Walmart in warning about India e-commerce rules

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Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, left, and Flipkart CEO Binny Bansal (AFP)
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Walmart said that, in line with the company’s commitment to India, it looked forward to contributing to the country’s retail ecosystem. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019

Walmart in warning about India e-commerce rules

  • Company told US government that new Indian regulations were regressive

NEW DELHI: Walmart told the US government privately in January that India’s new investment rules for e-commerce were regressive and had the potential to hurt trade ties, a company document seen by Reuters showed.
The lobbying effort yielded no result at the time — India implemented the new rules from Feb. 1 — but the document underlines the level of concern at Walmart about the rules. Differences over e-commerce regulations have become one of the biggest issues in frayed trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
“It came as a total surprise ... this is a major change and a regressive policy shift,” Walmart’s Senior Director for Global Government Affairs Sarah Thorn told the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in an an email on Jan. 7.
Just months earlier, Walmart had invested $16 billion in Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, its biggest ever acquisition globally.
In a statement to Reuters on Thursday, Walmart said it regularly offers input to the US and Indian governments on policy issues and this was a “past issue and Walmart and Flipkart are looking ahead.”
“Walmart has had good consultations with the government of India,” a company spokeswoman added.
The USTR did not respond to a request for comment.
In the January letter to the USTR, Walmart said it wanted a six-month delay in the implementation of the rules, but that did not happen. Washington did raise concerns about the policy with New Delhi, but India gave a non-committal response, an Indian trade ministry official told Reuters at the time.
Walmart’s problems in India highlight the regulatory complications it faces as it restructures its international business to boost growth and online sales. Mexico’s competition regulator recently blocked its acquisition of delivery app Cornershop, while in Britain it was stopped from merging its British arm Asda with rival Sainsbury’s.
These issues, however, have failed to unnerve Walmart investors. Walmart shares have risen 21 percent, compared with a 19 percent increase for the S&P 500 since the start of the year.
A USTR delegation led by Christopher Wilson, Assistant US Trade Representative for South and Central Asia, was to meet Indian officials in New Delhi on Friday to resume discussions on trade ties and the e-commerce issue was likely to be high on the agenda.
In its January representation, Walmart told the USTR that India’s new policy wasn’t good for global businesses, highlighting that its foreign direct investment would help Flipkart grow and result in “significant” tax revenues for New Delhi.
“Changing rules to hinder international business following major investments ... will have important implications for India FDI goals and add unnecessary pressure to trade discussions,” Walmart said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Walmart strongly protested India e-commerce rules with US government.

• The lobbying failed but document shows how concerned Walmart was.

• Walmart warned policy could strain India-US trade ties: document.

• Walmart calls it past issue, says company looking ahead.

The new rules barred companies from selling products via firms in which they have an equity interest and also from making deals with sellers to sell exclusively on their platforms.
Amazon.com removed thousands of products from its India website briefly in February as it initially struggled to comply with the new policy. Flipkart was forced to rework some of its vendor relationships, sources told Reuters at the time.
The policy, implemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi months before his re-election in May, was seen aimed at winning the support of small Indian
traders, who had long complained they were losing business due to the steep discounts offered by foreign e-commerce giants.
“The action appears in every respect ... intended to placate Indian companies and local traders,” Walmart told the USTR.
Reuters obtained the two-page representation Walmart sent to the USTR through a Freedom of Information Act request first filed in January. The USTR in February provided a heavily-redacted version of the document, citing confidentiality reasons. In consultation with Walmart, it withdrew most of those redactions this week following an appeal from Reuters.
Although Reuters asked for both Amazon and Walmart’s communications, the USTR responded saying it found only one email with Walmart’s representation between Dec. 22 and Jan. 28, the period for which the records were searched.
Since the policy has been announced, Indian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries has repeatedly talked about its plans to diversify into e-commerce.
Walmart’s document released to Reuters did not name Reliance, but the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company argued the policy discriminated against foreign firms, and not just in favor of small domestic players.
“The purported rationale of such regulations is to protect small retail players who are seen to be threatened,” Walmart said, but added: “This argument does not account for why there should be differentiated treatment between large foreign eCommerce companies, and large domestic companies.”
In the past six months, several Walmart executives have also weighed in publicly on India’s new e-commerce policy, including Chief Executive Doug McMillon, who said in February the company was disappointed by the Indian government’s decision.
“We hope for a collaborative regulatory process going forward, which results in a level playing field,” he said.
India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has said the government was committed to protecting small traders, but open to ironing out policy-related issues. Goyal said on Twitter on Wednesday he had met Walmart International’s CEO, Judith McKenna, and discussed ways of boosting sales of Indian-made products.
In a meeting last month, however, Goyal warned both Flipkart and Amazon to comply with the new rules in letter and spirit, and questioned them on their discounting policies, Reuters reported.
The Walmart spokeswoman on Thursday said that, in line with the company’s commitment to India, it looked forward to contributing to the country’s retail ecosystem.
Amazon was not aware of Walmart’s January representation to the USTR, according to sources. The company in a statement said it continued to engage with New Delhi to enhance infrastructure and create jobs.
Walmart told the USTR in January that its unit Flipkart, as well as Amazon, had opened many new distribution centers over the past three years in India, creating thousands of jobs.
It warned of “serious consequences” if the new policy was implemented hastily. “The lack of policy stability makes it very difficult for companies to continue planned investments, both in the eCommerce sector and beyond,” Walmart wrote.


