Business

Solar panel imports ‘harm US producers’

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The Las Vegas Strip is shown behind solar panels during a dedication ceremony to commemorate the completion of the 102-acre, 15-megawatt Solar Array II Generating Station at Nellis Air Force Base on February 16, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.Image copyrightGetty Images

Imports of solar panels have harmed US manufacturers, the US International Trade Commission ruled on Friday.

The decision was a win for the two US-based producers that brought the case, saying their business had been hurt by a flood of foreign products.

President Donald Trump will decide on potential remedies for the industry.

The case is controversial, as US firms that install and assemble panels worry that more expensive products could slow the industry’s growth.

The commission has several more weeks to make a recommendation for how President Trump should proceed. A remedy, which could include tariffs or quotas, has not been decided.

Mr Trump has made America First a signature part of his trade policy, speaking in favour of greater protections for US companies and jobs.

The case was brought by Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, which are majority-owned by overseas businesses and face financial troubles.

They say more than two dozen US solar panel manufacturing operations have stopped in recent years as imports surged.

Attorney Timothy Brightbill, who represented SolarWorld, called the decision a “win for American manufacturing” and the solar industry.

Image copyrightGetty Images

SolarWorld employs about 300 people in Oregon, down from 1,300 at the peak, but the firm is hopeful this decision will help the business return to growth, he said.

“In order to have a strong solar industry, we need to have manufacturing in America as a key component,” he said.

A ‘shakedown’?

The US solar industry employs about 260,000 people, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The organisation’s president and chief executive, Abigail Ross Hopper, said the trade commission’s decision was “disappointing”.

She criticised the tariffs proposed by Suniva as relief, arguing that they would increase prices and drive many other solar energy companies out of business.

The US has already imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels, which led to increased imports from other countries. A remedy in this case would apply to all countries.

“As the remedy phase moves forward, I am determined to reach a conclusion that will protect the solar industry, our workers and the American public from what amounts to a shakedown by these two companies,” Ms Hopper said.

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Brexit: Firms call for action after May’s Florence speech

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Theresa May answers questions after her speech in Florence, ItalyImage copyrightAFP

UK business groups have called for progress in the Brexit talks after Prime Minister Theresa May made offers on EU funding and citizens rights.

Mrs May also suggested a transition period of about two years during which trade should continue on current terms.

The CBI and other business bodies said negotiators now needed to quickly move on to talks about trade and transition.

But several Leave campaigners were disappointed about further delays, calling such a transition “stalling”.

The prime minister hopes her offers, made in a speech in Florence, will unblock Brexit talks.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said: “The prime minister’s speech has set a positive tone and we now need leadership from both sides to turn the proposals and principles into decisions and action.”

She said “tangible progress must be made next week” when the two sides continue talks.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption A pro-EU campaigner protests in Florence ahead of Theresa May’s speech

The CBI, along with trade bodies for aerospace and financial services, welcomed Mrs May’s aim of retaining trade terms until 2021.

But the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said many businesses wanted a longer transition of at least three years.

The priorities for businesses are to “get trade talks moving”, said Adam Marshall, the head of the BCC.

“In the world of business, the PM’s Florence speech will be judged not on its rhetoric or delivery, but on whether it begins to break the stalemate that has left companies across the UK, Europe and around the world counting the cost of uncertainty,” he said.

‘Thin on detail’

But Brexit-backing businessmen and economists said the UK should be prepared to leave the EU without interim arrangements, known as a “no deal” scenario.

Professor Patrick Minford, chairman of Economists for Free Trade, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Prime Minister seems to have committed to a vague transitional period of ‘around two years’ at this early stage in the negotiations.”

The UK economy could benefit from global free trade and full competition after Brexit, he said.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTheresa May says an “implementation period” of two years “will create valuable certainty” for the UK and EU

Leave campaigner and businessman Christopher Nieper said Theresa May’s Brexit speech was “thin on detail”.

The managing director of womenswear manufacturer David Nieper, said: “What we are all waiting for is her vision for a trade deal. We didn’t see anything on that, and I was a little disappointed.”

