Google, Meta Ad Deal Subject of EU, UK Antitrust Probe

Pimco's Russia exposure raises eyebrows

Formal investigations by the U.K. and European Union have been launched into a Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) advertising deal that authorities say may have stifled competition.

The 2018 "Jedi Blue" agreement between Meta Inc.'s Facebook and Alphabet Inc.'s Google is being probed over concerns the companies aimed to weaken and exclude competing ad platforms, the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority and the European Commission both said in separate statements.

Shares of Meta are down more than 2% this morning while Alphabet is flat.

The charges are similar to those brought against the companies by a handful of U.S. states, led by Texas, in 2018.

"A competing technology to Google's Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim to weaken it and exclude it from the market for displaying ads on publisher websites and apps," EU commission's executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager said in the statement. "If confirmed by our investigation, this would restrict and distort competition."

The agencies said they intend to work together in the matter.

Meta told CNBC that while they plan to cooperate with the investigation, the agreement didn't stifle competition and, in fact, it "helped to increase competition for ad placements." Google had previously disputed the accusations when it responded to a lawsuit filed by Texas's Attorney General by saying in a blog post that anticompetitive charges are "wrong" and that the Meta agreement actually creates opportunities for smaller rivals.

PIMCO's Russian Exposure

Pacific Investment Management Company built up billions of dollars of exposure to Russian debt, opening up its funds to losses as the country faces a possible default. PIMCO has at least $1.5 billion of Russian sovereign debt, according to company filings. It had also placed about $1 billion of bets on Russian credit-default swaps.  

In the swap market, the probability of a Russian default is high. Trading in the credit default swaps suggests there’s a 71% chance of a default within a year, and 81% within five years.  

The majority of PIMCO’s swaps sit in its $140 billion income fund, co-run by its Chief Investment Officer, Dan Ivascyn.  

If Russia fails to pay its obligations to foreign creditors, it will be the first time since the Russian Revolution, when the Bolsheviks defaulted on czarist bonds. In 1998, Russia defaulted on its domestic debt, while foreign debt was restructured.


Earlier this week, rating agency Fitch downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating further into junk territory, saying a default is “imminent.” Moody’s and S&P have also slashed the country’s debt rating to “junk” status. 

While PIMCO’s exposure is sizable, it is only a fraction of the $2.2 trillion under management.

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  1. Competion and Markets Authority. "CMA investigates Google and Meta over ad tech concerns."

  2. European Commission. "Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible anticompetitive conduct by Google and Meta, in online display advertising."

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