Microsoft buys game maker Activision Blizzard for about $70 billion

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Updated 19 January 2022

Microsoft buys game maker Activision Blizzard for about $70 billion

  • Deal will turn Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming system, into one of the world’s largest video game companies
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella vows to address issues of misconduct and unequal pay against Activision

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is set to see a $1.1 billion boost to its investment in Activision Blizzard after Microsoft agreed to buy the video game maker, Bloomberg reported.

The Public Investment Fund, which first started building a position at the end of 2020, owned about 37.9 million shares in Activision at the end of September, according to public filings.

The fund built its stake over the last three months of 2020 and the first half of 2021.

Microsoft will pay $95 a share in cash valuing the stake at $3.6 billion, up from $2.5 billion at Friday’s close.

If the deal is completed, it will help rescue PIF’s bet on the gaming publisher, whose shares had fallen more than a third from the time its investment was first reported to last week.

While filings don’t show the purchase price, if the fund paid the average price in each of those three quarters, its stake would’ve been acquired at an average of about $89 per share.

Microsoft is paying nearly $70 billion for Activision Blizzard, the maker of Candy Crush and Call of Duty, to boost its competitiveness in mobile gaming and virtual-reality technology.

The all-cash $68.7 billion deal will turn Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming system, into one of the world’s largest video game companies. It will also help it compete with tech rivals such as Meta, formerly Facebook, in creating immersive virtual worlds for both work and play.

If the deal survives scrutiny from US and European regulators in the coming months, it could be one of the biggest tech acquisitions in history. Dell bought data-storage company EMC in 2016 for around $60 billion.

Activision has been buffeted for months by allegations of misconduct and unequal pay. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed the issue Tuesday in a conference call with investors.

“The culture of our organization is my No. 1 priority,” Nadella said, adding that ”it’s critical for Activision Blizzard to drive forward” on its commitments to improve its workplace culture.

Activision disclosed last year it was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission over complaints of workplace discrimination and in September settled claims brought by US workforce discrimination regulators. California’s civil rights agency sued the Santa Monica-based company in July, citing a “frat boy” culture that had become a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”

Wall Street saw the acquisition as a big win for Activision Blizzard Inc. and its shares soared 25 percent in trading Tuesday, making up for losses over the past six months since California’s discrimination lawsuit was filed. Shares of Microsoft slipped about 2 percent.

HIGHLIGHT

Acquisition to push Microsoft past Nintendo as the third-largest video game company by global revenue, behind Playstation-maker Sony and Chinese tech giant Tencent

Last year, Microsoft spent $7.5 billion to acquire ZeniMax Media, the parent company of video game publisher Bethesda Softworks, which is behind popular video games The Elder Scrolls, Doom and Fallout. Microsoft’s properties also include the hit game Minecraft after it bought Swedish game studio Mojang for $2.5 billion in 2014.

The Redmond, Washington, tech giant said the latest acquisitions will help beef up its Xbox Game Pass game subscription service while also accelerating its ambitions for the metaverse, a collection of virtual worlds envisioned as a next generation of the Internet. While Xbox already has its own game-making studio, the prospect of Microsoft controlling so much game content raised questions about whether the company could restrict Activision games from competing consoles, although Nadella promised the deal would help people play games “wherever, whenever and however they want.”

The acquisition would push Microsoft past Nintendo as the third-largest video game company by global revenue, behind Playstation-maker Sony and Chinese tech giant Tencent, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives.

“Microsoft needed to do an aggressive deal given their streaming ambitions and metaverse strategy,” Ives said. ”They’re the only game in town that can do a deal of this size with the other tech stalwarts under massive tech scrutiny.”

Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple have all attracted increasing attention from antitrust regulators in the US and Europe, but the Activision deal is so big that it will also likely put Microsoft into the regulatory spotlight, Ives said. Microsoft is already facing delays in its planned $16 billion acquisition of Massachusetts speech recognition company Nuance because of an investigation by British antitrust regulators.

Microsoft is able to make such a big all-cash purchase of Activision because of its success as a cloud computing provider. But after years of focusing on shoring up its business clients and products such as the Office suite of email and other work tools, Ives said Microsoft’s failed 2020 attempt to acquire social media platform TikTok may have “really whet the appetite for Nadella to do a big consumer acquisition.”

Pushback against the deal was immediate from consumer advocacy groups.

“No way should the Federal Trade Commission and the US Department of Justice permit this merger to proceed,” said a statement from Alex Harman, competition policy advocate for Public Citizen. “If Microsoft wants to bet on the ‘metaverse,’ it should invest in new technology, not swallow up a competitor.”

