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Nestlé cuts 380 jobs in Germany; Sainsbury's, Asda get more time in merger probe


* Swiss food company Nestlé SA is cutting 380 jobs in Germany, following long negotiations with trade unions and works councils and agreeing on conditions, according to a company release. The company is also closing its Caro plant in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg, and a food laboratory in Weiding, Bavaria, by the end of 2018. Nestlé will realign the plants in Lüdinghausen in North Rhine-Westphalia and Biessenhofen in Bavaria in 2019.

* The Competition Appeal Tribunal granted J Sainsbury PLC and Asda Stores Ltd.'s request for more time to review evidence and submit documents to support their proposed merger, which the Competition and Markets Authority is investigating. In a brief statement released Dec. 14, the U.K. grocers said the court ruled in their favor and found that the timetable for responding to materials and attending a main party hearing were both "unfair." However, the supermarket operators did not get the additional 11 working days they originally sought, according to the Financial Times. The Competition and Markets Authority reportedly said it would "now consider how much more time to give the parties."


* Seven & i Holdings Co. Ltd. posted a 3.5% year-over-year increase in the total sales of its convenience stores operated by Seven-Eleven Japan in November. Same-store sales for Seven-Eleven Japan grew 0.6% from the same period a year ago. The number of customers fell 0.5%, while the average spend per customer rose 1.1%. The number of operating stores rose to 20,700 in November, compared to 20,622 in October.

* Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. renewed its agreement with Italy for two more years to ensure the promotion of certified Italian food products on the platform. The agreement consolidates three-year collaboration between Italy's Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies and Alibaba and ensures the protection of consumers in online purchases.

* U.S. hedge fund Cat Rock Capital Management LP criticized U.K.'s Just Eat PLC for becoming "the worst-performing public equity in online food delivery," urging it to shed assets and change pay incentives for senior executives. In a letter to CEO Peter Plumb and Chairman Michael Evans, Cat Rock's founder and managing partner, Alex Captain, said "unambitious targets and flawed incentive schemes have significantly damaged the value of the business and shareholder returns." Cat Rock Capital owns about 2% of Just Eat's shares.

* Whole Foods Market Inc. said it opened its new 40,000-square-foot store in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Dec. 15. The store, at 480 N. Bedford Road, employs approximately 230 full- and part-time team members. In addition to a selection of locally sourced options, grab-and-go prepared foods and natural and organic grocery items, shoppers in Chappaqua will also experience a pizza parlor, a 37-seat fast-casual eatery and beverage venue in-store alongside a curated selection of beer from local breweries and wines by the glass.

* Hong Kong-based Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. completed the previously announced acquisition of the remaining 51% interest in Philippine-based Rose Pharmacy Inc. from BRG Realty Corp, according to a London Stock Exchange filing. Following the completion, Dairy Farm now holds 100% of the pharmaceutical retailer. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

* The Australian Commissioner of Taxation issued class ruling CR 2018/59, confirming that certain Wesfarmers Ltd. shareholders will be able to avail Coles demerger tax relief. The ruling also added that dividend component of the demerger distribution of Coles' shares is not subject to tax in Australia.


* Yildiz Holding A.S.-owned Belgian chocolate brand Godiva Chocolatier Inc. plans to roll out 2,000 cafés across North America, Asia and other countries in a bid to increase revenues fivefold by 2024, the Financial Times reported. For this expansion, Godiva and its bankers at Morgan Stanley are negotiating with several potential strategic investors about a possible $1 billion-plus transaction, the report said.

* The World Trade Organization ruled that American "dolphin-safe" labeling requirements on Mexican tuna comply with international trade rules, siding with the U.S. in an appeal brought by Mexico and ending a 10-year dispute between the neighboring countries, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said. In a news release, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the ruling caps off "aggressive litigation tactics" on the part of Mexico.

* Total Produce PLC said Dole Food Co. Inc. agreed to sell Saba Fresh Cuts AB and Saba Fresh Cuts OY to BAMA International, headquartered in Oslo, Norway, for an undisclosed sum. The sale was a condition set by the European Commission to approve Total Produce's acquisition of a 45% equity stake in Dole in July. This transaction, subject to regulatory approvals, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019.


* Japan Tobacco Inc. posted a 6.7% year-over-year decline in domestic sales for November. The Tokyo-based company's sales during the month totaled ¥39.2 billion, down from ¥42 billion in November 2017. The company sold 6.1 billion cigarettes in November, compared to 7 billion sold in the same period a year ago. In a separate release, the company confirmed that on Jan. 1, 2019, it will end its license agreements to develop and sell six anti-HIV drugs in Japan with Gilead Sciences Inc. and Torii Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. Japan Tobacco, which previously announced the termination, said it expects no impact on its consolidated business results for fiscal year ended December, 2018.


* TGI Friday's Inc.'s Indian joint venture partner, Bistro Hospitality Pvt. Ltd., is set to dilute stake and raise private equity funding to expand the American casual dining chain brand in the country, The Economic Times (India) reported. The operator of 11 TGI Fridays outlets in the country appointed Centrum Capital as its investment banker. The funding will be used to expand TGI Fridays' operations and set up its first Fridays American Bars in India, the report added.

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The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng retreated 0.03% to 26,087.98. The Nikkei 225 rose 0.62% to 21,506.88.

In Europe as of midday, the FTSE was down 0.47% to 6,812.80, and the Euronext 100 fell 0.69% to 936.76.

On the macro front

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Empire State Manufacturing Survey, the Housing Market Index and the Treasury International Capital 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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