Live Business News: Markets Today and Google’s Antitrust Settlement

Daily Business Briefing


June 7, 2021, 11:54 a.m. ET

Google said it would make changes to increase the transparency of its online advertising systems.
Credit…Charles Platiau/Reuters

LONDON — Google agreed to pay roughly $270 million in fines and change some of its business practices as part of a settlement announced on Monday with French antitrust regulators who had accused the company of abusing its dominance of the online advertising market.

The agreement was one of the first times an antitrust regulator had taken direct aim at Google’s online advertising infrastructure, a platform that scores of websites worldwide rely on to sell ads.

The fine is pittance compared to Google’s overall business — its parent entity, Alphabet, earned $41 billion last year — but the French authorities hailed the concessions they got from the company because they affect technology and practices at the heart of its business.

In the United States, Google faces similar antitrust scrutiny over its online advertising technology from a group of state attorneys general, as well as from Britain’s antitrust regulator.

Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, heralded the agreement.

“It is essential to apply our competition rules to the digital giants who operate in our country,” he said. The accusations of abuse of the advertising technology are “serious,” he added, “and they have been rightly punished.”

French competition regulators said Google used its position as the world’s largest internet advertising company to hurt news publishers and other sellers of internet ads. Authorities said that a service owned by the Silicon Valley giant and used by others to sell ads across the internet gave Google’s business an advantage, undercutting competition.

As part of the settlement, French authorities said Google agreed to end the practice of giving its services preferential treatment and to change its advertising system so that it would work more easily with other services.

Credit…Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Google has built up its dominance in online advertising for more than a decade, controlling technology at nearly every step of a process that underpins key parts of the internet economy. Its services help publishers sell space on their websites, and its technology runs automated auctions that let brands bid to place ads in those slots.

Google’s position has long been a source of concern among competitors and news publishers, who say it gives the company unfair insights into advertising prices, inventory and data that others cannot match.

Among the companies that complained to French authorities about Google wwere News Corp., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal and a longtime critic of the company’s ad technology, and the French publisher Rossel La Voix Group, the competition authority said. The companies have argued that Google’s power is so far-reaching that it can squeeze a higher cut of each advertising sale without paying the costs of creating content. News organizations have argued this economic imbalance contributed to their declining business fortunes and shrinking newsrooms.

French authorities focused on the links between Google’s marketplace for auctioning ads, called AdX, and another service, called Ad Manager, which is used by publishers to sell space on websites for advertising. The French competition authority said Google shared pricing information collected from A
d Manager to give an advantage to its auction product.

“These very serious practices penalized competition in the emerging online advertising market, and have enabled Google not only to preserve but also to increase its dominant position,” said Isabelle de Silva, president of the French competition authority.

Google did not admit to wrongdoing in the settlement, but the case may show how the company might appease regulators elsewhere. Google agreed to make more data available to rivals and make it easier for them to use its online advertising services.

An independent monitor, paid by Google, will also be in charge of making sure the company abides by the terms of the settlement. The order is mandatory for three years in France, though Google said it might apply some of the policy changes elsewhere.

“While we believe we offer valuable services and compete on the merits, we are committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products,” Maria Gomri, legal director for Google France, wrote in a blog post.

The actions in France are part of the growing scrutiny in Europe, the United States and elsewhere of the power of the world’s largest technology companies.

Last week, the European Commission and Britain announced antitrust investigations of Facebook over its classifieds service called Marketplace. The commission has also brought antitrust charges against Apple, saying its App Store policies are anticompetitive, and Amazon for the unfair treatment of third-party merchants. The European Union is also considering stiffer antitrust laws and content moderation rules targeting the tech sector.

In the United States, federal regulators have brought antitrust charges against Google and Facebook in recent months. Regulators in Australia, China, Germany and elsewhere are also showing more willingness to step into the digital economy.

Liz Alderman contributed reporting.

Andy Mills, the president of Medline Industries, in 2012. The company announced on Saturday that it had received a majority investment from a partnership of investors.
Credit…Earl Wilson/The New York Times

A group of investors, including the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group, agreed to buy the medical supplies provider Medline Industries for more than $30 billion, the company announced on Saturday. It’s the biggest leveraged buyout since the 2008 financial crisis — and a sign that private equity firms are ready to open their wallets for more (and bigger) deals.

Buyout firms that take over companies using lots of debt are now sitting on $1.6 trillion in so-called dry powder, according to Preqin, or capital committed by investors to private equity funds that’s not yet spent. These firms have also continued fund-raising at a healthy pace.

That has filled private equity’s war chests with cash that managers are increasingly under pressure to spend — or risk the ire of investors who don’t want their money just sitting around. Some of those investors have also wanted to invest directly in deals alongside the private equity firms, in hopes of capturing some of the same investment returns that the buyout firms enjoy.

