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A cook prepares fries (© Thierry Roge / Reuters)
A cook prepares fries (© Thierry Roge / Reuters)

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Crooks eye restaurant grease for biofuel: The 'new copper' Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Nov. 9. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Grease in fashion Not long ago, the theft of copper was all the rage because of high prices. Now, greasy spoon restaurants are a new target.

NPR in the United States has taken a fascinating look at a new phenomenon, the theft of used restaurant grease that is sold in the biofuels market.

NPR blogger Nancy Shute reports on how restaurants and recyclers are now putting barrels of so-called yellow grease under lock and key because, as the National Renderers Association told her, it has become "the new copper."

It's known as inedible kitchen grease, or IKG, which was once deemed waste and used in animal feed, though now is "an elixir in the booming green economy," according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"The grease’s value as a biofuel is being increasingly recognized," the agency said last month. "IKG is now coveted, which makes it a target for theft."

A pound of the stuff is now going for about 40 cents, or five times the value of 10 years ago, according to NPR. After being processed, it can be sold for fuel.

Indeed, the CDFA has teamed up with authorities in a "high-theft" area to stop vehicles carrying IKG to ensure they're within the law. It's working well, so the agency is going to team up with others, as well..

"CDFA has responsibility for regulating IKG transport in California and is concerned that increases in theft is costing legitimate industry millions of dollars in lost revenue every year," it said.

Italy rattles the markets At last count - and it's changing by the minute - 480 people "liked" Silvio Berlusconi's farewell interview with the Italian daily La Stampa that he posted on his Facebook page today. And well over 1,000 left comments.

The prime minister may be stepping down, a move that buoyed investors for a short time, but markets are even more troubled today over Italy's debt situation. As RBC strategists put it, "something happened on the way to the forum." Perhaps Mr. Berlusconi shouldn't wait until after the budget measures pass, as is his plan?

Global stock markets plunged and the yield on Italy's 10-year bond spiked to a crisis level above 7 per cent, raising worrisome questions about the outlook for the latest country in the eye of the euro debt storm.

"The burst of optimism yesterday afternoon on news that Italian PM Berlusconi will resign after the new budget law is passed was short-lived. Very short-lived," said senior economist Jennifer Lee of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Tokyo's Nikkei gained 1.2 per cent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng 1.7 per cent, but stocks were plunging across Europe, notably in Milan. London's FTSE 100, Germany's DAX and the Paris CAC 40 were down in the 2-per-cent range and North American markets picked up the sentiment.

The S&P 500 and Toronto's S&P/TSX composite sank.

The euro fell sharply, as did the Canadian dollar as the U.S. greenback climbed.

It's not just Italy, but the fact that there's still new prime minister chosen in Greece. Is anyone surprised that that's a saga on its own? The political troubles in both countries mark the most threatening phase yet in the two-year-old euro crisis, killing the market optimism.

"It evaporated on the fact that change at the top won’t happen overnight," said Ms. Lee. "PM Berlusconi will remain at his post for at least another two to four weeks, and the big unknown is who will replace him. Meantime, in Greece, where political change is afoot, the process appears to have stalled. Former ECB’er Lucas Papademos was the likely candidate to take over the leadership but now, it appears that he has some competition from a senior ruling party member Kaklamanis. And, the leader of the opposition party has refused to sign papers showing his support for the austerity measures."

(Best tweet of the day from @DavidJones of IG Index: "We must be close to that time again surely - European emergency-meeting o'clock.")

China inflation dips Even brighter economic news from China couldn't shake the European and North American markets out of their funk, though the latest data from Beijing suggest monetary authorities could ease policy as they make inroads in their fight against inflation.

China's annual inflation rate fell sharply to 5.5 per cent in October, down from 6.1 per cent a month earlier. That points to the possibility that the People's Bank of China could bring down the reserve ratio requirements of the country's banks and, possibly at some point, interest rates as well.

The lower inflation rate was driven largely by a slowing in food costs. Indeed, pork prices fell 1.8 per cent from September to October, and will probably continue to decline as the "pig population" increases, said Mark Williams and Qinwei Wang of Capital Economics in London.

"In sum, today’s data should give policy makers more confidence that inflation is becoming a diminished threat to the economy," they said.

"With risks rising in the domestic real estate market and in the global economy, this should pave the way for policy shifting towards easing. The first sign of easing is likely to come in the form of lower interbank rates and a rebound in bank lending, followed by cuts in the required reserve ratios perhaps by early 2012. We think that benchmark rate cuts will be considered a last resort and are unlikely before the middle of next year."

Quebecor profit sinks Canada's Quebecor Inc. basically met what analysts had expected as it posted a sharp drop in third-quarter profit today.

The company's results show weak broadcasting and newspaper revenues, The Globe and Mail's Iain Marlow reports, but strong growth in subscribers among its telecommunications services.

The media company's profit slipped to $26.1-million or 41 cents a share from $83-million or $1.29 a year earlier. Revenue climbed to $1-billion from $969.9-billion.

"As we anticipated, the company reported strong growth from wireless," said Maher Yaghi of Desjardins.

"The newspaper business continues to feel the pressure of incremental costs from new launches that have yet to start contributing to profitability," the analyst said in a research note.

"We continue to forecast acceleration in profitability growth beginning in [the fourth quarter]before hitting full stride in 2012. As heavy spending on wireless comes to an end, free cash flow in 2012 should also increase significantly. We continue to believe that attractive valuation and improving cash flow and profitability metrics in 2012 should offer investors solid returns."

GM profit dips General Motors Co. sank today after it posted a drop in third-quarter profit today.

GM earned $1.7-billion (U.S.) or $1.03 a share in the quarter, down from $2-billion or $1.20 a year earlier.

"GM delivered a solid quarter thanks to our leadership positions in North America and China, where we have grown both sales and market share this year," said chief executive officer Dan Akerson. "But solid isn’t good enough, even in a tough global economy."

GM's North American business, overhauled during its fling with Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, are doing well, though elsewhere in global markets it is being hit.

Rona takes dim view Canada's Rona Inc. is taking a dim view of the economy as it finds its same-store sales pressured, though profits up.

The home improvement retailer today posted a 5-per-cent drop in same-store sales, a key measure in the industry, in the third quarter, though profit increased to $50.1-million or 36 cents a share, diluted, from $48-million or 36 cents a year earlier. Overall revenue rose 2.1 per cent to $1.35-billion.

The retailer's outlook is glum, and the climate "poses a major challenge," said chief executive officer Robert Dutton.

“Given the fragile nature of Canadian consumer confidence and their cautious approach to major renovation projects, we expect to see continued downward pressure on same-store sales as a whole over the next few quarters, particularly in major urban centres where growth in supply has exceeded demand, leading to sharper competition," Mr. Dutton said in a statement.

"In this situation, we will continue to implement sales development and efficiency improvement measures, which have already paid off."

Business ticker

In Economy Lab The promise of "more jobs" for resource processing packs a considerable punch in politics, Stephen Gordon writes. But the next time you hear it, ask yourself how devoting more productive resources to making things for foreign consumption is going to make us better off.

In International Business An investor protection treaty with China won’t be enough to help Canadian mining companies struggling to advance their business there beyond exploration rights, the federal minister of natural resources warns. Carolynne Wheeler reports from Beijing.

In Globe Careers You’ve taken the vacation. You’ve come back. You have 5,000 e-mails in your inbox. You need to take steps to ease back into work without losing all the benefits of taking time off in the first place.

In Personal Finance Let’s stop talking about it and start teaching financial literacy at elementary school.

From today's Report on Business

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