He told the BBC that further delay in agreeing a deal was just “stalling”, adding: “In reality it’s more uncertainty.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier described Mrs May’s speech as “constructive” and said the prime minister had shown “a willingness to move forward”.

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FTSE 100 recovers as sterling slips

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Trader in LondonImage copyrightGetty Images

UK shares reversed early losses to finish higher as the pound lost ground against other currencies.

North Korea’s threat to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific had hit stocks in early trade, but the FTSE 100 share index then recovered to close 47 points higher at 7,311.

The pound slipped 0.4% against the dollar to $1.352, and fell 0.5% against the euro to 1.131 euros.

Markets were reacting to Theresa May’s speech in Florence.

The UK prime minister said there should be a two-year transition period after Brexit, during which trade should continue on current terms.

However, analysts said the pound dipped after she had failed to give concrete details on how the UK would retain access to the EU’s single market.

Among the main share movers, Smiths Group dropped 5.6% despite the conglomerate reporting a 17% rise in profit to £528m for the year to 31 July.

Analysts focused on Smiths’ slight dip in underlying revenues, with Morgan Stanley describing it as “disappointing”.

After jumping more than 14% on Thursday, shares in Johnson Matthey continued to rise, climbing a further 1.2%.

Investors had cheered the company confirming its full-year sales guidance and the announcement of a £200m fund to invest in developing battery materials so it can benefit from the growth in electric cars.

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What if the animals we eat run out of food?

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As the global population grows and more of us are eating meat and fish, there are concerns that the world’s resources can’t keep up.

Currently, many farmed animals and fish are fed fishmeal, which is made of wild-caught fish. These could be threatened if demand for fishmeal intensifies.

Jason Drew is an entrepreneur and environmentalist. He has found a way to turn food waste into a maggot-based animal feed, which could offer a sustainable alternative.

His company has just won the Global Champion Award from The Food Chain on BBC World Service.

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Why London’s Uber ban will divide opinion

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On the one hand, it is a principled attempt to tackle a business that is widely regarded as having played hard and fast with the rights of working people and which has paid lip service, at best, to health and safety matters.

It can also be seen, in this light, as a defence of traditional skills as practised by London’s world-famous black cab drivers.

On the other hand, it is a Luddite attack on a consumer-friendly business that was bringing down the cost of travel for 3.5 million Londoners – an attack that will also hit between 30,000 and 40,000 Uber drivers directly in the pocket, in some cases depriving them of a living altogether.

As ever, the truth lies somewhere in between.

:: Ride-hailing app Uber loses licence to operate in London

Sadiq Khan explains why TfL will not renew Uber's licence

Video:Khan: ‘Uber aren’t operating by the rules’

Transport for London is hardly acting in isolation here as a number of other countries – including Japan, Taiwan, Germany and Italy – have also either banned or placed restrictions on Uber.

And yet this decision immediately puts the capital at odds with 40 other British towns and cities that have licensed Uber.

The inevitable upshot of TfL’s decision is that, assuming Uber loses its appeal against the decision to deprive it of a licence, Londoners are going to have to pay more to travel around town in a taxi.

Uber was significantly cheaper than both black taxis and other minicab operators, so this is going to have an inflationary impact.

The refusal of a significant number of black taxi drivers to accept payment in anything other than cash is somewhat at odds with a place that is trying to present itself as a forward-looking, tech-savvy, go-getting global city.

Technology has put numerous other occupations, previously regarded as skilled, out of work and brought down their wages in the process.

In an era in which most cars are routinely equipped with GPS, the years spent by traditional black taxi drivers learning “The Knowledge” – the ability to decide the quickest and most efficient route without referring to a map – have been rendered surplus to requirements.

In spite of all this, TfL has effectively decided to protect the rights of London’s black cab drivers and put them above any right Londoners might have to get around their city more cheaply.

Some will argue this decision, potentially, is turning the clock back to the bad old days when, 20 years ago or so, it was difficult to obtain a black cab late at night and Londoners were driven into the arms – quite often literally so – of an illegal minicab tout.

Others who have fallen foul of Uber’s “dynamic pricing” model – under which fares vary depending on supply and demand – will argue that traditional black cabs are actually cheaper than Uber a lot of the time.

