* U.S. retail sales, excluding automobiles, during the holiday season increased 5.1 % from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 compared to the year-ago period, marking the biggest increase tracked by Mastercard in six years, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a Mastercard SpendingPulse report. Overall consumer spending in the U.S. was approximately $850 billion during the holiday season, and online shopping jumped 19.1% year over year between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, according to the Mastercard report.
* A total of 148,132 jobs were lost and 19,631 outlets closed across the retail and hospitality sector in the U.K. in 2018, Retail Gazette reported, citing data from the Center for Retail Research. "We feel that 2019 is going to be a repeat of these dire figures unless or until the government takes action to provide a level playing field for both online retailers and the high street," Professor Joshua Bamfield from CRR said.
* U.K. department store chain House of Fraser Group Ltd.'s store in the city of Hull will remain operational after its owner, sports and leisure clothing retailer Sports Direct International PLC, signed an agreement with its landlord and the city council of Hull, BBC News reported. The closure of the store would have resulted in the loss of more than 100 jobs.
* South Korean retail operator Lotte Duty Free's flagship store located in Seoul's Jung district is likely to report 4 trillion South Korean won in annual sales, up 30% from 3.1 trillion won in 2017, The Korea Herald reported, citing data from Korea Customs Service. The expected annual sales of the company, part of the Lotte Corp. conglomerate, would be the largest amount among other duty-free stores around the world, the report added.
* Amazon.com Inc. said it had a "record-breaking" holiday season as its customers worldwide shopped at record levels. The company said shoppers also purchased "millions more" Amazon devices compared to last year and more than one billion products were shipped for free in the U.S. during the period with its Prime service. However, Amazon did not provide any specific figures. The e-commerce giant added that 50% of products it sold during the holidays were from small and medium-sized businesses.
* Amazon.com Inc.'s U.K. division is offering thousands of deals for its Boxing Day shopping event. New deals are available as often as every five minutes, and the sale will run from 12:01 a.m. local time through 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 26.
* Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s IT subsidiary Alibaba (China) Technology Co. Ltd. now holds a 5.28% stake in digital media advertising company Focus Media Information Technology Co. Ltd. through the completion of a planned share transfer, Caixin Global reported. Alibaba New Retail Strategic Opportunities Fund and Alibaba Investment, both subsidiaries of the Chinese e-commerce giant, also jointly hold 2.71% of Focus Media.
HOUSEHOLD AND PERSONAL PRODUCTS
* Japanese cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. Ltd. announced the resignation of Toshiyuki Shiga as an external director candidate. Shiga decided to step down for personal reasons.
FOOD AND STAPLES RETAILING
* Hong Kong-based retailer Madison Holdings Group Ltd., through its subsidiary Madison Lab, is expected to buy a 67.2% stake in Japanese cryptocurrency trading platform BitOcean Co. Ltd. for $15.1 million, in addition to about $15 million more in various fees, the South China Morning Post reported. Madison Chairman Raymond Ting Pang-wan said the move is a part of the company's diversification strategy, the report added.
* China is lowering import tariffs on more than 700 products, with removal of export tariffs on 94 items from Jan. 1, 2019, the Ministry of Finance said. The country would also cut the Most-Favored Nations tariff rate on 298 information technology products, starting July 1, 2019. The planned measures come as China reported weaker-than-expected annual GDP growth of 6.5% in the third quarter, down from the 6.7% expansion seen in the prior three-month period.
The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, Nikkei 225 increased 0.89% to 19,327.06.
On the macro front
The Redbook report, S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller HPI report, Richmond Fed manufacturing index report and State Street investor confidence index 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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