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Adele smashes sales records

Adele's new album "25" has sold 3.38 million copies in its first week, smashing single week sales records, according to Nielsen Music.

As reported by Billboard, "25" is the first album to sell more than 3 million copies in one week in Nielsen's history, which has been tracking first week purchases since 1991. The previous record was held by 'NSYNC whose 2000 album "No Strings Attached" sold 2.4 million copies in its first week.

"25" has also become the bestselling album of the year, flying past the 1.8 million copies sold of Taylor Swift's "1989." Adele did not allow streaming services like Spotify to make "25" available.

Her previous album, "21" has sold 11.24 million copies in the United States.


Five things to watch for

Five things to watch in Canadian business this week:

Climate confab: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris that kicks off Monday. His appearance comes on the heels of a Liberal government announcement of a five-year, $2.65 billion contribution to help developing countries tackle climate change.

Newfoundland and Labrador votes: People in Newfoundland and Labrador go to the polls on Monday. According to public opinion surveys, Dwight Ball's Liberals will either win by a big landslide in Monday's provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador — or by a modest one.

GDP: Statistics Canada releases the GDP numbers for the third quarter and September on Tuesday in an ever-reliable gauge of the health of the Canadian economy.

Banks bonanza: Scotiabank and BMO report their fourth-quarter results on Tuesday, the National Bank of Canada and the Royal Bank report on Wednesday, and TD and CIBC report on Thursday. Also this week: the Bank of Canada announces its decision on the target for its critical overnight rate on Wednesday. The central bank is expected to hold steady on its key lending rate.

Oilpatch: Canadian Oil Sands, the largest partner in the Syncrude oilsands project and the takeover target of Suncor Energy, announces its 2016 spending plans on Tuesday. Enbridge, the Calgary-based energy delivery company, does the same on Thursday.

Banks rein in costs

Grappling with a perfect storm of economic and operating challenges, Canada's biggest banks are expected to emphasize their efforts to rein in costs as they report their fourth-quarter earnings this week.

"They need a catalyst to grow earnings, and increasingly I think the focus is on expenses," said Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan.

Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) and Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) will kick off the earnings parade on Tuesday, followed by Royal Bank (TSX:RY) and National Bank (TSX:NA) on Wednesday. CIBC (TSX:CM) and TD Bank (TSX:TD) will wrap up the quarterly reporting period on Thursday.

Analysts will be looking for signs of cracks stemming from continued low oil prices on the banks' loan books. The first such indications of trouble began to crop up last quarter, when most of the lenders reported higher impaired loans — loans that are unlikely to be repaid in full — to companies in the oil and gas sector.

Despite the spike, the credit problems that have so far surfaced have proven to be manageable for the banks.

Analysts say the brunt of the pain is more likely to be on the consumer loan side — for example, when laid-off workers are unable to pay back their credit cards, consumer loans and mortgage debts.

However, analysts say it may still be too soon for those broader effects to be reflected in the banks' results, as there is usually a lag period between job losses and loan defaults.

"We do not believe this is the quarter," CIBC analyst Robert Sedran said in a note to clients, predicting that loan losses will start rising in 2016 and could climb by about 20 per cent on average.

Although analysts are anticipating a quiet quarter as far as credit is concerned, there are a number of other headwinds likely to weigh on the banks' results.

Rock-bottom interest rates have reduced the profit margins that banks make on loans, overburdened consumers have become hesitant to take on more debt and sustained low oil prices have dampened the country's economic growth, making it hard for the banks to generate new business.

All of that means growing revenue will be challenging for the lenders in the foreseeable future, and the institutions have been emphasizing expense control as their main lever to grow earnings.

Several of the banks have already announced that they will book restructuring charges in the fourth quarter, and Shanahan predicts there could be others, as well.

CIBC said in October it will record a restructuring charge of up to $200 million in the upcoming quarter, while National Bank announced plans to slash roughly 400 jobs, or 2.3 per cent of its staff, and book a $64 million after-tax restructuring charge.

TD Bank, meanwhile, said it was expecting to record a restructuring charge of similar magnitude to the one it saw in the second quarter, which was $337 million, or $228 million after tax.

Scotiabank analyst Sumit Malhotra says the banks seem to be highlighting head count and branches in their discussions around cost-containment.

CIBC, Royal Bank, TD Bank and Canadian Western Bank (TSX:CWB) all reported that their number of employees shrank in the third quarter compared to the same period in 2014, according to Malhotra.

