Abramovich invests in UK waste solutions firm W2T

UK-based waste solutions provider Waste2Tricity Ltd, or W2T, said today that businessman Roman Abramovich’s Ervington Investments Ltd had taken a 10% stake in the company in exchange for an undisclosed sum.

As a result of the stake buy, Paul Heagren will join Waste2Tricity as a non-executive director. Heagren is a long standing employee of Abramovich.

The investment follows Ervington’s purchase of a 15% interest in British industrial fuel cells developer AFC Energy Plc (LON:AFC), which is a strategic shareholder in Waste2Tricity. As part of that transaction, carried out last month, Abramovich’s investment vehicle subscribed for nearly 32.6m new AFC ordinary shares at GBP0.266 (USD0.425/EUR0.331) apiece, thus helping the company raise almost GBP8.3m net of costs.

Furthermore, in early November Canadian plasma gasification company Alter NRG Corp (TSE:NRG) said it had agreed to raise gross proceeds of some USD10m (EUR7.8m) by issuing nearly 30.8m common shares to three new strategic investors, including Ervington. Abramovich’s firm took a stake of about 18.2% through that transaction.

Waste2Tricity’s chairman Peter Jones noted that the British company has longstanding relationships with both of these entities. W2T combines AFC’s new generation alkaline fuel cells with Alter NRG’s plasma gasification and other existing technologies with the goal of implementing the most efficient energy conversion process available.

Nike agrees to sell Manchester-based sportswear group Umbro

US sports shoe and clothing group Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE) said on Wednesday it had struck a definitive deal to sell Manchester-based football equipment supplier Umbro Ltd for USD225m (EUR173.9m).

The buyer is New York-based brand management company Iconix Brand Group Inc (NASDAQ:ICON), which licenses brands to retailers and manufacturers primarily in the apparel, footwear and apparel accessory industries.

The divestment serves the company’s strategy, revealed at the end of May, to concentrate on its Nike, Jordan, Converse and Hurley brands, which are seen to have high growth potential. The plan also includes the sale of leather handbag and shoe maker Cole Haan.

Commenting on the deal, Nike’s president and CEO, Mark Parker, said that the divestment of any of the company’s businesses was a difficult decision to make. According to him, the Nike’s football category would be able to meet the needs of footballers following the sale.

Neil Cole, CEO Iconix Brand Group, described the acquisition as an “exciting” one, which will add more than 30 licensees in over 100 countries with a global loyal consumer fan base. He pledged that his company would work to further develop the brand.

The transaction is seen to be finalised by the end of 2012.

Foreign visits to UK down in August despite Olympics

The number of visits to the UK by overseas residents was 5% lower in August, despite London hosting this year’s Olympic Games, figures showed today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that there were around 3.0 million visits to the UK in August, down 5% compared to the same month in 2011.

Overall, however, these foreign visitors spent more money than their counterparts last year.

The amount of money spent was 9% higher than in the same period a year ago, at nearly GBP2.4bn. This includes any money spent on the purchase of Olympics tickets.

Visitors to the Games spent almost twice as much money, shelling out GBP1,290 per person on average, against GBP650 spent by other overseas visitors.

The majority of visits for the Olympic Games from overseas were made by European residents, while an equal proportion came from North America and other countries around the world.

Looking specifically at all visits made to the UK this summer for the sporting spectacle, there were an estimated 590,000 completed visits to the UK by overseas residents in July and August that were either specifically for the 2012 Olympics or Paralympics – by those participating, working or watching the Games – or primarily for another reason but involving attendance at a ticketed event.

The ONS noted that the decrease in total visit numbers in August followed similar falls in June and July, when visits to the UK were around 7% lower than in 2011 and spending on those visits was in line with the previous year. Across the whole of the year to date, the number of visits from overseas residents is unchanged in percentage terms from 2011, while spending is 3% higher.

UK residents made slightly fewer trips abroad in August 2012 compared to a year earlier, with visits abroad by Britons down 1% to a total of 7.3 million. Expenditure on these visits rose 6% from 2011, amounting to more than GBP4.5bn.

Unemployment in Spain reaches new heights as tourism trade slows

Unemployment in debt-ridden Spain rose by 1.7% in September, according figures released by the country’s Labour Ministry on Tuesday.

The increase in unemployment last month follows an increase in August, with 4.7 million Spaniards currently out of work.

Analysts attribute the increase to redundancies in the service sector as the steady flow of summer tourists slows, with seasonal jobs being terminated in the winter months.

“There is a certain slowing down in the rate of increase in unemployment but the negative side is that jobs are still disappearing,” Estefania Ponte, head of economy at trading house Cortal Consors, told Reuters.

Ponte said that today’s monthly figures suggested that the unemployment rate in Spain will mostly exceed 25% in the third quarter.

Unemployment in Spain, one of Europe’s largest economies, is the highest in the European Union. Analysts are also expecting that recent floods due to torrential rains could further dent tourism activity.