HP rejects Xerox takeover bid, says open to acquiring Xerox instead

Updated 18 November 2019

HP rejects Xerox takeover bid, says open to acquiring Xerox instead

  • In rejecting Xerox's $33.5 billion cash-and-stock acquisition offer, HP said the offer “significantly” undervalued the personal computer maker
  • Xerox made the offer for HP on Nov. 5 after resolving its dispute with its joint venture partner Fujifilm Holdings Corp.
NEW YORK: HP Inc. said on Sunday it was open to exploring a bid for US printer maker Xerox Corp. after rebuffing a $33.5 billion cash-and-stock acquisition offer from the latter as “significantly” undervaluing the personal computer maker.
Xerox made the offer for HP, a company more than three times its size, on Nov. 5, after it resolved a dispute with its joint venture partner Fujifilm Holdings Corp. that represented billions of dollars in potential liabilities.
Responding to Xerox’s offer on Sunday, HP said in a statement that it would saddle the combined company with “outsized debt” and was not in the best interest of its shareholders.
However, HP left the door open for a deal that would involve it becoming the acquirer of Xerox, stating that it recognized the potential benefits of consolidation.
“With substantive engagement from Xerox management and access to diligence information on Xerox, we believe that we can quickly evaluate the merits of a potential transaction,” HP said in its statement.
The move puts pressure on Xerox to open its books to HP. Xerox did not immediately respond on Sunday to a request for comment on whether it will engage with HP in negotiations as the potential acquisition target, rather than the acquirer.
HP on Sunday published Xerox CEO John Visentin’s Nov. 5 offer letter to HP, in which he stated that his company was “prepared to devote all necessary resources to finalize our due diligence on an accelerated basis.”
Activist investor Carl Icahn, who took over Xerox’s board last year together with fellow billionaire businessman Darwin Deason, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week that he was not set on a particular structure for a deal with HP, as long as a combination is achieved. Icahn has also amassed a 4% stake in HP.
Xerox had offered HP shareholders $22 per share that included $17 in cash and 0.137 Xerox shares for each HP share, according to the Nov. 5 letter. The offer would have resulted in HP shareholders owning about 48% of the combined company. HP shares ended trading on Friday at $20.18.
Many analysts have said there is merit in the companies combining to better cope with a stagnating printing market, but some cited challenges to integration, given their different offerings and pricing models.
Xerox scrapped its $6.1 billion deal to merge with Fujifilm last year under pressure from Icahn and Deason.
Xerox announced earlier this month it would sell its 25% stake in the joint venture for $2.3 billion. Fujifilm also agreed to drop a lawsuit against Xerox, which it was pursuing following their failed merger.

Test for new HP CEO
In 2011 as the centerpiece of its unsuccessful pivot to software. Little over a year later, it wrote off $8.8 billion, $5 billion of which it put down to accounting improprieties, misrepresentation and disclosure failures.
More recently, HP has been struggling with its printer business segment recently, with the division’s third-quarter revenue dropping 5% on-year. It has announced a cost-saving program worth more than $1 billion that could result in its shedding about 16% of its workforce, or about 9,000 employees, over the next few years.
Xerox’s stock has rallied under Visentin, who took over last year as CEO. However, HP said on Sunday that a decline in Xerox’s revenue since June 2018 from $10.2 billion to $9.2 “raises significant questions” regarding the trajectory of Xerox’s business and future prospects.