:: ‘Brilliant jerks’ and driver selfies: 10 Uber facts

Uber spokesman Fred Jones

Video:Uber: ‘The mayor and TfL have caved’

On the issue of passenger safety, some Uber users will argue that, as the identity of the driver can be clarified through the app, they are safer than they would be travelling in a traditional taxi where the man behind the wheel is someone like John Worboys, who was jailed in 2009 for drugging and sexually assaulting at least a dozen of his passengers.

The big unknown is the extent to which this decision will have a wider impact on the so-called “gig economy”.

An awful lot of time has already been spent in the courts and in industrial tribunals on seeking to establish the status of Uber drivers.

Uber has always maintained that drivers are not its employees, nor contractors, as it is merely a platform that brings together taxi drivers and passengers and takes a cut of the fare.

The Taylor Review of employment practices earlier this year suggested a new status of “independent contractor” for those working with businesses such as Uber and Deliveroo.

But the status of Uber drivers, and other gig economy workers, is no clearer as a result of this ruling and it is striking that the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which previously won a landmark hearing against Uber in an employment tribunal, has reacted with horror to the ruling.

Uber says Travis Kalanick's family has suffered an 'unspeakable tragedy'
Image:Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned earlier this year

The other big unknown is the impact this decision may or may not have on Uber’s business.

The company was already at something of a crossroads – in June, its co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive following months of drip-drip revelations that revealed the company had a corporate culture riddled with sexism and bullying.

His successor, the former Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, is highly regarded on Wall Street.

But it is hard to see how he can completely overhaul Uber’s culture – cited by TfL as a reason for not renewing its licence – when Mr Kalanick remains on the board and retains a 10% stake in the business.

In short, then, this is a decision likely to polarise opinions.

For every person praising London mayor Sadiq Khan – who will be inextricably linked with this decision – as standing up to an unethical, bullying company, there will be another criticising him for caving in to the vested interests of the black cab lobby, for pushing up transport costs for ordinary Londoners and for generally being on the wrong side of history.

In the meantime, there are tens of thousands of Uber drivers – many of them tied into leasing contracts on their taxis – wondering how they are going to make a living after 13 October, the date when, if its appeal is unsuccessful, Uber’s cars will have to come off London’s roads.

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Vauxhall: Luton distribution centre marks 50th year

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A major Vauxhall distribution centre is marking 50 years since its opening.

Vauxhall Parts, in Toddington Road, Luton, was one of the largest facilities in the country when it opened in 1967.

BBC News takes a look at the site, then and now.

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Smiths detecting growth as threats emerge

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Smiths Group also, famously, made a watch worn by Sir Edmund Hillary when he and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to climb Mount Everest in 1953.

The company supplied altimeters, clocks and pressure gauges to the expedition and an endorsement from Sir Edmund subsequently appeared in its advertisements: “I carried your watch to the summit. It worked perfectly.”

Smiths stopped making clocks and watches in the 1970s.

However, as in the days of its classroom clocks, its brand name is still seen by millions of Britons every day even though it may not necessarily register with them.

For it is one of the world’s biggest makers of detection equipment and its scanners are used at all of the country’s major airports.

That is only one of the activities carried out by this 166-year old UK engineering group, which employs more than 22,000 people worldwide, many of which are in the UK.

Smiths also owns John Crane, a supplier of couplings, mechanical seals and bearings to the oil and gas industry; Smiths Medical, which supplies medical pumps, syringes and catheters to hospitals around the world; Smiths Interconnect, which supplies interconnectors and microwave systems to communications technology firms like Raytheon and Huawei; and Flex-Tek, which makes hosing and tubing found in everything from tumble dryers to jumbo jets.

VX is a lethal nerve agent manufactured for chemical warfare and listed by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction
Image:Smiths is developing new products to deal with chemical warfare threats

Now the FTSE 100 stalwart, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of its stock market flotation three years ago, has provided an update on trading.

Full year sales rose by 11%, to £3.3bn, with pre-tax profits rising by 17% to £528m.

That performance is not quite as impressive as it looks because more than half of the company’s sales are made in the US and, accordingly, the numbers have been flattered by the weakness of the pound against the dollar.

