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Chinese regulators order 'rectification' plan for Ant Group businesses – CBC.ca

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Chinese regulators have ordered Ant Group, the world’s largest financial technology company, to rectify its businesses and comply with regulatory requirements amid increased scrutiny of anti-monopoly practices in the country’s internet sector.

The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, summoned Ant executives on Saturday and ordered them to formulate a rectification plan and an implementation timetable of its business, including its credit, insurance and wealth management services, the regulators said in a statement Sunday.

The statement said that Ant Group lacked a sound governance mechanism, defied regulatory compliance requirements and engaged in regulatory arbitrage. It also said that the company used its market position to exclude rivals and hurt the rights and interests of consumers.

The meeting came after Chinese regulators last month halted Ant’s $37-billion US stock debut in Shanghai and Hong Kong over regulatory changes, and comes just days after China announced an anti-monopoly investigation of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which owns a 33 per cent stake in Ant Group.

Jack Ma, the founder of both Alibaba and Ant Group, is one of China’s richest and most prominent entrepreneurs. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The orders from regulators could limit Ant Group’s expansion and throw its lucrative finance businesses into disarray.

Ant Group, which started out as a payments services for Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao, has since expanded to offer insurance and investment products to its hundreds of millions of users in mainland China. Jack Ma, the founder of both Alibaba and Ant Group, is one of China’s richest and most prominent entrepreneurs.

Regulators ordered Ant Group to establish a financial holding company and hold sufficient capital. They also said that Ant Group should return to its payments origins, enhance transparency around transactions and prohibit unfair competition, while improving corporate governance and ensuring that it complies with regulatory requirements for its businesses.

Ant Group said in a statement Sunday that it would comply with regulatory requirements and enhance risk management and control, and that a working group would be set up to make the necessary rectifications.

“We appreciate financial regulators’ guidance and help,” the statement said. “The rectification is an opportunity for Ant Group to strengthen the foundation for our business to grow with full compliance, and to continue focusing on innovating for social good and serving small businesses.”

The scrutiny of Ant Group and Alibaba comes as China closely examines the influence of the country’s internet sector.

Last month, China released draft regulations to clamp down on anti-competitive practices in the industry, such as signing exclusive agreements with merchants and the use of subsidies to squeeze out competitors.

Alibaba and a company spun off by Tencent Holding Ltd. were fined this month for failing to apply for official approval before proceeding with some acquisitions.

Last Tuesday, regulators met with executives of Alibaba and five other major Chinese internet companies and warned them not to abuse their dominance to drive out competitors through use of exclusive contracts, predatory pricing and other tactics, according to a statement by the State Administration of Market Regulation.

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Wattpad to be sold to South Korean internet giant for $600M US – CBC.ca

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One of Canada’s most prominent technology darlings is being sold to a South Korean internet conglomerate in a $600 million US deal.

Toronto-based online storytelling company Wattpad said its board of directors unanimously approved a cash and stock transaction Tuesday that will see it acquired by Naver later this year. The company will retain its Canadian headquarters.

“This is the most important day in the history of the company and an incredible milestone,” said Allen Lau, one of Wattpad’s co-founders, in an interview.

“It is the beginning of a new chapter and using TV show terminology, this is episode one of season two, so I’m absolutely looking forward to this.”

Lau and Ivan Yuen, who will continue to lead Wattpad following the sale, started the self-publishing platform after the pair dreamed up the idea on a napkin while waiting for a flight at the Vancouver airport food court in 2006.

Wattpad quickly became home to stories from dozens of genres because it allows anyone to share their writing for free and is accessible on phones and tablets.

It became a household name around 2013 when Anna Todd, a Texas woman, started writing After, a fanfiction series on the platform about One Direction singer Harry Styles.

Her stories were eventually made into books and a film series, which encouraged Wattpad to start book publishing and studio entertainment divisions.

However, Lau admitted a sale wasn’t always his plan.

“We weren’t actively looking for sellers, but we have been talking to investors along the way … to accelerate our growth,” he said.

“We knew Naver for quite some time and we realized after some conversations we have a shared vision.”

Opportunity to grow, get into animation, co-founder says

Naver, which bills itself as “South Korea’s largest web search engine,” was an ideal partner because it owns digital comics platform Webtoon, he said.

Webtoon is behind some of the biggest names in webcomics, including Lore Olympus, and has worked with the Jim Henson Company and producers behind hit films like The Lego Movie, the It franchise and Snowpiercer.

