Business Briefing

Christmas comes early for UK retailers after Black Friday shopping spree

Companies in the news include Bulb and a cryptocurrency called Omicron

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Black Friday shopping London

Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images

UK retail: last hurrah

Haven’t we all had enough of Black Friday, that US-imported “carnival of consumerism” that now “afflicts us in the final week of November”, asked James Bloodworth in the New Statesman. Given that British consumers have already racked up £4.1bn in outstanding debt this year, it feels “increasingly untethered from reality” – particularly as “mindless consumerism” is “hastening the destruction of the planet”. 

Yet despite survey evidence that shoppers are growing more cynical about Black Friday, they let rip this year, said the FT. According to data from credit card issuer Barclaycard Payments, there was record spending in the UK on the day itself – with transactions up by 2.4% on 2019 levels, and by 23% compared with pandemic-stricken 2020. “We should be set for one of the most successful Black Friday shopping sprees on record,” said Barclaycard boss Rob Cameron. Others noted that bricks-and-mortar shopping was beating the online variety for the first time in years. 

“Christmas seems to have come early for retailers,” CBI economist Ben Jones told The Times. “Clothing and department stores in particular” have seen “a big upward swing”. Talk about a last hurrah, said DealBook in The New York Times. British retailers are now at the forefront of business groups warning that “Omicron could stifle Christmas sales” as new pandemic restrictions are introduced.

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Bulb et al: broken glass

In the end, the Government had to stump up £1.7bn to keep Bulb Energy, and its 1.7 million customers, in “special administration” for six months, said Nils Pratley in The Guardian. The obvious question is: what next? Ministers are hopeful of “a rapid auction”, and there are reports that Lazard has been hired to run it. But surely “any acquirer of 1.7 million accounts would want a cast-iron guarantee that it won’t lose money on the deal”. Temporary nationalisations are “easy to do; exits can be harder”.

The dominoes are still falling in the sector, said The Times. Two more energy suppliers – Entice and Orbit – collapsed last week, taking the total number of failures since August to 25. The ripples are spreading, said Aimee Donnellan on Reuters Breakingviews. The sometimes overlooked victims of Britain’s energy crunch are price comparison sites, such as GoCompare, CompareTheMarket and MoneySuperMarket, which boomed thanks to “the churn of customers” constantly switching suppliers. Now they face tougher times.

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Omicron: coining it

What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you own a “tiny cryptocurrency called Omicron”, whose price began rocketing over the weekend – even as the new Covid-19 variant tanked bitcoin and other crypto markets, said Billy Bambrough in Forbes.

The obscure token, named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, began rising on Saturday after the World Health Organisation gave the new variant the same name, said Martin Young on CoinTelegraph. It rocketed from $65 on Saturday to reach an all-time high of $689 on Monday morning, marking a whopping 945% gain. And while the price of Omicron – a DeFi (or decentralised finance) token – subsequently fell, it was still trading at around $325 on Wednesday.

Scam or coincidence? The outfit behind Omicron is so obscure that it’s hard to tell, said Pascale Davies on Euronews. But there may be more to come. Next in the Greek alphabet is Pi – there’s already a cryptocurrency bearing the same name. 

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