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Building permits soar

Statistics Canada says the total value of building permits issued by Canadian municipalities rose 11.3 per cent to $6.9 billion in December.

The agency says permits for multi-family homes in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta were the main reason for the increase from November.

The value of permits issued for the residential sector grew by 16.3 per cent to $4.7 billion in December, with gains in every province except Saskatchewan.

The value of building permits for multi-family homes rose 39.1 per cent to $2.3 billion in December, while permits for single-family homes edged down 0.1 per cent to about $2.3 billion.

Non-residential building permits increased 2.5 per cent to $2.3 billion as an increase in the value of commercial permits more than offset decreases in the institutional and industrial sectors.

Permits for commercial buildings rose 14.6 per cent to $1.3 billion in December, while the industrial sector dropped 3.2 per cent to $405 million and institutional construction permits fell 13.6 per cent to $594 million.

The total value of building permits in 2015 totalled $85.0 billion, unchanged from 2014, as an increase in residential construction plans rose 4.4 per cent, offset by a 6.3 per cent drop on the non-residential side.



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Friendly mining takeover

Tahoe Resources Inc. has a friendly deal to buy Lake Shore Gold Corp. and its two mines in Northern Ontario in return for stock in the Vancouver-based mining company.

The proposed combination — which values Lake Shore at about $945 million — would add the Timmins West and Bell Creek mines in Timmins, Ont., to Tahoe's holdings, which include mines in Guatemala and Peru.

Lake Shore shareholders are being offered 0.1467 of a Tahoe common share for each of their shares.

Based on Friday closing prices, the offer is worth $1.71 per Lake Shore common share — a 14.8 per cent premium to the closing price of Lake Shore common shares on Friday.

Lake Shore will give Tahoe a right to match any superior proposal and each company has agreed to pay the other a termination fee under certain circumstances if the deal isn't completed.

The boards of the two companies are unanimously recommending the combination, which requires approval by two-thirds of the votes cast at a special meeting of Lake Shore shareholders.



Luxury retail's battle ground

Industry watchers say Canada's retail clothing sector is expected to slow in the coming few years even though the battle for luxury shoppers is revving up.

After two years of growth approaching four per cent, sales are forecast to slow and bottom out to a mere one per cent increase in 2018, says Trendex North America, a marketing research firm specializing in the clothing industry.

This year's sales are expected to grow by 2.4 per cent this year versus 3.8 per cent last year, slipping to 1.7 per cent growth in 2017 before inching back up to 2.1 per cent growth in 2020, Trendex said in a 2016 retail apparel market forecast.

But that could prove optimistic because the organization's outlook for economic growth is much stronger than the Bank of Canada's revised forecast of 1.4 per cent.

"I don't think this is going to be a banner year," retail consultant Wendy Evans said in an interview.

The low Canadian dollar is going to put pressure on retailers' margins and force them to offset higher costs by hiking prices, perhaps by three to five per cent.

But the luxury segment, Evans said, should help ease the sluggishness in the low- to mid-priced sector as Saks Fifth Avenue makes its Canadian entry this month with the opening of two Toronto stores, and U.S. retailer Nordstrom expands its presence with three new locations in Toronto this year and next.

The openings will give wealthier Canadians a reason to shop at home instead of travelling to global fashion centres like New York, while also attracting Americans looking to take advantage of the low loonie, she said.

Jim Danahy, CEO of retail advisory firm Customer Lab in Toronto, said the Quebec City-based Simons will increasingly be part of the competitive mix as the 175-year-old retailer continues to expand across Canada.

"They do a heck of a good job at assortment and service and are going to compete adequately against Nordstrom, Saks and Holts," he said.

Increased competition will erode Holt Renfrew's dominance in the luxury segment at least initially as customers visit the new retail options, said Jean Rickli, a retail consultant for the J.C. Williams Group.

"If Nordstrom is true to their word on customer experience, it's going to be tough going for Holt Renfrew," he said in an interview.

But he added that the Canadian chain has made some headway by making plans to expand its Vancouver store later this year, and opening two hr2 outlet stores on the outskirts of Montreal and Toronto that appeal to millennial shoppers.

Luxury menswear retailer Harry Rosen has also prepared for beefed-up competition by enlarging four of its stores and adding three locations last year.

