What to Watch: Ocado soars on Japan deal, bank woes and Npower cuts

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Ocado announced a major new deal. Photo: Katie Collins/PA Images via Getty Images

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Ocado shares leap on Japan supermarket deal

Ocado (OCDO.L) shares soared 12.6% on Friday morning as it confirmed a deal with Japan’s largest supermarket group Aeon.

It also announced it would hire almost 400 new developers to work in its UK offices.

Markets reacted positively to the British company’s further expansion of its technology arm, on top of its direct UK partnership with Waitrose and now Marks & Spencer.

“Given that Japan must have plenty of rival automated robotic warehouse providers, this is quite a coup for the business,” said independent retail analyst Nick Bubb.

Reuters reports that online grocery shopping has “yet to take off in Japan,” but analysts expect it to keep growing in future.

Unions hold Amazon warehouse Black Friday protests

Unions are holding protests outside Amazon (AMZN) warehouses in the UK and abroad over working conditions, in one of the busiest online shopping periods of the year.

The union GMB has co-ordinated the demonstrations across the country to coincide with ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday.’

GMB national officer Mick Rix said workers were protesting “appalling” working conditions at the warehouses.

But a spokesperson for Amazon said: “Self-interested critics have a vested interest in spreading misinformation about Amazon but the facts tell a different story. The truth is that Amazon already offers industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits, as well as a safe, modern work environment.”

Npower cost-cutting programme sparks fears for jobs

Npower is in trouble. Photo: REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

The energy firm Npower has announced plans for a major cost-cutting programme, sparking union fears for thousands of jobs in the UK.

A spokesman for the GMB union called it a “body blow to Npower workers across the UK,” and condemned the government’s energy bill price cap for putting jobs at risk.

E.ON (EOAN.DE), which owns Npower, said in a statement published on Friday a £500m restructuring plan would be stepped up, but did not confirm any plans for job losses.

E.ON added in its statement that its cost-cutting plans involved “leaner, increasingly digital processes,” with job cuts feared in its UK call centres.

HSBC and Santander to refund customers over overdraft failings

HSBC (HSBA.L) and Santander (SAN.MC) set to refund more than 100,000 customers millions of pounds after they breached rules about unplanned overdraft alerts.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Friday it had stepped in to order the refunds.

It said the two banks had failed to text customers warning them they were about to go into unplanned overdrafts. The CMA introduced new rules in 2018 that mandated the text alerts.

“The refunds paid by the banks cover all fees incurred by customers from going into unarranged overdrafts where they had not been warned beforehand by the required text alerts,” the CMA said in a statement.

It comes on a bad day for banks, with customers of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and NatWest also left unable to access online banking on a busy Black Friday.

Customers of both banks took to Twitter to complain of issues accessing their accounts. Down Detector, a website that tracks online service issues, also recorded a big spike in reported issues at RBS and NatWest, beginning around 9am on Friday morning.

Trade dents European stocks

Most European stocks were flat or in the red as traders watch for news on the latest escalation of trade tensions between the US and China in a row over Hong Kong.

China has threatened counter-measures after US president Donald Trump signed into law plans to support pro-democracy protestors in the territory.

It casts a new shadow over trade talks, which had seen reported progress towards the first stages of a deal earlier this week.

The FTSE (FTSE) and German DAX (^GDAXI) were both 0.2% lower in mid-morning trade. The French CAC 40 (^FCHI) and the Euro Stoxx 50 (^STOXX50E) were both flat.

Overnight in Asia, the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) plummeted by 2%, while China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) was down 0.6% and the Nikkei dropped 0.5% (^N225).

What to expect in the US

US stocks also looked set to fall, with Dow Jones futures (YM=F) and S&P 500 futures (ES=F) 0.2% lower and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) down 0.3%.