China’s central bank says it has asked the country’s payments giant Ant Group Co Ltd to shake up its lending and other consumer finance operations, the latest blow to its billionaire founder and controlling shareholder Jack Ma.
The announcement came more than a month after Chinese regulators abruptly suspended Ant’s blockbuster $37bn initial public offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong and only days after the country’s antitrust authorities said they had launched a probe into Ma’s e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
Chinese regulators and Communist Party officials have set about reining in Ma’s sprawling financial empire after he publicly criticised the country’s regulatory system in October for stifling innovation.
Regulators have urged Ant to rectify financial regulatory violations, including in its credit, insurance and wealth management businesses and overhaul its credit rating business to protect personal information, People’s Bank of China (PBOC) Vice Governor Pan Gongsheng said on Sunday.
Pan’s comments stopped short of calling for a breakup of Ant, yet pointed to a significant operational restructuring. Ant should set up a separate holding company to ensure capital adequacy and regulatory compliance, Pan said.
Ant should also be fully licensed to operate its personal credit business and be more transparent about its third-party payment transactions and not engage in unfair competition, Pan added.
The Hangzhou-based firm now needs to move forward with setting up a separate financial holding company to ensure it has sufficient capital and protect personal private data, the central bank said.
Ant said in a statement it would establish a “rectification” working group and fully implement regulatory requirements.
The series of edicts represent a serious threat to the expansion of Ma’s online finance empire, which has grown rapidly from a PayPal-like operation into a full suite of services over the past 17 years.
Before regulators intervened, Ant’s public listing would have valued it at more than $300bn, with existing backers including United States-based private equity firms Carlyle Group Inc and Silver Lake Management LLC.
“This is the culmination of a string of regulations and sets the direction for Ant’s business going forward,” Zhang Xiaoxi, a Beijing-based analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, told the Bloomberg news agency. “We haven’t seen clear indication of breakup yet. Ant is a giant player in the world and any breakup needs be to be cautious.”
Ma was advised by the Chinese government to stay in the country, Bloomberg has reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. Ma could not be reached for comment, the Reuters news agency said.
Pan said Ant representatives met on Saturday with officials from the PBOC and other Chinese banking, securities and foreign exchange regulators.
Defiance of regulations
During the meeting, regulators pointed out Ant’s issues including its poor corporate governance, defiance of regulatory demands, the use of its market advantage to squeeze out competitors and harming consumers’ legal interests, according to Pan.
The central bank said Ant used its dominance to exclude rivals, hurting the interests of its hundreds of millions of consumers.
Ant traces its beginnings to Alipay, which was launched in 2004 as a payment service, and is 33 percent owned by Alibaba. Its Alipay app dominates digital payments in China, with more than 730 million monthly users. The Hangzhou-based company also built an empire connecting China’s borrowers and lenders, securing short-term loans within minutes.
Last month, China issued draft rules aimed at preventing monopolistic behaviour by internet firms and the Politburo this month promised to strengthen anti-monopoly efforts in 2021 and rein in “disorderly capital expansion”.
China also warned internet giants this month to brace for increased scrutiny, as it slapped fines and announced probes into mergers involving Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd.
Tourmaline to expand in Montney with C$1.1 billion deal for Black Swan
Canada‘s Tourmaline Oil Corp said on Friday it would buy privately owned Black Swan Energy Ltd in a C$1.1 billion ($908.79 million) deal, as the oil and gas producer looks to expand in the Montney region, one of North America’s top shale plays.
Tourmaline said the deal represents a key part of its ongoing North Montney consolidation strategy and the company sees the area as a key sub-basin for supplying Canadian liquefied natural gas.
The company in April acquired 50% of Saguaro Resources Ltd’s assets in the Laprise-Conroy North Montney play for $205 million and entered into a joint-venture agreement to develop these assets.
Analysts at brokerage ATB Capital Markets called the Black Swan assets a “hand in glove” fit with its recent acquisitions.
Tourmaline stock rose 4.5% to C$32.1.
The deal value consists of 26 million Tourmaline shares and a net debt of up to $350 million, including deal costs.
Tourmaline will acquire an expected average production capacity of over 50,000 boepd when the deal closes, likely in the second half of July.
The company, which also raised its dividend by 1 Canadian cent per share, expects the Black Swan assets to generate free cash flow of $150 million to $200 million in 2022 and beyond.
The Canadian energy sector has seen a flurry of deals with companies expecting to benefit from the rebound in oil prices as global fuel demand picks up.
ARC Resources Ltd in April bought Seven Generations Energy Ltd for C$2.7 billion to create Montney’s largest oil and gas producer.
($1 = 1.2104 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)
Exxon losing veteran oil traders recruited to beef up profit
Exxon last year reversed course on a major expansion of its oil and petroleum products trading as fuel demand tumbled during the pandemic. It suffered a $22.4 billion loss in 2020 from its oil production and refining businesses, leading to deep cost cuts across the business.
Veteran oil traders Michael Paradise and Adam Buller, both of whom joined the company in 2019 after lengthy careers elsewhere, resigned last week, the people said. Paul Butcher, an Exxon trader in Britain, plans to leave in September, another person familiar with the operation said.
Butcher was recruited by Exxon in 2018 to advise it on North Sea oil markets and on accounting for trading transactions. He earlier worked for BP Plc, Glencore Plc and Vitol SA.
Exxon declined to comment on the departures, citing personnel matters.
“We’re pleased with our progress over the past couple of years to grow our team and capabilities,” said spokesman Casey Norton. Exxon’s scale and reach “give our trading teams a broad footprint and unique knowledge and insights” that can generate value for shareholders.
