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Shares of UK online supermarket Ocado soar on talk of Amazon bid interest

Ocado Group shares surged by over 40 per cent on Thursday after The Times newspaper reported speculation of possible bid interest in the online supermarket and technology group, recently squeezed by a cost of living crisis in the UK.

The Times noted there was talk of bid interest from more than one US suitor including tech heavyweight Amazon, pondering the merits of an offer worth $10.21 per share – an 86 per cent premium to Ocado’s closing price on Wednesday of $5.03.

Ocado declined to comment on either the stock’s rise or the Times report. Amazon also declined to comment on the report.

Given the share price move, under UK takeover rules if Ocado had received an approach that could result in a firm offer it would normally be obliged to notify the market.

If a possible suitor is planning to make an approach but hasn’t yet done so and Ocado doesn’t know about it, the obligation to consult the Takeover Panel sits with the possible bidder and it may be required to make a statement.

Shares in Ocado rose as much as 47 per cent and were briefly on track for their biggest one-day jump on record. They were up 32 per cent at 1339 GMT, paring losses over the past 12 months to 31 per cent.

“The shares have been about as flat as an open bottle of lemonade since the pandemic but third parties, including reportedly Amazon, may still see value in the brand, technology and infrastructure,” said AJ Bell head of financial analysis Danni Hewson.

“Ocado’s hopes of becoming an online groceries partner to businesses across the globe has only had limited success and shareholders may be open to a bidder putting them out of their misery,” she added.

Analysts at Jefferies noted that Ocado’s share price has struggled post pandemic and with about 14% of its free float out on loan has been a popular stock for short sellers.

Divided opinion

Founded by three former Goldman Sachs bankers in 2000, including current CEO Tim Steiner, Ocado has divided analysts like few other stocks.

Some view its home deliveries from giant robotic warehouses as the future of grocery shopping, while others see it as a costly and complicated venture that will never make sustained profits.

Its value has been driven by technology partnership deals with overseas food retailers, including Kroger Co in the United States, Aeon in Japan, Casino in France and Lotte Shopping in South Korea.

In February, Ocado plunged to a $640 million full year loss as it took a big accounting charge and profits at its retail joint venture with Marks & Spencer were wiped out, as even its typically more affluent shoppers felt the squeeze from higher inflation and energy bills.

While during the pandemic Ocado didn’t have enough UK capacity to meet consumer demand, it currently has surplus capacity, which represents a cost to the business in the short term.

Online grocery’s share of the total grocery market in Britain was about 7 per cent before Covid-19. It peaked at about 15 per cent during the pandemic and has since come off to about 11 per cent.

  • Reporting by Danilo Masoni, James Davey and Muvija M; editing by Mike Holden and Susan Fenton)
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