In Fresh Regulatory Move, China Tells Tech Giants to Stop Blocking Rivals’ Links

The comments, made by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) at a news briefing, mark the latest step in Beijing’s broad regulatory crackdown that has ensnared sectors from technology to education and property and wiped billions of dollars off the market value of some of the country’s largest companies.

China’s internet is dominated by a handful of technology giants which have historically blocked links and services by rivals on their platforms.

Restricting normal access to internet links without proper reason “affects the user experience, damages the rights of users and disrupts market order,” said MIIT spokesperson Zhao Zhiguo, adding that the ministry had received reports and complaints from users since it launched a review of industry practices in July.

“At present we are guiding relevant companies to carry out self-examination and rectification,” he said, citing instant messaging platforms as one of the first areas they were targeting.

He did not specify what the consequences would be for companies that failed to abide with the new guidelines.

The MIIT did not name any companies, but the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper reported on Saturday that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd were among the firms told to end the practice by an unspecified time last week.

Shares in Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings fell on Monday by over 6% and 3% respectively against a 3% decline in the Hang Seng Tech Index.

The practice targeted by the MIIT is common.

Tencent restricts users from sharing content from ByteDance-owned short video app Douyin on Tencent’s instant messaging apps WeChat and QQ. In February, Douyin filed a complaint with a Beijing court saying that it constituted monopolistic behaviour. Tencent has called those accusations baseless.

In other cases, Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall e-commerce marketplaces do not allow Tencent’s payment service WeChat Pay to be used as a payment option.

Tencent said it supported the MIIT’s guidance and would make the necessary changes in phases.

An Alibaba spokesperson referred Reuters to remarks made by CEO Daniel Zhang on Aug. 3, when he said rectification was “highly necessary”.

“Forced cracks in China’s walled gardens has the potential to re-write China’s digital advertising and e-commerce landscapes,” said Michael Norris, research and strategy manager at Shanghai-based consultancy AgencyChina.

“In the short term, all eyes will be on Tencent as it comes to grips with what it means to open WeChat to Alibaba and ByteDance.”

The MIIT also said on Monday that China had “too many” electric vehicle (EV) makers and the government will encourage consolidation.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

(Reporting by Brenda Ghoh and Shen Yan; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Kenneth Maxwell and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

U.S. Shares Retreat, European Shares end Little-Changed

Major U.S. indexes were lower, pulling back from earlier gains but still close to all-time highs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 133.74 points, or 0.38%, to 34,897.33, the S&P 500 lost 14.45 points, or 0.32%, to 4,499.62 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.28 points, or 0.03%, to 15,282.36 by mid afternoon.

Federal Reserve Bank Governor Michelle Bowman added her voice Wednesday to the growing number of policymakers who say the weak August jobs report likely won’t throw off the central bank’s plan to trim its $120 billion in monthly bond purchases later this year.

Earlier in the day, U.S. data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly 18 months last week, offering more evidence that job growth was being hindered by labor shortages rather than cooling demand for workers.

After falling as much as 0.9% in morning trade, the pan-European STOXX 600 index ended largely unchanged around 467.57 points. The index had shed 1.5% over the past two days on fears of a more-hawkish-than-expected ECB.

Euro zone bonds yields tumbled as the European Central Bank took its first tentative step in withdrawing COVID-era stimulus. Southern Europe led a fall in euro zone sovereign bond yields.

The euro rose 0.15% against the dollar, climbing for the first time in four sessions, while bond markets cheered by sending French 10-yields negative again.

“We’re seeing some modest weakness mainly because the market is just in flux. There is no real clarity on when we will start to see the Fed and ECB start to pull back stimulus,” said Edward Moya, a senior market analyst with OANDA in New York.

Instead of hinting at any potential end date for its pandemic-era purchase programme, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde instead channelled the spirit of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, saying: “The lady isn’t tapering.”

Germany’s 10-year yield, the benchmark for the bloc, fell. [GVD/EUR]

FRAGILE CHINA

MSCI’s benchmark for global equity markets fell 0.33% to 740.33. Emerging markets stocks fell 1.18%.

The UK’s FTSE 100 dropped 1% with low-cost airline easyJet tumbling over 10% as it tapped shareholders for 1.2 billion pounds ($1.7 billion). [.EU]

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares ended down 1%, which was its worst daily performance since Aug. 19, the last time markets decided they were worried about the U.S. Federal Reserve tapering its massive asset purchase programme.

Chinese tech giants Tencent, NetEase and Alibaba had slumped 8.5%, 11% and 6% respectively after online gaming chiefs were summoned by authorities to check they are sticking to strict new rules for the sector.

