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Trump approves more aid for US farmers amid trade war; Kroger CFO to retire

TOP NEWS

* U.S. President Donald Trump said he approved a second round of payments from an aid package of up to $12 billion to help farmers affected by the U.S.-China trade war, Reuters reported, citing Trump's tweet. "Today I am making good on my promise to defend our Farmers & Ranchers from unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations. I have authorized Secretary Perdue to implement the second round of Market Facilitation Payments," Trump tweeted. U.S. farmers welcomed the decision saying this will help them as they continue to struggle with low prices, the report added citing Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association.

* The Kroger Co. said CFO Michael Schlotman will retire from the company in December 2019. The Cincinnati-based supermarket chain said Schlotman will remain CFO until April 3, 2019, and will stay with the company as an executive vice president until Dec. 28, 2019, to facilitate a seamless transition period. Kroger appointed Gary Millerchip as senior vice president and its new CFO, effective April 4, 2019.

FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION

* Seven & i Holdings Co. Ltd.-owned Seven-Eleven Japan Co. Ltd. launched a trial 7-Eleven store with a self-checkout system, using facial recognition technology to cope with labor shortage in the country, The Japan Times reported. The trial outlet, located in a building that hosts NEC group companies, can reportedly be used only by their employees. The facial recognition system, developed by technology giant NEC Corp, checks customers' faces against preregistered facial images of employees using cameras when they enter the outlet and make payments. Once shoppers scan barcodes on products in the self-checkout area, the amount is automatically deducted from their salaries.

BEVERAGES

* Heineken NV said it appointed Jean-Marc Huët as the chairman of the brewer's supervisory board, effective April 25, 2019. Huët will succeed Hans Wijers, following Wijers' resignation that will take effect on the same date. Also, Marion Helmes will become the chair of the audit committee, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

* U.K.-based The Crafty Brewing Co. acquired Guildford-based craft brewer The Little Beer Corp., or LBC, for an undisclosed sum, according to a FoodBev Media's report. LBC confirmed on its website that it sold its brewery to Craft Brewing, whose portfolio of craft beers includes Crafty One, Dunsfold Best and Five Hop. The Craft Brewing claims that the acquisition would double its brewing capacity to 40,000 liters of beer per month, the report added. As a result of the acquisition, all LBC staff members will transition to Crafty Brewing.

* Akva Invest agreed to buy the Essentuksky plant of mineral waters on KMV Ltd. from PepsiCo Inc. for an undisclosed sum. The deal has already been approved by the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia as of Dec. 17. The Essentuki, Russia-based company operates as a subsidiary of PepsiCo, offering mineral water in plastic bottles.

AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS

* Louis Dreyfus Co. BV said it appointed Kristen Eshak Weldon as head of food innovation and downstream strategy, effective Jan. 1, 2019. Weldon previously worked at Blackstone as senior managing director (partner) and co-head of the London office for Hedge Fund Solutions, the release said. She will report directly to the company's CEO Ian McIntosh.

PACKAGED FOODS

* Dairy Farmers of America Inc. entered into an agreement with Agropur to acquire its St. Paul, Minn., facility for an undisclosed sum. The facility manufactures a variety of fresh, extended shelf-life and aseptic dairy products for grocery store chains and organic milk brands. The deal, subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to close by early January 2019. Following the acquisition, Agropur employees will retain their current positions and the existing management team will continue to manage all day-to-day operations.

* Pestell Group, through its Pestell Pet Products Inc. subsidiary, paid an undisclosed amount to acquire Targeted Pet Treats LLC. The acquired company, based in Warren, Pa., is a co-manufacturer of dental treats and pet chews. The Pestell subsidiary makes animal litter and small animal bedding products, and the Targeted Pet acquisition allows Pestell Group to expand into the dental treat market, according to a news release published on the PE Hub Network.

* Britain's Environment Secretary Michael Gove revealed a new strategy, which legally binds companies and factories in England to pay the disposal or recycling cost of waste packaging they produce, according to a government announcement. The move, which aims to overhaul country's waste system, will also demand supermarkets and other food businesses to report annual food surplus and the government may consult on mandatory targets to prevent food waste if no progress is made.

TOBACCO & SMOKING PRODUCTS

* In a referendum held during 2020 general election, New Zealanders will decide whether to legalize cannabis for recreational use, Reuters reported, citing the country's justice minister. Cannabis, according to the NZ Drug Foundation, is the most commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand. New Zealand lawmakers last week passed a bill to permit medicinal cannabis, that also provided legal defense for terminally ill patients who use unlawful products, the report said.

RESTAURANTS

* Burger chain Jack in the Box Inc. is exploring strategic and financing options, including a possible sale of the company. In a statement, the company said it has held discussions with potential buyers, but there is no assurance that a deal will be reached. Jack in the Box plans to have a new capital structure in place by the end of the first half of fiscal 2019 in the absence of a strategic transaction. The new capital structure could include a securitization or bond issuance.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng fell 1.05% to 25,814.25, and the Nikkei 225 dropped 1.82% to 21,115.45.

In Europe as of midday, the FTSE was down 0.39% to 6,746.86, and the Euronext 100 fell 0.30% to 929.32.

On the macro front

The housing starts report and the Redbook index for retail sales 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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