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European Antitrust Fines Qualcomm $1.2 Billion Over Apple Deal



European antitrust officials hammered Qualcomm with a $1.2 billion fine on Wednesday, saying the American chip maker, whose technology underpins much of the world’s mobile phone industry, had abused its dominant market position to squeeze out competitors.

The penalty of 997 million euros follows a two-year investigation and is the latest move by regional regulators against a United States tech giant. Officials in Brussels say that Qualcomm offered financial incentives to Apple so that it would buy equipment solely from the chip maker. Qualcomm immediately said it would appeal the ruling, which would probably extend the case, originally announced in the summer of 2015, for years to come.

The decision on Wednesday bolsters the argument that Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief, has become the most aggressive regulator of the world’s technology sector. In recent years, Ms. Vestager’s office has mounted a concerted campaign against tax avoidance, anti-competitive behavior and the mishandling of private data. In June, it fined Google a record $2.7 billion for unfairly favoring some of its own services over those of rivals.

Those moves have prompted complaints from American technology giants that they are being unfairly targeted, but European Union officials strongly deny the accusations.

The ruling also serves to compound Qualcomm’s troubles. The company has been locked in a legal battle with Apple over pricing issues, and it is trying to fend off a hostile takeover by a rival chip maker.

In the latest decision, European regulators found that Qualcomm, the world’s largest maker of smartphone chips, abused its market dominance by preventing rivals from competing in the smartphone chip market thanks to an agreement in which it paid Apple to exclusively use its chips in iPhones and iPads between 2011 and 2016.

“Qualcomm illegally shut out rivals from the market” for a particular kind of microchip, Ms. Vestager said in a news release, “thereby cementing its market dominance.”

“Qualcomm paid billions of U.S. dollars to a key customer, Apple, so that it would not buy from rivals,” she added. “These payments were not just reductions in price — they were made on the condition that Apple would exclusively use Qualcomm’s baseband chipsets in all its iPhones and iPads.”

The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, found that Qualcomm’s practices had a significant, detrimental impact on competition in the region. “It excluded rivals from the market and deprived European consumers of genuine choice and innovation,” the commission said.

Ms. Vestager said that she could not say how much Apple had ultimately received from Qualcomm in payments, but that it was in the “billions of dollars.”

She said that internal documents reviewed as part of the inquiry showed that Apple had seriously considered using chips made by a rival manufacturer, Intel, during the period of its agreement with Qualcomm, but did not do so until the deal with Qualcomm had concluded.

If Apple had introduced a smartphone using products from a different chip maker, she said, Apple not only would have lost future payments from Qualcomm, but also would have been forced to pay back some of the money it had already received.

Ms. Vestager said that Apple would not face any repercussions because the inquiry had been focused on Qualcomm’s practices. European regulators are also continuing a separate investigation into preliminary findings that Qualcomm sold its chips at below cost price from 2009 to 2011 to force a competitor out of the market.

In a statement, Qualcomm said that it “strongly disagrees” with the decision and that it would appeal the ruling to the European Union’s highest court.

“We are confident this agreement did not violate E.U. competition rules or adversely affect market competition or European consumers,” Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s general counsel, said in a news release. “We have a strong case for judicial review, and we will immediately commence that process.”

The fine on Wednesday came with Qualcomm in the midst of multiple takeover battles. It has sought to fight off a hostile $105 billion takeover attempt by a rival, the Singapore-based chip maker Broadcom. If completed, that takeover would be the largest technology deal in history. And despite that battle in the background, Qualcomm is still looking to complete a $38.5 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors.

In a letter to investors last week, Qualcomm raised its profit forecast, outlined plans to reduce its costs and promised to buy back shares if it was unsuccessful in its efforts to acquire NXP. Qualcomm said the Broadcom offer “dramatically undervalues” the company and “does not reflect our clear path to near term value.”

Qualcomm has been a longtime leader in cellphone chip technology, and its trove of patents, which include ubiquitous processes such as the way applications are downloaded from smartphone app stores and the use of airplane mode, remains one of the most lucrative assets in the world of wireless networking.

Founded in 1985, the company helped build the modern mobile phone industry with its technology. For decades, Qualcomm engineers have made crucial innovations that have helped the sector develop and expand, and bolstered the company’s results along the way.

But more recently, it has faced a multitude of legal and shareholder issues. The company in 2015 agreed to pay a $975 million fine for violating China’s antimonopoly law. Later that year, an activist campaign within the company forced layoffs. In December 2016, Qualcomm was also fined $850 million in South Korea for unfair patent licensing.

Then a year ago, the company was hit with separate lawsuits just days apart. First, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against it for charging unreasonable fees to partners like Apple. Soon after, Apple sued Qualcomm over what it claimed were $1 billion in withheld rebates.