Paradise was a highly regarded crude oil trader who joined Exxon from Noble Group and earlier was director of crude oil trading at Citigroup Inc and BNP Paribas. Buller joined Exxon in late 2019 after trading oil for Petrolama Energy Canada and Spain’s Repsol SA. He earlier was director of international oil trading at BG Group.
Exxon recruited a cadre of experienced traders hoping to replicate rivals BP and Royal Dutch Shell in trading. Both generated enormous trading profits last year by buying oil during the downturn. They sold it at higher prices for future delivery, posting multibillion-dollar profits for the year.
In contrast, Exxon began restricting the group’s access to capital as the pandemic accelerated, laid off some staff and offered early retirement packages to others, Reuters reported. Exxon does not separately report the performance of its trading unit.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Devika Krishna Kumar in New York and Julia Payne in LondonEditing by David Evans and Matthew Lewis)
G7 global tax plan may hit corporate titans unevenly
An agreement by wealthy nations aimed at squeezing more tax out of large multinational companies could hit some firms hard while leaving others – including some of the most frequent targets of lawmakers’ ire – relatively unscathed, according to a Reuters analysis.
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading nations on Saturday agreed on proposals aimed at ensuring that companies pay tax in each country in which they operate rather than shifting profits to low-tax havens elsewhere.
One proposed measure would allow countries where customers are based to tax a greater share of a multinational company’s profits above a certain threshold. The ministers also agreed to a second proposal, which would levy a minimum tax rate of 15% of profits in each overseas country where companies operate, regardless of profit margin.
The Reuters review of corporate filings by Google-owner Alphabet Inc suggests the company could see its taxes increase by less than $600 million, or about 7% more than its $7.8 billion global tax bill in 2020, if both proposed measures were applied. Google is among the companies that some lawmakers have criticized as paying too little tax.
Meanwhile, medical group Johnson & Johnson, which is also U.S.-based, could see its tax bill jump by $1 billion, a more than 50% rise over its $1.78 billion global tax expense last year, according to Reuters’ calculations.
Both Google and J&J declined to comment on the calculations.
In a statement Saturday following the G7’s agreement, Google spokesman José Castañeda said: “We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules. We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”
Determining the exact impact the new rules will have on companies is difficult, in part because companies don’t typically disclose their revenues and tax payments by country. And key details about how the rules would be implemented are still pending, tax specialists say, including to which countries profits would be reallocated and to what degree taxes generated by the new measures would offset taxes owed under the current system.
The proposed rules themselves also face hurdles. In the United States, several top Republican politicians have voiced opposition to the deal. Details of the agreement are also due to be discussed by the wider Group of 20 countries next month.
Four tax specialists concurred with Reuters’ methodology but noted that there is still uncertainty about how the measures would be applied, including which tax breaks are included in the 15% minimum overseas tax.
The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The deal makes sure that the system is fair, so that the right companies pay the right tax in the right places,” said a spokesperson for the UK Treasury, which hosted the G7 meeting. “The final design details and parameters of the rules still need to be worked through.”
The first proposed measure focuses on large global firms that report at least a 10% profit margin globally. Countries in which the companies operate would have the right to tax 20% of global profits above that threshold in an effort to stop companies reporting profits in tax havens where they do little business.
Applying that formula to Google could result in as much as $540 million in additional taxes, according to the Reuters analysis.
Based on Google’s 2020 global profits of $48 billion, Reuters calculated what portion of that income could be reallocated based on the G7’s proposed formula. Reuters then calculated how much more the company would pay if tax was levied on that portion of income at the rate of 23% – which is the average tax rate for developed nations as identified by Paris-based research body the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – rather than the average overseas tax rate of 14% that Google said it paid last year.
Applying the same methodology to J&J, and its 2020 global profits of $16.5 billion, the healthcare company would see its global tax bill rise by about $270 million as a result of the first measure.
The exact impact on each company’s tax bill would depend on how much income is actually reallocated. Also at issue is which country the profit is moved from and to – and therefore what the increase in tax rate is. If all the reallocated profit comes out of zero-tax jurisdictions, the impact could be greater.
MINIMUM TAX OVERSEAS
U.S. and UK officials say the other measure, involving a 15% global minimum tax, will have a bigger total impact on how much in taxes governments collect. But its effect on companies will vary widely. In recent years, Google-parent Alphabet, like some other targets of tax campaigners, has reorganized its international tax structures and last year reported over three-quarters of its global income in the United States compared to less than half in each of the previous three years, according to its corporate filings.
Google reported $10.5 billion of dollars of earnings from outside the United States last year and an average overseas tax rate of 14%, which is one percentage point below the G7’s proposed minimum tax.
If Google’s overseas earnings were all taxed at 15%, the additional tax due would be $100 million. The impact could be higher if a large proportion of the money is earned in zero-tax jurisdictions like Bermuda, where Google used to report over $10 billion a year in income. Conversely, the impact of the minimum tax would be reduced if the first measure prompted Google to reallocate some of its non-U.S. earnings out of tax havens.
Excluding the impact of the first proposed measure, increasing the tax rate on overseas income to 15% would mean $45 million of additional tax.
The situation for J&J would be very different. It earned 76% of its 2020 income outside of the United States and paid 7% tax on average on that overseas profit. Applying a 15% tax rate to that overseas income figure would result in $990 million in additional taxes, according to Reuters’ calculations.
While the reallocation of profit under the first measure would reduce this impact, the combined result of the two measures would be more than $1 billion.
Academics say businesses are adept at mitigating the impact of measures that are designed to reduce tax avoidance and therefore could re-organize in order to limit the impact of the proposed measures. And, in reality, tax incentives offered by governments mean companies may end up paying less in practice.
(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)