On a constant currency basis – assuming no movement in sterling against the likes of the dollar and the euro – full-year sales were actually down by 1% while underlying operating profits were up by just 3%.

In fact, sales in both John Crane and Smiths Medical came in lower than analysts had been expecting, which is why the shares have fallen sharply.

The performance has rather overshadowed a stronger performance from Smiths Detection, where underlying sales rose by 4% – boosted by strong demand from airports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

So where next for the company?

Well, Andy Reynolds Smith, the chief executive, says the company is seeking to be more focused and yet growing at the same time.

His ambition is to make Smiths one of the world’s leading technology companies.

A number of businesses and activities have been offloaded during the last year, while Smiths Detection has been beefed up with the £493m acquisition of Morpho, a business specialising in the detection of explosives.

The company also won new contracts in this area, including one to assist the Canadian police in finding illegal drugs, while growth opportunities are strong.

As Mr Reynolds Smith said: “New products are being developed and introduced that are going to detect a broader range of chemical warfare threats.

“As you can imagine, these threats continue to evolve very rapidly.”

He says Smiths Detection is now a “best in class” operation.

Undoubtedly, detection and airport security are very exciting businesses, offering huge growth potential.

The bigger question for the longer term is whether Mr Reynolds Smith, who became chief executive two years ago, sees any advantage in breaking up Smiths.

This £6.34bn company is a conglomerate – it owns businesses spanning a number of seemingly unrelated activities.

Conglomerates largely went out of fashion with British investors around 20 years ago, although the business model still exists with American industrial giants, such as General Electric and United Technologies.

Smiths would not be unhappy if people came to look on it as a smaller version of those highly successful businesses and, especially, if it were one that became closely identified with technology – an activity that, traditionally, has commanded a higher valuation among investors than traditional engineering businesses.

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Google to refund advertisers over fake traffic

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The use of bots to provide fake impressions is so prevalent on the internet that some advertisers only receive $0.01 for every $1 of impressions they pay for, according to Dr Augustine Fou.

Google now says it has developed “sophisticated systems, including over 180 filters and detection algorithms to prevent invalid traffic from impacting clients”.

Using its DoubleClick Bid Manager exchange, the tech giant said it would refund up to 10% of total ad spending if the traffic was found to be fraudulent.

However, refunds would only apply to fake traffic which was spotted within 30 days of the advertiser’s monthly billing.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google would be opening a new programme to refund advertisers who had been delivered fraudulent traffic.

No figures are available on the fraud levels affecting Google and Facebook, but Dr Fou, who is an independent advertising fraud researcher, said that much of the fraud is getting too difficult to detect.

A trade paper released by the US Association of National Advertisers and WhiteOps claimed that fraudulent ad spending has dropped 10% in 2017, but could still reach $6.5bn (£4.81bn).

Advertising is Google’s main method of revenue generation and the company apologised earlier this year for ads which appeared next to extremist material.

According to OC&C, Google and Facebook are expected to rake in 71% of all digital advertising spend in the UK by 2020 – most of which leads to ads being placed online through automatic systems.

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Big kids

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US designer Jeremy Scott greets the audience at the end of the show for fashion house Moschino during the Women's Spring/Summer 2018 fashion shows in Milan, on September 21, 2017Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption My Little Pony with attitude: US designer Jeremy Scott at Moschino’s fashion show in Milan

The fashion industry is experiencing a revolution, with mermaids, unicorns, sparkles and vintage toys now all the rage in High Street fashion shops.

Products once considered to be “too childish” or alternative for women to wear are now increasingly popular.

Moschino has just launched its My Little Pony collection for Spring/Summer 2018 at Milan Fashion Week.

But the trend has led to renewed debate among consumers about whether wearing such fashion items is a sign of immaturity.

A new social phenomenon is arising on Instagram, whereby young women have become the key influencers for their friendship circles and communities.

Social trends

Users now regularly post photos of their outfits on Instagram, together with a full run-down of what they are wearing and where they got it from.

If someone has a unique and unusual item, others covet it.

Image copyrightJessica Ayton
Image caption Quirky cute alternative fashion items can now be found on the High Street

To ensure that more people see the outfit shot posts, users include hashtags for different styles and tag the small businesses they purchased the item from.