"As an increasing proportion of banking transactions are conducted outside of the traditional physical footprint of the system, it stands to reason that the industry will reduce the infrastructure that was in place to service this business," Malhotra said in a note to clients.

"To some extent this has been seen in the disclosure from the banks over the past year, as on an aggregate basis we see a reduction in the branch count of the sector (particularly outside of Canada) and a decline in the head count at four of the banks."


Takeover gets hostile

Final arguments in Suncor Energy's hostile bid for Canadian Oil Sands played out before Alberta regulators on Friday, with lawyers for COS insisting shareholders need more time to consider their options, while those for Suncor said time for its takeover target is running out.

David Tupper, lawyer for Suncor Energy, told the Alberta Securities Commission that it should overturn the COS plan to give its shareholders 120 days to consider Suncor's $4.5-billion all-stock takeover offer.

Tupper said the COS plan lacks shareholder approval, noting that its board went against the 60-day timeline to vote on takeovers that shareholders nearly unanimously approved in 2010 and 2013.

He warned that the COS share price would likely see a significant drop if the COS plan is upheld because Suncor will not extend its 60-day offer, which is set to expire next Friday.

"Not the Christmas present you want under the tree," said Tupper on the second day of hearings.

He also said there is little likelihood that a new buyer will come forward — even though COS has said 25 other parties have looked into possibly investing.

"To have 25 parties in a process means you must have contacted 7-Eleven and Walmart," Tupper quipped, quoting TV business personality Kevin O' Leary.

Tristram Mallett, part of the COS legal team, accused Suncor of issuing passive-aggressive threats and objected to that company's portrayal of COS as a "financial basket case."

"There's a lot of fear mongering going on here," said Mallett.

He said COS will likely only be able to find alternative bidders under its extended timeline.

"Without the rights plan there is little chance of success," said Mallett. "With a rights plan, a good chance."

Mallett said the upcoming COS 2016 budget, set to be released Dec. 1, is too close to the Suncor offer for shareholders to properly assess, and that there is shareholder support for a delay.

He said shareholders choice is the central issue, which will be achieved under the extended plan.

"The objective of shareholder choice is facilitated with time, time is achieved with the continued operation of the rights plan," said Mallett.

The commission panel reserved its judgment until Monday.

Pharmacies vow to fight

The cash-strapped Quebec government's move earlier this week to lower generic drug prices has ignited a debate that risks spreading across the country.

In its latest bid to reduce health-care spending, the province plans to introduce a tendering system to decide which generic drugmakers would become exclusive suppliers for specific medications.

Quebec is the fourth province to take a stab at implementing such a bidding system after unsuccessful attempts several years ago in Saskatchewan and Ontario. British Columbia launched tenders for seven drugs earlier this year.

Although generic drug prices have decreased significantly in recent years, Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said the province is still paying far too much.

"We believe we can get significant savings if we go through a group purchasing process," he said in an interview Friday, adding lower prices would also be passed on to private insurers.

The minister declined to provide details of the process, including how many drugs would be subject to tendering or potential cost savings. But he believes other provinces will be watching very closely and will follow suit if the effort is successful.

"The issue here is about public finances and the capacity of provincial governments to provide drugs at a price that we can afford. It is a very, very significant issue across this country."

But Quebec's association of pharmacy owners says it is prepared to launch "a big battle" against changes that it says would hurt local drug manufacturers and cost pharmacies, threatening the survival of some.

"It's dangerous how the minister has simplistic solutions to complex problems," said Jean Thiffault, president of the association quebecoise des pharmaciens proprietaires.

Thiffault said he believes low-cost manufacturers in India or China would likely win the tenders, addling that Quebec pharmacists have suggested alternative ways to achieve savings that don't run the risk of leading to shortages or quality issues.

Barrette said he disagrees with the association's position but is prepared to deal with its concerns.

"There are ways to prevent any financial harm in the process," he said, refusing to say if that would involve financial compensation.

Previous moves to lower drug prices prompted large protests at legislatures in Ontario and Alberta. But Mike Law, associate professor of the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, believes Quebec has the greatest chance of succeeding and it could prompt other provinces to follow.

"Were this to succeed and other provinces to follow, you're potentially talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in public sector savings every year," Law said in an interview from Rwanda, where he is on sabbatical.

