BoC expected to take dovish tone Wednesday to lower loonie impact economy

OTTAWA — Unwilling to cut interest rates to help restart the stalled economy, the Bank of Canada may seek to achieve the same end result Wednesday by continuing to soften its tone over future intentions.Economists say financial markets are looking for a dovish statement — from a modest tweak of the bank’s forward-looking guidance to dropping altogether the tightening bias on future rate hikes that has been on the books for about a year.That would likely add more downward pressure on an already falling Canadian dollar, something they say would suit the bank’s purposes nicely, both on the economic growth front and on its inflation mandate.“A lower dollar would be consistent with what the bank is trying to achieve, ” said Derek Burleton, a senior economist with TD Bank.“A lower dollar not only helps to strengthen the economy, but also would help the bank to achieve its medium-term inflation targets. That’s a positive offshoot of softer language.”A lower currency helps bolster one of the economy’s weak points — exports — while at the same time boosting inflation, which at 0.5 per cent is well below the bank’s one-to-three per cent comfort zone, by increasing prices on imports.Analysts say the bank’s policy panel won’t be taking any concrete action on interest rates.The bank has kept the overnight rate at one per cent since September of 2010 — a remarkable two-and-a-half year stretch of inactivity — and the betting now is it might stay there until the latter half of 2014.But that doesn’t mean governor Mark Carney is powerless to influence markets, and even real-world interest rates.The outgoing governor, who has one more rate announcement to make before departing for the Bank of England this summer, has already made use of the power of words to achieve some real-life results in an effort to buck up the lacklustre economy, analysts say.Since December, he has issued three dovish reports, the most dramatic coming in January when he surprised markets by declaring the prospects of a policy interest rate hike was now “less imminent.”Along with the weaker-than-expected economy which grew a snails-pace at 0.7 per cent in the second half of 2012, the statement likely contributed to a sharp drop in the value of the Canadian dollar from close to US$1.02 at the beginning of the year to the current level of just above 97 cents.As well, bond yields have continued to weaken, with one factor being the recent announcement by the Bank of Montreal that it would lower its posted rate on five-year fixed mortgages to 2.99%.Scotiabank economist Derek Holt said he believes Carney will stop short of softening further what is already an extremely dovish guidance, but predicted the governor would point to weaker global economic conditions, as well as the spending cuts in the United States, to make the same point.As for a rate cut, which markets have begun pricing in for later in 2013, Holt believes the bank will “go down fighting” rather than succumb to market pressure given that it has sunk so much political capital into lecturing people about the dangers of borrowing.“I think they are much more likely to coax the markets into doing their easing on their behalf instead of changing the administered overnight rate,” he explained. “They do that by talking more dovish, talking up a longer pause and exerting the Bank of Canada’s influence further up the yield curve and in favour of a weaker Canadian dollar.”Ironically, Holt says the markets may actually strengthen the Canadian dollar Wednesday if Carney’s language is not as dovish as they expect. But he believes the overall pressure on the dollar is downward.“In terms of near term momentum, you could get the Canadian dollar coming off (to 90-95 cents US),” he says. “Probably every dealer is fielding a rising number of accounts about the ’shine-off-Canada’ argument, and what’s going on in our housing markets and the extent to which growth has been disappointing. They are questioning the whole Canadian resiliency story in a way I haven’t seen since the depth of the crisis.”However, judging from Carney’s statements two weeks ago, he believes the current soft patch in the Canadian economy is temporary, which suggests he will wait out the storm rather than change course dramatically. He cited the need not to “over-emphasize shorter-term data,” and blamed a poor export performance for weaker than expected growth.For the first three months of 2013, the bank has pencilled in a 2.3% growth rate.Economists say that is unlikely given the clumsy handoff from December, but most believe it will be stronger than the fourth quarter’s 0.6%.In a new forecast, CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld says there is reason to be more optimistic going forward. He says the first quarter may actually see growth return to about two per cent, the believed cruising speed of the economy.Employment dropped in January, but total hours worked rose by 0.2%, indicating increased production. And auto sales, a signal of consumer confidence, appear to have rebounded. Exports also appear to set for a modest rebound after a disastrous 2012 as the U.S. economy firms.The Canadian Press read more

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Transcontinental Inc told to sell 34 newspapers to seal deal to buy

