* Hindustan Unilever Ltd. reported year-over-year growth in net profit and sales for the fiscal third quarter of 2018 but missed analysts' earnings expectations. For the three months to Dec. 31, 2018, the Indian consumer goods giant posted diluted EPS of 6.67 Indian rupees, up 8.8% from 6.13 rupees in the year-ago period but below the S&P Global Market Intelligence consensus GAAP EPS estimate of 7.14 rupees. Net profit for the quarter rose to 14.44 billion rupees from 13.25 billion rupees in the third quarter of 2017. HUL also noted that the board has approved its scheme of amalgamation with GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Ltd. following the €3.3 billion deal announced Dec. 3, 2018.
* French distiller Pernod Ricard SA is seeking to improve its governance and will communicate on future changes after getting approval from its board, Reuters reported, citing a company spokesman. The spirits group, which is being targeted by activist investor Elliott Management Corp., is holding a board meeting Jan. 23. According to a Jan. 17 report by BFM Business, Pernod will make changes to its board in coming weeks, with vice chairman Pierre Pringuet among those that could take a step back, Reuters added.
FOOD RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION
* Walmart Inc. said it will expand its online grocery delivery option with the addition of four grocery delivery service providers — Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire and Roadie — which will begin delivering groceries across four states "in the coming weeks." Walmart also offers an online grocery pickup service, which allows customers to claim their groceries without leaving their cars. The pickup service is available in 2,100 stores, with 1,000 more to be added within the year.
* Woolworths Holdings Ltd. is launching its own private-label, halal-certified brand for Muslim shoppers called Al-Sadiq, which means "truthful" in Arabic, The Australian reported, citing an interview with Woolworths' director of buying, Peter McNamara. The brand was created with advice and certification from the Islamic Council of Queensland, the report said. Woolworths will first offer chicken products under the Al-Sadiq label and later extend to other fresh and packaged grocery items.
* Nomura Holdings Inc. and U.S. private equity fund Carlyle Group LP are eyeing an acquisition of Japan's Orion Breweries Ltd. for "tens of billions of yen," according to the Nikkei Asian Review. The brewer reportedly hopes the deal will aid its expansion in the U.S. and elsewhere in Asia. Orion is expected to retain its partnership with beverage maker Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., which owns a 10% stake in Orion and is its largest shareholder, the report added.
* China's anti-graft watchdog banned officials and their family members from promoting sales for liquor giant Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd. using their influence, Reuters reported, citing new rules posted online by the Guizhou Discipline Inspection Commission. Units are also banned from using the power to acquire Moutai business licenses for people they have a "special relationship" with, or to boost sales targets, the report added noting the rules.
* Monster Beverage Corp. is planning to launch a new energy-drink line across the U.S. in 2019, Monster Chairman and CEO Rodney Sacks said during a conference call with investors. Monster will launch six Reign Total Body Fuel in March. It is also launching a new tea line in three flavors in the U.S. during 2019, as well as new types of coffee-flavored Java Monster drinks and a ginger-beer flavored Monster Mule drink. The company is also planning to launch several of its other products — juices, waters, coffee-based drinks and some of its lower-priced portfolio — in several other international markets in 2019, executives said.
* Agricultural products producer Cargill Inc. said it is set to invest more than $200 million in the next three to five years in Pakistan. The announcement came amid the meeting of Cargill's global executive team with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, and other senior government officials. The company, which has been in the country for over three decades now, will invest in sectors including dairy, edible oils and animal feed.
* Ferrero SA has joined The Kraft Heinz Co. and Mondelez International Inc. in the second round of Campbell Soup Co. auction of its international business, Reuters reported, citing a source with knowledge of the matter. The Nutella owner already has a plant in Australia and is keen on the Campbell-owned Australian biscuit brand, Arnott's Biscuits Ltd., and related factories, the source reportedly told Reuters. Ferrero declined to comment to the wire agency on the matter.
* Orkla ASA said it completed its acquisition of Finnish pizza chain Kotipizza Group Oyj with a tender offer that paid €23 per outstanding share for a total consideration of about €146.1 million. The Norwegian conglomerate purchased 762,597 Kotipizza shares or about 98.59% of the company. The deal was announced in November as part of Orkla's strategy to invest in businesses "with faster growth than traditional grocery."
* Yildiz Holding A.S.-owned chocolatier Godiva shortlisted Baring, CVC among suitors to make final offers for Asia-Pacific assets, Bloomberg News reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter. North Asian buyout firm MBK Partners K.K. and Marunouchi Capital Inc., an investment arm of Japan's Mitsubishi Corp., were also shortlisted to proceed to the next round of bidding. The assets, according to the unnamed sources, could fetch as much as $1.5 billion. Representatives for Baring, CVC, Marunouchi Capital, MBK and Yildiz declined to comment.
TOBACCO & SMOKING PRODUCTS
* Japan Tobacco Inc. posted an 8.4% year-over-year decline in Japanese domestic sales for the month of December as the Tokyo-based company's sales during the month totaled ¥43.7 billion, down from ¥47.7 billion in December 2017. The company sold 6.8 billion cigarettes in the month, compared to 8 billion cigarettes in the same period a year ago. In a separate release, the tobacco company said it will roll out Ploom TECH+, a low-temperature tobacco vapor product, and Ploom S, a high-temperature tobacco vapor product, in its online store and Ploom shops in Japan.
* U.S. coffee giant Starbucks Corp. opened a second café in Chapalita Oriente in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, which will be operated by people 52 to 66 years old. It opened the first store operated by older partners in Mexico City last year. The coffee chain aims to employ 120 older citizens in Mexico by the end of 2019.
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The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng increased 1.25% to 27,090.81, and the Nikkei 225 rose 1.29% to 20,666.07.
In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was up 1.40% to 6,930.93, and the Euronext 100 was up 1.52% to 949.88.
On the macro front
The industrial production report, the consumer sentiment 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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