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US, China could sign phase one trade deal before Christmas, Pimco says

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John Studzinski, managing director and vice chairman of Pimco, speaks with CNBC’s Geoff at the East Tech West conference in Nansha, Guangzhou.

Dave Zhong | Getty Images for CNBC

A “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China could be finalized and signed before Christmas this year, according to an executive from bond investment giant Pimco.

Optimism that such an agreement could be reached between the two countries faded in recent days following reports that Washington and Beijing remained far apart on several issues. A Chinese government source told CNBC’s Eunice Yoon on Monday that China is troubled after U.S. President Donald Trump said he hasn’t agreed to roll back tariffs.

But John Studzinski, managing director and vice chairman of Pimco, said on Tuesday that he still thinks the two sides would reach a partial deal.

“There are obviously issues remaining about agricultural purchase targets, forced technology (transfer) and broader enforcement issues. But I think the view would be to try to resolve something … by the beginning of December and sign it before Christmas,” he told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore at the East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou city, China.

“And I think Trump sees this as important. He’s gotten a lot of endorsement from American CEOs who want to see some type of stabilization and anchor in this broader relationship and trade dialogue between China and America,” he added.

US and China are ‘complementary’

The two largest economies in the world are in the second year of a trade war that has hurt investor and business sentiment, and slowed down global economic activity. Both the U.S. and China have slapped tariffs worth billions of dollars on each other’s products — with potentially more to come if talks between them break down.

But reaching a “phase one” deal will not resolve all issues between the two economic giants, noted Studzinski.

“Whether we like it or not, we are all witnessing a major event — the first major event, really — since World War II with the need for these two formidable cultures, countries, independent countries to rethink their relationship,” he said. “The world will be a much stronger and stable place if they can find ways to align their interests, rather than trying to compete.”

Studzinski explained that in many ways, the U.S. and China are “complementary.”

Citing the technology sector as an example, he said the U.S. has had three to four generations of Silicon Valley-trained technologists, while China has “fantastic” expertise and acumen to manufacture “very complicated” components. Those two areas of expertise would work well together to benefit economies worldwide, he added.

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Sony invests $250 million in ‘Fortnite’ maker Epic Games

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Character actors from the Epic Games Fortnite video game dance during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, on June 12, 2019.

Kyle Grillot | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sony has invested $250 million in Epic Games, the company behind the popular battle-royale video game “Fortnite.”

The PlayStation console maker will take a minority stake in Epic, the two companies said Thursday, in a strategic investment deal that expands on an existing relationship between both firms.

Other than being known for creating hit titles like “Fortnite” and the “Gears of War” franchise, Epic is seen as a major player in the video games industry thanks to its Unreal game-engine software that powers many of the world’s top games. The company also runs an online video games store that competes with Steam.

“Epic’s powerful technology in areas such as graphics places them at the forefront of game engine development with Unreal Engine and other innovations,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said in a statement Thursday. “There’s no better example of this than the revolutionary entertainment experience, Fortnite.”

“Through our investment, we will explore opportunities for further collaboration with Epic to delight and bring value to consumers and the industry at large, not only in games, but also across the rapidly evolving digital entertainment landscape.”

The investment is subject to regulatory approvals, Sony and Epic said.

It’s a significant deal for Sony into one of the world’s top gaming brands. Privately-held Epic is also backed by another household name in the industry, Chinese firm Tencent.

The news arrives as Sony gears up to launch its PlayStation 5 console later this year. The Japanese firm has been intensifying its battle with Microsoft to convince gamers to buy its next-generation device over the upcoming Xbox Series X.

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TikTok transparency report shows it removed 49 million videos

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TikTok removed over 49 million videos for content violations in just six months, according to the company’s latest transparency report, published Thursday. 

Less than 1% of all videos published on the platform are removed for content violations, TikTok said, in what is its second transparency report. 

India, where the app was banned last week, had 16.5 million videos removed, which is roughly four times more than any other country. 

The U.S., which is “looking at” banning the app, had the second most videos removed with 4.6 million. Pakistan ranked third (3.7 million), the U.K. was in fourth (2 million), and Russia was in fifth (1.3 million).  

Globally, the main reason for removal was “adult nudity and sexual activities,” with one in four of the deleted videos removed for this reason in December. 

Other reasons included alcohol and drug taking, violence, self-harm or suicide. Less than 1% of the videos removed violated TikTok’s polices on hate speech, integrity and authenticity, and dangerous individuals and organizations. 

Of the videos removed, TikTok said 89.4% were taken down before they received any views. 

TikTok refused to disclose how many were taken down by human moderators and how many were removed by the company’s software. 

Owned by China’s ByteDance, the short video app said that it had 500 requests from governments and law enforcement agencies in 26 countries during the second half of 2019. That’s up 67% on the first half of the year, when it received 298. 

India, which was TikTok’s largest market in terms of user numbers, made 302 requests, and TikTok shared data in 90% of those cases. The U.S. made 100,  and TikTok shared data in 82% of those cases. Elsewhere, Japan made 16, Germany made 15, Norway made 10, and the U.K. made 10. 

“Any information request we receive is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency to determine, for example, whether the requesting entity is authorized to gather evidence in connection with a law enforcement investigation or to investigate an emergency involving imminent harm,” TikTok said in the report. 

Governments requested content be removed on 45 separate occasions but TikTok did not comply with all of those. The bulk of the requests (30) came from India. 

“If we believe that a report isn’t legally valid or doesn’t violate our standards, we may not action the content,” TikTok said. 

The report states that TikTok did not receive any user information or content removal requests from China or Hong Kong. In fact, China doesn’t get mentioned in the report at all. That could be because ByteDance operates a clone of TikTok in China called Douyin so any government requests are likely to be filed there instead.

TikTok isn’t available for download in China and a spokesperson for the company wasn’t immediately available to clarify whether requests to Douyin would be in a separate report.

TikTok has launched “trust and safety hubs” in Dublin, Singapore and Mountain View, California, as part of an effort to provide a more local approach to content moderation. 

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German prosecutors probe Wirecard for money laundering

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The lettering of the payment service provider Wirecard can be seen on a laptop screen

Silas Stein | picture alliance | Getty Images

German state prosecutors are investigating Wirecard for suspected money laundering, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

“We are investigating suspected money laundering,” the spokeswoman told Reuters, saying the inquiry was directed at individuals from Wirecard. She said it followed a number of criminal complaints this year and last.

Wirecard declined to comment.

The implosion of what was seen as a German success story once worth $28 billion has caused major embarrassment with experts and politicians criticising what they see as a hands-off approach on the part of the authorities.

Wirecard filed for insolvency last month owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a 1.9 billion euro ($2.1 billion) hole in its accounts that its auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.

Wirecard started out handling payments for gambling and adult websites and now processes payments for companies including Visa and Mastercard.

Some of the world’s biggest investors held its shares before a whistleblower said it owed its success to a web of sham transactions.

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