Lau said Naver will offer Wattpad a chance to get into animation and to grow beyond the 90 million users — including more than five million writers — that Wattpad has. Webtoon said it has more than 72 million monthly active users.

“Wattpad’s vision to entertain and connect the world through stories fits perfectly with our vision for Webtoon and Naver’s content brand and we’re thrilled to have them join the Naver family,” Seong-sook Han, chief executive, said in a statement.

The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of Wattpad’s fiscal year and is subject to regulatory approvals.

It is the latest in a string of sales that have seen once-promising Canadian tech companies snatched up by foreign owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Element AI, a Montreal-based firm that creates artificial intelligence solutions for large organizations, signed a deal in November to be purchased by ServiceNow, a Santa Clara, Calif., company that offers a cloud-based workflow technology.

San Francisco-based “buy now, pay later” company Affirm reached a deal to buy Toronto rival PayBright for $340 million in early December.

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Wattpad to be sold to South Korean internet giant for $600M US – CBC.ca

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One of Canada’s most prominent technology darlings is being sold to a South Korean internet conglomerate in a $600 million US deal.

Toronto-based online storytelling company Wattpad said its board of directors unanimously approved a cash and stock transaction Tuesday that will see it acquired by Naver later this year. The company will retain its Canadian headquarters.

“This is the most important day in the history of the company and an incredible milestone,” said Allen Lau, one of Wattpad’s co-founders, in an interview.

“It is the beginning of a new chapter and using TV show terminology, this is episode one of season two, so I’m absolutely looking forward to this.”

Lau and Ivan Yuen, who will continue to lead Wattpad following the sale, started the self-publishing platform after the pair dreamed up the idea on a napkin while waiting for a flight at the Vancouver airport food court in 2006.

Wattpad quickly became home to stories from dozens of genres because it allows anyone to share their writing for free and is accessible on phones and tablets.

It became a household name around 2013 when Anna Todd, a Texas woman, started writing After, a fanfiction series on the platform about One Direction singer Harry Styles.

Her stories were eventually made into books and a film series, which encouraged Wattpad to start book publishing and studio entertainment divisions.

However, Lau admitted a sale wasn’t always his plan.

“We weren’t actively looking for sellers, but we have been talking to investors along the way … to accelerate our growth,” he said.

“We knew Naver for quite some time and we realized after some conversations we have a shared vision.”

Opportunity to grow, get into animation, co-founder says

Naver, which bills itself as “South Korea’s largest web search engine,” was an ideal partner because it owns digital comics platform Webtoon, he said.

Webtoon is behind some of the biggest names in webcomics, including Lore Olympus, and has worked with the Jim Henson Company and producers behind hit films like The Lego Movie, the It franchise and Snowpiercer.

Lau said Naver will offer Wattpad a chance to get into animation and to grow beyond the 90 million users — including more than five million writers — that Wattpad has. Webtoon said it has more than 72 million monthly active users.

“Wattpad’s vision to entertain and connect the world through stories fits perfectly with our vision for Webtoon and Naver’s content brand and we’re thrilled to have them join the Naver family,” Seong-sook Han, chief executive, said in a statement.

The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of Wattpad’s fiscal year and is subject to regulatory approvals.

It is the latest in a string of sales that have seen once-promising Canadian tech companies snatched up by foreign owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Element AI, a Montreal-based firm that creates artificial intelligence solutions for large organizations, signed a deal in November to be purchased by ServiceNow, a Santa Clara, Calif., company that offers a cloud-based workflow technology.

San Francisco-based “buy now, pay later” company Affirm reached a deal to buy Toronto rival PayBright for $340 million in early December.

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Ontario faces weeks of major coronavirus vaccination delays due to Pfizer cutbacks – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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The provincial government is expecting no shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine next week amid a delay in deliveries due to production issues.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 task force, said today that the federal government confirmed Ontario will receive zero shipments of the vaccine next week as Pfizer is dealing with delays in shipments due to production issues in Belgium.

“What Pfizer and I believe the federal government have said to us is that yes we have had some short-term shortages, some short-term disruptions to the allocations but we will make up in late Februrary/March what we missed. And therefore, in the first quarter- our Phase one- we will have the same number of vaccines allocated to us that we expected all along and that we’ve been planning to use,” Hillier said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The Canadian government announced on Tuesday morning that the country is not going to get any shipments of Pfizer vaccines next week.