That has led to a revival of strategies used before the financial crisis. Beyond the growing size of leveraged buyouts, private equity shops are teaming up to buy targets, a practice that had fallen out of favor (and ran into concerns about potential antitrust violations). That said, the Medline deal isn’t exactly like the club deals of before: It involves less debt than previous b
, and the private equity buyers are keeping the current management.

Medline, which is based in Northfield, Ill., makes a wide variety of medical supplies for hospitals and other health care centers. The company, which collected $17.5 billion in revenue last year, has been privately held for decades and will continue to count its founding Mills family as its largest shareholder after the leveraged buyout.




Global Minimum Tax Would ‘End the Race to the Bottom,’ Yellen Says

Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said a minimum tax for corporations would improve global economic conditions and encourage countries to compete on positive bases, like infrastructure. G7 leaders agreed on Saturday to back a global corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent.

“For too long, there has been a global race to the bottom in corporate taxes, where countries compete by lowering their tax rates instead of the well-being of their citizens and natural environments. The G7 has taken significant steps this weekend to end the existing harmful dynamic, making commitments today that provide tremendous momentum towards achieving a robust global minimum tax at a rate of at least 15 percent. That global minimum tax would end the race to the bottom in corporate taxation and ensure fairness for the middle class and working people in the U.S. and around the world. The global minimum tax would also help the global economy thrive by leveling the playing field for businesses and encouraging countries to compete on positive bases such as educating and training our workforces, and investing in research and development and infrastructure.” Reporter: “The French wanted to target Amazon and Facebook. What impact does today’s deal have on companies like those?” “It will include large, profitable firms and those firms, I believe, will qualify by almost any definition. And essentially what we have agreed is that we will reallocate taxing rights for a portion of the excess or residual profits of those companies to jurisdictions where they have market activity on the basis of the distribution of that activity. And so, that is intended to replace an approach that focused on just a few U.S. digital giants. And the agreement is that this new approach will replace an approach that we found objectionable, that targeted large, successful U.S. digital firms.”

Video player loading
Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said a minimum tax for corporations would improve global economic conditions and encourage countries to compete on positive bases, like infrastructure. G7 leaders agreed on Saturday to back a global corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent.CreditCredit…Pool by Alberto Pezzali

Finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries unveiled a broad agreement on Saturday that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens and force them to pay more of their income to governments.

The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport covered the news from London. Here are the key elements of the plan.

  • The agreement aims for a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.

  • Some of the largest multinational companies — technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google as well as other big global businesses — may also have to pay taxes to countries based on where their goods or services are sold, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in that nation.

  • To prevent individual countries from imposing dozens of digital taxes around the world, the agreement would apply a new tax to large businesses with a profit margin of at least 10 percent. The tax would be applied to at least 20 percent of profit exceeding that 10 percent margin “for the largest and most profitable multinational enterprises.”

  • Huge sums of money are at stake. A report this month from the EU Tax Observatory estimated that a 15 percent minimum tax would yield an additional 48 billion euros, or $58 billion, a year. The Biden administration projected in its budget last month that the new global minimum tax system could help bring in $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade to the United States.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who traveled on Friday to the G7 meeting in London to win support for the landmark tax agreement, defended the plan on Sunday. “I honestly don’t think there’s going to be a significant impact on corporate investment,” she said.

Next month, the Group of 7 countries must sell the concept to finance ministers from the broader Group of 20 nations that are meeting in Italy. If that is successful, officials hope that a final deal can be signed by
Group of 20 leaders when they reconvene in October.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, speaking Saturday after the G7 meeting. She later said a “slightly higher interest rate environment” would be a “plus” for the country and for the Fed.
Credit…Pool photo by Wpa

The S&P 500 was unchanged on Monday morning, in a quiet start to a day without major data releases in the United States or central bank announcements.

Most European stock indexes were higher. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.3 percent.

A measure of investor confidence in the eurozone for June, published by Sentix, jumped to its highest reading since March 2018. Economists at Pantheon Macroeconomics noted that most of the increase was because of an improving assessment of the current situation of the region’s economy, pointing out that future expectations dipped slightly.

Asian indexes were mixed. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.5 percent and the Nikkei 225 in Japan rose 0.3 percent.

Over the weekend, finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they were based. The tax is expected to affect some large technology companies. The technology-composite Nasdaq was slightly lower at the start of trading.

The 10-year yield on U.S. Treasury notes rose to 1.57 percent, reversing some of Friday’s decline, when the yield dropped seven basis points, or 0.07 percent, after May’s jobs report by the Labor Department showed less hiring than analysts expected. On Friday, investors pulled back on expectations about how soon the Federal Reserve might consider reducing its monetary stimulus.

