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Ant weighs financial holding company to placate regulators, sources say

Ant Group Co Ltd is considering folding most of its online financial businesses, including consumer lending, into a holding company that would be regulated like traditional financial firms, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

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(Reuters) -Ant Group Co Ltd is considering folding most of its online financial businesses, including consumer lending, into a holding company that would be regulated like traditional financial firms, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: A thermal imaging camera is seen in front of a logo of Ant Group at the headquarters of Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 29, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The regulators, mainly the central bank, want Ant to fold its wealth management and insurance distribution businesses as well as minority-owned MYbank online lender into a financial holding company, one of the sources told Reuters.

It was not clear if Ant’s payments business Alipay, which was launched in 2004 and is second-biggest revenue generator for the group after consumer lending, would also come under the holding company structure.

Ant declined to comment.

Beijing is also seeking to potentially take a larger stake in billionaire Jack Ma’s businesses, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified Chinese officials and government advisers.

Alibaba Group and Ant did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the report, which provided no details on which of the businesses the government is eyeing.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, said in a statement to Reuters that Ant is drafting a plan to set up a financial holding firm, and that the company should ensure that all its financial operations are placed under regulatory supervision.

Ant controls a range of financial institutions, including securities and insurance firms, and should set up a holding firm according to law, the central bank said on Tuesday.

The proposed changes to the Chinese fintech giant’s businesses are yet not final and subject to revision, said the sources, who sought anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Chinese regulators abruptly halted Ant’s $37 billion initial public offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which was set to be the world’s largest, last month.

Since then, regulators have set about reining in Ma’s financial and e-commerce empire after he publicly criticised China’s regulatory system in October for stifling innovation.

On Sunday, the central bank said it had asked Ant, whose businesses include payment processing, consumer lending and insurance products distribution, to shake up its lending and other consumer finance operations. [anL1N2J702J]

The move, if finalised, would slash the valuation of the revamped Ant, which was to be valued at $315 billion on market debut mainly due to its structure as a technology vendor to financial institutions rather than as a financial firm itself.

A spinoff from Alibaba, Ant in recent years presented itself as a technology company, which helped it to benefit from the far richer valuations the market affords to tech firms than to financial institutions.

Bloomberg News on Tuesday said Ant was planning to move into the holding company any unit that would require a financial licence, pending regulatory approval.

In September, the PBOC issued rules to regulate financial holding companies so as to avert systematic risks to China’s vast financial sector. These steps included a capital threshold for such licences.

One source said Ant’s financial holding firm should be regulated accordingly, but expected lots of discussion between Ant and regulators over which businesses would be placed into the holding firm.

In its IPO prospectus filed in August, Ant said it would use newly set up unit Zhejiang Finance Credit Network Technology Co to apply for a financial holding licence, without disclosing which of its financial businesses would be folded into that.

After years of largely hands-off treatment of domestic internet finance platforms, Beijing has adopted a slew of rules in recent months to sharpen oversight of the booming sector.

China’s banking and insurance regulator on Tuesday warned consumers to guard against borrowing spurred by internet finance platforms that hide the real costs of such debt.

Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Cheng Leng in Beijing; Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jason Neely

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/china-ant-group/update-4-ant-weighs-financial-holding-company-to-placate-regulators-sources-say-idUSL1N2J9051

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Reuters

U.S. Commerce Dept. pressing Taiwan to supply more chips to U.S. automakers

The U.S. Commerce Department is pressing Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (2330.TW) and other Taiwanese firms to prioritize the needs of U.S. automakers to ease chip shortages in the near term, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Tuesday.

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The logo of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is pictured at its headquarters, in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Jan. 19, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang

The U.S. Commerce Department is pressing Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (2330.TW) and other Taiwanese firms to prioritize the needs of U.S. automakers to ease chip shortages in the near term, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Tuesday.

Raimondo told a Council of the Americas event that longer term, increased investment was needed to produce more semiconductors in the United States and that other critical supply chains needed re-shoring, including to allied countries.

“We’re working hard to see if we can get the Taiwanese and TSMC, which is a big company there, to, you know, prioritize the needs of our auto companies since there’s so many American jobs on the line,” Raimondo said in response to a question from a General Motors Co (GM.N) executive.

“As I said, there’s not a day goes by that we don’t push on that,” she said, adding the medium- and long-term solution would be “simply making more chips in America.”

TSMC said that addressing the shortage remained its top priority.

“TSMC has been working with all parties to alleviate the automotive chip supply shortage, we understand it is a shared concern of the worldwide automotive industry,” it said in a statement to Reuters on Wednesday.

TSMC CEO C.C. Wei said last month the company had worked with its customers since January to reallocate more capacity to support the auto industry, but the shortage had worsened due to a snowstorm in Texas and a fab manufacturing disruption in Japan.

Wei expected the chip shortage for its auto clients to be greatly reduced from the next quarter.

The Commerce Department is planning a high-level meeting with automakers set to take place next week on the chip shortage issue, said officials briefed on the matter. A Commerce Department spokesman declined to comment.

United Auto Workers Legislative Director Josh Nassar said in written testimony for a U.S. House hearing on Wednesday that the chips shortage has resulted in the layoffs of “tens of thousands of workers … Clearly, we need to bolster domestic production of automotive-quality semiconductors.”

Last week, Ford Motor Co (F.N) warned the chips shortage may slash second-quarter production by half, cost it about $2.5 billion and about 1.1 million units of lost production in 2021.

GM said on Friday it would extend production halts at several North American factories because of the shortage.