UK security firm G4S ignored warnings that could have prevented Iraq murders — report

In the wake of the Olympic Games vetting scandal, private security company G4S may have hoped that its period on the public rack had come to an end. But G4S’s vetting, it appears, is fraught with failure abroad just as it is in East London – only with far deadlier consequences.

Last night on BBC Scotland, reporter Samantha Poling investigated the the deaths of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan and the lax security standards of the mutli-billion pound firms that send young men to war zones and arm them with deadly weapons.

In the summer of 2009, former British paratrooper turned private security contractor Daniel Fitzsimons shot dead two colleagues in Baghdad’s highly-securitised Green Zone. In a vodka-fuelled squabble and only 36 hours after arriving in the sandy nation, Fitzsimons killed Paul McGuigan, from Peebles in Scotland, and Australian Darren Hoare.

The three men had come to Iraq to work for the British private security company ArmorGroup Iraq, which G4S now owns.

While the media widely reported on the deaths at the time and on Fitzsimon’s subsequent trial before the Supreme Court of Iraq, BBC Scotland reveals a shocking new fact: a whistleblower had sent G4S numerous emails only days before Fitzsimons arrived in Iraq warning the company that the lives of fellow contractors would be put at risk if he were given a weapon.

‘I am alarmed that he [Fitzsimons] will shortly be allowed to handle a weapon and be exposed to members of the public,’ the whistleblower wrote, who signed off as ‘a concerned member of the public and father.’

‘I am speaking out because I feel that people should not be put at risk.’

Fitzsimons had a criminal record, including firearm and assault convictions. The former British paratrooper was also suffering post-traumatic disorder from the gruesome sights he had witnessed during previous work in war zones such as Kosovo. Despite this background, G4S employed Fitzsimons and sent him to Iraq.

The mother of slain British contractor, Paul McGuigan, said, ‘[Fitzsimons] fired the bullets. But the gun was put in his hand by G4S ArmorGroup. They put the gun in that man’s hand.’

‘I want G4S to be charged with corporate manslaughter and be held accountable for what they did.’

Responding to the BBC Scotland investigation, G4S acknowledged that Fitzsimon’s ‘screening was not completed in line with the company’s procedures.’ G4S claims to have since improved.

The investigation shines a light into the murky world of private security. BBC Scotland spoke with security contactors who claim to have been forced to work on dangerous tasks with the wrong equipment. Numerous incidents have not been reported for the sake of G4S’s reputation, one of them alleged.

Bob Shepherd, a security contractor, told Poling, ‘We know when a soldier dies it’s all over the newspapers, it’s on the TV. But we never know when security contractors die.’

In response to the news that a whistleblower had repeatedly warned G4S about hiring Fitzsimons, the company told BBC Scotland that it was unable to find the email trail. It appears that a company selling security management software that allows businesses to monitor staff in the farthest reaches of the world is unable to carry out a simple email search; ‘I can’t track down the relevant individual so I am afraid we can not comment further on when we received the emails,’ G4S said.

G4S, one of the major players in the constantly growing yet constantly scandal-ridden private security sector, had a 2011 turnover of £7.5bn.

The International Code of Conduct for Private Service Providers is currently aiming to improve standards in the sector, which is dominated by UK-based companies. Out of the 511 companies to have signed up to the Code, 177 have headquarters in the UK  – more than three times the number based in the United States of America.

Britannia may no longer rule the waves, but it does rule the world of private security.

BBC Scotland’s investigation, Britain’s Private War, aired on Monday October 1 at 21:00.

The editor of the Bureau worked with Sam Poling on the Scottish Bafta winning film Security Wars.

Wheatley Review sets out Libor reform recommendations

Wholesale reform of Libor is needed in order to restore the credibility of the international benchmark, FSA managing director Martin Wheatley said today.

Releasing his report on the future of the London inter-bank offered rate, Wheatley dismissed the possibility of entirely replacing the benchmark and instead set out a ten-point plan for reform.

This includes the introduction of a new regulatory structure for Libor and allowing the FSA to take action against those who break the rules. Wheatley also called for a fundamental overhaul of the way Libor is run, including taking responsibility away from the British Bankers’ Association (BBA), the banking organisation that currently oversees the rate.

In his speech today, Wheatley criticised the BBA for being careless in policing Libor and for putting too much trust in a system that lacked “the right level of checks and balances”.

The BBA acknowledged yesterday that the review was an “essential step” in reforming the system and indicated that it would support any recommendation that responsibility for Libor should be passed to a new administrator.

Other recommendations of the Wheatley Review include improving some of the data on which the inter-bank rate is based, requiring banks to back up their submissions with evidence of relevant transactions, and also encouraging more institutions to submit rates to Libor in order to make it more representative and harder to manipulate.

Wheatley described Libor as a broken system but stressed that it is not beyond repair. He said that reform is essential to help restore the trust that has been lost, and it is up to regulators and market participants to work together towards a lasting and sustainable solution.

