The week’s news included; Italy fines Apple & Google €200m, India to ban crypto ahead of CBDC launch, Rams agree $790m settlement with St Louis, Energy firm Bulb gets £1.7bn to keep the lights on.
- Sky News – Can cafe culture and more social opportunities save the high street?
- Legal Cheek – The role energy lawyers play in the push towards a greener planet.
- City A.M. – Bumper Black Friday and cyber-Monday sales are a relic of old consumer habits
1. ITALY FINES APPLE & AMAZON €200M
Italy’s competition regulator has slapped Amazon and Apple with fines totalling more than €200 million. The tech giants allegedly colluded in the sale of Apple and Beats products constituting anti-competitive behaviour. Amazon agreed with Apple to give itself almost exclusive contractual rights to sell Apple and Beats products on its Italian website. Almost all resellers of such products were prohibited to sell on Amazon.it. Only Amazon and a few other parties were allowed to sell on the platform. Both companies were ordered to cancel the restrictions and received fines for breaching the rules. Apple was fined €134.5 million while Amazon was fined €68.7 million. Regulators are evidently keen to crack down on big tech, but such fines do little to challenge the systemic dominance of tech firms. Whether global regulators can devise meaningful rules and frameworks to limit big tech remains to be seen.
2. GOOGLE AGREES DEAL WITH UK CMA
Google has agreed to new privacy commitments with the UK Competition and Markets Authority as the tech giant moves away from tracking cookies. Third party tracking cookies which are used for targeted ads have been criticised and have been the centre of much controversy. The apparent intrusiveness of targeted ads has led to calls to block the use of such tracking cookies. In response, Google has been developing its Privacy Sandbox, which is an alternative ad-targeting system. This system is designed to be less intrusive than standard targeted ads. This latest agreement forms part of the CMA’s investigation into Google’s Privacy Sandbox. The CMA and the UK’s data privacy regulator will mow all have input into the development of the Privacy Sandbox. Tech Crunch looks closer at the response to Google’s Sandbox.
3. INDIA’S CRYPTO BAN
India will introduce new restrictions on cryptocurrencies within the next few months. Only certain cryptocurrencies will be allowed in India alongside its underlying blockchain technology. The Reserve Bank of India will launch a state-backed digital currency in December and is keen to limit the use of private cryptocurrencies. The Indian government had considered criminalising all crypto-related activities but has adopted a new approach. Instead, it will introduce large taxes on cryptocurrency holders and dissuade users from holding them. It had previously warned about the systemic risks posed by cryptocurrencies due to the high potential for its use as a money laundering and terrorist financing tool. Full details on the latest measures are still to be released but there will undoubtedly be a shock to the Indian cryptocurrency market. It is estimated that the cryptocurrency market in India is worth over $5 billion. Check out our article exploring central bank’s digital currencies.
4. RAMS AGREE $790M SETTLEMENT WITH ST LOUIS
American football team, the Rams, alongside its owner Stan Kronke and the NFL have settled a dispute with the city of St Louis for $790 million over its relocation to LA. In 2016, the Rams franchise moved from its St Louis, Missouri base after 21 years in the city. Stan Kronke, moved the franchise back to Los Angeles, California, over 1800 miles away although this had been its home from 1946 to 1995.
This angered the city of St Louis due to huge loss of income and they claimed the NFL, Kronke and the Rams all breached NFL relocation guidelines and lied about relocation plans for two until it was approved. All defendants refuted the applicability of the guidelines, but the case was due to go to court. St Louis was seeking up to $1 billion The Missouri Supreme Court upheld an earlier judgement stating that there was sufficient evidence of fraudulent activity committed by Kronke and others in relation to the case. Consequently, the NFL was ordered to release financial records. Despite attempts by the Rams & the NFL to get the case dismissed, a settlement was soon seen as the best option.
Stan Kronke is worth over $10 billion and owns a range of sports teams including, NBA team the Denver Nuggets, Arsenal football club, Colorado Crush arena football team and Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse team.
