UK retail sales fall in September, ONS says

shopping trollerImage copyright Reuters

Retail sales suffered an unexpectedly sharp fall of 0.8% in September, reversing a jump in August, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It meant that third-quarter retail growth slowed to a year-on-year rate of 1.5%, its lowest since the second quarter of 2013.

The figures come at the Bank of England contemplates its first interest rate rise in a decade.

A fall in the value of sterling has pushed up the price of imported goods.

Kate Davies, ONS statistician, said:"There is a continuation of the underlying trend of steady growth in sales volumes following a weak start to the year, and a background of generally rising prices."

The ONS said retail prices continued to rise across all store types and were up 3.3% from a year earlier, the highest year-on-year increase since March 2012.

The biggest downward pressure on sales volume and value in September was in non-food stores.Food stores also reported falls in both measures, but to a lesser degree than non-food outlets, the ONS said.

Online sales values increased year-on-year by 14%, accounting for approximately 17% of all retail spending.

Neil Jones, Mizuho's head of hedge fund currency sales in London, said the retail data was "not encouraging".

The value of pound fell immediately after the figures were released, with sterling down almost half a cent to $1.3126, as traders bet that the data reduced the chances of an imminent interest rate rise....

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Interserve shares dive on new profit warning

HMP BerwynImage copyright Getty Images Image caption Interserve runs employment workshops at HMP Berwyn in Wales

Shares in Interserve have plunged by a third after the construction and support services company issued another profit warning it said in trading in the third quarter had deteriorated.

The company added it might also breach its banking agreements.

Interserve said operating profit in the second half would be about half that of last year.

It has also made an additional £35m provision for its troubled energy-from-waste contracts.

Shares had already crashed more than 50% last month after it issued a profit warning.

The latest fall means its shares have fallen by more than 80% this year, valuing the company at just over £90m.

Interserve's energy-to-waste business has been by cost overruns, and the company has also been affected by delays in a Glasgow contract.

Chief executive Debbie White said there was "considerable potential for business improvement across the company".

"My team will focus on improving our margin performance in UK support services and ensuring good contract selection in UK construction, while reducing our cost base across the company," she added.

Interserve's order book was worth £7.4bn and recent contract wins included the Work and Pensions and Transport departments as well as the Ministry of Justice and Durham University.

The company employs about 80,000 people worldwide....

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FTSE 100 falls as Unilever sales slow

Traders in LondonImage copyright Getty Images

Shares in Unilever led the UK market lower after the consumer goods giant reported slowing sales growth.

The company, whose brands include Dove, Marmite and Ben &Jerry's, said underlying sales in the third quarter of the year rose 2.6% to £13.2bn.

That was slower than the 3% growth seen in the first half of the year, and was also below analysts' expectations.

Unilever cited poorer weather in Europe and hurricanes in the US for the sales slowdown.

However, it said emerging markets such as India and China had seen "signs of improvement".

Shares in Unilever were down 3.1% in early trade.That made it the biggest faller in the FTSE 100[1], with the index down 22.33 points at 7,520.54.

In the FTSE 250, shares in IWG plunged 30% after the serviced office provider issued a profit warning.

The company said third quarter sales had been weaker than expected, and group operating profit for 2017 was set to be "materially below" market forecasts.

Interserve was another firm to be hit by a profit warning.Shares in the construction and support services company sank 34% after it said trading in the third quarter had deteriorated and it warned it could breach its banking agreements.

On the currency markets, the pound slipped 0.1% against the dollar to $1.3190 and fell 0.25% against the euro to €1.1172....


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China third quarter growth meets expectations at 6.8%

A worker monitors the loading of shipping containers in Hubei province in ChinaImage copyright AFP

China's economy grew at 6.8% between July and September according to official figures released Thursday, meeting analysts' forecasts.

The growth rate compares expansion with the same three months in the previous year.

The result was slightly down from the 6.9% rate posted in the prior quarter, from April to June.

The world's second largest economy is trying to rein in debt and contain a housing bubble without hurting growth.

Those efforts are expected to have weighed on economic activity in some parts of China, but growth has been supported by higher-than-expected rise in trade and bank lending.

The latest figures are still above Beijing's annual growth target of 6.5% for 2017.

The data comes as China holds its Communist Party congress[1] to determine the country's direction for the next term....


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The Chinese blockage in the global waste disposal system

Waste piling up in Hong KongImage copyright European Photopress Agency Image caption In Hong Kong, 2,500 tonnes of waste paper are piling up at its docks every day

Imagine the world as a global waste disposal system.Now imagine it with a blockage.

And what if that waste is backing up around the world, reappearing in places where you really don't want it to be.

That blockage is about to happen in China and the flood is going to start seeping out into waste disposal operations around the world.

Three months ago, China decided to ban 24 different grades of rubbish as part of its "National Sword" campaign against foreign garbage.

Until now China has been importing millions of tonnes of the world's waste every year to feed its recycling industry.

