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Walmart to hire 2,000 tech experts; AB InBev eyes IPO of Asian business

TOP NEWS

* Walmart Inc. is looking to hire 2,000 additional technology experts in 2019 to help expand its online business, Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King said in a Bloomberg Television interview. The U.S. retail giant plans to expand the company's technology group by more than 25% by hiring data scientists, software engineers, designers and other experts to work in nine offices from Silicon Valley to Bangalore in India, King said.

* Anheuser-Busch InBev SA is in talks with advisers over a potential IPO of its Asian operations as a means to reduce debt, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The brewer has been exploring ways to pay down its debt, the report said. AB InBev reportedly may seek to value its Asian business at about $70 billion, though the eventual figure would depend on market demand and growth prospects, according to the unnamed sources. An AB InBev representative in an emailed statement to S&P Global Market Intelligence said the company does not comment on rumors.

FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION

* Australian retail conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd. said it expects to record a gain of A$2.1 billion to A$2.3 billion from the demerger of Coles Group Ltd. that completed in November 2018. Retail chain Coles started trading on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2018 as a separate entity to Wesfarmers. The conglomerate also expects A$130 million to A$150 million in the provision relating to Coles' supply chain modernization.

* The Kroger Co.'s top executive sidestepped a question on whether the grocery retailer might consider a potential deal with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. as he spoke at a retail industry conference. When CNBC reporter Sara Eisen asked the executive about whether Kroger would entertain a merger or acquisition involving Walgreens, Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen would only say Kroger is focused on its current new store format pilot and making grocery shopping more convenient for consumers.

* Mumbai-based conglomerate Future Group is set to launch "cloud kitchens" — production facilities without seating setups — to deliver hot meals directly to customers in India, The Economic Times (India) reported, citing CEO Kishore Biyani. The venture will be rolled out in Bangalore in the coming month.

BEVERAGES

* Australian Coca-Cola Co. bottler Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. said it will no longer distribute plastic drinking straws or stirrers in the country as part of its pledge to shift to 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. The company said it will instead stock fully recyclable and biodegradable paper straws. Starting in February, the paper straws will be available through the bottler's ordering platform to about 115,000 outlets, including grocery, petrol and convenience stores, bars, cafes, and quick-service restaurants.

* U.S. coffee giant Starbucks Corp. said it opened a 20,000-square-foot Dewata Coffee Sanctuary in Bali, Indonesia, where customers can experience the "seed-to-cup journey" of coffee beans. The Dewata Coffee Sanctuary allows customers to experience bean de-pulping and washing during harvest season, as well as drying and raking green coffee beans in a 1,000-square-foot coffee tree farm.

PACKAGED FOODS

* Norwegian conglomerate Orkla ASA said its Danish unit acquired porridge brand Pama from U.S. snacks giant PepsiCo Inc. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Orkla said the deal includes the transfer of Pama's trademark. There will also be no transfer of employees or production facilities under the deal.

* New York City-based Roland Foods LLC, also known as American Roland Food Corp., acquired Gaithersburg, Md.-based Albert Uster Imports Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Albert Uster imports specialty pastry, bakery and confectionery products to professional chefs and bakers.

* European private equity firm InvestIndustrial, through its Investindustrial VI LP fund, agreed to acquire a majority stake in fruit-based ingredients and creams manufacturer Italcanditi SpA. The deal is slated to close in the first quarter, pending antitrust approvals. Italcanditi's sole shareholder, the Goffi family, will continue to own a 30% stake in the Bergamo, Italy-based company.

RESTAURANTS

* Activist shareholder Perpetual Ltd. believes that KKR & Co.'s bid to acquire Telepizza Group SAU at €6 per share undervalues the Spanish pizza delivery company by about 17%, Bloomberg News reported. In a letter seen by the news outlet, Garry Laurence, who runs a global equities fund for Perpetual in Sydney, reportedly argued that Telepizza should be worth between €7 and €10 per share.

* YUM! Brands Inc.-owned Taco Bell is set to pilot its first vegetarian menu later in 2019, CNBC reported, citing Taco Bell spokeswoman Polly Zintak. The menu will feature a mix of old and new vegetarian items, the report added.

* British pub company Ei Group PLC agreed to sell 370 pubs and other commercial properties in the U.K. to Tavern Propco Ltd. for an expected gross sum of £348 million in cash. The properties are part of the Ei Commercial Properties division. The deal is expected to be finalized in early March, according to a release. The company plans to use proceeds from the sale to reduce its outstanding debt.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng was down 1.38% to 26,298.33, while the Nikkei 225 was closed today.

In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 slid 0.98% to 6,850.48, and the Euronext 100 declined 0.96% to 926.19.

On the macro front

There are no notable economic reports 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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