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Poor report cards likely at China’s Big Tech after regulatory crackdown

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November 8, 2021

By Brenda Goh

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s biggest listed companies Tencent and Alibaba are expected to report a fall in profits and slowing revenue growth in the July-September quarter, hurt by the year-long regulatory crackdown that has upended its tech industry.

Beijing has reasserted control over its once-freewheeling internet sector, punishing well-known names for engaging in what were previously considered regular market practices and drafting new rules to change how they compete and engage users.

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“We believe the financial impact of regulatory headwinds in China will be reflected in (third quarter) earnings and (fourth quarter) guidance,” KGI Asia analysts said in a note last month.

Tencent Holdings Ltd – the country’s largest firm by market value and its first big tech name to report earnings on Thursday – is expected to post a 12% fall in quarterly profit, its first drop in two years, according to Refinitiv data.

The gaming giant’s revenue is expected to rise 16.4%, the slowest pace since the first quarter of 2019, after the government imposed new limits on the amount of time minors can spend playing video games. China’s gaming regulator also has not approved any new games since August.

During the quarter, China also barred Tencent from signing exclusive music deals, citing anti-competitive reasons.

E-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, which became China’s first regulatory target late last year, is expected to post a 12% decline in profit in the quarter. Revenue will likely rise 32%, the slowest in a year.

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Two quarters ago, Alibaba had posted its first quarterly operating loss since going public in 2014 after it was fined a record $2.8 billion.

Its smaller rival JD.com Inc is expected to post a 71% slump in profit and the slowest revenue growth in six quarters.

Slowing retail sales in China due to COVID-19 lockdowns and recent power shortages will hurt Alibaba and smaller rivals, KGI Asia analysts said.

Big e-commerce companies in China are also facing rising competition from short video apps Kuaishou and ByteDance’s Douyin, which have growing e-commerce businesses.

Baidu, China’s biggest search engine operator, is expected to report that quarterly profit plunged 80%, hurt by a slump in advertising revenue from tutoring centres that have been barred from offering private, for-profit tutoring on the school curriculum. China’s efforts to regulate medical beauty advertisements have also hit advertising.

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Still, with a recent slowdown in the pace of new regulatory missives that has stoked market optimism, investors will watch closely for clues on whether the worst is over and executives are likely be quizzed on their expectations on conference calls.

Last month, the central bank’s party chief Guo Shuqing, was quoted as saying that most financial problems on China’s internet platforms had received a positive response and some had been resolved.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh Additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Mark Potter)

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U.S. FAA clears 45% of commercial plane fleet after 5G deployed

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January 17, 2022

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Sunday it had cleared an estimated 45% of the U.S. commercial airplane fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed starting Wednesday.

The FAA has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and make an impact on low-visibility operations.

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U.S. passenger and cargo airlines have been sounding the alarm to senior government officials that the issue is far from resolved and could severely impact flights and the supply chain.

“Even with the approvals granted by the FAA today, U.S. airlines will not be able to operate the vast majority of passenger and cargo flights due to the FAA’s 5G-related flight restrictions unless action is taken prior to the planned Jan. 19 rollout,” said Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Fedex and other carriers.

The FAA approved two radio altimeter models used in many Boeing and Airbus planes, including some Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, MD-10/-11 and Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330 and A350 models. The announcement came just days before AT&T and Verizon launch new 5G service on Wednesday. The FAA said it expects to issue more approvals in the coming days.

The FAA said the aircraft and altimeter approvals open “runways at as many as 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by 5G C-band interference.” But the agency warned that “even with these new approvals, flights at some airports may still be affected.”

Reuters reviewed the 36-page list of the runways covered by the approvals that has not yet been made public – and it does not include many larger U.S. airports.

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The FAA told Boeing in a letter Sunday reviewed by Reuters that it was granting approvals for specific runways and planes with certain altimeters “because the susceptibility to interference from 5G C-band emissions has been minimized.”

AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to reduce potential interference for six months. They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks, averting an aviation safety standoff.

The FAA on Thursday issued nearly 1,500 notices detailing the extent of potential impact of 5G services.

“Passengers should check with their airlines if weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible,” the FAA said Sunday.

On Jan. 7, the FAA disclosed the 50 U.S. airports that will have 5G buffer zones, including in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, Seattle and Miami.

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But airlines warn those buffer zones may not be enough to prevent flight disruptions at those airports.

On Thursday, Airports Council International – North America urged a delay 5G implementation to avoid widespread disruption across the U.S air transportation system.

On Friday, the FAA said it would require Boeing 787 operators to take additional precautions when landing on some wet or snowy runways.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Gerry Doyle)

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Unilever signals pursuit of GSK consumer arm; shares fall

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January 17, 2022

(Reuters) -Unilever signalled on Monday it would pursue a deal for GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer health business, calling it a “strong strategic fit” after its 50-billion-pound ($68.4 billion) offer was rejected, sending its shares down 6%.

GSK confirmed over the weekend that it had rejected the Dove soap maker’s bid for its consumer healthcare business, which is home to brands such as Sensodyne toothpaste and Emergen-C vitamin supplement.

GSK shares jumped 5% in early trading.

