* Saudi Arabia's National Agricultural Development Co. agreed to buy Al Safi Danone Co., local venture of French dairy giant Danone SA, in an all-stock transaction, strengthening its position as a leading regional dairy and beverage player. Nadec will issue new shares to fund the deal. The value of the transaction will be determined by Nadec's share price on completion. When the deal closes, Danone subsidiaries will hold 38.75% of Nadec.
* The U.K.'s top 100 restaurants saw a 64% fall in profits over the year as 35 out of 100 restaurants are struggling with rising costs, increase in wage rates and business expenses, the Financial Times reported, citing findings by accountancy group UHY Hacker Young. The loss surged 75% year over year, bringing the profit down from £345 million to £125 million. The restaurants are facing weak consumer confidence in both high-profile dining restaurants and casual dining restaurants, the report added.
* Amazon.com Inc.'s Whole Foods Market Inc. will cut several regional and in-store corporate marketing and graphic designer jobs in July, Business Insider reported March 23, citing people familiar with the development. The number of jobs being eliminated remained unclear. The company operates 450 stores and 11 regional offices in the U.S., the report said, noting that about 10 positions will be eliminated from each regional office. Some employees confirmed to Business Insider that they have until July 2 and will receive benefits until the end of that month.
* Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. said March 23 that it will acquire about an 18.25% stake in Philippines-based Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc. Dairy Farm is seeking to create a food retail business in the Philippines through a partnership that will combine its stake in Rustan Supercenters Inc. with Robinsons. The food retailer will exchange Rustan shares for 12.15% of Robinsons' shares valued at about $346 million and acquire a further 6.1% interest in Robinsons for $174 million, for a total holding of around 18.25%.
* Coca-Cola FEMSA SAB de CV, the Mexican subsidiary of U.S. soft drinks company Coca-Cola Co., closed operations indefinitely at its distribution center in Ciudad Altamirano in the Mexican state of Guerrero, effective March 23. The company said it wants to ensure the safety of its 160 employees after they received "threats and aggression of organized crime." Coca-Cola FEMSA took the decision after an employee was recently assaulted.
* U.S. restaurants company Starbucks Corp. plans to launch a sugary, peach-flavored concoction, the Crystal Ball Frappuccino, for five days in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, WJLA reported. The company expects the drink, which follows similar limited-time drinks including Unicorn Frappuccino, to gain traction through customers' social media posts, the report said.
* Indian alcoholic beverages producer B9 Beverages Pvt. Ltd. plans to take the company public in the coming three to five years, Reuters reported, citing company CEO Ankur Jain. The producer of the Bira 91 brand of beer raised about $30 million through four rounds of funding, has sufficient finances and does not plan to raise funds in the short term, the report said, citing Jain.
* Chinese supermarket chain Yonghui Superstores Co. Ltd. said it will acquire a 10% stake in Chinese packaged foods and meat producer Zhanjiang Guolian Aquatic Products Co. Ltd. for 537.7 million Chinese yuan. Yonghui Superstores will acquire Zhanjiang Guolian's shares at a price of 6.86 yuan per share from two of the largest shareholders of Zhanjiang Guolian. At completion, the stake of controlling shareholder Guotong Investment will drop to 27.16% from 32.49%, and the stake of its second-biggest shareholder, Crown Team International Investment, will decline to 9.92% from 14.58%.
TOBACCO AND SMOKING PRODUCTS
* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps that might exempt premium cigars from tobacco regulations, gaining criticism from anti-tobacco groups, CNBC reported. The authority recently took the first step in reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, as well as seeking information on the role of flavors, including menthol, in attracting people to tobacco products and substitutes like e-cigarettes.
* U.S. pizza restaurants chain Pizza Hut, a subsidiary of U.S. restaurants company Yum! Brands Inc., marked the opening of its 100th store in Sub-Saharan Africa with the opening of an outlet at Ghandi Square in Johannesburg, Business Ghana reported. Pizza Hut opened its first store on the African continent in Johannesburg about three and a half years ago and now operates in 13 Sub-Saharan African countries through about 190 stores on the African continent, including 90 stores in Morocco and Egypt, the report said.
* Pizza Hut Singapore, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc., will launch a robot to take orders and process payments for a five-day trial ending April 1 at the Safra Punggol Pizza Hut store, Retail News Asia reported. The Safra Punggol pizza outlet will be the first Southeast Asian outlet to try the technology, with the company taking a decision on whether to continue with the robot based on feedback from the trial, the report said.
* U.S. packaged goods and meat producer Mondelez International Inc. plans to close two factories in Bauru and Piracicaba in the Brazilian state of São Paulo by the end of 2018, just-food reported. The company will transfer the production of confectionery, cream cheese and powdered desserts to a factory in Curitiba, while the production of chocolate and biscuit items will shift to a factory in Vitória de Santo Antão, the report said.
* Italian-themed chain Prezzo is set to shut 94 restaurants, or about one-third of its total outlets, the Financial Times reported. The U.K.-based chain, which employs 4,500 workers, is seeking to revamp the struggling business "around a smaller, profitable core of restaurants."
THE DAY AHEAD
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng was up 0.79% to 30,548.77. The Nikkei 225 added 0.72% to 20,766.10. In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 was up 0.45% to 6,952.81, and the Euronext 100 rose 0.27% to 999.02.
ON THE MACRO FRONT
The Chicago Fed National Activity Index and the Dallas Fed manufacturing survey are due out today.
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