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Kroger, Altria lead S&P 500 Consumer Staples index November

The Kroger Co. and Altria Group Inc.'s double-digit returns led the S&P 500 Consumer Staples index to a 1.3% gain in November, according to data compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The sector, however, underperformed the wider S&P 500 index, which rose 3.6% during the month. It delivered the third-worst return behind the S&P 500 Utilities index, which posted a loss of 1.8%, and the S&P 500 Real Estate index, which logged a 1.7% loss.

Overall, the S&P 500 improved on its 2.2% gain in October.

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Across the consumer staples sector, 25 of the 33 constituents of the index booked gains but only two recorded double-digit advances.

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Kroger emerged as the best-performing stock in the sector, rising 11.6% in November. The Ohio-based grocer on Nov. 5 reaffirmed its outlook for 2019 and issued earnings guidance for 2020, signaling improved sales and adjusted EPS growth. Kroger also said it expects a total shareholder return of between 8% and 11% beyond 2020.

Despite the increasing scrutiny of electronic cigarettes in recent months, Altria was the second-best performer among consumer staples stocks. Altria's stock rose 11%, following on from a 9.5% increase in October. It comes as U.S. federal health agencies quietly withdrew from a plan to cut nicotine levels in cigarettes. Also in November, Altria-backed Juul Labs Inc., which has been the subject of federal scrutiny over its marketing of e-cigarettes and vaping products to underaged users, told Bloomberg News of its plan to launch a $1 billion cost-cutting program, which could shed 650 jobs, representing 15% of its workforce.

Drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. was the third-best performing stock across the index with a 9.6% gain in November, rebounding from a loss of 1% the month prior. Walgreens was looking to go private after receiving interest from private equity firms, Reuters reported Nov. 5, citing people familiar with the matter. Nearly a week later, New York-based KKR & Co. Inc. approached the company with a take-private deal, according to Bloomberg News' sources.

The Kraft Heinz Co., the best-performing stock in October, slumped to the bottom of the consumer staples index with a 4.4% loss. After Goldman Sachs downgraded the Heinz ketchup-maker to "sell" from "neutral" on Nov. 14, shares of the company fell to $30.96 from its closing price of $33.30 on Nov. 13. CNN reported that Goldman Sachs analyst Jason English kept his price target on Kraft Heinz unchanged at $29 per share but said rising costs will continue to weigh on the company.

Molson Coors Brewing Co. maintained its spot at the second-bottom of the index with a 3.2% loss. At the end of October, the brewer unveiled a recovery plan that would cut 400 to 500 jobs and reorganize its office locations. The plan will also involve brand investments across Molson Coors' portfolio and the above-premium beer category.

The Procter & Gamble Co. was the third-worst performer with a 2.0% loss after activist investor Nelson Peltz, founder and CEO of Trian Fund Management LP, sold $527.7 million worth of P&G stock on Oct. 31. Following the disclosure, P&G shares fell 3.88% to $119.07 from $123.87 on Nov. 1.

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Across the S&P 500, the information technology sector was the best performer in November with a 5.4% gain.

The worst-performing stock across the S&P 500 was Expedia Group Inc., which slumped 25.3% in November after announcing a 22% year-over-year drop in its net income for the third quarter.