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Whole Foods, Instacart end partnership; Starbucks expands delivery via UberEats

TOP NEWS

* Grocery delivery service Instacart is ending its partnership with Amazon.com Inc.'s Whole Foods Market Inc. as it will draw down its relationship with the grocer over several months, founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta wrote in a blog post. The first stage, to be completed in February 2019, will remove 243 of the 1,415 personal shoppers that Instacart employs to fill orders at Whole Foods. The affected employees will be given the opportunity to leave with a severance pay or be transferred to another grocer for a bonus, the company said. Whole Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

* Starbucks Corp. is collaborating with Uber Technologies Inc.'s UberEats to launch delivery at nearly a quarter of its company-owned U.S. stores in 2019, the coffee giant said during an investor conference. The company launched pilot delivery programs in Tokyo and Miami earlier in the year, a spokesperson told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an email. Starbucks also reaffirmed its previously announced FY'19 financial targets and said it expects long-term earnings to grow at least 10%.

FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION

* The U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority delayed its plan to hand down initial results of its review of J Sainsbury PLC and Walmart Inc.-owned Asda Stores Ltd. proposed merger. The regulator previously said it expects to issue its provisional findings "early next year," but in the updated timetable released Dec. 13, it said it will release the findings in January or "early February." The CMA still expects to publish the final report in early March.

* Costco Wholesale Corp.'s fiscal first-quarter GAAP EPS and net income rose faster than analyst expectations, results showed. Diluted EPS for the 12 weeks ended Nov. 25 of $1.73 surpassed the S&P Global Market Intelligence mean consensus estimate for GAAP EPS of $1.62, while net income attributable to Costco for the quarter of $767 million beat the S&P Global Market Intelligence mean consensus estimate for GAAP net income of $715.6 million. Also, the company is testing lockers that allow customers to pick up purchases made online, a move similar to a service that Amazon.com Inc. offers, Executive Vice President and CFO Richard Galanti told analysts during a call to discuss fiscal first-quarter earnings results. Costco is piloting the lockers at 10 locations.

* Business supplies distributor Bunzl PLC said it acquired Danish food-service distributor CM Supply for an undisclosed sum. According to the statement, the London-listed company also forecasted its full-year revenue to grow 8% to 9% at constant currency rates.

RESTAURANTS

* Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. appointed Roger Theodoredis chief legal officer and Tabassum Zalotrawala chief development officer. The company did not indicate when the appointments will take effect. Both Theodoredis and Zalotrawala will report to Brian Niccol, the company's CEO, who was appointed in March.

BEVERAGES

* Groupe Bruxelles Lambert SA, or GBL, which holds a 7.49% stake in Pernod Ricard SA, renewed its support for the French distiller's management and strategy, shortly after the activist fund Elliott Management targeted the distiller, Reuters reported. Elliot, which recently acquired a stake in Pernod Ricard, said the distiller's M&A track record has been disappointing, which the company later defended. Pernod Ricard's stock performance and its new strategic plan solidify GBL's trust in the French company, the report added, citing the company's statement.

* Danish brewer Carlsberg A/S said it bought a 28.5% stake in Viacer, the controlling shareholder of Portugal-based beverage company Super Bock Group, for an undisclosed amount. Viacer owns approximately 56% of Super Bock Group's shares and the remaining 44% of shares are held by Carlsberg. The transaction raises Carlsberg's direct and indirect ownership in Super Bock Group to 60%, according to the release.

* Coca-Cola Co. signed a loan agreement with chemical company Ioniqa Technologies BV to facilitate the company in increasing the development of its own technology, in a bid to produce high-grade, recycled PET content from hard-to-recycle plastic waste. According to a release, the high-grade recycled PET content will be used in bottles for Coca-Cola products. The Atlanta-based beverage company said the investment is in line with its World Without Waste initiative, which aims to create packaging made of at least 50% recycled material by 2030.

* Carlsberg A/S and India's United Breweries Ltd. filed pleas with the Competition Commission of India seeking leniency in an investigation into alleged beer price fixing, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. The CCI has been conducting a probe of the two companies, as well as Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA/NV.

* Texas-based restaurant operator Wingstop Inc. partnered with DoorDash Inc. to roll out nationwide delivery, according to the statement. The rollout begins by launching delivery in the Los Angeles and Houston markets, while the national rollout is contingent upon the successful delivery tests conducted in Las Vegas, Chicago, Austin and Denver.

PACKAGED FOODS

* The Irish packaged foods and meats producer Kerry Group PLC said it has reached an agreement to acquire Ariake USA, the North American arm of ARIAKE JAPAN Co. Ltd., and Southeastern Mills Inc.'s North American coatings and seasonings business. The total consideration is expected to be €325 million. The completion of the deals is subject to regulatory approval and customary closing conditions.

TOBACCO & SMOKING PRODUCTS

* British American Tobacco PLC created two new roles, director, new categories and director, digital and information, and hired Paul Lageweg and Marina Bellini for the positions, respectively. The tobacco giant also removed the positions of COO and group business development director and added that all four regions, U.S., Europe and North Africa, Asia-Pacific and Middle East and Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa, will report directly to the CEO. All changes will be effective Jan. 1.

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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 1.62% to 26,094.79, while the Nikkei 225 was down 2.02% to 21,374.83.

In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 fell 0.80% to 6,822.14, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.97% to 941.36.

On the macro front

The U.S. Retail Sales report, the Industrial Production report, the PMI Composite FLASH, the Business Inventories report and the Baker-Hughes Rig Count 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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