’s the first known Ma sighting since the former English teacher joined a live-streamed video chat with rural educators on Jan. 20. While that appearance helped quiet talk of Ma’s detention, speculation about his standing with China’s Communist Party has continued to swirl as authorities clamp down on his sprawling business empire.Read more: Jack Ma’s Video Chat Prompts a $58 Billion Sigh of ReliefMa’s golf outing adds to recent evidence that the outspoken entrepreneur has -- for now at least -- avoided nightmare scenarios like jail time or a government seizure of his assets.Ant, for instance, has reached an agreement with Chinese authorities on a restructuring plan that could be officially announced as soon as this week, Bloomberg reported on Feb. 3, citing people familiar with the matter. The deal is a first step on what could be a long path back to a revival of the fintech behemoth’s initial public offering, which was halted by regulators in November just days before Ant was due to start trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong.Another positive clue emerged this week from SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son, a longtime friend of Ma’s who was among the earliest investors in Alibaba. Son said during SoftBank’s quarterly earnings presentation on Monday that he has remained in touch with Ma. While he didn’t talk about the Chinese billionaire’s whereabouts, Son said Ma likes to draw and has been sharing his sketches via chat.Alibaba shares rose as much as 1.5% in New York on Wednesday, closing at a more than 10-week high.Representatives for Alibaba, Ant and the Sun Valley Golf Resort declined to comment.Before the implosion of Ant’s IPO, Ma’s appearance on a golf course would have attracted little if any attention. The 56-year-old has been steadily relinquishing day-to-day oversight of his businesses in recent years, stepping down as executive chairman of Alibaba in September 2019.But even in semi-retirement, Ma has rarely stayed out of public view for as long as he did after his now-infamous critique of Chinese financial regulators in October. Within weeks of his speech at the Bund Summit in Shanghai, authorities scuttled Ant’s listing, called for an overhaul of the company and started an antitrust probe of Alibaba.Read more: How an Online Scandal Put Jack Ma’s Media World in the SpotlightMa’s extended absence during the crackdown sent China’s rumor mill into overdrive, with some observers drawing parallels to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once Russia’s richest man, the Yukos Oil Co. boss spent about a decade in prison on fraud and tax-evasion charges that he said were retribution for challenging the authority of Vladimir Putin.Given the opacity of Xi Jinping’s Communist Party, it’s difficult to assess the endgame for Ma with any certainty. He was conspicuously absent from a list of Chinese tech luminaries published by state media last week, a sign his standing with the party remains diminished.For Hao Hong, chief strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong, the most likely explanation is that Ma is simply laying low as his companies sort through their issues with regulators. Both Alibaba and Ant have formed special teams to work with the Chinese government, which is still fine-tuning new rules for the country’s fintech and internet industries.Ma, described as a golfing novice by one observer at the Sun Valley resort, may have ample time to work on his swing.(Updates with Alibaba shares in eighth paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.