Sainsbury’s to publish price cut data if Asda merger goes ahead

Supermarkets ‘happy to be held to account’ on reducing prices by £1bn

Sainsbury’s has promised to publish an annual breakdown of the £1bn-worth of price cuts it has promised shoppers if it merges with Asda, as it scrambles to reverse the competition watchdog’s opposition to the £7bn deal.

Many analysts think the tie-up between Sainsbury’s and Asda, the UK’s second and third largest supermarket chains respectively, is doomed after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned last month that the tie-up threatened to push up prices and reduce the choice and quality of products on sale.

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Overdone? Short EU equities ‘most crowded’ trade for first time

Fund managers have named bearish bets in European equities as the “most crowded” trade in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s survey for the first time in its history, suggesting sentiment for one of the…

Targeting payday lenders, Branch adds pay-on-demand features for hourly workers

Branch, the scheduling and pay management app for hourly workers, has added a new pay-on-demand service called Pay, which is now available to anyone who downloads the Branch app.

It’s an attempt to provide a fee-based alternative to payday lending, where borrowers charge exorbitant rates to lenders on short-term loans or cash advances. Borrowers can often wind up paying anywhere from 200 percent to more than 3,000 percent on short-term payday loans.

The Pay service, which was previously only available to select users from a waitlist at companies like Dunkin’, Taco Bell and Target (which are Branch customers), is now available to anyone in the United States and gives anyone the opportunity to get paid for the hours they have worked in a given pay period.

Branch, which began its corporate life as Branch Messenger, started as a scheduling and shift management tool for large retailers, restaurants and other businesses with hourly workers. When the company added a wage-tracking service, it began to get a deeper insight into the financially precarious lives of its users, according to chief executive, Atif Siddiqi.

“We thought, if we can give them a portion of their paycheck in advance it would be a big advantage with their productivity,” Siddiqi says. 

The company is working with Plaid, the fintech unicorn that debuted five years ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt New York Hackathon, and Cross River Bank, the stealthy financial services provider backstopping almost every major fintech player in America.

“Opening Pay and instant access to earnings to all Branch users continues our mission of creating tools that empower the hourly employee and allow their work lives to meet the demands of their personal lives,” said Siddiqi, in a statement. “Our initial users have embraced this feature, and we look forward to offering Pay to all of our organic users to better engage employees and scale staffing more efficiently.”

Beta users of the Pay service have already averaged roughly 5.5 transactions per month and more than 20 percent higher shift coverage rates compared to non-users, according to the company. Pay isn’t a lending service, technically. It offers a free pay-within-two-days option for users to receive earned but uncollected wages before a scheduled payday.

For users, there’s no integration with a back-end payroll system. Anyone who wants to use Pay just needs to download the Branch app and enter their employer, debit card or payroll card, and bank account (if a user has one). Through its integration with Plaid, Branch has access to almost all U.S. banks and credit unions.

“A lot of these employees at some of these enterprises are unbanked so they get paid on a payroll card,” Siddiqi said. “It’s been a big differentiation for us in the market allowing us to give unbanked users access to the wages that they earn.”

Users on the app can instantly get a $150 cash advance and up to $500 per pay period, according to the company. The Pay service also comes with a wage tracker so employees can forecast their earnings based on their schedule and current wages, a shift-scheduling tool to pick up additional shifts and an overdraft security feature to hold off on repayment withdrawals if it would cause users to overdraw their accounts.

Branch doesn’t charge anything for users who are willing to wait two days to receive their cash, and charges $1.99 for instant deposits.

Siddiqi views the service as a loss leader to get users onto the Branch app and ultimately more enterprise customers onto its scheduling and payment management SaaS platform.

“The way we generate revenue is through our other modules. It’s very sticky… and our other modules complement this concept of Pay,” Siddiqi says. “By combining scheduling and pay we’re providing high rates of shift coverage… now people want to pick up undesirable shifts because they can get paid instantly for those shifts.”

It’s the comedy economy, stupid! Elf Lyons on the true cost of standup

After a Franglais Swan Lake, the comic explains economics with sex dolls in ChiffChaff. She talks about loving horror, how guinea pigs helped her through illness and standing up for comedians

Elf Lyons loves economics. Or rather, as she warbles to The Lion King’s They Live in You, “eco-eco-no-nomics”. In her show ChiffChaff, which is equal parts John Maynard Keynes and Lorelei Lee, Lyons breathily considers fiscal policy by asking the audience to blow up sex dolls, play plinky-plonk instruments and imagine inflation as spinach. “I’m what the Times called ‘an ordeal’,” she informs us during a vigorous bout of hula-hooping. That review was for her 2017 rendition of Swan Lake, delivered in Franglais while dressed as a parrot. It earned her an Edinburgh comedy award nomination but left some looking for le exit.