5. BULB GETS £1.7BN TO KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
Energy firm Bulb will receive a government loan of £1.7 billion so it can continue supplying its 1.7 million customers. The firm went into special administration last week and administrators are looking for a buyer. Teneo, Bulb’s administrator, predicts that Bulb will need £2.1 billion in funding to keep the lights on for the next five months. Without the funding, Bulb is predicted to fully collapse in December. Like many energy firms, the soaring cost of wholesale gas and electricity combined with the energy price cap has caused severe financial distress. The energy price cap may rise next April and energy firms are waiting expectantly for what could see their revenues and fortunes improve.
This move marks a change in approach by the government. Previously, the government had ruled out giving financial support to collapsed energy firms. Furthermore, the energy regulator typically just reallocates customers of failed firms to new suppliers, without interruption to service. Since September 2021 alone, 21 energy firms (other than Bulb) which serviced over 2 million customers have gone bust. Given Bulb’s huge customer base, following the typical processes would not be viable.
6. LV= TAKEOVER
UK insurance company LV= is seeking member approval for a £530 million takeover from US private equity firm Bain Capital. LV= is a mutual organisation and is owned by its 1.2 million member-customers. The deal would see members receive £100 each. Approval from 75% of members is required for the deal to pass. Many have criticised the small takeover fee given the loss of its mutual status. The board of LV= has backed the deal as the firm needs over £100 million in additional investment to stay afloat as a standalone business. Bain’s deal provides this financial support and also provides £212 million of capital to distribute to members. LV= was originally put up for sale in June 2020 and has rejected an offer from competitor Royal Victoria.
Politicians have criticised the deal to avoid a historic UK business being taken over by foreign private equity firms. Founded in 1843, LV =, Formerly called Liverpool Victoria, was set up to fund burial costs for Liverpool’s pool. It is now one of the UK’s largest insurers.
7. GOVIA FACING £73M CLAIM
Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates the Gatwick Express, Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern services is facing legal claims totalling a huge £73 million for allegedly overcharging customers. Over 3 million passengers are affected as they were denied access to boundary fares during their London journeys. The case is being brought on behalf of passengers to the Competition Appeal Tribunal by consumer campaigner Justin Gutmann. Southwestern and Southeastern are also being sued bringing the total compensation requested by the claims to £93 million. Those with London Travelcards receive discounts on Oyster card fees and rail fares when crossing into London through boundary fares and these were allegedly not applied. The claim has been filed and is now ongoing.
8. BLACK FRIDAY
The UK saw its largest ever Black Friday sales last week marking a strong bounce back from the depths of the pandemic. Debit and credit card issuers including Barclaycard and Nationwide recorded a spike in payments of over 20% for the day compared to last year. Cyber Monday is still to come so there is every chance this period could provide a welcome boost for sales. Unfortunately for the high street, shoppers focused their attention online causing footfall at physical stores to decline by nearly 30% at shopping centres across the country.
Consumer group Which? also found that over 90% of items that were sold as Black Friday deals were the same price or cheaper six months earlier. Their investigation looked at 201 products at six major retailers including Amazon, Argos and John Lewis. 92% of products on Black Friday were the same price or cheaper six months before the day while 98.5% were cheaper or the same price six months later.
9. LIDL TO CREATE 4,000 NEW JOBS
Lidl has revealed plans to create 4,000 new UK jobs with the ambition of having 1,100 stores by 2025. The supermarket is the 7th largest in the UK is closing the gap on Co-op (Kantar). Lidl had a bumper period during the pandemic and posted a 12% increase in revenue, up to £7.7 billion. Buoyed by its essential retailer status throughout the pandemic and the panic buying that ensued, Lidl posted pre-tax profits of £9.8 million in the period. The supermarket has opened 55 stores in the first year of the pandemic. Lidl also returned the business rates relief it received at the start of the pandemic due to this increase in sales, following similar moves by its supermarket competitors.
10. CAR PRODUCTION
UK car production has plummeted to lowest levels in nearly 60 years. The global shortage of semiconductors has forced manufacturers to slash production and industry experts are growing concerned. Production tanked by 41.4% to 64,729 cars last month compared to the same month last year. This is the fourth consecutive month of decline. Modern cars have powerful computers which control everything from steering systems to in-car entertainment. Check out our article explaining the reasons for the semiconductor shortage.
This has also had a knock-on effect on the second-hand car market. With a dearth of new cars on the market, demand for older cars has soared, seeing prices of popular models rise by nearly 60% within the past two years alone.