This helps other consumers find the product, as well as providing free publicity for independent brands.

Over time, these trends grow on social networks, often without ever receiving mainstream media coverage.

Relatable fashion

Now, some of these fashion trends are making their way into the mainstream – whether it’s seashell bags, pink heart chokers, sparkly rubber phone cases, pastel jackets, comfortable boat-like shoes called “creepers”, fluffy neon fur tops or colourful see-through backpacks.

“People just want something they can relate to,” says Rosanna Mackney, the creative director of Dreamy Bows, a UK retailer of Japanese fashion.

“If you see a model in a magazine, you know they’ve had styling and a makeup artist to do it for them, but if you see someone’s Instagram account, you know that they achieved that look by themselves, so you know it’s a lot more realistic that you can achieve the look yourself.”

Image copyrightRuth Brain
Image caption Clothing themed around vintage 1980s toys like My Little Pony, Care Bears and Polly Pocket are also now all the rage

Merchandise depicting vintage toys like My Little Pony and Polly Pocket have also seen a revival amongst fashionistas on Instagram.

Apart from Moschino, American independent makeup brand Lime Crime recently launched a line of eyeshadow palettes inspired by 1990s Polly Pocket playsets.

Lime Crime founder Doe Deere says that her beauty brand wants customers to be unapologetically expressive: “Our customers create the trends – they inspire us daily.

“Women have been told a lot of things [about what they should wear], but thankfully the fashion and beauty industries are populated with innovators and change-makers who don’t give much thought to the rules.”

‘Be adult’

Yet many think that childlike items should be best left in childhood.

“You may like bright and vibrant colours. That is perfectly fine. But you are not a little girl. You are an adult woman, and there is pride in being an adult women,” Racked.com’s Jennifer Wright implores in a critique of the 2017 summer fashion trends.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Are the symbols and fashions you choose to wear really a sign of how mature you are?

“Please don’t latch onto the fantasy world of mermaids and unicorns and whatever other bits of girlish nostalgia is being marketed to you.

“None of those things are real. Now, more than ever, we need to be present in the real world that’s unfolding. The world needs adult women, desperately.”

Financial crisis

Ruth Brain, 27, an alternative fashion YouTube vlogger from Edinburgh known online as “Princess Peachie“, has been collecting vintage toys since 2005.

Ms Brain who has 59,000 YouTube subscribers and 12,000 Instagram followers says that while her hobby was judged as being “weird” 12 years ago, nowadays young women feel more comfortable expressing themselves openly.

“Those of us who grew up through the late 1980s to early 2000s are all kind of withdrawing to that carefree, happier feeling,” she says.

“Which for us was before the point we finished high school and got tossed into a financial crisis.”

“But also we’re all kind of realising that ‘growing up’ isn’t really related to aesthetic.

Image copyrightDreamy Bows
Image caption The latest trends are heavily influenced by the Harajuku street styles from Japan and other underground movements

“It’s related to your intelligence, wisdom and emotional maturity – so if you’re wearing My Little Ponies on your sweatshirt or Care Bears on your socks, none of that really matters in the grand scheme of things, as long as it makes you smile,” says Ms Brain.

Fashion rebels

Rosanna Mackney also disagrees that wearing colourful, cute fashion items is a sign of immaturity.

“It’s a rebellion against what society and high fashion thinks women should dress like,” she says.

“Mature, understated elegance, muted colours – lots of people don’t want to conform to this, and sometimes we just want to wear cute and colourful things that express all sides of our personalities.”

But perhaps times are changing, and the so-called “rules” governing a woman’s perceived maturity are being turned on their head.

“Fashion today is becoming more young and fun – it’s kind of like they’re branching out for the ‘weird kid’,” says Jessica Ayton, 27, an alternative fashion blogger from West Yorkshire with 5,000 followers on Instagram.

“The cutesy fashion, we’re allowed to embrace it now.”

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Gambia’s all-female oyster catchers

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A good slice of Gambia’s economy is based on oysters. And while men fish, this industry is completely dominated by women who, besides harvesting the oysters, are also involved in conservation efforts.

Africa Business Report travelled to the coastal village of Kartong to meet them.

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