In a 2013 study, Law found that 90 per cent of the top 82 generic products were less expensive outside Canada. New Zealand launched drug tendering in the late 1990s and the move as been copied by several countries in Europe, as well as in Australia and by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department.

About $4 billion is spent annually on generic drugs in Canada, representing 65 per cent of prescriptions filled and 25 per cent of dollars spent. Quebecers spend the most on prescriptions but use the lowest number of generic alternatives.

The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association said Quebec's tendering proposal is "inconsistent" with the tiered pricing framework adopted across the country.

"Tendering is a risky approach in Canada with the potential for exacerbating drug shortages, delaying the introduction of new cost-saving generic medicines, and reducing jobs and economic activity in the generic pharmaceutical sector in Quebec and Canada," it said in an email.

University of Calgary economics professor Aidan Hollis said savings from tendering could be offset by delays in getting generic medications to market. Without the incentive of being first on the market, generic companies may avoid launching legal battles with patented drugmakers.

The current formula results in high profits on some drugs and minimal or no profits on others, said Keith Howlett of Desjardins Capital Markets, who described Quebec's legislation as a "surprise proposal."

Black Friday roundup

Black Friday, the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, isn't always what people expect.

In Colorado, for instance, marijuana stores got into the act. In Arizona, families skipped the spending frenzy to go hiking. And in Chicago, shoppers snapped photos of demonstrators protesting the police shooting of a black teenager.

Overall, there seemed to be smaller crowds throughout stores and malls across the country.

Here's how the day played out:



Hundreds of protesters blocked entrances to stores in Chicago's high-end shopping district to draw attention to the police shooting of a black teenager.

The demonstration came after the release of a video this week showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last year. The video touched off largely peaceful protests.

On Friday, some of the demonstrators in Chicago linked arms to form human chains in front of main entrances to stores.

Store employees directed shoppers to exit from side doors. When one person tried to get through the front door of Saks Fifth Avenue, protesters screamed at him, shouting, "Shut it down! Shut it down."

Entrances were also blocked at the Disney Store, the Apple Store, Nike, Tiffany & Co., and Neiman Marcus.

Many shoppers seemed to take the disturbance in stride, and some even snapped photos of the crowd.

Protesters took different approaches. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, for instance, led a prayer with a group from the steps of Chicago's historic Water Tower.


Business was brisk but not overwhelming at a Macy's in Kansas City as rain that started Thursday morning continued falling. There didn't appear to be any lines more than a few customers deep.

Gerri Spencer and her daughter left home at 4 a.m. and made their way to a Macy's store several hours later. Spencer said the crowds seemed sparser than in the past when Black Friday meant "getting out at the crack of dawn" to get the best deals.

Some Black Friday shoppers seemed to miss the holiday crowds.

At a Kmart in Denver, Susan Montoya had nearly the entire store to herself. She half-heartedly flipped through a rack of girls' holiday party dresses and looked down the store's empty aisles.

"There's no one out here! No challenge!" she said.

Lynette Norcup also is nostalgic for Black Fridays of the past.

Sitting in the warmth of her daughter's SUV waiting for Wal-Mart to open, the resident of Pleasanton, California said she thinks the excitement has fizzled with stores opening on Thanksgiving.

Norcup misses the challenge of strategizing to score deals.


Colorado has a new Black Friday tradition: Marijuana shops drawing shoppers with discounted weed and holiday gift sets.

At Denver Kush Club in Denver, about two dozen customers were lined up in subfreezing temperatures and snow showers to take advantage of the deals.

The first few customers got free joints, free rolling papers and a T-shirt with purchase. Medical customers were offered ounces of marijuana for $99 — a savings of about 50 per cent.

The shop blasted reggae music and welcomed the crowd with Green Friday welcome cheers. Similar deals were offered last year, the first in which retail recreational marijuana sales opened.

"We get a lot of people in the first few hours, just like any store on Black Friday," said co-owner Joaquin Ortega. He said marijuana gift-giving is becoming more common, though most were shopping for themselves Friday.


At Catalina State Park just north in Arizona, dozens of families and dogs hiked through the saguaro cactus-covered mountains. Many said they didn't plan on shopping on Black Friday anyway.

Krista Wells, of Tucson, said she wanted her daughters to understand that the holidays are about spending time with family, not shopping.

"This is about the season of bringing together and reflecting upon family and getting into the Christmas holiday. I don't think there's a retail holiday," she said.

Jennifer Rojas was hiking down a steep hill with her mother. She said she tries to hike every year after Thanksgiving and likes to avoid the shopping crowds.