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“The acquisition would create scale and a growth platform for the combined portfolio in the U.S., China and India, with further opportunities in other emerging markets,” Unilever said, pointing to synergies in the oral care and vitamin supplements business.

GSK said on Saturday Unilever’s offer “fundamentally undervalued” the business, adding that it would stick to its plan of listing the business this year.

The GSK consumer business, in which U.S. drugs company Pfizer owns a 32% stake, has annual sales of almost 10 billion pounds.

Unilever held talks with banks about additional financing for a potential sweetened offer for, Bloomberg News reported on Sunday, citing people familiar with the matter. Unilever did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the talks.

The Marmite maker, which is set to announce an initiative later this month to strengthen its business, said on Monday it was committed to “strict financial discipline” for any acquisitions.

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Unilever also said any major acquisitions would be accompanied by the divestment of lower margin businesses or brands.

($1 = 0.7312 pounds)

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru and Keith Weir in London; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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China’s 2021 GDP growth at decade high though momentum cooling

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January 17, 2022

By Kevin Yao and Gabriel Crossley

BEIJING (Reuters) -China’s economy rebounded in 2021 with its best growth in a decade helped by robust exports but there are signs momentum is slowing on weakening consumption and a property downturn, pointing to the need for more policy support.

Growth in the fourth quarter hit a one-and-a-half-year low, government data showed on Monday shortly after the central bank moved to prop up the economy with a cut to a key lending rate for the first time since early 2020.

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The world’s second-largest economy is struggling with a rapidly cooling property sector, as well as sporadic small-scale COVID-19 outbreaks that could deal a blow to its factories and supply chains.

Several Chinese cities went on high alert ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday travel season, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including the capital Beijing.

The economy grew 8.1% last year – its best expansion since 2011 – and faster than a forecast 8.0%. The pace was well above a government target of “above 6%” and 2020’s revised growth of 2.2%. The economy recorded its weakest growth in 44 years in 2020 but staged a faster recovery than other major economies.

Gross domestic product grew 4.0% in the final quarter, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data showed, faster than expected but still its weakest pace since the second quarter of 2020. Growth was 4.9% in the third quarter.

“At present, the downward pressure on China’s economy is still relatively big, and growth of residents’ employment and income is restricted,” Ning Jizhe, head of the NBS, told a news conference.

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On a quarter-on-quarter basis, GDP rose 1.6% in October-December, compared with expectations for a 1.1% rise and a revised 0.7% gain in the previous quarter.

China’s economy got off to a strong start in 2021 but economists expect growth to slow in the coming months.

The central bank unexpectedly cut the borrowing costs of its medium-term loans for the first time since April 2020, leading some analysts to expect more policy easing this year to guard against developers’ mounting risk of defaults.

The People’s Bank of China said it was lowering the interest rate on 700 billion yuan ($110.2 billion) worth of one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans to some financial institutions by 10 basis points to 2.85%. It also cut the 7-day reverse repo rate.

“Economic momentum remains weak amid repeated virus outbreaks and a struggling property sector. As such, we anticipate another 20 bps of cuts to PBOC policy rates during the first half of this year,” said analysts at Capital Economics, in a note.

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But Nomura said in a note the space left for future rate cuts this year was small. “We expect another 10 bp rate cut before mid-2022.”

Global share markets were choppy on Monday and benchmark Dalian and Singapore iron ore futures fell after signs of continuing economic weakness in top steel producer China.

Adding to another long-term concern for the economy, mainland China’s birth rate dropped to a record low of 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, NBS data also showed on Monday, extending a downward trend that led Beijing last year to begin allowing couples to have up to three children.

PROPERTY, RETAIL SALES SLOW

China’s property market has slowed in recent months as regulators stepped up a campaign to cut high rates of borrowing, triggering defaults at some heavily indebted companies.

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Property investment dropped 13.9% in December from a year earlier, falling at the fastest pace since early 2020, according to Reuters calculations based on official data. Investment grew 4.4% in 2021, the slowest since 2016.

Weak consumption data also clouded the outlook, with retail sales in December missing expectations with only a 1.7% increase from a year earlier, the slowest pace since August 2020.

“The biggest challenge this year for policymakers is how to stabilise the economy at a 5-5.5% range against the backdrop of dynamic zero-COVID policy,” said Nie Wen, chief economist at Hwabao Trust in Shanghai.

A bright spot was industrial output, up an annual 4.3% in December, picking up from a 3.8% increase in November, and better than a 3.6% increase in a Reuters poll.

China’s refinery output hit a new record in 2021, as did aluminium and coal production.

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Fixed asset investment rose 4.9% in 2021, compared with the 4.8% increase tipped by analysts and 5.2% in the first 11 months of the year.

Booming shipments to coronavirus-hit economies overseas were a key boost to China’s growth last year, with net exports accounting for more than a quarter of GDP growth in Q4 and the country logging its biggest trade surplus in 2021 since records started in 1950.

The outsized role that net exports played in last year’s GDP growth also underscored the relative weakness in other drivers. By contrast, net exports were a drag on overall growth in 2018, when the economy relied more on consumption and investment.

However, the support from export growth may not last. It has been slowing as an overseas surge in demand for goods eases and high costs pressure exporters.

(Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Liangping Gao; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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