Company news in brief

04 December 2018 | Business

Losses at Naspers' e-commerce unit narrow

South African internet giant Naspers reported a sharp narrowing of losses at its e-commerce unit on Friday, boosting chief executive Bob van Dijk's efforts to cut the company's dependence on its Chinese money spinner Tencent.

The division's losses narrowed 34% to US$209 million in its first half ended September, compared with the same period last year. That was largely due to a first-time profit contribution from classifieds platforms that include Letgo, a mobile app that competes with Craigslist in the United States.

Overall, Naspers reported a 39% jump in half-year core headline earnings to US$1.7 billion, or 385 US cents per share, driven by a strong contribution from Tencent, a results filing showed.

Tencent's US$1.8 billion contribution to the measure helped offset weakness at the company's other businesses that include e-commerce platforms MakeMyTrip and Delivery Hero.

Naspers also unveiled plans in October to hive off and separately list its pan-African pay-TV group Multichoice, months after selling around 2% of Tencent and all of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart - raising around US$9.4 billion.

The money is being used to scale up other e-commerce ventures and make new investments in online classifieds, payments and food delivery, with US$750 million already spent. – Nampa/Reuters

Orange: Niger orders offices shut over tax dispute

French telecoms group Orange said on Friday that Niger's government had ordered it to shut all its offices in the country because of a tax dispute, complaining that the decision was brutal and disproportionate.

Orange said the government had done so on the basis of a "questionable" claim to 22 billion CFA francs (US$38 million) in back taxes.

Niger authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Niger is one of the world's poorest countries, with a population of 20 million, and as such is a small market for the French telecoms giant.

"Orange Niger ... regrets the brutality of such measures, especially given the exorbitant amounts claimed, which represent nearly 50% of Orange Niger's turnover," the company said in a statement. It said it had been in constructive dialogue with the authorities.

"Orange Niger ... intends to exercise all the avenues of recourse, in particular to safeguard the continuity of the company, seriously threatened by these unilateral and disproportionate decisions," it added. – Nampa/Reuters

Marriott's hack hits up to 500 mln customers

Marriott International Inc said on Friday that hackers accessed up to 500 million customer records in its Starwood Hotels reservation system in an attack that began four years ago, exposing data including passport numbers and payment cards.

Shares were down 5.7% in late afternoon trade on news of the hack, one of the largest in history, which prompted regulators in Britain and at least five US states to launch investigations.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was looking into the attack on Starwood, whose brands include Sheraton, St. Regis, W and Westin hotels. It advised affected customers to check for identity fraud and report it to the bureau's Internet Crime Complaint Centre.

The hack began in 2014, a year before Marriott offered to buy Starwood to create the world's largest hotel operator. The US$13.6 billion deal closed in September 2016.

Some 327 million customer records containing information including passport details, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses were exposed, according to the company. – Nampa/Reuters

UBS approved for majority stake in China JV

China's securities regulator on Friday gave approval for UBS Group to hold the majority stake in its securities joint venture, making it the first foreign bank to take such control under new rules announced by Beijing last year.

The Swiss bank, which currently owns 24.99% of the UBS Securities Co joint venture, had applied in May this year to the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to raise its stake to 51%.

The nod to raise its holding in UBS Securities potentially allows the Swiss bank to expand its business in the world's second-largest economy. The venture's existing operations include debt and equity underwriting and financial advisory.

The biggest global investment banks, which have struggled to build their China businesses under rules that previously limited them to 49% ownership, have long sought the lifting of such limits on joint ventures.

Lack of control over joint venture operations in China's potentially lucrative securities market resulted in difficulties in integrating mainland ventures with global operations. – Nampa/Reuters

Microsoft's market value overtakes Apple's

Microsoft Corp's stock market value closed above Apple Inc's for the first time in eight years on Friday as the Windows maker benefited from growth in cloud computing while Apple was hit by investor concern about iPhone demand.

Shares of Microsoft rose 0.6% to end the week at US$110.89, putting its market capitalisation at US$851.2 billion. Apple shares fell 0.5% to US$178.58 on the day, adding up to a market value of $847.4 billion.

Apple's market capitalisation overtook Microsoft's in 2010 as Microsoft struggled with slow demand for personal computers, due in part to the explosion of smartphones like the iPhone.

In recent months, technology shares have been punished by investors worried about rising interest rates and the potential consequences of the US-China trade war.

Global demand for smartphones has slowed in recent years. – Nampa/Reuters

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