While retail sales will be under pressure, analysts expect e-commerce will continue to flourish. Although a small part of their businesses, HBC, Le Chateau, Lululemon and Reitmans saw online sales increase between 16 and 72 per cent in the third quarter.

Industry observers say they expect Sears Canada will continue "drifting," and predict as many as four Canadian-based apparel retailers will either go out of business or be acquired this year.

Danier Leather is apparently the first. It entered insolvency protection last week as it seeks a buyer after years of financial problems.



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Who won the ad game?

The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 — and there were clear winners and losers off the field, too.

Advertisers pulled out all the stops to woo the 114 million-plus viewers during the Big Game. With 30-second ads costing up $5 million, it's a huge gamble to advertise during the game. Here are the winners whose gamble paid off, and losers who dropped the ball.

WINNERS

Audi "Commander"

In Audi's spot, a depressed aging astronaut is reminded of his joy for life by driving an Audi sports car with his son to David Bowie's "Starman." Super Bowl watcher Raj Nijjer, from Scottsdale, Ariz., said the ad went over well at the bar where he was watching the game. "Every guy in the bar had a smile on their face," he said.

Axe "Find Your Magic"

Axe left previously juvenile ads behind with a spot that urged teens to "Find Your Magic" and celebrate uniqueness and diversity rather than the traditional tropes of masculinity.

Bud Light "Bud Light Party"

Capitalizing on election year buzz, Bud Light enlisted Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan to canvass America to promote "The Bud Light Party." A cameo by Paul Rudd added to the fun.

Heinz "Weiner Stampede"

Budweiser disappointed some by retiring the puppies it featured in ads the past three years, but Heinz picked up the slack. Its ad showed dachshunds dressed like hot dogs frolicking in a field to the tune of Harry Nilsson's "Without You."

Mountain Dew "Puppymonkeybaby"

Love it or hate it, Mountain Dew's bizarre ad showing a creature that was part puppy, part monkey and part baby was one of the most talked about spots of the evening.

LOSERS

PHARMACEUTICAL ADS

Three pharmaceutical ads struck a jarring tone with viewers. One promoted an anti-diarrhea medication Xifaxan and showed a small-intestines mascot trying to watch a football game. Another sought to raise awareness about "opioid-induced constipation." A third tackled toe fungus.

"Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong subject," Kelly O'Keefe, a marketing professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said of the constipation ad.

HENKEL

In first time advertiser Henkel's commercial for its Persil ProClean detergent, a tuxedoed spokesman told us that Persil ProClean beat rival detergents in a test — a generic-feeling ad people have seen many, many times before.

QUICKEN LOANS

First time advertiser Quicken Loans imagined a world where it's as easy to get a loan on your smartphone as it is to buy music and plane tickets. "Push button, get mortgage," copy reads. Some viewers took to Twitter to complain the ad reminded them a little too much of the 2008 financial housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis.

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG

The tourist destination created an ad that showed historical events going in reverse to illustrate the idea that American history started with Colonial Williamsburg. Some viewers were offended that one of the events going in reverse was the collapse of the twin towers on September 11.



This week in business

Five things to watch this week in Canadian business:

Bank of Canada: Deputy governor Timothy Lane will give a speech at HEC Montreal on monetary policy and financial stability on Monday. The central bank held the line on its key interest rate last month, but the decision was a close call.

Power of the force: Movie theatre chain Cineplex Inc. reports fourth-quarter results on Tuesday. Investors will have a chance to see just how much the release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" was able to boost the company's box-office and concession sales.

CPP Investment Board: The big pension fund manager will report is results for the final three months of 2015 on Wednesday. Money managers have faced a difficult time as stock markets have been on a rocky ride.

Earnings: Some of Canada's biggest companies are set to report their latest quarterly results. Sun Life reports Wednesday, followed by Manulife, Great-West Lifeco, Molson Coors, Thomson Reuters, TransCanada, Telus, Teck Resources and Interfor on Thursday.

Autoshow: The Canadian International Autoshow opens in Toronto on Friday. Auto sales hit a record in 2015 as Canadians bought nearly 1.9 million new vehicles last year.



Germany closes Cdn bank

German authorities have ordered the closure of Maple Bank after the Canadian-owned company was investigated for alleged tax evasion and money laundering.

Maple Bank, based in Frankfurt, Germany, is part of Canada's Maple Financial Group.