BACKGROUND

Activision was formed in 1979 by former employees of Atari Inc., a pioneer in arcade games and home video game consoles.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki had no comment on Microsoft’s announcement at her briefing Tuesday, but emphasized the Biden administration’s recent moves to strengthen enforcement against illegal and anticompetitive mergers.

Started in 1979 by former Atari Inc. employees, Activision has created or acquired many of the most popular video games, from Pitfall in the 1980s to Guitar Hero and the World of Warcraft franchise. Bobby Kotick, 59, has been CEO since 1991.

Microsoft said it expects the deal to close in its 2023 fiscal year, which starts in July. It said Kotick will continue to serve as CEO. After the deal closes, the Activision business unit would then report to Phil Spencer, who has led Microsoft’s Xbox division and will now serve as CEO of Microsoft Gaming.

Kotick survived a number of executive shakeups at Activision last year after a series of controversies stemming from allegations of a toxic workplace culture. A shareholder lawsuit in August said the company failed to disclose to investors that it was being investigated in California and that it had workplace culture issues that could result in legal problems.

Activision reached a deal in September with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to settle claims that followed a nearly three-year investigation. The agency said Activision failed to take effective action after employees complained about sexual harassment, discriminated against pregnant employees and retaliated against employees who spoke out, including by firing them.

Microsoft has also been investigating its own practices toward sexual harassment and gender discrimination, opening an inquiry last week sought by investors at its annual shareholders meeting in November. The company committed to publishing a report later this year on how it handles harassment claims, including past allegations involving senior leaders such as co-founder Bill Gates.
 


Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’

Updated 21 May 2022

Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’

  • Capital Economics says it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 10 percent this year, driven by increased activities in the oil and non-oil sectors, according to a recent note from Capital Economics.

The London-based independent research firm said it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens.

Capital Economics expects the Kingdom to achieve the projected 10-percent growth due to a  significant increase in oil output combined with an expected loosening of fiscal policy that is set to encourage growth in the non-oil sector.

This projection follows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.

In regards to performance on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the growth is attributed to a 2.9 percent rise in oil GDP due to increased output on the back of the OPEC+ deal and a 2.5 percent growth in non-oil activities.

The increase in energy prices, which has been the largest since the 1973 oil crisis, together with the war in Ukraine — which altered the global patterns on trade, production and consumption — have contributed to this record GDP growth.

SPEEDREAD

The projection by London-based Capital Economicsfollows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.

Though Saudi Arabia still hasn’t met its OPEC+ quota, it is one of the few members raising produc- tion significantly. With other member countries struggling to meet their quotas and an expected decline in Russian output, Capital Economics predicts the Kingdom will increase oil production faster than anticipated under the current OPEC+ agreement.

According to the World Bank, energy prices are expected to rise more than 50 percent in 2022, before easing in 2023 and 2024.

As oil prices remain elevated, policymakers are expected to relax fiscal policy to stimulate non-oil activities, with a reduction in the value-added tax a possibility, the note from Capital Economics pointed out.

The Kingdom’s non-oil sector has also expanded at the fastest rate in over four years, according to the Saudi Arabia PMI survey.

This has been due to new business and activity that boosted sharply as client demand recov- ered after COVID-19.

The increase in business also came in line with Vision 2030, a reform plan that aims to diversify the country’s economic resources.

The 10 percent figure projected by Capital Economics is much higher than recent projections from the IMF, which predicted the Saudi economy to grow by 7.6 percent in 2022, as mentioned in its World Economic Outlook released in April 2022.

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Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms

Updated 21 May 2022

Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms

  • The new office will be a stand-alone; it will create jobs for Saudi citizens: CEO

Flash Entertainment plans to open a stand-alone office in Saudi Arabia within 3 months as the Kingdom is becoming a hotspot for events and leisure.

The entertainment firm, based in the UAE, is one of the Middle East’s leading live entertainment companies known for organizing some of the biggest global events, including several Formula One Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the FIFA Club World Cup, UAE National Day, the AFC Asian Cup — arguably the biggest event in the region prior to the upcoming Qatar World Cup — and even Pope Francis’s visit to the UAE in 2019, which saw over 180,000 people in attendance.

“The new office will be the Saudi headquarters, it’s a stand alone, it’s not a branch,” the company’s CEO John Lickrish told Arab News. “We have a branch office in Dubai but here we wanted to set up our own office.” The new office will create 25 jobs for Saudi citizens. Lickrish who was in Riyadh for the fourth edition of the Saudi Entertain- ment and Amusement Expo this week was attending the event to touch base with the local commu- nity in the sector.

