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Supermarket sweep: pre-Christmas spending sets new record

The UK’s lockdown restrictions boosted grocery sales in November, reaching a record £10.9bn in the four weeks to 29 November. With a further £12bn expected to be spent in December in the run-up to Christmas, a rise of £1.5bn from last year.

The latest figures from data firm Kantar, suggest consumers have begun the Christmas countdown early this year, with the research noting sales of Turkeys rose 36% on last year, while more than £11m was spent on Christmas puddings. In addition, shoppers spent 238% more on Christmas lights in the month to 15 November.

But while consumer spending on all essential items, including groceries, increased by 4.9% year-on-year in November, figures from Barclaycard show that many shoppers were also taking advantage of online shopping and pre-Christmas sales from the comfort of home.

Physical retail stores were challenged by coronavirus restrictions, as demonstrated by the collapse of both Debenhams and Arcadia group last week, but online general retailers and clothing recorded rises of 73.8% and 35.6% respectively.

In addition, the launch of new consoles and video games during the month pushed electronic sales up 28.9% while Christmas shopping boosted online sales at specialist retailers such as toy shops, jewellers and gift shops by 85.8% year-on-year.

With coronavirus vaccines now available, consumer confidence appears to be  building, although analysts warned the disparity between online and bricks and mortar retail is continuing to widen. Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, notes: “The gap between winners and losers continues with home focused items such as technology and household appliances putting in a very strong performance, whilst fashion sales fell away at a significant level.

”The arrival of a vaccine programme will help to boost consumer confidence, but conditions are likely to remain challenging for the immediate future and retailers will need to fight hard in the January sales for every penny in consumers’ pockets.”

Uber sells arm to stay on feet

Ride-sharing firm Uber is to sell its autonomous driving unit – Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) – to self-driving start-up company Aurora as it seeks to improve its profitability.

Once seen as the future of Uber, the self-driving business has been expensive for Uber. It launched a $1bn fundraising in April 2019 which it needed to “keep its position at the forefront” of the industry. This valued ATG at $7.25bn – much higher than the $4bn sale price. Meanwhile, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told Reuters the sale would “advance our path to profitability”, although he added it was not a leading factor in the deal.

Aurora, which is backed by Amazon and Sequoia, also announced a strategic partnership with Uber, noting that while autonomous trucking is the priority, “our relationship with Uber puts us in the unique position to be a leading player in both autonomous trucking and passenger mobility.”

Under the terms of the partnership Uber will invest $400m into Aurora and Khosrowshahi will take a seat on Aurora’s board.

A spoonful of Suga: Japan’s new stimulus plans

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has outlined a ¥73.6trn ($708bn/£530bn) stimulus package to help boost the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In particular, it will look to target a ‘green’ recovery, with funding for initiatives promoting carbon emissions, as well as boosting the use of digital technology.

It is expected the stimulus will include around $384bn in direct spending, as well as extensions of subsidy programmes aimed at promoting domestic travel and spurring consumption.

The Japanese economy had started to recover in the third quarter, but revised data on Tuesday (8 Dec) showed a contraction in the second quarter of more than 8% quarter-on-quarter.

The prime minister said the measures would help achieve new growth in green and digital areas, to protect people’s lives and livelihoods. Once endorsed by the cabinet, the new package would bring the combined coronavirus-related stimulus measures to around $3trn.