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Walmart and Oracle's Bid to Acquire TikTok is Dead. Now What?

By Danny Vena and Jason Hall - Feb 25, 2021 at 9:00AM

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The Biden Administration is conducting its own review of the Chinese-owned video platform.

TikTok, the short-form video service owned by China's ByteDance, continues to face an uncertain future. In mid-2020, the Trump administration cited national security concerns related to data privacy and threatened to ban TikTok, forcing the company to find a buyer. Oracle (ORCL 2.37%) and Walmart (WMT 0.11%) stepped forward with bids to own partial stakes in TikTok Global, which would have housed the company's U.S. operations. The tech titans have now reportedly shelved the deal as the Biden administration conducts its own wide-ranging review of the security risks related to the China-based company's data collection.

On this clip from Motley Fool Live recorded on Feb. 10, "The Wrap" host Jason Hall, Fool analyst Nick Sciple, and contributor Danny Vena discuss the implications and what happens from here.

Jason Hall: So the Biden administration has formally shelved the pending deal for TikTok. First of all, I didn't know the deal was even still pending. I thought everybody just walked away. This is the Oracle/Walmart deal. They were going to acquire a 20% stake in TikTok. Oracle was going to own 12.5% and become TikTok's cloud provider. Walmart was going to take 7.5% stake. Doug McMillon, that's Walmart's CEO, was going to serve on the Board for the new company that was going to be created. There should be five people on the board so Walmart would have one of those seats. Here's my question. What happens next with TikTok as a potential investments for US investors?

Nick Sciple: I don't think it's happening, Jason. I think if it's the hot take section, my hot take is I just don't think it's happening. There was speculation that maybe this was a Trump administration thing. There's been tension between that administration in China. The fact that we have a new administration in place who seems to be committed in a similar way to at least slowing down this deal, if not totally pushing this deal off to where it's not going to take place. If you look at relations between the U.S. and China when it comes to listing standards, accounting, any of those things that I don't think we're headed toward a more conciliatory posture.

If you don't think we're heading to a more friendly relations, I don't think it's more likely this company is going to come public. My hot take would be that U.S. investors aren't going to get a shot at it. Unless of course there is some other already public Chinese company like Tencent (TCEHY -1.38%) or Alibaba (BABA -1.03%) or something like that, that acquires TikTok. But I don't think public investors in the U.S. are going to get a good shot at TikTok

Jason Hall: Yeah, there's obviously not any political will for the Chinese government to let this great asset to become just another American social media company. Danny, I know when you shared your link in the chat here in f for folks to check out, you wrote something about this earlier today. What's your take?

Danny Vena: I'm leaning a little bit toward Nick's opinion here. I think a lot of it is going to depend on how U.S. regulators under the Biden administration look at the big picture and that's what they're going for. They're going to take a more holistic approach to this, and once they look at it, make a decision, I think that if the Biden administration is more easy-going on this and maybe less of like a bulldog with it between their teeth, like the Trump administration was, yeah, I think there's a possibility.

But generally speaking, even if that were to come to fruition on the U.S. side of the house, Chinese regulators threw out a rule, not too long after the deal was initially announced that said that they were not going to allow artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that were used in Chinese companies outside of the country. Which means that's what TikTok uses to recommend the videos to users. So I think there's still going to be stumbling blocks, even if the Biden administration is a little bit more easygoing on China than the Trump administration was. So it's looking doubtful.

Jason Hall: Yeah, my take on this whole thing is I think the Biden administration, if you want to think about this from a broader investing implications perspective, which is what we want to try to do is I think they're taking a more of a macro approach and less of a micro approach. I don't think this is what they're doing, is just about TikTok. I think it's about data sharing broadly, American citizen's data, that potentially getting into the Chinese government's hands in a very broad way and TikTok is just the poster child of this right now. Because it is so hugely popular and because it's a Chinese-based company.

Even though the company says American user data has never lived inside of China, it doesn't mean that a Chinese official can't walk into TikTok's office and say, "Get the data and give it to us" and TikTok and ByteDance not be legally required to in China because they are, that's Chinese law.

So I think the Biden administration is just being a little more methodical, and the implications could be greater. It could have a bigger impact on Chinese companies that do business with Americans in a broader way. So I don't know. I think the upshot here is and I don't know if you guys want to any take here but I think so far it's whatever for Walmart. They've just grown their partnership. They have a website right now [laughs] you could go to that talks about what they're doing and they're trying to leverage TikTok as a platform for their brands. I mean these kids might have been greased a little more to do more like product placement and that kind of stuff. But I think if there's a loser here, it's probably Oracle, right?

Nick Sciple: Right. I mean, what's Oracle going to do to change the narrative with their cloud, offering you've seen. I guess [Alphabet's] Google has been in third place for the longest time, behind Amazon and Microsoft. Google has got some really hot deals coming in. After they sign there deal with Ford last week. They're signing some really a big deals. You're not really hearing any news around Oracle other than this TikTok deal, I'm not familiar with others and maybe it could just be lack of knowledge, but they just don't seem to have a ton of positive news around them and this isn't good news either.

Jason Hall: Yeah, I think so. Danny, anything to add?

Danny Vena: No. I never thought that Oracle-TikTok would make a good match anyway.

Jason Hall: Yeah, apparently nobody on the Earth does except for the [laughs] people at Oracle.

Danny Vena: The stodgy old man and the hot young thing.

Jason Hall: There you go.

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