Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 17/05/2021

The week’s news included; Virgin Media O2 merger approved, Oatly shares boom on IPO day, Tim Cook takes the stand in Epic legal saga, Nike & Puma in trademark battle.

Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page, Facebook page and Instagram Page, for regular posts of important headlines. Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.

Opinion articles of the week: 

  • The Economist – Why American songwriters are suing each other.
  • CNBC – Michael Burry of ‘The Big Short’ reveals a $530 million bet against Tesla.
  • FT – Law firms chase a piece of the crypto action.
  • Fashion Law – As Consumer Data Becomes Increasingly More Valuable to Companies, Is it Time for a Comprehensive U.S. Privacy Law?
  • The Guardian – Has Brexit fatally dented the City of London’s future?

1. VIRGIN MEDIA O2 MERGER

The Competition and Markets Authority has approved the $44 billion merger between Virgin Media and O2. This mammoth deal will see a huge shake up in the broadband and mobile network industry. Virgin Media owner Liberty Global and O2 owner Telefonica hailed the decision as a step forward for the UK’s telecommunications industry.  

The deal was provisionally approved last month but the CMA has finalised its decision. The CMA did not believe there would be substantial lessening of competition in the sector as the two are not in close enough competition.

The deal is expected to be finalised by 1 June. O2 and Virgin Mobile combined will likely enjoy a 30% share of the market with 46 million customers, exceeding BT & EE. The two owners will receive a combined £7.1 billion from recapitalisation proceeds. 

2. AT&T DISCOVERY MERGER

AT&T’s WarnerMedia is merging up with Discovery to launch a new digital streaming service. AT&T owns brands such as CNN, HBO and Warner Bros following its $108.7 billion acquisition of Time Warner in 2018. Discovery is a giant in documentary and lifestyle media. The combination of the two will provide a formidable competitor to Netflix, Disney, and Amazon Prime.
AT&T’s HBO and HBO Max boast nearly 64 million subscribers while Discovery+ has secured 15 million in just 4 months.

This is still far short of Netflix’s 208 million subscribers and Disney+’s 100 million. There are still many hurdles to overcome before this service goes live, particularly amongst AT&T shareholders who will be sceptical of their chances to carve a niche in the saturated streaming industry. Whether the merger will be successful remains to be seen.

3. OATLY IPO

Alternative milk producer Oatly launched its IPO on NASDAQ last week and reached a valuation of $13 billion. Oatly’s share price soared by 30% on the day and raised $1.1 billion. The company will use the raised funds to quadruple its milk production over the next two years. This will involve building five new factories and branching out into new markets. Oatly is confident in demand for its products as supermarkets consistently sell out of its products. Oatly was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Sweden.

4. APPLE EPIC BATTLE HEATS UP

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stand in court for the first time during his company’s legal battle with Epic Games. Cook faced fierce questioning from Epic’s lawyers and the judge over the high-level decisions about the App Stores. There were questions over the profitability of the App Store, Apple’s restrictive policies on alternative app stores and the dissatisfaction of app developers. Cook argued that its control of the App Store keeps iPhone users safe. Whether the judge agrees with this remains to be seen.

This case stemmed from Epic Games launching its own in-app payment system, bypassing Apple App Store system. Apple subsequently took Epic Games off the App Store. Apple takes a 30% cut of all in-app purchases. Epic Games then launched legal action against Apple claiming its charges are extortionate and anti-competitive.

5. UK RAILWAY SHAKEUP

The government has revealed the largest overhaul of the UK’s railway network in decades. The plans aim to modernise the network and provide a more efficient service. A new state-owned body, Great British Railways (GBR) will be created to manage and oversee the network. It will replace Network Rail and have greater responsibilities. GBR will centralise the management of the rail network, setting train timetables and prices and also selling tickets. From 21 June, new flexible season tickets will launch, allowing customers to buy tickets for travel two- or three-days week. Pay as you go , digital and contactless ticketing services will also be expanded. Whether these proposals will provide better value for money for travellers remains to be seen.

GBR could see the end of independent train ticket sellers such as Trainline. Investors agrees as Trainline’s shares tanked 23% in response to the news.

6. EU CHARGES BANKS FOR BOND CARTEL

The EU has charged UBS, UniCredit and Nomura for their involvement in bond trading cartels. The three banks have been collectively fined £319 million for forming foreign exchange, Euribor, Libor and bond cartels. For four years, traders from the banks shared information on their prices with each other and their customers, essentially fixing prices. Bank of America, RBS (Natwest), Natixis and WestLB (Portigon) were also involved in the cartel. The European Commission was alerted to the cartel by Natwest and so Natwest subsequently avoided a fine for its involvement. Bank of America, Natixis and Portigon were all exempted from fines. UBS, UniCredit and Nomura have all expressed their intention to appeal the charges.

7. CRYPTO CRASH

Crypto markets had a torrid week as China announced it was cracking down on digital currencies. China announced a ban on financial institutions and payment companies providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions.  The Chinese government said this was necessary to protect the financial system and limit illegal activities carried out using cryptocurrencies. China’s central bank had also recently launched its own digital currency backed by the yuan, another reason for it seeking to squeeze out other currencies. This news sent markets tumbling with currencies losing 20-40% of their value. Bitcoin lost most of gains made this year but coins which enjoyed meteoric growth this year are still in the positive.

Despite this rough week, US bank Wells Fargo announced it would launch a crypto fund to wealth clients. They classified cryptocurrencies as alternative investments suitable only for qualified investors. This follows action by Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan who both gave their wealthy clients access to crypto markets.

8. NIKE AND PUMA TRADEMARK BATTLE

Last week, courts heard Puma’s appeal against Nike’s ongoing attempt to trademark the term “Footware”. This appeal progressed to the High Court after an unsuccessful objection lodged with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO). Nike sought trademark “footware” in connection with technological connectivity, electronic devices and other related products and services. Puma had initially lodged opposition in 2019, claiming “footware” is not distinctive as the obvious combination of “footwear” and “soft/hardware” which is not unique to Nike or any identifiable source. Nike argued “footware” was unique to its products and the UKIPO accepted this argument, rejecting Puma’s objection. Puma appealed to the High Court.

For more on this case, and the concurrent case in the US check out The Fashion Law.

9. SNAP BUYS WAVEOPTICS

Snap has bought manufacturer firm, WaveOptics for $500 million. WaveOptics produces lenses and parts used in augmented reality glasses. This acquisition will help develop its new Snap Spectacles product which was recently unveiled. Snap hasn’t put them up for sale yet but the WaveOptics purchase will help bring prices down. It first launched its Spectacles in 2016 and has been developing new technology ever since. Snap, the owner of Snapchat appears to be shifting away from its social media-based roots towards technological hardware.

10. HEATHROW LOSES TAX FREE TOURISTS

The High Court has rejected Heathrow’s challenge of the scrapping of schemes providing tax-free shopping for tourists. Following Brexit, VAT-free shopping for international travellers was scrapped by the UK government.

The schemes allowed passengers travelling outside the EU at airports tax free shopping as well as VAT refunds to non-EU travellers on purchases of non-airport goods. The schemes were the VAT Retail Export Scheme (RES) and an Extra Statutory Concession (ESC) respectively.

Heathrow Airport and World Duty Free Group challenges the decision. Last week, however, the High Court dismissed the challenge. It found that the government were within their right to scrap the schemes following the end of the Brexit transition period.

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