"I'd rather appreciate nature, rather than being at a mall or watching TV," Rojas said.


For the first time, analysts had predicted more than half of online traffic to retailer sites would come from smartphones than desktops during the four-day Black Friday holiday shopping weekend.

On Friday, there was evidence that shoppers were vacillating between both stores and online.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s chief merchandising officer Steve Bratspies told the Associated Press that the chain saw more shoppers buying both on its website and in its stores than the same time a year ago. Target's CEO Brian Cornell said that online sales on Thanksgiving were strong, outpacing the performance on the holiday a year ago. That's making it Target's biggest day online for sales yet, driven largely by electronics. He also was pleased with store traffic.

And J.C. Penney's CEO Marvin Ellison said that the chain worked hard to make its app more user friendly, and as a result, its online sales.

"We saw customers going back and forth, researching online and then go to the stores," he said.

Meanwhile, Chip Gentry in Atlanta headed out to stores instead of purchasing items online. He walked out of a Best Buy with an Xbox One and extra controller, saving about $150 in total.

"I'm looking for the deals online and going out to stores to get them," he said.

Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Colorado, Scott Smith in Pleasanton, California, Jonathan Landrum in Atlanta, Mae Anderson, Candice Choi and Anne D'Innocenzio in New York, Bill Draper in Kansas City, Kansas and Astrid Galvan in Tucson, Arizona contributed to this report.

Chief sues three companies

The chief of an Alberta First Nation is suing three companies over spill from a coal tailings pond that went into waterways that feed the Athabasca River.

Ronald Kruetzer of the Fort McMurray First Nation filed the lawsuit as a class action to include anyone who resided near, used, relied on or prospered from the Plante and Apetowun creeks, Athabasca River and Peace-Athabasca delta.

The Obed coal mine near Hinton had a spill of about 670 million litres of waste water on Oct. 31, 2013.

At the time, Coal Valley Resources Inc. operated the mine as a subsidiary of Sherritt International Corp. (TSX:S).

Both companies were named in the statement of claim, along with Westmoreland Coal Co., which bought Coal Valley from Sherritt in 2014.

In the weeks following the spill, the province advised communities downstream not to draw water from the river and farmers not to let livestock drink from it.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs could not safely hunt, fish or use drinking water due to the toxins contained in the waste water that spilled.

It also claims the defendants should have known the waste water contained materials hazardous to the environment and failed to properly construct, design and inspect the tailing pond.

The plaintiffs are seeking general and punitive damages.

It's not known if the defendants have filed a statement of defence and the companies could not immediatly be reached for comment.

In October, Coal Valley and Sherritt were charged with six counts under Alberta's Environmental Protection Act, Public Lands Act and Water Act.

The companies are to appear in Hinton provincial court on the charges on Jan. 20.

VOD seeing rapid growth

Even though the overwhelming majority of Canadians still watch live TV, a new study says there has been "rapid" growth in people accessing video on demand through their service providers.

Canadian audience measurement firm Numeris released a report Friday which found about 90 per cent of overall viewing is still live — a broadcast over the air or through cable — as compared with on demand.

But the findings also noted a shift in how younger demographics are watching television.

"Services such as video on demand are relatively new offerings in Canada, but they have been steadily on the rise," the report said.

"Catch-up viewing is growing rapidly, especially for the younger age groups."

In the study, video-on-demand was considered anything viewed through either a set-top box or a broadcaster's website or smartphone app. It conducted the study with its radio and TV panel of 5,000 households, made up of 11,000 individuals more than two years old.

Numeris did not consider other sources, such as video streaming services like Netflix and Shomi or illegal online downloads, which are harder to accurately track.

The most common VOD users were females 25 to 49 years old, with a job, and children under 12 years.

In the United States, many cable channels have been shifting away from determining a TV show's success by its "same-day" ratings numbers, arguing that advertisers should pay based on the popularity of shows over several days of VOD availability.

Last week, Fox became the first of the big U.S. networks to stop providing "same-day" ratings to the public.

In Canada, the changes have been much slower, though an eventual shift is expected by Numeris.

"The importance of this viewer information will increase in value as time-shifted platforms continue to grow in popularity," it said.

McDonald's will prosecute

McDonald's Mexico says it will prosecute whoever planted a rodent's head in one of its hamburgers, causing authorities to close down one of its restaurants near Mexico City.