The Federal Financial Supervisory Authority said Sunday that it has forbidden Maple Bank from making payments or selling assets "due to impending financial over-indebtedness." The watchdog, known as Bafin, also banned the bank from taking customer payments other than those made to repay debts.

It says the bank, with assets of 5 billion euros ($5.58 billion) and liabilities of around 2.6 billion euros ($2.9 billion), will have to put aside funds to cover tax payments.

Authorities launched a tax probe of Maple Bank last September.



Woody's pot shop?

Actor and marijuana advocate Woody Harrelson was one of nearly 60 applicants to apply to open one of Hawaii's first medical marijuana dispensaries.

Harrelson, 54, applied for a licence in Honolulu County under his company, Simple Organic Living.

The Hawaii Department of Health posted the list of 66 applications on its website Friday. The state is now reviewing applications for dispensary permits, which they will award in April.

Video game entrepreneur Henk Rogers also applied for a licence under his company, Blue Planet Foundation, which advocates for energy independence across the state. Rogers, 61, is famous for discovering the video game "Tetris" more than 20 years ago, and lives in Hawaii in an entirely solar-powered home.

Among other applicants include Dirk Fukushima, producer of the local television show, "Hawaii Stars," and former University of Hawaii Regent Charles Kawakami.

If selected, dispensary applicants must have $1 million cash before applying for a licences, plus $100,000 for each dispensary location. All applicants must have been Hawaii residents for more than five years.

Under a law passed in 2015, the state will grant eight licences for marijuana business owners across the islands. The law allows medical marijuana businesses to have two production centres and two retail dispensaries, for a total of 16 dispensaries statewide. Six are allowed on Oahu, four on Hawaii Island, four on Maui and two on Kauai.

Dispensaries are set to open in July.

Hawaii became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process 16 years ago. Lawmakers have introduced laws to legalize recreational marijuana; however they don't think they're likely to pass this year.



Oilpatch takeover done deal

Suncor Energy has announced that nearly 73 per cent of Canadian Oil Sands shares and accompanying rights have been tendered to Suncor's offer.

Suncor officials said that as a result, the company will be able to ensure that a subsequent acquisition transaction will be completed and Suncor will acquire the remainder of the outstanding COS shares.

In mid-January, COS accepted a sweetened takeover offer from Suncor Energy as the market outlook for oilsands producers deteriorates.

The deal drew to a close a bitter takeover battle that pitted two partners in the massive Syncrude oilsands mine against each other.

Suncor offered to exchange 0.28 of one of its shares for each COS share — up from 0.25 of a Suncor share per COS share.

Steve Williams, Suncor president and chief executive officer, said they were pleased with the strong level of support from COS shareholders.

"From the outset, we've spoken about the excellent value this offer creates for both COS and Suncor shareholders and I'm looking forward to delivering on that commitment."

Suncor has extended its offer to Feb. 22 but has said further extensions beyond that are not anticipated.

The development makes Suncor the largest shareholder in the Syncrude oilsands complex north of Fort McMurray, Alta., which is operated by Imperial Oil.



BlackBerry cutting 200 staff

BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB) is laying off 200 employees in Canada and the U.S.

The company said in a statement that 200 employees have been impacted in Waterloo, Ont., and Sunrise, Fla.

BlackBerry would not specify what departments were most affected or how many employees in each office would be losing their jobs, but it appears to be 125 Canadian positions and 75 American ones.

A worker adjustment and retraining notification posted on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's website said the company plans to lay off 75 employees at its Sunrise office.

Those layoffs began Thursday and will continue until Feb. 26, according to the notice.

Meanwhile, in Waterloo, BlackBerry appears to have ended its relationship with Gary Klassen, its director of architecture and innovation.

"My husband has walked out of BlackBerry for the last time," his wife, Jenn Klassen, wrote in a Facebook post. "Gary you've been a wonderful example of integrity, faithfulness and patience working there but I'm glad you're out."

Gary's social media accounts have yet to reflect the change in employment.

BlackBerry would not say whether Klassen quit or was let go.

"We can confirm that Gary Klassen has left BlackBerry. The company is grateful for his many contributions during his tenure and we wish him the best in his future endeavours."

BlackBerry has slashed thousands of jobs from its workforce in recent years in an effort to cut costs.

