Kroger plans robot-staffed warehouses

Supermarket chain Kroger struck a deal with British online grocer Ocado to build and deliver from robot-staffed warehouses, upping the ante in Kroger’s battle with and sending Ocado shares rocketing.

The U.S. grocery industry is dominated by Walmart and Kroger but has been in upheaval since last summer, when Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods sent supermarkets scrambling to match the online retailer on home delivery. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The Kroger deal announced on Thursday was Ocado’s first in the United States and the British company’s fourth major agreement with retailers in six months.

Ocado shares soared as much as 80 percent to an all-time high. Kroger said the move would not dampen expected earnings for 2018 and 2019.

Kroger chief executive Rodney McMullen in a statement called the partnership “transformative” and said it was a step toward the company’s goal of giving customers anything, anytime, anywhere.

— Reuters

BJ's Wholesale Club files to go public again

Warehouse club operator BJ’s Wholesale Club Holdings has filed with U.S. regulators to return to the public market, undeterred by a downturn in the retail sector.

The company, which was taken private in 2011 for $2.8 billion by private-equity firms Leonard Green & Partners L.P. and CVC Capital Partners, will list on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “BJ,” a regulatory filing showed on Thursday.

The filing said the offering size was $100 million, a placeholder number given in first preliminary IPO filings. The final size of the IPO could be different.

The Wall Street Journal reported in April that the company could be valued between $2 billion and $3 billion, with its private-equity backers raising at least $400 million.

The filing did not reveal how many shares the company planned to sell or their expected price.

BJ’s IPO will be the second retail listing in 2018 after airport concession operator Hudson and comes at a time when brick and mortar retailers are struggling as consumers spend more of their dollars online.

Warehouse club operators, however, have largely bucked the downturn as their business models rely more on recurring membership revenue than just top-line sales.

— Reuters

Also in Business

U.S. household debt grew by $63 billion, or 0.5 percent, to $13.21 trillion in the first quarter of the year, driven largely by the increase in mortgage balances, a New York Federal Reserve quarterly report released on Thursday showed. The amount of mortgage balances rose by $57 billion in the first three months of 2018 to $8.94 trillion. Families, however, paid down their home-equity loans, which fell by $8 billion to $436 billion, according to the report.

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will expand by more than 3 percent this year and next year — but it warns that increasing risks could trigger "a shock to investment and trade" and a sharp drop to 1.8 percent growth in 2019. As possible "downside risks," a U.N. official cited the Trump administration's imposition of tariffs in January and proposed new tariffs against China, but also the renegotiation of the U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Ford Motor Co. will resume building its biggest moneymaker, the F-150 pickup, two weeks after a fire at a supplier's factory halted production of trucks at three plants. Production of F-series pickups will restart first at Ford's Dearborn, Mich., factory on Friday, then at plants in Kentucky and Missouri on Monday.

The United States lost a bid to help Apple's court fight against the European Union's order to pay Ireland a record 13 billion euros ($15.3 billion) in unpaid taxes. The E.U.'s highest court rejected the U.S. request, its press service said on Twitter on Thursday. A lower court in December also dismissed the request, saying the American government failed to show it had a direct interest in the result of the state-aid case.

Some employees in a Wells Fargo unit that handles business banking improperly changed information on documents related to corporate customers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. The information added varied from social security numbers to addresses to dates of birth for people associated with business-banking clients.

— From news services