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Ant Group final approvals for its massive Hong Kong, Shanghai IPO

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The Ant Group Co. logo and the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. logo are displayed behind a reception desk at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Ant Group has cleared the final regulatory hurdle for its massive initial public offering (IPO) with the pricing of its shares slated to be released within the next week.

On Wednesday, the China Securities Regulatory Commission gave the green light for Ant Group’s dual Shanghai and Hong Kong listing to go ahead. That came after the Hong Kong stock exchange also gave its approval for the offshore portion of the listing.

The Chinese financial technology giant, which is 33% owned by Alibaba and controlled by founder Jack Ma, also updated its IPO prospectus with information on the share structure.

It will split its stock issuance equally across Shanghai and Hong Kong, issuing 1.67 billion shares in each location. That amounts to 11% of its total outstanding shares post-IPO. The number of shares could increase if the so-called overallotment option is exercised, depending on demand.

Ant Group will now proceed with a roadshow to market the IPO to investors and will price the shares on Oct. 27.

Strategic investors have agreed to subscribe to 80% of the company’s Shanghai-issued A shares. Alibaba, via it subsidiary Zhejiang Tmall Technology, has agreed to buy 730 million A shares. This will allow Alibaba to maintain its roughly 33% stake in Ant Group.

Ant Group also released some updated financial figures for the first nine months of 2020. It says monthly active users of its Alipay mobile payments app has increased from 711 million in June to 731 million in September.

Revenue was 118.19 billion yuan ($17.73 billion), a more than 42% year-on-year rise.

Ant Group’s listing could be one of the biggest of all time. Reuters has previously reported the listing could raise up to $35 billion. One analyst previously told CNBC that Ant’s valuation could exceed $200 billion.


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Google and Facebook to be scrutinized by new U.K. unit from next year

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Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, arrives to testify during the House Financial Services hearing on An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

LONDON —  The U.K. on Friday said a new government unit will work to tackle ongoing concerns about a concentration of power among a small number of tech giants.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said it plans to create a Digital Markets Unit (DMU) to enforce “a new code to govern the behavior of platforms that currently dominate the market, such as Google and Facebook.”

The code is designed to ensure that consumers, small businesses, and news publishers aren’t disadvantaged by actions taken by tech giants, the government said.

Under the new code, some of the world’s biggest tech companies may have to be more transparent about the services they provide and how they use consumers’ data. They may also be forced to give consumers a choice over whether to receive personalized advertising, and they won’t be able to place restrictions on customers that make it difficult for them to use rival platforms. 

The DMU, which will be part of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will start work in April 2021.

The government said the DMU may be given the unit the power to suspend, block and reverse decisions made by large tech companies. The DMU could also order them to take certain actions to achieve compliance with the code, and impose financial penalties for non-compliance, the government said.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement: “I’m unashamedly pro-tech and the services of digital platforms are positively transforming the economy — bringing huge benefits to businesses, consumers and society.”

“But there is growing consensus in the UK and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them. It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth,” Dowden said.

Digital strategy

In July, the CMA called on the government to give it more powers and set up the DMU, saying it was necessary to rein in big digital advertising platforms. The regulator said it was concerned about how tech giants like Google and Facebook use digital advertising to fuel their business models.

Though the CMA’s recommendations had a domestic focus, the watchdog said the problems it had identified were “international in nature” and that it would look to “take a leading role globally” as part of its digital strategy.

“Through our examination of this market, we have discovered how major online platforms like Google and Facebook operate and how they use digital advertising to fuel their business models,” Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said on July 1. “What we have found is concerning – if the market power of these firms goes unchecked, people and businesses will lose out.”

Ronan Harris, Google’s vice president for the U.K. and Ireland, said in a statement at the time: “Advertisers today choose from a wide range of platforms that compete with each to deliver the most effective and innovative ad formats and products.”

He added: “We support regulation that benefits people, businesses and society and we’ll continue to work constructively with regulatory authorities and Government on these important areas so that everyone can make the most of the web.”

Facebook has previously said it would engage with U.K. government bodies “on rules that protect consumers and help small businesses rebuild as the British economy recovers” from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We face significant competition from the likes of Google, Apple, Snap, Twitter and Amazon, as well as new entrants like TikTok, which keeps us on our toes,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement on July 1. “Giving people meaningful controls over how their data is collected and used is important, which is why we have introduced industry leading tools for people to control how their data is used to inform the ads they see.”

— CNBC’s Ryan Browne contributed to this story.


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Amazon gives front-line workers a $300 holiday bonus

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An Amazon warehouse

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Amazon is providing front-line workers a one-time bonus to share its appreciation for their work heading into “the peak of the holiday season,” the company announced Thursday.

In a blog post, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of retail operations, said full-time operations staff who are employed by the company from December 1 to December 31 will receive a $300 bonus. Part-time workers employed within the same timeframe will receive a $150 bonus.

“I’ve been at Amazon for 22 holiday seasons and this one is definitely unique, to say the least,” Clark said. “I’m grateful to our teams who continue to play a vital role serving their communities.”

Amazon said it will spend more than $500 million on the one-time holiday payments. In June, Amazon also spent $500 million on “Thank You” bonuses for front-line employees who continued to come to work amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The company has spent billions of dollars since March on coronavirus-related investments, including wage increases, safety gear and enhanced cleaning measures, as well as on building out testing capabilities. Amazon issued temporary wage increases and double overtime pay at the height of the pandemic, but both of those incentives came to an end in June.

Since then, warehouse workers have expressed frustration that their hazard pay was being cut even as the pandemic has persisted and they still face increased health and safety risks in the workplace. In October, Amazon disclosed that more than 19,000 of its front-line workers in the U.S. contracted the coronavirus between March 1 and Sept. 19.

Amazon defended its decision to end the wage increases and double overtime pay, saying these pay premiums were announced to “help meet increased demand” from online orders, which has since stabilized.  

Retailers including Walmart and Target have also paid out bonuses to their workers as the holiday shopping season picks up.


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Things to consider before you buy

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Black Friday TV shopping guide: Things to consider before you buy