The continuing disputes have weighed on Qualcomm’s results, cutting its profit by 89 percent in the fourth quarter. The company took a $778 million charge related to a fine imposed by Taiwanese regulators in October, and its results were again hit by the royalty dispute with Apple.

Photo Credit :Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s top antitrust official, has led a push to regulate major technology companies. Credit Francois Lenoir/Reuters

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Automaker Daimler AG to pay $1.5 billion to settle emissions cheating probes



Daimler AG Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche (C) speaks to the media after he unveiled the Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe at Auto China 2012 in Beijing April 23, 2012. China's premium car market should grow 15-20 percent this year, Zetsche said on Monday, adding that Daimler's sales should at least match that rate. Zetsche also said he expects the company's Mercedes-Benz luxury brand to post a sales increase in Europe this year. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Automaker Daimler AG and subsidiary Mercedes-Benz USA have agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the U.S. government and California state regulators to resolve emissions cheating allegations, officials said Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and the California attorney general’s office say Daimler violated environmental laws by using so-called “defeat device software” to circumvent emissions testing and sold about 250,000 cars and vans in the U.S. with diesel engines that didn’t comply with state and federal laws.

The settlement, which includes civil penalties, will also require Daimler to fix the vehicles, officials said. In addition, the company will pay $700 million to settle U.S. consumer lawsuits.

The Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker said on Aug. 13 that it had agreements with the Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Customs and Border Protection, the California Air Resources Board and others over civil and environmental claims involving about 250,000 diesel cars and vans.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Daimler did not disclose all of its software, which included “devices designed to defeat emissions controls.”

In a statement, Daimler said it denies the allegations that it cheated and does not admit to any liability in the U.S. The settlements resolve civil proceedings without any determination that Mercedes and Daimler vehicles used defeat devices, the company said. Plus, Daimler said it did not receive a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act from the EPA or California regulators, which is common when defeat devices are used.

The company said it is not obligated to buy back the vehicles, as Volkswagen was, nor will it have an independent monitor to track its progress on the settlement. “By resolving these proceedings, Daimler avoids lengthy court actions with respective legal and financial risks,” the company said.

Daimler also said the emissions control system in the U.S. vehicles is different than models sold in Europe because of different regulatory and legal requirements.

Daimler AG said the settlement would bring costs of about $1.5 billion, while the civil settlement will bring a one-off charge of $875 million. It estimated that “further expenses of a mid three-digit-million” euros would be required to fulfill conditions of the settlements.

Daimler said it owners of model year 2009 through 2016 Mercedes cars and 2010 through 2016 Sprinter vans with “BlueTEC II” diesel engines will be notified of recalls to fix excessive vehicle emissions. Customers will be notified by mail starting late this year, and the company will set up a customer website, Daimler said in a statement.

Owners also will get mailed notices and a website with details of the civil lawsuit settlement including a claim form, Daimler said. The company also will pay attorneys fees of around $83 million.

Steve Berman, a lawyer involved in the class-action lawsuits against Daimler, said in a statement that current owners can get $3,290 or more, while former owners can get $822.50.

“Owners of Mercedes’ dirty diesel cars will finally be able to receive the compensation they deserve and repairs to ensure their vehicles are not emitting illegal levels of harmful pollutants,” Berman said.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the cost of the Daimler settlement is likely to send a message to deter other companies from engaging in similar conduct.

“We expect that this relief will also serve to deter any others who may be tempted to violate our nation’s pollution laws in the future,” Rosen said.

As part of the U.S. government settlement, Daimler will pay an $875 million civil penalty — about $3,500 for each vehicle that was sold in the U.S. The company will also be required to fix the vehicles and will need to replace some old locomotive engines with newer, low nitrogen oxide-emitting engines that should offset the illegal emissions from its vehicles, Rosen said. A Justice Department official said the company did not have to admit guilt as part of the settlement.

In addition, officials in California will receive $17.5 million for future environmental enforcement, as well as to support environmentally-beneficial projects in the state, officials said.

“Long term, cheating isn’t the smartest way to market your product. Daimler is finding that out today. But they’re not the first — nor likely the last — to try,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Daimler’s pollution practices also are under investigation in Germany.

In April 2016, the Justice Department asked Daimler to conduct an internal probe into its exhaust emissions certification process. The request came as the EPA began checking all diesel engines after the Volkswagen cheating was revealed.

Volkswagen, ended up paying $2.8 billion to settle a criminal case due to emissions cheating. Fiat Chrysler also is being investigated for allegedly cheating on emissions.

VW admitted that it turned on pollution controls when vehicles were being tested in EPA labs, and turning them off when the diesel vehicles were on real roads. The company duped the EPA for years before being discovered by a nonprofit climate group and researchers at West Virginia University. In September 2019, federal prosecutors charged a Fiat Chrysler engineer with rigging pollution tests on more than 100,000 diesel pickup trucks and SUVs sold in the U.S., the first indictment since a wave of similar cases against Volkswagen and its managers.