The independent review on the regulation of Libor was set up by the UK government in July, after Barclays was fined GBP290m by UK and US regulators because its traders had attempted to manipulate the key global interest rate.


GE Capital partly exits Thailand’s Bank of Ayudhya in $466m deal

GE Capital, a unit of US technology and financial services group General Electric Co (NYSE:GE), said on Wednesday it had disposed of 7.6% in Bank of Ayudhya Pcl (PINK:BKAYY) in Thailand, after receiving substantial interest from investors.

GE Capital sold the stake in the lender to institutional investors, it said, adding it would explore options for its remaining 25.3% interest in Bank of Ayudhya.

The vendor gave no financial details of the sale, but Reuters cited an informed source as saying that the US company had gained some USD466m (EUR) from the divestment.

GE Capital said it had committed to sell no more Bank of Ayudhya stock in the market for a six-month period.

The US group, which has been selling non-core assets as part of an overall restructuring under the CEO Jeff Immelt, agreed in 2007 to take a stake in the Thailand bank, investing THB22.3bn (USD720.4m/EUR559.4m) in total, or THB16.00 a share. At the exchange rate at the time, the investment was worth USD626m, Reuters said.

Sources told the news agency earlier that GE Capital, which first bought 25% in Bank of Ayudhya and then increased its interest to almost 33%, sold the 7.6% stake in the lender at THB31.30 a share, doubling the value of its initial investment.

Shares in toy maker Hornby sharply down after profit warning

Toy maker Hornby plc (LSE:HRN) saw its shares fall more than 40% today after announcing that the company will not make a profit this year.

Hornby has blamed disappointing sales of London 2012 merchandise, as well as a disruption to supplies from China, for its weaker performance.

The company had produced a range of commemorative products, such as model taxis and buses, to mark the London 2012 Olympic Games and at the start of the summer it had high expectations for their performance. However, in the end sales were lower than forecast. This was attributed to a large quantity of Olympics merchandise from other licensees and deep price discounting by retailers.

The supply problems relate to a Chinese supplier that is in the process of rationalising its manufacturing facilities. Although this supplier accounts for up to 35% of Hornby’s purchases, this has been reduced from around 75% four years ago. Hornby noted that it is continuing to diversify its supply base in China and in India.

Macro-economic factors are also impacting on Hornby’s performance, with consumer spending still depressed and retailers continuing to buy cautiously, the manufacturer said.

Last year the company made a profit of GBP4.5m.

Hornby’s directors now believe that its results will be approximately break-even for the financial year ending 31 March 2013. The company noted that it continues to benefit from a strong balance sheet. Net debt at 31 August 2012 was GBP7.8m, down from GBP14.3m a year earlier.

Looking ahead, Hornby said that its performance would be “constrained significantly” in the current financial year but the company would be focusing on cost control and has also stepped up its efforts in innovation and product development.

UK security firm G4S strengthens Brazilian position with Vanguarda deal

UK security solutions group G4S Plc (LON:GFS) said on Tuesday its Brazilian unit SSE DO Brasil Ltda had taken over local peer Vanguarda Seguranca e Vigilancia Ltda from its founders and certain directors.

By acquiring this firm, G4S sticks to its strategy to focus on markets and sectors where security and safety are important considerations, it said. The company noted that its operations in developing markets account for about 31% of its total revenues and added it aims to begin recording 50% of the group total from such markets by 2019.

Sao Paulo-based Vanguarda offers security personnel and systems along with monitoring services and mobile patrols to the banking, transportation, commercial buildings, education, health and public services sectors. The company was founded in 1975 and currently has gross assets of GBP29m (USD47m/EUR36m).

Its acquisition comes after G4S’ takeover of Brazilian unarmed security and facilities services provider Interativa Service Ltda in December 2011, also from its founders and other directors. This firm has gross assets of GBP18m and serves the education, transportation, financial institutions, healthcare, public services and other sectors in the country.

G4S did not reveal the exact sum it paid for any of the two deals but said the combined consideration is in line with the group’s normal multiple of eight to ten times the target’s current year EBITDA. The two Brazilian companies’ combined revenue amounts to around GBP165m, which makes the UK party leader in both the security and facilities management markets in Brazil, it added.

Closer fined €10k per day if it fails to deliver topless pictures of Kate Middleton

The French edition of Closer magazine, which last week published topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, has been ordered to hand over the photographs by a court in France, it was revealed today.

The magazine has 24 hours to comply with the order or be slapped with a EUR10,000 fine for each day it holds on to the controversial photographs.

Publication of the images by other media outlets in France has been banned, according to a report by news agency AP, and the French prosecutor has opened criminal investigations into the publication of pictures of Kate Middleton topless while sunbathing on holiday in the country.

The injunction enforced today came after Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge yesterday sought to block further publication of the images through the French legal system.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge claim the publication of the photographs invaded their privacy, capturing the couple during an intimate and personal moment on holiday in Provence.

The French edition of Closer claims that the response and action from the royal couple is disproportionate.

British media outlets have not re-published the photographs.