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BW Businessworld

Stronger Apart

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Silicon Valley stalwart Hewlett-Packard (HP) is separating its computer and printer businesses from its corporate hardware and services operations, and spinning the unit off through a tax-free distribution of shares to stockholders next year. It will focus on the faster-growing corporate services market. The move will be a monumental reshaping of one of technology’s most important pioneers, with more than 300,000 employees. The plans call for current HP CEO Meg Whitman to become chief executive officer of the new so-called enterprise company and chairman 
of the PC and printer company. 
 
Snapping It Up?
Yahoo!, flush with cash from selling a portion of its stake in the Alibaba group, appears ready to bet on what it believes will be the next big Internet phenomenon. It held talks to invest $20 billion in Snapchat — a popular app that allows people to share photos and messages that self-destruct, people briefed on the matter said. The deal has not yet been closed. If Yahoo! makes the investment, it will join other prominent investors, including the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, that have valued the service at about $10 billion. Yahoo! also confirmed that it recently bought MessageMe, a small photo and text-messaging startup in San Francisco.
 
Done Deal
Facebook closed its acquisition of mobile messaging service WhatsApp, with the final price tag rising an additional $3 billion to $22 billion because of the increased value of Facebook’s stock in recent months. WhatsApp founder Jan Koum will receive $2 billion in stock, vesting over a four-year period, as an inducement for him to stay with the company, according to a regulatory filing. The deal, which Facebook announced in February and recently received regulatory approval for in Europe, underscores the sky-rocketing values of fast-growing Internet startups, and the willingness of established players such as Facebook and Google to pay out for them. WhatsApp, which has more than 600 million monthly users, is among a new crop of mobile messaging and social media apps that have become popular among younger users. WhatsApp, with more than 70 employees, will continue to be based at its Mountain View, California, location.
 
Checking In
Hilton Worldwide, the world’s largest publicly traded hotel operator, agreed to sell the landmark Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan to China’s Anbang Insurance Group for $1.95 billion. Hilton will continue to manage the 1,232-room luxury hotel, which will undergo a major renovation, the McLean, a Virginia-based company, said in a statement. It plans to use the proceeds from the sale to buy other US properties. The sale of the 83-year-old Art Deco building, which occupies an entire block on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, ends more than four decades of ownership by the company and expands a surge of Chinese investment in New York real estate. The transaction is the largest ever for a US hotel, according to research firm Lodging Econometrics.
 
Legal Tangle
The European Commission is to begin a formal probe into allegations that Luxembourg allowed Amazon.com to benefit illegally from state subsidies for its European operations for almost 10 years. The investigation relates to favourable terms given to the e-tailer under a 2003 tax ruling, which caps its tax exposure to the Grand Duchy and limits the overall cost to less than 1 per cent of the company’s European income.
 
In The Red
Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways is to shut its Little Red domestic airline next year, less than two years after it was launched. The airline, which is 51 per cent owned by its founder British billionaire Richard Branson, and 49 per cent owned by the US carrier Delta Airlines, said in a statement that Little Red had “not been able to make a positive contribution” to the company. Reconfirming that the group as a whole was on track to make a profit by the end of this year after two years of losses, Virgin Atlantic said the decision on Little Red followed a review of its network, which has put a new emphasis on its transatlantic routes. The service did not provide enough feeder traffic onto Virgin’s transatlantic and other international routes, it said.
 
Big Snub
Rio Tinto rejected a merger approach from smaller rival Glencore to create a $160-billion mining and trading giant in August just as the price of its most profitable product, iron ore, hit a five-year low. The miner said Glencore had contacted it about a potential merger in July, adding that it turned Glencore down in August and there had been no further contact between the companies on a deal. A merger would have created the world’s biggest miner, supplanting BHP Billiton. “The Rio Tinto board, after consultation with its financial and legal advisors, concluded unanimously that a combination was not in the best interests of Rio Tinto’s shareholders,” Rio Tinto said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange.
 
Helping Hand
Walt Disney has come to the rescue of its loss-making arm Euro Disney with a $1.3-billion funding deal, which could give the US group total control over Europe’s biggest tourist attraction. The deal includes a rights issue and debt restructuring, which will inject €420 million in cash into the Euro Disney group and eliminate €600 million of its debt owed to Walt Disney via an equity swap. Euro Disney is 40 per cent owned by Walt Disney and 10 per cent by the Saudi prince, AlWaleed bin Talal. The rights issue is set to raise €351 million and is open to all shareholders.
 
Hefty Fine
Switzerland’s largest bank UBS could face a fine of up to $6.3 billion if found guilty in an investigation in France into whether it helped wealthy customers there avoid tax, a Swiss newspaper reported. A French court has already ordered UBS to deposit a $1.4-billion guarantee to cover a portion of potential fines in the case, but the paper said it had seen a legal document showing the bank could face a penalty of up to €5 billion. The document, written by two judges, was dated July 23, the same day the bank was first ordered by French officials to pay the guarantee. The paper quotes the document as saying “the business model of UBS Switzerland was to offer its clients bank secrecy”.
 
Betting Big
South Korean IT giant Samsung Electronics will spend $15 billion on a new chip facility — its biggest investment in a single plant — leaning on its semiconductor business to bolster profits as its smartphone dominance wanes. Samsung, the world’s top memory chip maker, said the plant will be located in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. The company said it will create 150,000 jobs, equal to about a third of the city’s population. The bet on chips comes as its smartphone business is being squeezed by Apple in the premium segment and undercut by Chinese rivals like the Lenovo Group. It is shifting toward more complicated and lucrative processors to be the brains for new businesses such as wearable devices, smart cars and smart homes.
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 03-11-2014)