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Google loses challenge against EU antitrust ruling, $2.8-billion fine

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November 10, 2021

By Francois Aulner and Foo Yun Chee

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) -Alphabet unit Google lost an appeal against a 2.42-billion-euro ($2.8-billion) antitrust decision on Wednesday, a major win for Europe’s competition chief in the first of three court rulings central to the EU push to regulate big tech.

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager fined the world’s most popular internet search engine in 2017 over the use of its own price comparison shopping service to gain an unfair advantage over smaller European rivals.

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The shopping case was the first of three decisions that saw Google rack up 8.25 billion euros in EU antitrust fines in the last decade.

The company could face defeats in appeals against the other two rulings involving its Android mobile operating system and AdSense advertising service, where the EU has stronger arguments, antitrust specialists say.

The court’s support for the Commission in its latest ruling could also strengthen Vestager’s hand in her investigations into Amazon, Apple and Facebook.

“The General Court largely dismisses Google’s action against the decision of the Commission finding that Google abused its dominant position by favouring its own comparison shopping service over competing comparison shopping services,” the Court said.

The court said the Commission correctly found Google’s practices harmed competition and dismissed the company’s argument that the presence of merchant platforms showed there was strong competition.

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It backed the Commission’s fine, citing the serious nature of the infringement and that “the conduct in question was adopted intentionally, not negligently”.

Google said it would review the judgment and that it has already complied with the Commission’s order to ensure a level playing field for rivals. It did not say if it would appeal to the EU Court of Justice (CJEU), Europe’s top court.

The Commission welcomed the ruling, saying it would provide legal clarity for the market.

“The Commission will continue to use all tools at its disposal to address the role of big digital platforms on which businesses and users depend to, respectively, access end users and access digital services,” the EU executive said in a statement.

ONGOING INVESTIGATIONS

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In other investigations, the EU watchdog is focusing on Google’s use of data and its digital advertising business. The company is seeking to settle https://www.reuters.com/technology/exclusive-google-seeking-settle-eu-antitrust-probe-into-adtech-source-2021-09-23 the latter case, a person familiar with the matter has told Reuters.

Thomas Vinje, a partner at law firm Clifford Chance and who advises several Google rivals, said Vestager should expand her investigation into other areas.

“Today’s judgment gives the European Commission the ammunition it needs to tighten the screws on Google in other areas where it is throwing its weight around, like in online advertising, app stores and video streaming,” he said.

Lawmaker Rasmus Andresen at the European Parliament, which wants to beef up tech rules proposed by Vestager, said Europe needs both antitrust enforcement and legislation to tame U.S. tech giants.

“Only when Big Tech feels economic consequences through penalties and regulation we will see change. In addition to an adjustment of the Digital Markets Act, we call for a tightening of competition law to make it easier to split up platforms that are too dominant,” he said.

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To augment her antitrust powers, Vestager last year proposed new landmark tech rules that will force U.S. tech giants to change their business models to ensure a level playing field for rivals.

Separately, on Tuesday, the UK Supreme Court blocked https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-supreme-court-blocks-43-bln-google-class-action-over-iphone-tracking-2021-11-10 a planned $4.3 billion class action against Google over allegations the internet giant unlawfully tracked the personal information of millions of iPhone users.

The EU case is T-612/17 Google and Alphabet v Commission (Google Shopping).

($1 = 0.8648 euros)

(Reporting by Francois Aulner, writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Catherine Evans, Bernadette Baum and Barbara Lewis)

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Investors brace for potential hit to earnings because of Omicron

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December 6, 2021

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As details of a new COVID-19 variant emerge, investors are bracing for a potential hit to U.S. corporate earnings, particularly among retailers, restaurants and travel companies.

News of the Omicron variant comes in the middle of the holiday shopping period, and many businesses are already struggling with higher inflation and supply chain snags because of the pandemic.

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That is putting the focus again on these companies affected by the reopening of the economy, said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco in New York.

“Are we still going to see traffic into restaurants and retailers, or at least retailers that derive most of their revenue from in-store traffic as opposed to online?” she said. “The other area of vulnerability of course is supply chain disruptions.”

She and other strategists said it’s too early to tell the extent to which the variant could affect earnings.

The Omicron variant that captured global attention in South Africa less than two weeks ago has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but the Delta version accounts for the majority of COVID-19 infections as cases rise nationwide, U.S. health officials said on Sunday.