Canada’s competition regulator will approve a deal for Transcontinental Inc. to acquire 74 weekly newspapers in Quebec from Sun Media Corp. if the printing company agrees to sell 34 newspapers.The Competition Bureau said Wednesday that the condition will help preserve advertising competition in the small Quebec communities where these publications and their websites are located.Putting the newspapers up for sale will allow a third party to buy and operate the publications independent “to the benefit of both readers and advertisers,” said the regulator.Under the terms of the agreement, Transcontinental will try to sell the 34 newspapers for a 60-day period.Twenty-two of the newspapers that will be for sale are Sun Media publications located in Shawinigan, Trois Rivieres, and Drummondville. The remaining 12 publications are already owned by Transcontinental, and located in Longueuil, Mont-Tremblant and Chambly.Transcontinental said the sale process is being handled by a third-party chartered accountant firm, Mallette LLP.“We are pleased with this decision, which allows us to close the transaction and combine the strengths of both companies,” said Francois Olivier, president and chief executive officer of Transcontinental Inc. (TSX:TCL.A) “We are enthusiastic that we will soon be able to welcome the employees of the Sun Media weekly newspapers in Quebec,” Olivier said in a news release. “Despite having to put some weekly newspapers up for sale, this transaction will add about $20 million to the operating earnings before amortization of Transcontinental Inc. and further advance the local multiplatform offering for businesses and communities.”The Competition Bureau said the sale of the newspapers need to be offered at no minimum price, and requires Transcontinental to provide distribution and printing to the new owner.Last December, Transcontinental announced that it was going to buy 74 publications and related websites from Sun Media, a subsidiary of Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B), for $75 million.Quebecor Media still operates Quebec’s largest daily newspaper Le Journal de Montreal, Le Journal de Quebec, the 24 Heures free daily and the QMI news agency.Transcontinental is Canada’s largest printer and publishes more than 30 magazines including Canadian Living and Elle Canada, as well as books and flyers. It also has a network of community newspapers in the Atlantic provinces and online portals such as AutoGo.ca and JobGo.ca, and is the owner of the Metro weekday daily in Montreal and co-owner of Metro Halifax. Now with approval from the Competition Board, Transcontinental says both companies will be finalize the deal over the next few days. read more

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North American markets close lower for a second straight day loonie up

TORONTO — North American stock markets closed lower for a second straight day Tuesday while the Canadian dollar rose more than half a cent.The S&P/TSX composite lost 109.49 points to 15,043.15, after falling 17.38 points on Monday. The loonie traded at 83.21 cents US, up 0.63 of a U.S. cent from Monday’s close.The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 36.94 points at 18,068.23, the Nasdaq fell 17.38 points to 4,976.19 and the S&P 500 lost 6.21 points to 2,099.12.Chris King, portfolio manager at Morgan, Meighen and Associates, said recent market fluctuations are largely seasonal, referring to the adage that cautions investors to “sell in May and go away.”“The U.S. markets have bounced around a little bit, but you typically see this sort of volatility,” said King. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pull back a little bit and drift into the summer before stronger markets in the fall. So all of this is OK.”In corporate news, shares of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) were down 18 cents to US$49.62 after news that the biggest U.S. wireless carrier has struck a deal to buy AOL Inc. (NYSE:AOL) for US$4.4-billion. The deal will give Verizon access to AOL’s various digital content platforms, including the Huffington Post, TechCrunch and Engadget websites.“It is a large deal,” said King. “You’ve got an old-line telecommunications company buying a newer-age company in an attempt to make sure its product offering is robust. They’re paying a good premium for it.” On commodity markets, the June crude contract closed up $1.50 at US$60.75 a barrel while June gold rose $9.40 to US$1,192.40 an ounce.While most of the TSX sectors closed lower, the gold sector was 0.6 per cent higher, while the energy sector was down 0.32 per cent.“Despite the rise in U.S. energy inventories, the discount on Canadian oil continues to narrow a little bit, and that’s because the refiners are looking for Canadian product to put in their refineries,” said King. “It’s heavier, and their refineries are built to process that heavier crude, as opposed to the lighter stuff that might come out of the U.S.”Government bonds have been hit with a sell-off lately, as traders have been anticipating higher inflation out of the eurozone. That has dampened the performance of U.S. markets.However, King notes that rising interest rates in Europe are a positive.“It’s good to see rising rates in Europe,” said King.“A lot of the Greek action has delayed normal market recovery … so it’s good to see it start to move in the right direction,” he said, referring to fears that Greece might default on its sovereign debt.On Tuesday, Greece repaid a 757-million euro debt to the International Monetary Fund by dipping into an emergency fund. read more

