* Japan Tobacco Inc.'s Canadian subsidiary JTI-Macdonald Corp. has sought protection from its creditors after a Canadian court ordered the cigarette maker and the Canadian units of British American Tobacco PLC and Philip Morris International Inc. to pay C$15.6 billion in damages. JTI-Macdonald, which was penalized C$1.77 billion, said its liability exceeds its capacity to pay and sought protection from its creditors under Canada's Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, or CCAA, to allow it to continue its business operations. The Ontario Superior Court on March 8 granted JTI-Macdonald's CCAA application and extended protection.
* Metro AG is in talks with about five parties for the sale of its loss-making hypermarket chain Real, Reuters reported, citing CEO Olaf Koch. Koch reportedly said the German company aims to sign a deal by April or May. In a separate release, the German wholesaler announced that it has launched its operations in Myanmar, marking its debut in the country.
FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION
* Seven & i Holdings Co. Ltd. reported that total sales of its Seven-Eleven Japan stores increased 4.2% year over year in February. The increase was driven by a 0.9% rise in same-store sales and a 1.3% growth in average customer spending, offset by a 0.4% decline in the number of customers. The number of stores increased to 20,876 in February, compared with 20,733 in January.
* As previously announced, Martin Scicluna took over as the chairman of J Sainsbury PLC, effective March 10. He replaces David Tyler, who stepped down from his position, effective March 9.
* Ocado Group PLC started the trial of its one-hour delivery service Ocado Zoom in west London, Retail Gazette reported. The previously announced trial is being powered by same-day delivery platform Stuart and will tap customers who spend less than £60.
* Swedish packaged foods manufacturer AAK AB (publ.) said it is investing about 300 million Swedish kronor in its Zhangjiagang facility in China, to increase capacity and support domestic volume growth of its special nutrition and bakery segments. The company said the expansion includes setting up a stand-alone processing plant to produce INFAT, a specialty nutrition solution for infants. The investments are expected to be commissioned during the second half of 2020.
* Whole Foods Market Inc. supplier Fullei Fresh is voluntarily recalling its 4-ounce packages of organic bean sprouts due to listeria risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a notice. The packages, which bear a sell-by date of Feb. 28, were shipped to Whole Foods and Freedom Fresh stores in Florida on Feb. 18. The company said it has not been informed of any illnesses associated with the recall and is urging consumers to destroy the affected packages.
* Swedish retailer ICA Gruppen AB (publ) said total sales increased 3.3% year-over-year in February to 8.85 billion Swedish kronor, excluding value-added taxes. The like-for-like store sales rose 3%. This was primarily attributable to a 4.1% increase in retailer's maxi ICA supermarkets' sales to 2.70 billion kronor.
* French supermarket chain Casino Guichard-Perrachon Société Anonyme said it completed its €1.5 billion asset disposal plan with the sale of 26 hypermarket and supermarket properties worth €501 million. Casino has collected €392 million from the transaction, where it sold 13 Géant Casino hypermarkets, three hypermarkets and 10 supermarkets to Fortress Investment Group LLC.
* Coca-Cola European Partners PLC appointed Dagmar Kollmann and Mark Price as nonexecutive directors to its board, effective in May after the end of the annual general meeting. They will replace existing nonexecutive directors L. Philip Humann and Curtis Welling, who do not intend to seek re-election to the company's board, the Coca-Cola Co. bottler said.
* Conagra Brands Inc. is recalling about 2,871 pounds of chicken-and-rice products due to a labeling error and undeclared allergens, according to a U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service notice. The recall covers 7.5-ounce canned microwave bowls of Chef Boyardee rice with chicken and vegetables with a July 8, 2020, best-by date. The products were marketed as chicken-and-rice products but contained beef ravioli products, the release said. Also, the items may contain milk and wheat, which were not declared on the label. The affected products were distributed to retailers in Florida, Kentucky and New York, including Walmart Inc. Conagra is urging affected customers to dispose of the products or return them to the place of purchase.
* Swiss cocoa and chocolate producer Barry Callebaut AG said it opened a new office and a chocolate academy in Beijing. The new facilities will provide local customers onsite training and application support, the company said. With this launch, the company's sales network will expand to 21 key cities in the country.
TOBACCO & SMOKING PRODUCTS
* In response to a Reuters report that claimed Philip Morris International Inc. indirectly paid manufacturing costs to its Indian partner Godfrey Phillips India Ltd., violating a May 2010 ban on foreign direct investment in the industry, the latter said the alleged violation is "completely misconceived and misplaced" in a filing to the National Stock Exchange of India. The company added that it entered into an arrangement to manufacture Marlboro cigarettes a year before the ban was enforced, therefore, the arrangement and all the transactions under that partnership are in compliance with the FDI laws.
* McDonald's Corp. launched its "Better Together: Gender Balance & Diversity" strategy, aimed to improve the representation of women at all levels by 2023. The fast-food giant also signed United Nation's Women Empowerment Principles and is piloting a Women in Tech initiative in the U.S., which will enable women in company-owned restaurants and participating franchisee restaurants to learn skills in data science, cyber security, artificial intelligence and more.
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The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a mixed opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng was up 0.97% to 28,503.30. The Nikkei 225 gained 0.47% to 21,125.09.
In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 gained 0.75% to 7,157.46 and the Euronext 100 was up 0.28% to 1,016.53.
On the macro front
The retail sales and the business inventories 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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