“I’m here to touch base with the local community suppliers and decision makers and try to make people aware that we’re entering the market,” he said. “We have done events here but now that we’re establishing an office, we want to integrate the GCC into a network of reliable promoters and suppliers that we can count on, and that’s the real goal of this.”

HIGHLIGHTS

This year’s event brought together some of the leading products, services, and technology brands in the industry from more than 25 countries, as part of the Kingdom’s plans to become the entertainment and leisure hub of the Middle East.

The show offers a global platform for top manufacturers and suppliers of entertainment and leisure products and services to do business with investors, distributors, government officials and owners of malls, cinemas and family entertainment centers, as well as key procurement professionals involved in small and mega Saudi entertainment and leisure projects.

The SEA Expo, held at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, is the first trade event dedicated to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning entertainment and leisure industry, with sellers from around the world showcasing the latest and greatest advances in the sector.

This year’s event brought together some of the leading products, services, and technology brands in the industry from more than 25 countries, as part of the Kingdom’s plans to become the entertainment and leisure hub of the Middle East.

The show offers a global platform for top manufacturers and suppliers of entertainment and leisure products and services to do business with investors, distributors, government officials and owners of malls, cinemas and family entertainment centers, as well as key procurement professionals involved in small and mega Saudi entertainment and leisure projects.

“The office will mostly have people from KSA,” Lickrish said. “We are going to be training them in our systems and processes, but they need to be here on the ground. Right now, we’re looking at 25 (local hires) based on our business plan for the next three years. From there, the sky is the limit.”

Flash Entertainment covers everything from event ideation, event management, marketing and communications, ticketing and sales, talent procurement and full operational and production delivery, as well as managing a portfolio of assets, including the Etihad Park and the multi-purpose state-of-the-art Etihad Arena on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

A location for the office has yet to be decided, however, with Jeddah and Dammam as potential cities to set up the shop.

“This is a big populous, so for us, that’s interesting, and it’s an emerging market in the region as well.” Lickrish said. “I think what is important for us now is really setting the foundations, making sure that the country and the region is represented as not only capable but excelling in this field. And then we’ll go on to the regional talent and develop the local markets.” According to Lickrish, the company created the first citywide integrated enter- tainment program for Formula One in 2009 that has since been emulated with subsequent grands prix around the world. “So that was an innovation that we brought into the global market.”

Lickrish himself has been in the entertainment business for over 30 years and in the region for 14. He hopes to bring his exper- tise to Saudi Arabia that plans to invest $64 billion in the devel- opment of the entertainment industry over the next decade as part of Vision 2030.

“My goal is to see a self- sustaining, vibrant, regional business that has international recognition and ultimately a footprint globally,” he said. “We want to be giving them a unique experience, as well as a cultural and international experience.”


FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology

Updated 19 min 37 sec ago

FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology

  • The institute is investing $527,515 in Timbeter, a leading green tech company specializing in timber measurement
  • Timbeter provides an AI-driven photo-optics app that accurately determines quantities of logs in an area with precise length and diameter

LONDON: The Future Investment Initiative Institute hosted a summit in London about Environmental, Social and Governance in emerging markets, involving world leaders, global CEOs, international investors, thought leaders and heads of sustainability.

The event unveiled a new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology to inform and accelerate investments in emerging economies.

The new methodology aims to give unbiased ratings for companies in emerging markets who currently receive less than 10 percent of ESG flows, despite being home to nearly 90 percent of the world’s population and roughly half of global GDP.

ESG rating agencies are one of the main barriers to increasing investment in emerging markets. Currently, mainstream rating agencies employ key perfor- mance indicators not relevant to emerging markets. The existing frameworks focus too much on disclosure and ignore year-over- year performance improvement.

The new framework, developed with the support of Ernst & Young, values performance improvement over time more than breadth of disclosure, emphasizing sectoral challenges rather than country risks, to ensure fair competition between companies in both emerging markets and developed markets.

The FII Institute is investing €500,000 ($527,515) in Timbeter, a leading green tech company specializing in timber measurement. Timbeter provides an artificial intelligence-driven photo-optics application that accurately determines quantities of logs in an area with precise length and diameter.

Timbeter is a software as a service workflow management solution for the timber industry, founded in 2013 at the Nordic Hackathon by Anna-Greta Tsakhna, its CEO, and Martin Kambla, CTO.

Forestry continues to be an important and controversial issue, with world forests decreasing by a third in size over the last century due to reckless practices.

This technology is key to a more proactive management of forests and a more sustainable sector.