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Toronto stock index falls as US markets rise loonie strengthens

TORONTO — Canada’s main stock index retreated while the oil-sensitive loonie climbed higher Friday, after rosy economic data increased the odds of an imminent rate hike from the central bank.The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index gave back 31.23 points to 15,182.19, led by energy stocks, which dropped 0.53 per cent.The financials sector of the TSX was down 0.39 per cent, while the consumer discretionary sector added 0.53 per cent and gold stocks were up 0.24 per cent.Meanwhile, the Canadian dollar advanced 0.23 of a US. cent to an average price of 77.06 cents US.The gain in the loonie came as the August crude contract added $1.11 to US$46.04 per barrel and as Statistics Canada reported that the economy posted yet another month of solid growth in April.Meanwhile, a survey from the Bank of Canada found that business sentiment has climbed to its highest level since 2011.“Over the last couple of weeks we have seen a change in the tone from the Bank of Canada in signalling that there is a higher probability of a rate increase in Canada, so that’s being reflected in stocks,” said Colum McKinley, vice-president of Canadian equities at CIBC Asset Management.“The Bank of Canada is saying that the economy is stronger than they had envisioned, and ultimately that’s good for earnings and profitability. On the financials, obviously higher rates are positive for bank earnings but investors will worry about the effect that could have on housing.”In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 62.60 points to 21,349.63, the S&P 500 index added 3.71 points to 2,423.41 and the Nasdaq composite index declined by 3.93 points to 6,140.42.Elsewhere in commodities, the August natural gas contract slipped nearly a cent to US$3.04 per mmBTU. The August gold contract was down $3.50 to US$1,242.30 an ounce and the September copper contract added two cents to US$2.71 a pound.Follow @alexposadzki on Twitter. read more

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Most actively traded companies on the TSX

Some of the most active companies traded Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange:Toronto Stock Exchange (15,174.81, up 39.81 points):BELLUS Health Inc. (TSX:BLU). Biotechnology. Down four cents, or 10.00 per cent, to 36 cents on 6.8 million shares.Manulife Financial Corp. (TSX:MFC). Financial Services. Up one cent, or 0.04 per cent, to $25.23 on 3.9 million shares.CRH Medical Corp. (TSX:CRH). Medical instruments and equipment. Down $1.88, or 28.40 per cent, to $4.74 on 3.2 million shares.Encana Corp. (TSX:ECA). Oil and gas. Up 21 cents, or 1.79 per cent, to $11.97 on 3.1 million shares.Element Fleet Management Corp. (TSX:EFN). Financial Services. Down 17 cents, or 1.90 per cent, to $8.78 on 2.9 million shares.First Quantum Minerals Ltd. (TSX:FM). Miner. Down 31 cents, or 2.40 per cent, to $12.58 on 2.8 million shares. read more

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NAFTA Round 1 US opens talks by insisting on major changes to

