* China is set to remove import tariffs on alternative meals, including rapeseed meal, cotton meal, sunflower meal and palm meal, effective Jan. 1, 2019, Reuters reported, citing the country's finance ministry. The move, according to the statement, is a part of a bundled program to adjust import tariffs for more than 700 products, in a bid to "actively increase imports and reduce institutional costs for imports," the report added.
* U.S. coffee giant Starbucks Corp. changed its plans to expand in South Africa as the company struggles with operating costs and debt, news agency AFP reported. Local licensee Taste Holdings, which opened 12 Starbucks cafes across Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, planned to open 45 stores open by 2020, with a peak target of 150 countrywide, the report said.
FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION
* SoftBank-backed Grofers International Pte Ltd.'s Indian unit aims to gather $2.5 billion in revenue by 2020 as the company scales up its private label offerings in India and focuses on expanding repeat purchases on its platform, India's Mint reported. The company, which recently completed five years of its operations, currently has a revenue run rate of $360 million. Grofers co-founder and CEO Albinder Dhindsa said Grofers has a month-on-month growth rate of over 30%, the report said.
* Diageo PLC-owned Indian alcoholic-beverage maker United Spirits Ltd. aims to double the share of its business from new products over the next three to four years, India's Mint reported. New offerings comprise about 17%, 10% and 24% of Diageo's business in the U.S., Europe and Africa, respectively, where India has a 5% share from new products, the report added.
* Japan's Asahi Breweries Ltd. will cut the shipping price of some European wines imported, effective on shipments after March 1, 2019, Reuters reported. The distiller's move follows Japan and the European Union's Economic Partnership Agreement, effective February 2019, leading to the elimination of tariffs on wines imported from the EU.
* Hong Kong-listed wine company Madison Holdings Group Ltd. through its subsidiary Madison Lab, is set to buy a 67.2 % stake in BitOcean, a Japanese cryptocurrency trading platform, South China Morning Post reported. The company, which will purchase the stake from independent third parties for $15.12 million, will pay about another $15 million in various fees. The platform is one of 16 operators currently registered with Japan's Financial Services Agency, but has not started trading yet, the report added.
* National Anti-profiteering Authority put a fine of 2.23 billion Indian rupees on Hindustan Unilever Ltd., the Indian subsidiary of Unilever NV, over goods and services tax, or GST, profiteering, India's Mint reported. The company allegedly had a tax benefit of 3.83 billion rupees, following the GST rate cut in November 2017, which was not passed to the customers. HUL's spokesperson said the company was reviewing the NAA order, the report added.
* Malaysia is reviewing the duty structure for its palm oil exports in order to boost demand and reduce stockpiles, Reuters reported, citing the country's Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok's emailed response to questions submitted by the news agency. The government, Kok said, is "currently encouraging our companies to use domestically produced palm oil to reduce the stockpile." This step, he added, will boost prices, the report added.
* The Indian unit of McDonald's Corp. posted its first net profit of 6.52 million Indian rupees during year-to-March 2018, compared with a net loss of 3.05 billion Indian rupees a year ago, during a long-drawn legal dispute with one of its key licensee partners, The Economic Times (India) reported. The company has two partners in the country. The northern and eastern business is operated by Connaught Plaza Restaurants Private Ltd, while Westlife Development Ltd. is the master franchisee in the western and southern markets.
* Thailand approved marijuana for medical use and research as the government's National Legislative Assembly passed the new law on Christmas Day, Forbes reported. "This is a new year's gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people," Somchai Sawangkarn, chairman of the drafting committee, said in a televised parliamentary session, the report added. However, the adult use of recreational marijuana is still illegal under the country's law.
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 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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