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FTC sues to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard

Source image: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/12/08/ftc-sues-to-block-microsofts-acquisition-of-game-giant-activision-blizzard.html

This is the boldest move the Biden administration has taken to police mergers, says fmr. FTC chairman

The Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday it has filed an antitrust case against Microsoft to challenge the software maker’s attempt to acquire video game publisher Activision Blizzard.

This isn’t Microsoft’s first time dealing with competitive pressure. In 1998 the U.S. Justice Department filed a broad antitrust case against the company. Microsoft changed some practices related to its Windows operating system business as a result. Regulators in the United Kingdom are looking into whether the Activision Blizzard acquisition would lessen competition in the country.

Microsoft announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in January, with the goal of closing it by June 2023. The deal has come under pressure from Microsoft’s competitors in gaming, such as Sony. Microsoft has repeatedly said it won’t be the world’s leader in gaming if the deal were to close, and it has vowed to provide popular “Call of Duty” games on gaming platforms other than those owned by Microsoft.

“We continue to believe that this deal will expand competition and create more opportunities for gamers and game developers,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president, said in a statement. “We have been committed since Day One to addressing competitive concerns, including by offering earlier this week proposed concessions to the FTC. While we believed in giving peace a chance, we have complete confidence in our case and welcome the opportunity to present our case in court.”

FTC commissioners voted 3-1 to move forward with the agency’s administrative complaint, which will go before the FTC’s internal administrative law judge. In that process, the ALJ makes an initial decision after a trial-like proceeding. The respondent or FTC staff serving as “complaint counsel” can choose to appeal the initial decision to the full commission for a vote. After that, the respondent could still ask a federal appeals court to review the commission’s order.

“With control of Activision’s content, Microsoft would have the ability and increased incentive to withhold or degrade Activision’s content in ways that substantially lessen competition — including competition on product quality, price, and innovation,” the FTC said in its complaint. “This loss of competition would likely result in significant harm to consumers in multiple markets at a pivotal time for the industry.”

FTC sues Microsoft over proposed Activision deal

In the statement, the FTC said Microsoft has a record, including with its 2021 ZeniMax deal, of buying games and using the moves to suppress competition from other companies that make consoles. Microsoft promised the European Commission antitrust officials that the company wouldn’t have an incentive to stop people from playin ZeniMax games on consoles other than the Xbox, but after the European Commission permitted the deal to proceed, Microsoft announced that it was making ZeniMax games such as Elder Scrolls VI, Redfall and Starfield into exclusives, the FTC said in its suit.

Microsoft made ZeniMax games such as Starfield and Redfall into exclusives after telling European Commission antitrust officials it didn’t have an incentive to stop people from playing the games on consoles other than the Xbox, the agency said.

The FTC said Activision Blizzard has brought its games to a variety of devices, irrespective of their manufacturers, but that might change if Microsoft were to complete the deal. Microsoft could adjust prices or worsen the experience on competing hardware such as Sony PlayStation consoles, or keep Activision Blizzard consoles from reaching consoles other than Microsoft Xbox systems, the agency said.

Microsoft does offer titles that are exclusive to the Xbox, and in October Phil Spencer, CEO of gaming at Microsoft, pointed out that Sony has its own set of exclusive franchises, but over time Microsoft has brought games such as Minecraft to other devices. He argued that it’s important for more people, not less, to play games the company owns.

Microsoft is seeking to add subscribers to its Game Pass service that provides access to hundreds of games. The Game Pass Ultimate subscription tier also allows people to play games that stream from Microsoft data centers on a variety of devices, including smartphones.

The FTC said in its case that the proposed acquisition is reasonably likely to reduce competition or bring about monopolies in the markets for gaming subscription services, cloud gaming and high-performance consoles.

“We want Call of Duty to be enjoyed by more players around the world. That requires COD being on diverse platforms after the merger of Microsoft + Activision Blizzard,” Lulu Cheng Meservey, Activision’s executive vice president for corporate affairs and communications chief, said in a tweet.

The lawsuit represents a major milestone for FTC Chair Lina Khan, who has long signaled aggressive action on tech. While her tenure has included a lawsuit seeking to block Facebook owner Meta from acquiring a virtual reality fitness app developer, the lawsuit seeking to block the Microsoft-Activision deal is notable for its scale, as the largest technology transaction to date.

Khan and her counterpart at the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Jonathan Kanter, have said they want the agencies to become more comfortable with taking big swings, adding that a high win record in court likely means they aren’t challenging enough cases.

Federal enforcers have seen a string of losses in merger challenges in recent months, with the exception of one significant win by the Department of Justice in its case against Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster.

The FTC’s administrative law judge rejected the commission’s challenge of Illumina’s proposed acquisition of Grail in the biotech space, though the FTC said it will appeal that ruling. The Antitrust Division has also said it’s appealing or considering appealing the three merger cases it lost so far: UnitedHealth Group-Change Healthcare, US Sugar-Imperial Sugar and Booz Allen Hamilton-EverWatch.

Smith previewed Microsoft’s arguments against blocking the deal in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published earlier this week, saying it would be a “huge mistake.”

“Microsoft faces huge challenges in the gaming industry,” Smith wrote, adding that its Xbox console gaming system is in third place behind Sony’s PlayStation and the Nintendo Switch. Microsoft also has “no meaningful presence in the mobile game industry,” he said. He pointed attention toward Apple and Google, saying that while mobile gaming is a fast growing and high revenue segment, those two app store operators take a “significant portion” of those earnings through their fees on developers.

Activision Blizzard does have a place on mobile devices thanks to its 2016 acquisition of King, which publishes the Candy Crush Saga game. The Candy Crush franchise has over 200 million monthly active users, Activision Blizzard said in November.

Smith noted that Microsoft’s purchase of Activision would let it compete effectively in the gaming industry, spurring innovation and helping customers. He downplayed concerns voiced by competitors such as Sony, saying the company is “as excited about this deal as Blockbuster was about the rise of Netflix.”

Activision Blizzard shares reached a session low of $73 per share after the FTC announced its case. Microsoft had agreed to pay $95 per share.

Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard’s CEO, told employees in a memo that the assertion that the deal is anti-competitive doesn’t match with the facts.

“Simply put, a combined Microsoft-ABK will be good for players, good for employees, good for competition and good for the industry,” he wrote. “Our players want choice, and this gives them exactly that.”

Politico reported last month that the FTC was likely to try to block the deal.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/12/08/ftc-sues-to-block-microsofts-acquisition-of-game-giant-activision-blizzard.html

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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures

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According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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