On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said “a slightly higher interest rate environment” would “actually be a plus for society’s point of view and the Fed’s point of view,” Bloomberg reported.

Oil prices fell. Futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, declined 0.5 percent to $69.25 a barrel.

  • Jeff Bezos announced on Monday that he would be on board when his rocket company, Blue Origin, conducts its first human spaceflight next month. He said his brother Mark Bezos would join him on the flight. Blue Origin is also auctioning off a passenger seat on the New Shepard space capsule, which is set to take off on July 20. Bidding has reached almost $3 million with nearly 6,000 participants from 143 countries, the company said. “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Mr. Bezos said on Instagram, calling the trip, “The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

Patrons dined at an outdoor brewery in Phoenix on Thursday. Arizona is among the states that are ending additional federal payments to unemployed workers.
Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

Bre Starr, a 34-year-old pizza delivery driver who has been out of work for more than a year, will be among the first to lose her jobless benefits in the next few weeks. That’s because Ms. Starr lives in Iowa, where the governor has decided to withdraw from all federal pandemic-related jobless assistance on June 12.

Iowa is one of 25 states, all led by Republicans, that have recently decided to halt some or all emergency benefits months ahead of schedule. With a U.S. Labor Department report on Friday showing that job growth fell below expectations for the second month in a row, Republicans stepped up their argument that pandemic jobless relief is hindering the recovery, The New York Times’s Patricia Cohen and Sydney Ember report.

The assistance, renewed in March and funded through Sept. 6, doesn’t cost the states anything. But business owners and managers have argued that the income, which enabled people to pay rent and stock refrigerators when much of the economy shut down, is now dissuading them from applying for jobs.

“I’m a Type 1 diabetic, so it’s really important for me to stay safe from getting Covid,” Ms. Starr said, explaining that she was more prone to infection. “I know that for myself and other people who are high risk, we cannot risk going back into the work force until everything is good again.”

Most economists say there is no clear, single explanation yet for the difficulty that some employers are having in hiring. Government relief may play a role in some cases, but so could a lack of child care, continuing fears about infection, paltry wages, difficult working conditions and normal delays associated with reopening a mammoth economy.

The particular complaints that government benefits are sapping the desire to work have, nonetheless, struck a chord among Republican political leaders.

Attendees jammed the panel sessions, waiting to hear speakers like Twitter’s chief, Jack Dorsey, who is a Bitcoin supporter.
Credit…Alfonso Duran for The New York Times

At least 12,000 people descended on Miami on Friday and Saturday, flocking to the largest Bitcoin conference in the world and the first major in-person business conference since the pandemic began.

Bitcoin 2021, an occasional gathering of digital currency enthusiasts run by a magazine named after the cryptocurrency, heralded the receding of the pandemic, with comfortingly familiar and mundane elements of a business conference: the branded plastic sunglasses, brightly colored sponsor booths, lanyards and panels.

The exuberance of being in person, indoors, in a crowd for the first time in more than a year was electric, reports Erin Griffith for The New York Times. Everyone hugged, no one masked. The money zipped between digital wallets. The conference swag included neon fanny packs, festival bracelets and a Lamborghini car. The jargon — stablecoin, peer-to-peer, private key — flowed. So did the liquor.

It was another sign that the often absurd world of digital currencies was inching its way toward mainstream acceptance, or at least mainstream curiosity. Since late last year, Bitcoin has been on a wild ride, setting price records. Even a plunge from a high of $64,000 in April to $36,000 now did not dampen spirits. They’re BTD — buying the dip. Wall Street bankers, institutional investors and Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming, all came to Miami.

There was a reason we were in Miami and not New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. The city has gone full crypto.

Credit…Alfonso Duran for The New York Times
Credit…Alfonso Duran for The New York Times

Bitcoin A.T.M.s sprinkled the Wynwood neighborhood. A cryptocurrency exchange called FTX recently bought the naming rights to the Miami Heat’s arena. Miami’s mayor, Francis Suarez, announced this year that the city would accept tax payments in cryptocurrency, let its employees collect salaries with it and explore holding some on its balance sheet.

Onstage, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, entrepreneurs and cryptocurrency billionaires, preached to the choir. Cameron Winklevoss wore a T-shirt with a picture of the Federal Reserve building captioned “Rage Against the Machine,” a reference to how cryptocurrency was not controlled by a central government or bank.

Later, Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter and the payments company Square, offered his own endorsement. “If I were not at Square or Twitter, I would be working on Bitcoin,” he said.

On Saturday, the conference played a video of Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, announcing a bill to make Bitcoin legal tender in the country. The audience leapt to a roaring standing ovation.