The company had 6,225 full-time employees as of Feb. 28, 2015, according to its most recent annual filing.

Three years before, the company had approximately 16,500 full-time employees, according to its 2012 annual filing. By 2014, BlackBerry employed just more than 8,000 full-time workers.

"As BlackBerry continues to execute its turnaround plan, we remain focused on driving efficiencies across our global workforce," BlackBerry said in a statement.

"This means finding new ways to enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities, while driving toward sustainable profitability across all platforms of our business."

Despite the cutbacks, the company said it is "actively recruiting in those areas of our business that will drive growth."

BlackBerry has been focused on a turnaround strategy that has included cost reductions, launching new software services and forging new relationships with corporate customers and wireless carries.

In December, BlackBerry reported a loss of $89 million in its fiscal third quarter. The smartphone company posted an adjusted loss of three cents a share for the period, much better than the 15-cent loss expect by analysts on average.

The company reports its fourth quarter earnings April 1.



Housing starts slow

The annual pace of housing starts slowed in January.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Friday that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts for the first month of the year was 165,861 units, down from 172,533 in December.

The decrease came as the annual pace of urban starts fell 3.0 per cent in January to 153,701 units.

Multiple urban starts decreased by 5.3 per cent to 95,406, while single-detached urban starts increased by 1.0 per cent to 58,295.

The pace of urban starts fell in Quebec, the Prairies and British Columbia, but increased in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12,160 units.

The six-month moving average of the seasonally adjusted annual pace was 199,169 units in January compared with 203,304 in December.

"Housing starts trended down across the country with the exception of Ontario," CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan said.

"The overall decline is mostly attributable to a slowdown in the Prairies where the housing starts trend was at a four-year low in January. The slowdown in new housing activity coincides with an unemployment rate that is at a five-year high in Alberta".



Oil flows despite drop

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie says Canadian oil producers are among the very few globally who have reduced output in the face of low oil prices.

Wood Mackenzie says it found that only about 100,000 barrels a day — or 0.1 per cent of global production — has been cut as oil trades below US$35 a barrel, even as 3.4 million barrels of production is unprofitable at that price.

About 30,000 barrels of that production cut has come from older conventional and heavy oil wells in Canada, with the rest from ultra low-output wells in the United States and some aging offshore wells in the United Kingdom's North Sea.

But while Canada represents about a third of the reduced output, it accounts for more than half of unprofitable global production due to high costs and lack of access to markets.

Wood Mackenzie estimates that 2.2 million barrels a day of Canadian production is operating at a negative cash cost when oil is at US$35 a barrel, meaning more than half of Canada's total output of about 3.9 million barrels a day is currently unprofitable.

Much of that unprofitable production is coming from the oilsands, but Wood Mackenzie says that because of the costs and complexity of shutting down bitumen production, operators are reluctant to reduce output.

"Given the cost of restarting production, many producers will continue to take the loss in the hope of a rebound in prices," said Robert Plummer, vice-President of investment research at Wood Mackenzie.

Other producers who have entered negative cash cost territory include Venezuela with about 230,000 barrels a day of unprofitable production, the U.K. with about 220,000 barrels, and the U.S. with some 190,000 barrels.

The tight oil production from the U.S. that helped spur the glut of global production only starts to become cash negative below US$30 a barrel, Wood Mackenzie said.



VW delays earnings report

Volkswagen says it is postponing release of its full-year earnings as well as its annual shareholder meeting due to open questions about its diesel emissions scandal.

The German carmaker said Friday it would give new dates for the earnings release, formerly slated for March 10, and for its shareholder gathering originally set for April 21.

It said questions about how the matter will be resolved left open what it described in a statement as "valuation calculations."

Volkswagen says it is sticking to its plan to publish the findings of its investigation into the background and responsibilities of the scandal in the second half of April.

It said that when released, the company's operating earnings before one-time items would be at the level of the year before, within the expected range for the fiscal year 2015.

The Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker has admitted equipping cars with software that let them cheat on diesel emissions tests in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suing the company in federal court over what it says were 600,000 such vehicles.

Volkswagen says as many as 11 million cars worldwide have the software that enables them to cheat on tests. The company says it is working to fix the cars and to change its culture so that something similar does not happen again. U.S. law firm Jones Day is conducting an investigation into who made the decisions to cheat.



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