On April 12, Biden convened semiconductor and auto industry executives to discuss solutions to the chip crisis. He backs $50 billion to support U.S. chip manufacturing and research.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/technology/us-commerce-dept-pressing-taiwan-supply-more-chips-us-automakers-2021-05-04/

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India’s daily COVID-19 cases pass 400,000 for first time as second wave worsens

India recorded more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time on Saturday as it battles a devastating second wave, and the country’s massive new vaccination drive was hampered in some areas by shortages of the shots.

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India recorded more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time on Saturday as it battles a devastating second wave, and the country’s massive new vaccination drive was hampered in some areas by shortages of the shots.

Authorities reported 401,993 new cases in the previous 24 hours, after 10 consecutive days of more than 300,000 daily cases. Deaths jumped by 3,523, taking the country’s total toll to 211,853, according to the federal health ministry.

The surge in infections has overwhelmed hospitals, morgues and crematoriums and left families scrambling for scarce medicines and oxygen. And while India is the world’s biggest producer of COVID-19 vaccines, shortages of the shots in some states hindered the opening of vaccinations for all adults.

West Bengal state was unable to start a drive aimed at adults aged between 18 and 45 due to a shortage of shots and urged the federal government to provide more supplies, a senior state health official said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak with media.

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the hard-hit state of Delhi on Friday urged people not to queue at vaccination centres, promising more vaccines would arrive “tomorrow or the day after”.

Eastern Odisha state said on Friday it had received a consignment of 150,000 shots but would only allow a few people to get shots due to lockdown restrictions preventing movement.

In Ahmedabad, the main commercial city in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, hundreds of people lined up for their shots.

“I took my first dose and I am appealing to all students to take the vaccine and be safe,” said Raj Shah, a 27-year-old student in the city.

India has received 150,000 Sputnik-V vaccine doses from Russia and millions more doses will follow, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said on Saturday.

DELHI STILL GASPING

Shortages of medical oxygen have plagued the medical system.

In New Delhi’s Batra Hospital, local media reported that eight people including a doctor died on Saturday after the facility ran out of oxygen.

“Delhi required 976 tonnes of oxygen and yesterday only 312 tonnes of oxygen was given. How does Delhi breathe in such a low oxygen?” chief minister Kejriwal tweeted.

At a hearing on Saturday, the Delhi high court took note of the deaths at Batra Hospital and told the federal government to make arrangements for the allocated supply of oxygen to be given to Delhi.

Manisha Bashu presses the chest of her father, who is suffering from breathing problem, after he felt unconscious while receiving oxygen support for free at a Gurudwara (Sikh temple), amidst the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ghaziabad, India, April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

“Enough is enough,” Justice Vipin Sanghi said.

The federal government’s counsel told the court: “We are doing maximum to what human limit can go.”

Desperate coronavirus patients continued to arrive at hospitals despite a shortage of beds.

Gasping for air, 62-year-old Vijay Gupta was turned away by Holy Family hospital, a non-profit private facility in the southeast of the capital, as all of its 385 beds were full.

His family and friends debated what to do try next.

“We have been roaming around since 6 a.m. looking for a bed,” said Gupta’s friend Rajkumar Khandelwal. “Where shall we go?”

A fire in a hospital about 190 km (115 miles) south of Ahmedabad killed 16 coronavirus patients and two staff, the latest in a series of deadly accidents at hospitals. read more

The Delhi government said it will extend for another seven days a lockdown it first imposed for a week on April 19.

WARNING SIGNS IGNORED

Daily infections have soared since the start of April. Some experts blame mass religious gatherings and political rallies for the severity of India’s second wave, which caught the government unprepared.

A forum of scientific advisers set up by the Modi administration warned officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant taking hold in the country, five scientists who are part of the forum told Reuters. read more

Four of the scientists said that despite the warning, the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. Millions, largely unmasked, attended religious gatherings and election rallies that were held by Modi, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition politicians.

The surge in India has come as many countries are seeing the pandemic ease.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday banned most travel from India in restrictions that will take effect from Tuesday. read more

Other countries and territories have also imposed travel restrictions on India, including Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy and Singapore. Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand have suspended all commercial travel with India. read more

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Eastern Odisha state said on Friday it had received a consignment of 150,000 shots but would only allow a few people to get shots due to lockdown restrictions preventing movement.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/india-posts-record-daily-rise-covid-19-cases-401993-2021-05-01/

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Biden’s families plan includes free meals for millions of low-income children

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday will propose that Congress spend $45 billion to provide free meals to millions more low-income children, a move that would expand anti-poverty measures adopted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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U.S. President Joe Biden hugs a child as he visits the Houston Food Bank in Houston, Texas, U.S., February 26, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday will propose that Congress spend $45 billion to provide free meals to millions more low-income children, a move that would expand anti-poverty measures adopted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden wants lawmakers to fund the permanent expansion of a bridge program that gives low-income families cash to pay for food in the months when school is out for the summer and lunches aren’t served. He is also asking to provide more money for free meals in high-poverty areas throughout the school year.

The nutrition program is one component of Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which would raise taxes on wealthy individuals to pay for initiatives shoring up lower-income families.

“The pandemic illustrated the need to address food insecurity,” said Kelliann Blazek, a White House aide whose portfolio includes agriculture and rural policy. “Some of these investments are really pulling on lessons learned during the pandemic.”

In 2019, 5.3 million children lived in households unable to guarantee food for the whole family throughout the year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The administration is also asking Congress to reward schools that expand healthful food offerings with incentive payments and also to allow individuals convicted of drug-related crimes to continue receiving food stamp benefits.

For the funding to be approved, the proposal will need the approval of a closely divided Congress.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

In 2019, 5.3 million children lived in households unable to guarantee food for the whole family throughout the year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/bidens-families-plan-includes-free-meals-millions-low-income-children-2021-04-28/

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