Meanwhile, the ESG white paper is designed to encourage greater ESG investment in emerging markets. It calls on investors to publicly commit to raising the portion of capital allocated to emerging markets from less than 10 percent today to a minimum of 30 percent of committed and invested capital by 2030. It also calls on governments to encourage emerging market-headquartered companies to become more proactive at disclosing relevant information through their normal reporting channels.

Richard Attias, CEO of the FII Institute, said: “Central to our work at FII Institute is to increase awareness about the weaknesses in current ESG standards and their impact on global sustainability prospects, and to advocate for an inclusive and equitable application of ESG through driving real action by key players globally.

“ESG has been one of the fastest-growing investment strategies over the past few years, accounting for one-third of all assets under management. But this growth is not even. Working with our partners at EY, we identified and removed the barriers to ESG investment in emerging markets, which are often overlooked,” he added.

“By launching the Inclusive ESG Framework and Scoring Methodology, investing in a global sustainable solutions company, and publishing our recent ESG white paper — we are making tangible actions to create a better future for humanity. And we are confident that our partners around the world will help us drive those actions further.”


World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

Updated 18 May 2022

World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

  • This year’s meeting will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers

LONDON: The World Economic Forum announced on Wednesday that the theme of its annual meeting for 2022 will be ‘History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies’ in its return to an in-person conference since the pandemic forced it to go virtual since 2020.

“The Annual Meeting is the first summit that brings global leaders together in this new situation characterized by an emerging multipolar world as a result of the pandemic and war,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman.

This year’s meeting — which is happening in the spring rather than its usual January slot — returns after a two-year hiatus and will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers.

“The fact that nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and media come together in person demonstrates the need for a trusted, informal and action-oriented global platform to confront the issues in a crisis-driven world,” Schwab said.

Civil society will be represented by more than 200 leaders from NGOs, social entrepreneurs, academia, labour organizations, faith-based and religious groups, and at least 400 media leaders and reporting press. The Annual Meeting will also bring together younger generations, with 100 members of the Forum’s Global Shaper and Young Global Leader communities participating.

Against a backdrop of the global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and geo-economic challenges, the meeting convenes at a strategic point where public figures and global leaders will meet in person to reconnect, exchange insights, gain fresh perspectives and advance solutions.

Topics that will be discussed at the annual meeting range from COVID-19 and climate change to education, technology and energy governance.

These include the Reskilling Revolution, an initiative to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030; an initiative on universal environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures to measure stakeholder capitalism; and the One Trillion Trees initiative, 1t.org, to protect our trees and forests and restore the planet’s ecosystems.

The programme will have six thematic pillars, including fostering global and regional cooperation; securing the economic recovery and shaping a new era of growth; building healthy and equitable societies; safeguarding climate, food and nature; driving industry transformation, and finally; harnessing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

Updated 17 May 2022

Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

  • G7 to discuss crypto-asset regulation, says French central banker

RIYADH: Investors in crypto currencies should expect more difficult times ahead as tightening financial conditions around the world stoke appetite for safer assets, Bank of England Deputy Gov. Jon Cunliffe said on Tuesday.

Asked at a Wall Street Journal conference if rising interest rates would ramp up pressure on crypto currencies, Cunliffe said: “Yes, I think as this process continues, as (quantitative tightening) starts in the US ... I think we’ll see a move out of risky assets.” Cunliffe added that the conflict in Ukraine also had the potential to cause a renewed flight to safer assets.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November. 

However, it traded higher on Tuesday, up 0.2 percent to $30,418 as of 08:52 a.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $2,077, up 0.32 percent, according to data from CoinDesk.

G7 meeting

The regulation of crypto-assets is likely to be discussed at a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs this week in Germany, French central bank head Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday.

“What happened in the recent past is a wake-up call for the urgent need for global regulation,” Villeroy told an emerging markets conference in Paris, referring to recent turbulence in crypto-asset markets.

“Europe paved the way with MICA (regulatory framework for crypto-assets), we will probably ... discuss these issues among many others at the G7 meeting in Germany this week,” he added.

Grayscale to launch digital assets

Grayscale will list an exchange-traded fund in Europe made up of companies representing the “Future of Finance,” the world’s largest cryptocurrency asset manager said in a statement on Monday. 

The ETF, tracking the “Bloomberg Grayscale Future of Finance Index,” will be listed on the London Stock Exchange, Italy’s Borsa Italiana and Germany’s Deutsche Börse Xetra and begin trading on May 17. It is the first time that US-based Grayscale has listed a fund in Europe.

The index contains a mixture of companies involved in digital currencies including asset managers, exchanges, brokers, technology firms, as well as firms directly involved in cryptocurrency mining. “For us, the digital economy is primarily being driven through the proliferation of digital assets,” said Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein.

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