The Bureau of International Recycling China estimates that China last year imported 7.3 million tonnes of plastic scrap from Europe, Japan and USA, and 27 million tonnes of waste paper.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption China's action in halting various categories of waste imports will hit recycling around the world

Robin Wiener, president of the US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said:"More than 155,000 direct jobs are supported by the US industry's export activities, earning an average wage of almost $76,000 and contributing more than $3bn to federal, state, and local taxes.

"A ban on imports of scrap commodities into China would be catastrophic to the recycling industry."

The new restrictions have yet to be agreed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and China could still change its mind, but the waste is already starting to back up.

In Hong Kong, 2,500 tonnes of waste paper are piling up at its docks every day.

Easy option

For China the problem is simply one of pollution.Its submission to the WTO reads:"We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials.This polluted China's environment seriously."

Image copyright Jamie Robertson Image caption Mike Baxter says sending waste overseas was the easy option

Western recyclers admit that China has been a cheap and easy waste bin for their industry.In theory the rubbish from your recycling rubbish bin is meant to be treated or sorted before it goes in the container overseas, but the rules have too often been ignored and rarely enforced.

Mike Baxter, external affairs director at the recycler RPC Group, says:"The easiest option for years has been put it into a container and send it overseas where the labour is cheaper and it can be sorted by hand."

But with the ban expected to come into full effect by the new year, if not before, the UK industry has written urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help with the expected overflow.

Even so, Robin Latcham, editor of the recycling industry magazine MRW believes the recyclers are not spelling out the problems loudly enough, and says:"Why no mention of growing domestic stockpiles of waste and the danger of more fires or incidents of waste crime?

"I don't think it is scare-mongering to set out such fears, along with concern that public perception of the recycling industry in its widest sense will be heavily scarred by greater fly-tipping, larger-scale dumping and more plumes of heavy black smoke crossing housing estates."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Western recyclers admit that China has been a cheap and easy waste bin for their industry

No minister from Defra was available for comment, but a spokesman told the BBC:"We are aware of this situation and are looking into the potential implications."


But there is flip side to the problem - an opportunity for the recycling industry.

In the UK for example, a lot of the waste is high quality, such as off-cuts from plastic manufacturing and plastic bottles that have failed quality tests but can be reprocessed.

That presents "a great opportunity", says David Wilson commercial manager of Vanden Recycling, a Hong Kong-based company with a new plastics recycling operation in Peterborough, in the UK.

"China has voluntarily given up a six million tonne a year industry.We'll be selective about it and we'll go for materials we understand and markets we understand, but some of that lost capacity will be rebuilt here," he says.

Image copyright Jamie Robertson Image caption Vanden Recycling's David Wilson says the China ban creates new opportunities

Low quality waste is a different matter, however, and it requires some drastic rethinking of the whole supply chain.

As waste begins to back up through the system, like any commodity in oversupply, it loses value.In the UK, for example, local authorities have been able to generate useful income from selling that waste on to the recyclers.That income is going to fall sharply.

Andrew Bird, chairman of the UK's Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) says as demand from China disappears, other markets are emerging, especially in India and wider Asia.Nevertheless, "there is going to be a little bit of pinch point, to say the least, and that will have an effect on price - that's the biggest risk for local authorities".

New technologies

One answer to tackling the global oversupply of low quality waste is the development of new technologies.

Recycling Technologies has developed a method of recycling the most unappetising mix of dirty plastic into something it calls Plaxx, a fuel oil which can be used for myriad applications, including as a source for new recycled plastic.

Image copyright Jamie Robertson Image caption Adopting new technologies is one long-term solution, says Adrian Griffiths

Adrian Griffiths, the company's chief executive, admits there's no shortage of "feedstock" - the term for all the raw material that feeds the process.

"We chemically recycle plastic.We take it back to the original material so it can become more plastic again:plastic, back to oil, and back to plastic again.Anything that goes to landfill currently is feedstock for us, and since the recycling figures are so low the vast majority of the plastic we want is not in recycling use anyway."

Global Trade

More from the BBC's series taking an international perspective on trade:

But tackling the global back-up of waste after China's changes will require investment.

Surprisingly, it is waste paper recycling that can cost the most.A plastics recycling plant could require a £5m ($6.5m) investment to get it up and running, says Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association.But a paper mill could cost up to £500m.

However, RCP's Mr Baxter says investors are not going to step in unless there is a market for recycled goods, and he believes governments have a role to play.

"It's not just a case of recycling the material.It's having markets for the recyclates that are produced, and this is where government could come in." In the UK, he would like to see the government push local authorities and all government institutions to purchase recycled products.

For Mr Bird, from LARAC, responsibility for tackling the long term problems of waste must lie throughout the global product supply chain, but especially with manufacturers.

And he says one particular change could have a dramatic effect - the widespread adoption of Extended Producers' Responsibility.

"It means producers having to pay to ensure the products they are manufacturing can be dealt with in an effective, and environmentally cost-effective way."

Meanwhile, the waste is piling up and the clock is ticking.

Listen to Jamie Robertson's report on China's ban on waste imports here on BBC World Service's World Business Report programme.[1]...


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