Canada’s coordinator of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, said Canada’s shipments of the vaccine will be cut by nearly one-fifth this week and drop to zero next week during a press conference.

On Friday, the Canadian government said that nearly half of the doses expected by Pfizer-BioNTech are delayed and will arrive in the next month.

Pfizer’s facility is undergoing modifications in the coming weeks to increase the number of doses it can ship, according to Pfizer Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted that most Canadians will still be vaccinated by the fall if they want the vaccine.

Before the federal government’s announcement on Tuesday, provincial health officials said the province was only expecting an 80% cut in next week’s shipment, which would result in 15 trays of the Pfizer vaccine compared to a promised 83 trays.

Each tray contains approximately 975 doses.

The provincial government already faced a five per cent cut in vaccines from 83 to 80 trays this week due to the delay.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said today that he’s “angry at the situation” that other countries seem to be getting more shipments of the vaccine compared to Canada. 

“We got to be on these guys [Pfizer] like a blanket. I’d be outside that guy’s house. Every time he moved I’d be saying where’s our vaccines? Other people are getting them, the European Union’s getting them, why not Canada? That’s my question to Pfizer. We need your support,” Ford said during the press conference.

Pfizer said many countries will be affected by the delay but did not say which ones. Europe’s shipments are expected to be cut back this week but its dose deliveries are set to return to normal next week.

Ahead of inauguration day tomorrow in the U.S., Ford went on to ask President-elect Joe Biden for help securing more vaccines from a Pfizer plant in Michigan.

“I can’t help but ask the president, we’re the third largest trading partner in the world, Ontario just alone… The least thing you could do in Kalamazoo where the Pfizer plant is- great relationship building- give us a million vaccines. You have 100 million down there, give your great neighbour that stand shoulder-to-shouler with you a million vaccines to keep us going,” Ford said.

In the first two weeks of February, provincial health officials said they are expecting a 55 per cent cut and 45 per cent cut in doses during the weeks of Feb. 1 and Feb.8, respectively.

The government said the allocation of doses remains the same with the priority to inoculate long-term care and high-risk retirement homes and northern, fly-in First Nation communities first.

Health officials added that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be reallocated during this delay to more areas to reserve Pfizer for sites that need to provide second doses.

Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are the only shots that have been approved by Health Canada so far. Two doses of the same vaccine are required for full immunization.

Last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams updated the guidance on the interval between the two doses.

Those who received the Pfizer vaccine inside long-term care and high-risk retirement homes will receive the second dose in 21 to 27 days. Meanwhile, all other people who have received the first dose will now receive their second dose between 21 and 42 days later. This approach aligns with guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the World Health Organization.

People who received the Moderna vaccine will receive their second dose after 28 days.

As a result of the Pfizer delay, a pilot COVID-19 vaccination clinic that opened up on Monday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will have to pause vaccinations on Friday.

The proof-of-concept clinic is supposed to serve as a guideline for how shots should be administered in non-medical settings starting this spring.

The site had been expected to run for at least six weeks with an initial target of 250 doses per day.

Today provincial health officials said the clinic will resume vaccinations once more doses arrive possibly by mid- February or March.

First round of vaccinations complete at LTC homes in hot spots

Provincial health officials also announced today that the first round of vaccinations has been completed at all long-term care homes in the hot spots of Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex ahead of the Jan. 21 target.

All long-term care homes in Ottawa, Durham Region and Simcoe Muskoka have also received the first dose.

Last week, the government said that they hope to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all residents and staff in all long-term care homes across the province by Feb. 15.

Health officials said the vaccine shortage will not affect this target.

The government also said there have been very few reports of serious events related to the vaccine, and that most have been because patients were allergic.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Chief Coroner said it is investigating after a resident of a Windsor retirement home died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. It is unknown if there is any link between the death and the vaccine.

More than 224,000 doses administered

As of 8 p.m. on Monday, more than 224,000 doses of vaccines have been administered across the province since the first doses were administered in mid-December.

According to public health officials, more than 83,000 of those doses were administered to long-term care home residents and staff, over 25,000 to retirement home residents and staff and more than 99,000 to health-care workers in other sectors.

To date, more than 25,000 Ontarians have been fully vaccinated after receiving both doses of the vaccine.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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