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* The Asian arm of Toys R Us Inc., backed by Fung Retailing Ltd., plans to open 60 stores in the region in 2019, the South China Morning Post reported, citing Jo Hall, Toys R Us Asia's chief commercial officer for Greater China and Southeast Asia. The number of new stores is in line with the previous statement by Toys R Us Asia President and CEO Andre Javes. Hall reportedly said the store openings will be mostly in China, as well as Japan and Malaysia, but the toy retailer is also seeking further expansion in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

* U.S. retail vacancies edged up in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 10.2% from 10% in the year-ago period, Reuters reported, citing data from real estate research firm Reis Inc. The research company said there were fears that vacancy rates would soar, but it did not happen. Reis added that the "the doomsday prognostications proved to be overblown." The report said the mall vacancy rate was at 9% in the quarter, up from 8.3% in the prior year.


* New York-based athletic wear company Foot Locker Inc. said it acquired a $3 million stake in kids' apparel and footwear maker Super Heroic Inc. As part of the deal, Kids Foot Locker will become the first physical-store retailer of Super Heroic in the U.S.


* Hudson's Bay Co. Chairman Richard Baker is increasing his stake in the Canadian department store chain. Baker agreed to purchase 9.76% of the issued and outstanding common shares on a non-diluted basis and 7.54% of the issued and outstanding common shares from a unit of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board. Rupert of the Rhine LLC, an entity controlled by Baker, will purchase 17,953,536 shares for C$9.45 each.


* Inc.'s warehouse employees in Spain started a two-day strike Jan. 3, ahead of the Three Kings gift-giving day on Jan. 6, as part of a long-running campaign for higher pay and better working conditions, Reuters reported.

* Amazon-owned organic grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. said it is launching a digital product catalog on its online platform to allow shoppers to browse for items according to their dietary preferences. The feature also offers complete nutritional information, diet and allergen tags, and ingredient lists.


* Health and beauty retailer Boots UK Ltd., owned by Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., said it acquired health technology company Wiggly-Amps Ltd. for an undisclosed sum. Wiggly-Amps offers a digital service to help patients manage their prescription needs.

* U.K. consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC said Warren Tucker has agreed to remain as nonexecutive board director and stand for re-election at the company's annual general meeting this year. Warren had intended to retire and step down from the board in 2019.


* Nestlé India Ltd., a unit of Nestlé SA, welcomed the Indian Supreme Court's decision to reject interim orders made in 2015 by the country's consumer commission against the company over its Maggi noodles. The consumer commission filed a class-action lawsuit Aug. 11, 2015, against Nestlé after a government laboratory said it found MSG and high levels of lead in samples of the noodles. In April 2016, the Central Food Technological Research Institute submitted analysis reports on Maggi noodles to India's Supreme Court and found that 100% of the samples tested by the agency contained lead levels within permissible limits. The company then appealed to the High Court against two interim orders submitted by the consumer commission, and in response, the Supreme Court "has agreed with Nestlé's contention."


* Malaysian home improvement retailer MR. D.I.Y. Group (M) Sdn. Bhd. is interviewing potential underwriters for a public listing in Kuala Lumpur that could raise up to $500 million, Bloomberg News reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter. Mr. D.I.Y. officials did not respond immediately to Bloomberg's email and phone calls seeking comment.

* Household appliances maker Whirlpool Corp. said it is expanding the mobile watch functionality of its connected appliances by using Google LLC's Wear OS this year. The company said the extended functionality will allow Android users to remotely communicate with select kitchen and laundry appliances.


* Casino operator MGM Resorts International said it will launch the "MGM 2020" growth initiative designed to deliver a total annualized EBITDA increase of $300 million. MGM intends to improve operational efficiencies by becoming more centralized and enacting a digital transformation to drive revenue growth.


* Hong Kong retail sales by value rose 1.4% year over year in November to HK$39.2 billion, a more modest figure following significant growth in October, due to more cautious consumer sentiment amid a number of international uncertainties, according to a release from Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Department.

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The day ahead

Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.

In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 2.24% to 25,626.03, while the Nikkei 225 was down 2.26% to 19,561.96.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 increased 1.40% to 6,786.47, and the Euronext 100 was up 1.25% to 908.69.

On the macro front

The Employment Situation report, the PMI Services Index, the EIA Natural Gas Report, the EIA Petroleum Status Report and the Baker-Hughes Rig Count report are due out today.

Click here to read about today's financial markets, setting out the factors driving stocks, bonds and currencies around the world ahead of the New York open.

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