Goldman Sachs on Saturday cited risks and uncertainty around the emergence of the Omicron variant as it cut its outlook for U.S. economic growth to 3.8% for 2022. While the variant could slow economic reopening, the firm expects “only a modest drag” on service spending, it said in a note.

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U.S. companies have just wrapped up a much stronger-than-expected third-quarter earnings season, and the rate of fourth-quarter earnings year-over-year growth has been expected to be well below the previous quarter’s.

Analysts see fourth-quarter S&P 500 earnings up 21.6% from the year-ago quarter, while third-quarter earnings growth was at about 43%, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

That fourth-quarter forecast has not changed since Nov. 26, just after the new variant became headline news.

Omicron may be affecting travel plans. Airline shares have already come under pressure, with the NYSE Arca airline index down 8.3% since the close of the session before Nov. 26.

For companies, “the significance of the impact will depend on how long the Omicron measures last,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “There will be some short-term impact… It’ll surely cause some short-term disruption to travel.”

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Colin Scarola, a vice president of equity research at CFRA, wrote in a Dec. 2 note on the airline sector that while details of the variant are still emerging, trends in U.S. air travel over recent months with the Delta variant may give some insight into what could happen to travel under the Omicron variant.

“This recent history tells us that most people have already accepted the material risk of infection with a Covid-19 variant when fully vaccinated. But knowing that risk of severe illness remains very low, they’ve been comfortable flying on airplanes,” he wrote.

Compounding concerns about the 2022 earnings outlook are higher costs for companies, with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week signaling that inflation risks are rising and numerous companies citing rising costs during the third-quarter earnings season.

Even before the Omicron news, Tuz said investors were reading “more and more about inflation and wages and other inputs,” and that was expected to continue into 2022.

“I don’t know if the ability to pass along these higher costs is going to exist as much,” he said.

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(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Alden Bentley and Nick Zieminski)

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Bank investment chiefs signal China and emerging market caution

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December 6, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) -Market volatility and uncertainty over China’s indebted property sector is making bank investment chiefs cautious about its assets, amid more general nervousness about broader emerging markets.

“I would take a wait-and-see approach on emerging markets,” Credit Suisse global chief investment officer Michael Strobaek told the Reuters annual Investment Outlook Summit.

“I would take a day-by-day, week-by-week approach to China, to see what’s unfolding on the default side and the policy side,” he said, referring to problems in the country’s giant corporate debt sector.

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“Only if I see real deep opportunities, I’d go back in.”

Willem Sels, Global CIO, Private Banking & Wealth Management, HSBC, said clients needed to take a longer term view on emerging markets after many were hurt by recent volatility.

“We have a neutral view on China, we try to diversify,” he said.

“We try to get the confidence of investing in China. We try to align ourselves with what is clear in terms of government policy, and that’s the net zero transmission.”

Investors can still “find some winners” in China by digging down into areas like green tech and 5G-related businesses where the government was showing significant support, said Mark Haefele, CIO at UBS Global Wealth Management.

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(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes, Sujata Rao and Dhara Ranasinghe; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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IMF says euro zone should keep supporting economy, high inflation is temporary

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December 6, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Euro zone governments should continue to spend to support the COVID-19 economic recovery, though in an increasingly focused way, and consolidate public finances only when it is firmly under way, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday.

In a regular report on the euro zone economy presented to the group’s finance ministers, the IMF noted, however, that while consolidation itself could wait, a credible way of how it would be done in the future should be announced already now.

“Policies should remain accommodative but become increasingly targeted, with a focus on mitigating potential rises in inequality and poverty,” the IMF said.

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“Fiscal policy space should be rebuilt once the expansion is firmly underway, but credible medium-term consolidation plans should be announced now,” it said.

The Fund also noted that the rise in inflation, which hit a record high of 4.9% on a year-on-year basis in November, was temporary and, therefore, not a big threat because it did not translate into a spike in wages, called a second-round effect.

“Recent inflation readings have surprised on the upside, but much of the increase still appears transitory, with large second-round effects unlikely,” the report said, adding that the European Central Bank’s monetary policy should therefore continue to be accommodative.

“Structural reforms and high-impact investment, including in climate-friendly infrastructure and digitalization, remain crucial to enhancing resilience and boosting potential growth,” the IMF said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Paul Simao)

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