WASHINGTON — The United States opened the first round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday with a muscular message that it will push for major changes, not just mere tweaks to the quarter-century-old agreement.The early rhetorical stomping from the economic giant in the middle of North America was at odds with the message of amity and mutual benefit emanating from the continent’s northern and southern amigos.The style was more rough-and-tumble than the substance. The U.S. listed a few demands and they were expected: changes in the auto sector that mean more production in North America, including the U.S.; changes to the dispute-resolution system; and a general rebalancing of trade relationships.American trade czar Robert Lighthizer called it a momentous occasion. He credited his boss for it. And he castigated the existing NAFTA as a failed agreement for many Americans, in those communities that have lost jobs and industries.“This is a historic day for the United States,” Lighthizer said. “American politicians have been promising to renegotiate NAFTA for years. But today President Trump is going to fulfil those promises.”Lighthizer said he completely shares Donald Trump’s views on trade. And that view, he said, is that the U.S. wants substantial changes to NAFTA. He appeared to walk back Trump’s quote a few months ago that suggested he only wanted some minor tweaking with Canada.“I want to be clear: He is not interested in a mere tweaking of a few provisions and a couple of updated chapters,” Lighthizer said.“We feel that NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement.”He said these changes must include:— On auto parts, new rules for imports, so cars include “higher” North American continent, and “substantial” U.S. content under a revised tariff-free threshold. It’s still unclear what percentages the U.S. will seek and whether it will insist on an American-made percentage. Canadian and Mexican ministers quickly said they would oppose such an American carve-out.— A new dispute-settlement mechanism that respects national sovereignty and democratic processes. That question has been a historic irritant with Canada. It was the final issue resolved on the final night of negotiations in the 1987 agreement. At issue is whether international panels should have power to settle cross-border disputes between companies.Canada doesn’t want American courts deciding irritants like softwood lumber.Reacting to Lighthizer’s statement, Peter Clark — a Canadian trade expert who has sat on the dispute panels — said there’s probably room for compromise, like allowing extraordinary appeals to domestic courts: “Is there some middle ground? Can we set up a panel of retired Canada and U.S. judges, for instance?”Another trade observer admitted being surprised by the tone.“It’s an aggressive posture,” said Dan Ujczo, a Canada-U.S. attorney with Dickinson Wright. “It’s somewhat unorthodox to come out with that level of negative comments about the existing agreement and to lead with our most difficult issues first.“Most observers thought this would be an opening session of planning discussions over coffees and cocktails. But it’s clear the need for speed is taking over.”He urged people not to read too much into the posture.It merely indicates that the U.S. is in a hurry to get an agreement before Mexico’s election next year, and is moving faster than normal to get to the toughest issues, Ujczo said. Trade veterans say the pace of the talks is unprecedented — with the desire to revamp NAFTA over the course of several months.Many Americans resent the current NAFTA, Lighthizer said.It’s true the agreement has benefited sectors like farming, Lighthizer said: “But for countless Americans, this agreement has failed…. We cannot ignore the huge trade deficits; the lost manufacturing jobs; the businesses that have closed or moved.”Some 700,000 lost U.S. jobs are linked to NAFTA, he said.Day 1 even featured an academic point-counterpoint over the subject of trade deficits.Canada, Mexico and most mainstream economists believe judging a trade relationship on the basis of whether you buy or sell more to a specific partner is wrong-headed. But it’s a fixation of the Trump administration, which has made it a priority to narrow the import-export gap.Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland challenged the economic rationale behind that. In any case, she noted, it’s irrelevant with respect to Canada — because Canada bought $8.1 billion more than it sold to the U.S. last year.Lighthizer countered that later. He pointed out that over the long term Canada has run a surplus with the U.S. He avoided mentioning the reason: oil prices. Historically, when they are high, Canada runs a trade surplus; when they drop, it’s a deficit.But the general tone from the non-U.S. participants was markedly warmer.Freeland opened her remarks by holding up a picture of U.S. and Mexican firefighters helping to douse forest fire flames in British Columbia: “Over the course of these negotiations,” she said, “I will be keeping these images, and the spirit that they represent, front of mind.”Mexico’s lead minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, agreed that the talks should seek a “win-win-win” for all three countries — a notion recently endorsed by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence. read more

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Quebec renews Ubers operating permit for another year tightens rules