“The global story is looking soft and it’s being hit by the Delta variant plus concern about potentially the Fed still moving towards a taper,” said Rob Carnell, Asia head of research at ING. “It’s an unsettling combination of things.”

The China angst had meant Hong Kong, where many heavyweight Chinese firms are also listed, shed 2.3%.

News that Chinese authorities had told gaming firms to resolutely curb incorrect tendencies such as focusing “only on money” and “only on traffic” had hurt companies with large gaming operations. Tencent fell 8.5%, Bilibili lost nearly 9% and NetEase slumped 11%.

There was more turbulence too for the country’s most indebted property giant, Evergrande.

Media reports the company would suspend some interest payments on loans and payments to its wealth management products sent its shares down more than 10% at one point, although they recovered almost half of the drop on news that some creditors had agreed to loan payment extensions.

Korea’s Kospi fell 1.5%, also under pressure from regulatory scrutiny of local tech players. In Korea’s case, fintech names such as Kakao Corp , which sank 7.2%, and Naver Corp, down 6.9%, were in the spotlight.

Australian stocks lost nearly 2% after payrolls data showed a sharp drop in jobs in the first half of August.

Gold steadied in choppy trading, buoyed by a slight retreat in the dollar. Spot bullion prices were up 0.4%.

Oil prices fell on China’s plan to tap state reserves and a smaller-than-expected drawdown in U.S. crude supplies.

Brent crude was last down $1.14, or down 1.57%, at $71.46 a barrel. U.S. crude was last down $1.16, or down 1.66% at %68.15.

($1 = 0.7246 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Alun John in Hong Kong; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Nick Zieminski)

European Stocks Edge Higher After Data, Virus Worries Linger

The pan-European STOXX 600 was 0.1% higher, after the index marked its longest winning streak in over a decade.

Tighter scrutiny of China’s internet sector, a nationwide lockdown in New Zealand and movement restrictions in several Asian countries kept investors on edge even as European economies continued to recover from pandemic lows.

The travel and leisure sector fell 1.0%, with holiday company TUI Group and British Airways owner IAG leading declines.

“Travel stocks are experiencing yet another day of turbulence, with questions over travel regulations serving to highlight the uncertain road ahead,” Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at IG, wrote in a client note.

Dutch tech firm Prosus, which has a stake in Chinese tech giant Tencent, fell 3.2%.

Economically sensitive sectors such as oil and gas, automakers and banks also retreated.

Data showed the euro zone economy grew 2% in the second quarter, confirming its earlier reading as the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions spurred economic activity after a brief recession.

“The strong growth in euro zone GDP in Q2 is likely to be repeated in Q3 despite the spread of the Delta variant, and should bring the economy back towards its pre-virus size in the coming months,” said Jessica Hinds, Europe economist at Capital Economics.

“But the southern economies continue to lag, with travel restrictions still holding back their tourism sectors.”

A rally in hard-hit cyclical stocks helped European shares hit all-time highs last week as expectations of a record jump in European corporate profit and optimism around the pace of vaccinations underpinned the continent’s economic recovery prospects.

However, a monthly survey of fund managers by Bank of America showed only less than half of the respondents now expect the European economy to further improve over the next 12 months – the lowest proportion since last June.

UK-listed shares of BHP Group gained 3.4.4% after the world’s biggest miner posted its best annual profit in nearly a decade and said it would pay a record dividend.

Online trading platform Plus500 jumped 5.1.1% as it forecast annual revenue to be “significantly ahead” of analysts’ estimates.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Subhranshu Sahu and Mark Heinrich)

China Launches Antitrust Probe Into Tencent-Backed Property Broker Ke

The investigation is the latest into China’s big so-called “platform” companies that match sellers and buyers, several of which have been accused by regulators of exploiting consumers.

KE Holdings, which operates housing platforms Lianjia and Beike in China, was warned last month by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), along with dozens of internet companies, against any abuse of market dominance and told to conduct self-inspections.

SAMR has been formally investigating in recent weeks whether KE Holdings forces real estate developers to list housing information only on its platforms, including Lianjia and Beike, a tactic known as “choose one from two”, the people said, declining to be named because the information is not public.

The investigation has not been publicly announced. It is not known when it will be wrapped up or what it could entail for KE Holdings.

KE Holdings declined to comment to Reuters but in a later statement on its Chinese social media accounts Beike denied that “SAMR had opened a case against Beike”.

SAMR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

KE’s New York-listed shares fell as much as nearly 10% in pre-market trading on Tuesday, after the Reuters report.