When we meet for coffee in Soho, Lyons says she wants audiences to share her passion and think of finance as fun rather than “George Osborne holding a briefcase”. Unusually, it was the economy – rather than comedy – that really excited her as a child. “I don’t have a good comedy knowledge,” she says. “I’ve never seen Blackadder. Never watched Fawlty Towers or The Young Ones.” Growing up, she travelled a lot with her father, City economist Gerard Lyons. In China, he would explain the financial booms that built the skyscrapers. They watched films like Blade Runner and The Man in the White Suit together then discussed how they depicted expansion and the free market. “It’s about loving something,” she says of the irresistibly silly ChiffChaff. “Economics is beautiful.”

I want to play a really nice Iago

On Fridays we’d all go to the bar. Everybody would swap partners and drink bottles of crap wine

Related: A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

Elf Lyons: ChiffChaff is at Omnibus theatre, London, 25-30 March.

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Startups Weekly: Uber’s headline-grabbing week and sextech at SXSW

I spent the week at SXSW, Austin’s really, really huge technology, music, comedy and film festival. It’s my first year making the trek down here for the event, which I did to interview sextech entrepreneur Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock, whose robotics innovation reward was infamously revoked at this year’s CES.

“I brush my teeth and I masturbate. It’s all normal,” she said, addressing the stigma surrounding female-focused pleasure tech. Haddock, during our chat, also announced the first-ever government grant for a sextech startup, a $99,637 funding for Lora DiCarlo from the state of Oregon. Lora DiCarlo plans to release its first product, the Osé, this fall.

Here’s what happened while I was wondering confused around Austin.

Uber, Uber, Uber

Uber dominated the news cycle this week; here’s the TL;DR. The ride-hailing company is probably, most likely going to unveil its S-1 next month and it’s tying up some loose ends ahead of its big IPO. Uber wants to raise roughly $1 billion at a valuation of between $5 billion and $10 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit — yes, the same one that was burning through $20 million per month. Waymo, similarly, is looking to raise outside capital for the first time for its AV efforts.

Top TPG dealmaker caught in college admissions scandal

Bill McGlashan, who built his career as a top investor at the private equity firm TPG, was fired (or maybe quit?) says the firm after he was caught up in what the Justice Department said is the largest college admissions scandal it has ever prosecuted. Even worse, McGlashan lead TPG’s social impact strategy under the Rise Fund brand, making the charges particularly damning.

Accel gets $2.5B

HotelTonight and Slack stakeholder Accel raised $2.525 billion, sources confirm to TechCrunch; $525 million for its fourteenth early-stage fund, $1.5 billion for its fifth growth fund and $500 million for its second Leaders Fund, or a dedicated pool of capital meant to help the firm strengthen its positions on particularly competitive bets. Plus, 137 Ventures announced its fourth fund with $210 million in committed capital. The firm provides liquidity to founders and early employees of “sustainable, fast-growing, private companies.” In essence, 137 Ventures buys shares directly from employees at unicorn tech companies, like Palantir,  Flexport and Airbnb.

Sam Altman

Last week, we reported Y Combinator president Sam Altman would be stepping down to focus on OpenAI. TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos questions whether he had a positive or negative influence on the accelerator during his presidency. Altman was part of the first YC startup class in 2005 and began working part-time as a YC partner in 2011. He was ultimately made the head of the organization five years ago.

Brian O’Malley’s HotelTonight win

Forerunner Ventures general partner Brian O’Malley went long on HotelTonight and it paid off. For your weekend reading, we thought you might enjoy an oral history from O’Malley about how he stumbled upon HotelTonight and remained connected to the company across its nine-year history.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Startup cash

VC shakeups 

In an announcement that shocked VC Twitter, Tiger Global announced that Lee Fixel, whom Bill Gurley once said is one of the smartest investors on the scene, is leaving the firm at the end of June. Scott Shleifer and Chase Coleman will continue as co-managers of the portfolios Fixel has overseen, with Shleifer taking over as its head. “Lee has been a driving force behind the expansion of Tiger Global’s private equity investing activities in the United States and India, and he has distinguished himself as a world-class investor across multiple sectors and stages,” the firm stated. And on the hiring front, Canvas Ventures is expanding its team of three general partners to four with the hiring of Mike Ghaffary, a former general partner at Social Capital.

Extra Crunch

Subscribers to TechCrunch’s premium content can learn which types of startups are most often profitable.

Y Combinator’s latest batch

YC demo days are coming up quick. The TechCrunch staff has been meeting with YC startups and documenting their journey through the startup accelerator. I spoke to YourChoice Therapeutics, a startup developing unisex, non-hormonal birth control, and Bottomless, which operates a direct-to-consumer coffee delivery service. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney wrote about Jetpack Aviation, a YC startup, and its $380,000 flying motorcycle, and Adventurous, an augmented reality scavenger hunt crafted for families. TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey spoke to Ysplit, which wants to make it so you never have to owe anyone money ever again.

Listen to me talk

This week on Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines, Crunchbase News’ editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos discuss Uber’s IPO and Stash’s big round. Listen here.

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