* Anheuser-Busch InBev SA said it will propose the appointment of Martin Barrington, former CEO of U.S. tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. as chairman at the company's annual meeting April 24. Barrington will replace Olivier Goudet, who will step down at the conclusion of the meeting. AB InBev also disclosed that Alexandre Behring, Stéfan Descheemaeker and Carlos Alberto Sicupira will be stepping down from AB InBev's board, also effective April 24. The company will also propose the appointment of Xiaozhi Liu to fill Goudet's independent director seat.
* The Kroger Co. said it will sell its Turkey Hill business to an affiliate of middle-market private equity firm Peak Rock Capital LLC for an undisclosed sum. Turkey Hill offers a line of iced teas, fruit drinks, milk, frozen dairy treats and ice cream products. Kroger said in August 2018 that it was exploring strategic options for the business, including a sale. The deal is expected to close during Kroger's first quarter, and the company will use the after-tax proceeds to reduce debt.
FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION
* Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.'s fiscal third-quarter adjusted net income and EPS came in below analyst expectations for the 16 weeks ended Feb. 3. The company's adjusted diluted net earnings per share of $1.08 missed the S&P Global Market Intelligence estimate for normalized EPS of $1.20. The company's adjusted net earnings attributable to shareholders of $609 million missed the Market Intelligence estimate for net income excluding exceptions of $669.3 million with five analysts reporting. Total revenue at the gas station and convenience store operator increased 4.6% to $16.52 billion over the year-ago quarter.
* German food retailer Metro AG has begun calling for bids for the sale of its China operations in a deal that could value the unit between $1.5 billion and $3 billion, Reuters reported, citing people with direct knowledge of the matter. Potential bidders include Suning Holdings Group Co. Ltd., Wumart Stores Inc., Yonghui Superstores Co. Ltd., and private equity firms Hillhouse Capital Management Ltd. and Bain Capital LP, the report said. A spokeswoman for Metro said it is discussing the further development of its China operations with potential partners but declined to provide more details about the talks or the sale process, Reuters said. Bain Capital declined to comment on the report.
* Australian retailer Wesfarmers Ltd.'s Coles supermarket chain said it is expanding its milk price hike to cover its own-brand two-liter milk packets while extending its Sept. 20, 2018, hike on the three-liter milk packets, due to last only until 2018-end, amid a drought in the country. Coles is raising the price of its two-liter milk packets by 10 Australian cents to A$2.20 across most of its stores. It also decided to extend its previous A$3.30 per three-liter milk packet price as it said many dairy farmers in Australia, particularly in northern Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, are struggling due to the drought.
* Online grocer Farmstead said it rolled out its weekly Sustainable Routes initiative. Under this, the company groups together neighbors who all receive their Farmstead deliveries on the same day and delivery window during the week. This will help the company to decrease the number of vehicles on the road and cut carbon emissions and delivery costs. The savings are passed on to customers in the form of discounts and free delivery. In a bid to encourage more people to come onboard, customers receive a $20 credit each time a friend or neighbor signs up for the initiative, the release said.
* Heineken NV launched its Every Drop water conservation initiative that aims to maintain the health of watersheds in water-stressed areas by reducing water usage for beer products. The company aims to reduce water usage to an average of 2.8 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of beer for breweries in water-stressed areas and to 3.2 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of beer for all breweries worldwide by 2030. Heineken said it has already surpassed its original 2020 target by using 5 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of beer — an almost one-third reduction over the past decade.
* Packaged food maker General Mills Inc. raised its full-year outlook and expects adjusted diluted EPS to exceed initial targets, while net sales are expected to finish toward the lower end of the guidance range, and adjusted operating profit will finish toward the higher end of the range. For the third quarter ended Feb. 24, the company reported that its net income nosedived 52.5% to $446.8 million, or 74 cents a share, from $941.4 million, or $1.62 a year ago, which included a tax-reform related benefit.
* New Zealand-based dairy company Fonterra Co-op Group Ltd. posted a net profit of NZ$80 million for the six months to Jan. 31, compared with a loss of NZ$348 million a year ago. The company's revenue came in at NZ$9.7 billion, down 1% year over year for the first half. The dairy giant also said it expects full-year EPS to be between 15 cents and 25 cents.
* Swiss dairy company Emmi Group said it is rolling out two new beverages in spring 2019 — Emmi Caffè Latte Colombia Edition and Emmi Caffè Latte Cold Brew. Both new products are available in Swiss retail outlets. The Emmi Caffè Latte Colombia Edition will be exported to Germany, Austria, Belgium and Spain, while Emmi Caffè Latte Cold Brew will initially be available exclusively in Switzerland, the company said.
TOBACCO & SMOKING PRODUCTS
* Philip Morris International Inc. announced 31 projects selected for funding in the second round of its global initiative, PMI IMPACT, which supports third-party programs dedicated to fighting illegal trade and related crimes. The PMI IMPACT Expert Council reviewed and selected the projects from more than 157 proposals from 23 countries in Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North and South America. The tobacco giant allocated $21 million for implementing the selected projects, which are expected to be completed over the next two years. The projects will address multiple aspects of illegal trade ranging from tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical products to the trafficking of rare animal species, as well as a broad network of related crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering and modern day slavery.
* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's departing commissioner Scott Gotlieb said he had "difficult" meetings in the week of March 11 with Juul Labs Inc. and Altria Group Inc., Bloomberg reported, citing his address at an event in Washington. Gotlieb, who is slated to step down April 5, has faced a backlash from senators and industry leaders over a plan to ban menthol cigarettes. He declined to comment specifically on next steps for the initiative following his departure but reiterated the long-term goal of removing "characterizing flavors" from all tobacco products, the report added.
* Japan Tobacco Inc.'s domestic cigarette sales in February fell 0.1% year over year to ¥36.9 billion from the same month in 2018. According to the release, the Tokyo-based tobacco-products maker sold 5.7 billion cigarettes, down 7.2% from 6.2 billion sold in the year-ago period. Japan Tobacco said it had 61.7% domestic market share in February. For full year 2018, the company held a 61.8% share of its home market.
* PAI Partners is in pole position to acquire the concession catering unit of Elior Group SA in a deal that could value the target business at up to €1.5 billion, Reuters reported, citing four people with knowledge of the auction. The Areas SA unit provides railway and motorway catering services in 13 countries across the U.S., Europe, Mexico and Chile, the report noted. The Paris-based private equity firm is competing with U.S. investment firm Lone Star North America Acquisitions LP and Swiss airline caterer Gategroup Holding AG, which is part of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group Co. Ltd., sources said. Elior, PAI, Carlyle, Lone Star and Gategroup did not comment on the matter, according to 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 declined 0.49% to 29,320.97, while the Nikkei 225 gained 0.20% to 21,608.92.
In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 fell 0.14% to 7,313.56, and the Euronext 100 dropped 0.28% to 1,050.20.
On the macro front
The EIA petroleum status report is 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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