Graphic: KE Holdings shares – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjpqbbjevx/image-1621913862223.png

Last month, SAMR hit Alibaba Group with a record $2.8 billion fine after finding that the e-commerce giant had been preventing its merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms since 2015.

Tencent itself is in the firing line, with SAMR preparing to levy a fine of at least $1.5 billion on the gaming and social media behemoth, Reuters reported in April. SAMR also announced an investigation last month into Tencent-backed food delivery giant Meituan.

SAMR has stationed inspectors since late April in 17 companies that operate platforms, including KE Holdings, to enhance the efficiency of antitrust inspections, one of the sources said.

KE Holdings, which also counts SoftBank Group Corp among its major backers, launched Lianjia, formerly known as Beijing Homelink Real Estate Brokerage, 20 years ago.

It grew into one of China’s largest bricks-and-mortar property agents and later set up Beike as a separate online housing platform matching buyers and sellers, renters and landlords, as well as providing home finance.

It listed in New York in August, and after sharp gains last year the shares are down 15% so far in 2021. Still, it has a market value of about $62 billion.

On top of the antitrust probe, KE Holdings faces uncertainty following the death last week of its 50-year-old founder and chairman, Zuo Hui, due to an illness. Co-founder Peng Yongdong was appointed chairman this week.

Its biggest revenue sources are from existing home and new home transactions, with market shares of 26% and 35%, respectively, of gross transaction volume in 2020, according to TF Securities, a relatively high proportion in China’s fragmented housing market. KE Holdings posted stellar first quarter financial results last week, with net revenue up 191% on the year, bolstered byChina’s robust property market that quickly rebounded last yearfrom the coronavirus crisis.

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang, Cheng Leng and Tony Munroe in Beijing; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Louise Heavens)

Exclusive: China’s Tencent in Talks with U.S. to Keep Gaming Investments

By Echo Wang and Greg Roumeliotis

Tencent has been in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which has the authority to order the Chinese technology giant to divest U.S. holdings, since the second half of last year, the sources said.

CFIUS has been looking in to whether Epic Games’ and Riot Games’ handling of the personal data of their users constitutes a national security risk because of their Chinese ownership, the sources added.

Tencent owns a 40% stake in Epic Games, the maker of popular video game Fortnite. Tencent also bought a majority stake in Riot Games in 2011 and acquired the rest of the company in 2015. Riot Games is the developer of “League of Legends,” one of the world’s most popular desktop-based games.

Tencent is negotiating risk-mitigation measures with CFIUS so it can keep its investments, according to the sources. The details of the proposed measures could not be learned. They typically involve ringfencing the owner of a company from operations that have national security implications. They often call for the appointment of independent auditors to monitor the implementation of these agreements.

One of the sources said Epic Games has not been sharing any user data with Tencent.

The sources cautioned there is no certainty that Tencent will clinch deals to keep its investments and asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Tencent, Epic Games and a CFIUS representative at the U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment.

A Riot Games spokesman said the Los Angeles-based company operates independently of Tencent and that it has implemented “industry-leading practices” to protect player data. He declined to comment on Riot Games’ discussions with CFIUS.

CFIUS has been cracking down on Chinese ownership of U.S. technology assets in the last few years, amid an escalation in tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights and the protection of intellectual property. U.S. officials have expressed concerns that the personal data of U.S. citizens could end up in the hands of China’s Communist Party government.

President Joe Biden’s administration has maintained the hawkish stance against China inherited in January from his predecessor Donald Trump, albeit with more of a focus on geopolitical issues such as the future of Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as China’s persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Yet many key CFIUS roles have not yet been staffed. This has provided a reprieve to China’s ByteDance, which was ordered by Trump last year to sell its popular short video app TikTok but balked at a transaction that would have involved Oracle Corp and Walmart Inc. CFIUS has not sought to enforce the divestiture order under Biden.

Epic is locked in a legal fight with Apple Inc over access to the iPhone maker’s app store. It alleges that Apple forces developers to use its in-app payment systems – which charge commissions of up to 30% – and to submit to app-review guidelines that discriminate against products that compete with Apple’s own.

Apple argues that Epic Games broke their contract when it introduced its own in-app payment system in Fortnite to circumvent Apple’s commissions. It says the way it runs the app store inspires trust in consumers to open up their wallets to unknown developers.

Tencent’s vast businesses include video games, content streaming, social media, advertising and cloud services. China has in recent months sought to curb the economic and social power of Tencent and other internet companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, in a clampdown backed by President Xi Jinping. Reuters reported last week that Beijing was preparing a substantial antitrust fine for Tencent.

(Reporting by Echo Wang in Miami and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)