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Altria-Juul deal remains under antitrust review; Zomato buys Uber Eats India

TOP NEWS

* Altria Group Inc.'s purchase of a 35% stake in e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. in 2018 remains under federal antitrust review over concerns about how Altria manages its shelf space in stores, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Altria did not immediately respond to S&P Global Market Intelligence's request for comment.

* Uber Technologies Inc. has sold its food delivery business in India to rival Zomato Media Pvt. Ltd. in an all-stock transaction, confirming earlier reports. Under the deal, Uber will own 9.99% of Zomato in exchange for the transfer of its food business in the country to the privately held restaurant aggregator.

FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION

* Walmart Inc. U.S. appointed warehouse retailer Sam's Club COO Dacona Smith as its new COO, Reuters reported, citing an internal memo. Smith's appointment fills a position left vacant after Judith McKenna took over as CEO of Walmart International. Additionally, Scott McCall was named Walmart U.S.' chief merchandising officer, replacing Steve Bratspies, who is leaving the company.

* French food retailer Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA said private equity firm Vesa Equity Investment SARL, owned by investors Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč, increased its shareholding in the company to 5.64% from 4.63% earlier.

* Amazon.com Inc. is developing a system that allows customers to pay with their palms by linking their credit card information to their hands, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources. The project is in early stages, though Amazon is working with Visa Inc. and is in talks with Mastercard Inc. to test the system, the report said. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment from S&P Global Market intelligence.

* French supermarket retailer Carrefour SA said it acquired Lyon-based Potager City, a start-up involved in the subscription-based distribution of fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

* The Belgian Ministry of Labour launched a court case against U.K.'s Roofoods Ltd., doing business as Deliveroo, alleging that the delivery company flouted the country's labor laws, Reuters reported. Deliveroo reportedly said a court decision to classify its 3,500 riders in Brussels as employees would curtail the flexibility they want.

* Hong Kong-based food retailer Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. said Lord Sassoon will retire from the company's board, effective April 9.

* Japanese supermarkets operator Aeon Co. Ltd. is aiming for making 20% of its seafood lineup of eco-certified products, Reuters reported, citing Kinzou Matsumoto, general manager of Aeon's seafood merchandising planning. The company introduced oysters approved by the Marine Stewardship Council to its seafood lineup. It also plans to start selling eco-certified sushi in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

BEVERAGES

* Fevertree Drinks PLC's stock closed 27.17% down in London on Jan. 20 after the British beverage producer issued a profit warning saying it expects 2019 earnings to be 5% lower than 2018 levels. The company also lowered its revenue forecast to £260.5 million from its previous revenue guidance of between £266 million and £268 million, due to "subdued" Christmas sales in the U.K.

* Coca-Cola Co., together with its bottling partner Coca-Cola European Partners, plans to invest €1 billion in France over the next five years to support sustainable development in the country. The investment will be used for the introduction of new products and for increasing the bottling capacity and modernization at Coca-Cola European Partners' factories, among other things.

* Brazilian brewer Ambev SA aims to eliminate plastic use from its packaging by 2025, a move that could potentially generate about 1 billion Brazilian reais in business, the company's vice president of sustainability and supply chain, Rodrigo Figueiredo, told Reuters in an interview.

* Coca-Cola Co.'s Indian arm Hindustan Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. named Melvin Tan as its CFO. Most recently, Tan was CFO of Coca-Cola Bottlers (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd.

AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS

* Singapore-based Olam International Ltd. said it is simplifying its organizational structure by splitting its food and agriculture businesses into two distinct units. The decision, which follows a 2019 strategic plan, will see the commodities trader potentially spinning off the new units and listing them separately.

PACKAGED FOODS

* Saudi Arabian food and beverages maker Almarai Co. reported that its comprehensive net income for the fourth quarter of 2019 dropped 52.4% year-over-year to 277.4 million Saudi riyals from 582.2 million riyals. Full-year diluted EPS came in at 1.81 riyals, down from 1.96 riyals and missing the S&P Global Market Intelligence normalized EPS estimate of 1.94 riyals, with four analysts reporting.

* Lotte Corp. shares rose as much as 20% on Jan. 20 after announcing founder Shin Kyuk-ho died Jan. 19 at the age of 98, the Financial Times reported. Shin's death reportedly raised hopes of reforms at the company, which is a holding business of South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group.

RESTAURANTS

* Private equity firm KKR & Co. Inc. disclosed that the company and its affiliates own about 10.7% stake in Texas-based restaurant chain Dave & Buster's Entertainment Inc.

* Japanese restaurant chain operator Skylark Holdings Co. Ltd. said it would cease 24-hour store operations across 155 outlets by April due to a severe labor shortage in the country. The company also said 566 of its stores would shorten late-night operating hours.

* Yum! Brands Inc.-owned chicken restaurant chain KFC issued a statement apologizing for a sexist advertisement in Australia after being called out by a local group that campaigns against the objectification of women, The Guardian reported. KFC reportedly said in its statement, "Our intention was not to stereotype women and young boys in a negative light." However, the company reportedly did not confirm whether it would stop using the ad.

* London-based operator of food and beverage outlets SSP Group PLC reported a 7.5% rise in its fiscal 2020 first-quarter revenue on a constant currency basis, representing like-for-like growth sales growth of 1.2%. The company added that it will acquire railway food kiosks operator Station Food GmbH in Germany for an undisclosed sum. The deal is expected to contribute about £10 million to SSP's revenue in 2020.

INDUSTRY NEWS

* China has certified two Russian beef producers for exports, the culmination of a year of talks, a representative of Russian federal watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor told Reuters.

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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 decreased 2.81% to 27,985.33, while the Nikkei 225 declined 0.91% to 23,864.56.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 1.00% to 7,574.58, and the Euronext 100 was up 0.03% to 1,159.19.

On the macro front

No reports 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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