The alleged scheme isn’t as large as the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which involved nearly 600,000 vehicles. But the charges showed that investigators are still on the case, even after Fiat Chrysler agreed to a $650 million civil settlement.

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Bitcoin’s ascent will be slow & steady: Bloomberg



Megabulls such as PlanB are predicting parabolic short- to medium-term price moves for bitcoin, but Bloomberg analyst Mike McGlone believes the leading digital asset’s ascent to $100,000 will be a slow, steady and almost inexorable grind.

The senior commodity strategist at the financial news service believes bitcoin will steadily appreciate because of its fixed supply combined with a growing demand.

“I don’t see what [could] make it stop doing what [it’s] been doing for the last 10 years. And that’s going up,” he told Cointelegraph in a video interview.

McGlone thinks bitcoin could become a better store of value than gold, the traditional safe haven, because its supply is capped. Unlike gold, the total potential supply of which is unknown, bitcoin is inherently scarce; there will never be more than 21 million , and many of the ones already mined have been lost forever, thus increasing the potential value of those that remain accessible.

As demand for the digital asset grows, the price will inevitably go up, explained McGlone. He pointed out that the number of active bitcoin addresses is increasing rapidly and that more and more bitcoin is flowing into regulated exchanges, both of which are strong indications of increasing demand.

But he said investors shouldn’t expect bitcoin to soar to gobsmacking new highs on the short term as it has historically following its reward halvings – it climbed from around $1,000 to nearly $20,000 in the last bull run, before crashing hard in early 2018. Now that it is a mature asset, he said its price behaviour will be less dramatic.

When asked about Pantera Capital’s prediction that bitcoin will soar to $115,000 in just a year, McGlone said, “Bitcoin 10x? Maybe over 10 years, that makes a lot of sense.”

Read: Bitcoin is set to become digital gold: Bloomberg

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Investors offload risk after Fed gets real



A man with a protective mask walks in the rain past an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei. AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Hong Kong: Financial markets in Asia retreated on Thursday over disappointment that the US central bank did not expand its asset purchase programme, although it did reiterate its ‘lower for longer’ message.

The Bank of Japan’s decision to keep rates unchanged was expected by the market but investors sold off stocks as a dovish Fed weakened the dollar against the yen, whose strength in turn hammered exporters’ prospects.

The Japanese yen strengthened 0.2% to 104.7 to the dollar.

“The yen currently sits at around ¥105 against the dollar – that’s a little stronger than in the summer but far weaker than what the current spread between JGBs and US Treasuries would usually point to,” Capital Economics analysts Tom Learmouth and Marcel Thieliant said, referring to the narrowing of the spread. “While we expect the yen to remain close to ¥105 the risks are tilted slightly towards a stronger yen.”

The drag from exporters pulled down Japan’s Nikkei 225 index which fell 0.67%, while Australia’s S&P ASX 200 slipped 1.22% as investors worried about a rollback of stimulus after data released showed a drop in the unemployment rate.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also retreated 1.56% as investors prepared for a slew of IPOs including the world’s biggest – the Ant Financial $30-billion bonanza expected next month. At least three share offerings are expected next week as well, as issuers avoid a clash with Ant Financial’s mammoth offering. Delivery company ZTO Express, biotech company Zai Lab and online retailer Baozun are in a race for cash.

China’s CSI300 eased 0.53% as the region remained under pressure following disappointment over the US central bank’s unchanged asset purchase programme.

‘Congress must step up’

“And while risk assets might love the intravenous drip of monetary stimulus, it is time to focus on policies that the real economy needs, and for that, Powell is dead right, it’s time for Congress to step up to the plate,” Robert Carnell, ING Bank’s Regional Head of Research in the Asia-Pacific, said.

“Perhaps the market reaction here is more a realisation of this and the fact that any resolution to the current impasse is unlikely until the Presidential election outcome is determined.”

US Treasuries picked on the Fed’s ‘dot plot’, extending its gains with the 10-year yield declining 2 basis points to 0.68%.

The Federal Reserve’s dot plot, which the US central bank uses to signal its outlook for the path of interest rates, projects no change in policy this year and borrowing costs near zero through till 2023, based on median estimates. It said they must achieve maximum employment and inflation at a rate of 2% over the longer run.

“The Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4% and expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2% and is on track to moderately exceed 2% for some time.”

Asia Stocks

· Japan’s Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.67%

· Australia’s S&P ASX 200 slipped 1.22%

· Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index retreated 1.56%

· China’s CSI300 eased 0.53%

· The MSCI Asia Pacific index fell 0.70%.

Stock of the day

Times China bonds rose and shares fell after it announced a plan to buy back its bonds due in 2021.

This report appeared initially on Asia Times Financial.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world’s first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

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