MONTREAL — Ride-hailing company Uber will be allowed to operate legally for another year in Quebec under more strict rules, Transport Minister Laurent Lessard said.Lessard said Friday he’ll extend the pilot project under which Uber had been operating for the past 12 months, contingent on the company being subject to the same rules as traditional taxis regarding training and background checks.Uber called the new rules “challenging” and said they threaten the company’s ability to continue offering its services to Quebecers.Under the new rules, Uber driver background checks must be conducted by the police and no longer by private companies.Additionally, Lessard said all Uber drivers will be required to undergo the same number of training hours as do drivers of traditional taxis, which is 35 hours.Under the terms of the original pilot project, Uber drivers were only forced to take 20 hours of training.“For the government, there cannot be two standards of security,” Lessard told reporters.Uber spokesman Jean-Christophe de le Rue said the new regulations “favour old policies instead of incorporating the benefits of new technology.”“Our team is still waiting to review the new regulations but based on our current understanding, these changes significantly threaten Uber’s ability to continue operating in Quebec,” he said.Lessard said he understands that Uber considers the new rules to be an impediment to it succeeding in the Quebec market, but “we see it as basic conditions to ensure safety.”The youth branch of the Liberal party criticized Lessard’s decision, calling the new rules “severe.”“It’s a bad signal that Quebec is sending,” said Stephane Stril, the youth wing’s president, in a statement. “The Young Liberals believe the severe restrictions imposed by the government will have a harmful effect on Quebec’s reputation in the eyes of technology companies.”The pilot project allowing Uber to legally operate in Quebec went into effect in October 2016 and included the possibility of a one-year renewal.Lessard said while the government has decided to extend the project, the legislature will need to table a new law in 12 months to permit the company to continue operating. Part of the pilot project includes a provision allowing the government to collect a small sum from each Uber fare, which is dedicated to helping the traditional taxi industry modernize.Lessard says the money collected from the program totalled about $7.2 million over the course of the pilot project’s first year.He said the government will negotiate with the taxi industry over the next six months to come up with a compensation package for drivers and owners of taxi permits who have lost money since Uber entered the market.The union representing taxi drivers said Friday the province “seemed to have badly measured the impact of its decisions. Our pretension is that the pilot project is illegal and that’s why we have taken our cause in front of the courts.” read more

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TMX Group signs memorandum of understanding with Shenzhen Stock Exchange

TORONTO — TMX Group Ltd. (TSX:X) has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange aimed at improving economic co-operationThe companies say they want to connect investors and companies in the technology and innovation sectors in the two countries.Under the five-year agreement, TMX Group and SZSE plan to create the China-Canada Technology and Innovation Companies Service Initiative.They say the initiative will include a combination of existing services, facilities and networks.The companies also say they may explore the possibility of creating trading, and clearing and settlement connections between Canada and China.The agreement was approved by the China Securities Regulatory Commission last month.

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Sri Lankans arrested in Indonesia

A group of Sri Lankans were among 106 illegal immigrants arrested in Indonesia, the Indonesian media reported today.The seven Sri Lankans had attempted to reach Christmas Island in Australia through Indonesia’s East Java when they were arrested. Head of Monitoring and Enforcement Immigration Immigration Office, Blitar Mochamad Sungeb said the asylum seekers were arrested when they were about to board a ship. All 106 illegal immigrants were transferred to an immigration detention center from where they are being investigated in the presence of officials from the International Organization For Migration ( IOM ) . Among the 106 illegal immigrants are 69 people from Somalia, 8 people from Iraq and Iran, 7 from Sri Lanka, 20 people from Sudan, 1 person from Yemen and 1 more person from Myanmar. (Colombo Gazette) read more

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Army commander demands discipline from troops

“We need to do the right thing in the right moment and we need to slowly but surely continue for the better image of the organization. Commitment and dedication of our predecessors and those still serving, made the Army to be ahead of all other organizations. In the same vein, breach of discipline by one person causes embarrassment to all of us in the organization. We all must be mindful of what we are doing at formation levels without forgetting or neglecting our roles and tasks. Let not acts of ill-discipline reach my office, the Commander remarked,” he said. During his address, Lieutenant General De Silva, said that the maintenance of the Army reputation, is much more tougher than earning it. De Silva said that all officers should impress on their subordinates and the chain of command should be communicated to the grassroot levels.“Discipline flows from our ability to understand what is right and what is wrong. Having been well informed and properly briefed of our parameters, you all must be able to comply with such borders. Hence, you all must be determined to ensure that 100% discipline is practised at different levels at optimum level,” he added. Army Commander Lieutenant General Crishanthe De Silva today called on the army to maintain discipline in order to sustain the reputation of the organization.The Commander addressed a gathering of about 175 senior officers of the Army Headquarters and those serving nearby formations. Talking of professional competence, the Commander underlined the importance of having Army training with the intention of modernizing it, to keep pace with fast changing global changes.He also wanted the most important welfare measures, like housing, to reach only those deserving as stakeholders in the Army adding that one should not feel that they are more important than others in the distribution of those benefits.In conclusion, the Commander reminded that every officer should be well armed with courage, ability, knowledge, dedication and, commitment while living up to the expectations of the organization they serve. (Colombo Gazette) read more

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