A company statement says it will hire the best investigation firm to find the identity of the person responsible for what it calls "a serious attack against the (restaurant's) image."

The statement, distributed through social media this week, says government testing proved the mouse was not cooked with the hamburger.

The Federal Commission for Protection Against Sanitary Risks would not comment on the testing, but referred The Associated Press to media interviews by a commissioner who confirmed that no rodent meat was found.

A man complained Nov. 9 that he found a mouse's head in his hamburger in the store in Tlalnepantla.

Best Buy crashes on big day

One of Canada's largest tech retailers has incurred the wrath of Black Friday shoppers who say a website malfunction prevented them from taking advantage of the annual markdowns.

The online backlash against Best Buy Canada began shortly after the company tweeted Thursday night that its Black Friday sales were in effect.

By midnight, many were complaining that the site wouldn't allow them to make purchases and tweeting photos of themselves shopping on competitors' websites.

Some suggested that the retailer, which also owns the Geek Squad computer support company, should be able to avoid tech-related problems on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Best Buy Canada posted on its website about 15 minutes after midnight that it had encountered an "issue" but expected to be up and running soon. It asked shoppers to be patient as staff tried to fix the problem.

An update 2 1/2 hours later said "many" customers were now able to complete their purchases and that it was working to resolve any lingering technical issues.

But many online had jumped ship much long before then.

"Waiting for your site to work. Wandered over to Amazon. SAME PROMOS, and a working website! #bestbuy," one person tweeted earlier.

"I bought my stuff from Walmart. Same prices and their site works," another person said on Twitter.

"@BestBuyCanada you ARE a technology based online business right? This sale proves you're in the wrong business. #WorstBuy #YOUHADONEJOB," another shopper said.

Shopping madness begins

Nearly 100 million shoppers were expected to head to stores on Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season in the U.S.

Add that to the millions who shopped Thursday on Thanksgiving, a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. where the holiday has traditionally been reserved for family meals. In recent years, some major retailers have been opening their doors on the evening of Thanksgiving and staying open all night.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expected about 30 million to shop on Thanksgiving, compared with 99.7 million on Black Friday.

The trade group estimates about 135.8 million people will be shopping during the four-day weekend, compared with 133.7 million last year. And it expects sales overall for November and December to rise 3.7 per cent to $630.5 billion compared with the same period last year.

But people may not be in the mood to shop much this year. Unemployment has settled into a healthy 5 per cent rate, but shoppers still grapple with stagnant wages that are not keeping pace with rising daily costs like rent. And years later, they still insist on the deep discounts they got used to retailers offering during the recession.

Yet again, trend experts say there's no single item that's making shoppers run to stores. Perhaps that's why Ron Waxman, 51, a sports agent from New York, was able to shop with ease on Black Friday morning and find a nearby parking spot at 2 a.m.

"It's quiet very quiet," he said. "This is dead for Black Friday."

Costco veggie mix recalled

A California farm is recalling a vegetable mix believed to be the source of E.coli in Costco chicken salad that has been linked to an outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

Taylor Farms Pacific Inc. of Tracy, California, has recalled a mix of diced celery and onion used in Costco chicken salad and other foods containing celery "out of an abundance of caution," the FDA said in a statement.

The foods range from Thai-style salads to packaged dinners and wraps, and they are sold at Costco, Target, Starbucks and many other outlets, the FDA said.

Costco says it uses one supplier for those vegetables in the chicken salad sold in all its U.S. stores.

A message left Thursday with Taylor Farms was not immediately returned.

Costco, based in Issaquah, Washington, pulled the chicken salad off store shelves nationwide, posted signs in its stores and provided detailed purchase logs to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help it track who bought the product and where the salad ingredients came from.

Six people got sick in Montana, five in Utah, four in Colorado, and one each in California, Missouri, Virginia and Washington state. The illness reports began on Oct. 6 and involved people from age 5 to 84, the CDC said.

Health officials urged people who bought chicken salad at any U.S. Costco store on or before Nov. 20 to throw it away, even if no one has gotten sick.

The strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can be life-threatening, but no deaths have been reported. Five people have been hospitalized, including two with kidney failure.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. The incubation period is three to seven days from the time of exposure.

The number of people sickened in the outbreak will likely grow over the next few weeks, even though the product has been removed from store shelves, the CDC said Wednesday.

Health officials urge anyone with the symptoms, especially people who have eaten Costco chicken salad, to go to their doctor.

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