Samsung heir grilled

It was a rare moment of public reckoning for South Korea's most powerful business leaders and possibly the worst day for Samsung's billionaire heir, courtesy of the country's biggest political scandal in years.

Lee Jae-yong, 48-year-old vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the only son of the ailing chairman, was shouted down and admonished by lawmakers for the most part of the 2 1/2-hour parliamentary questioning on Tuesday morning. Lawmakers questioned him on wide-ranging issues from why Samsung sponsored the family of President Park Geun-hye's confidante to Samsung's treatment of sickened workers.

The hearing was broadcast live on major TV channels.

Lee fielded questions for the first time in parliament as part of the unprecedented questioning of nine leaders from South Korea's biggest business groups about their possible roles in the scandal involving President Park and Choi Soon-sil, her shadowy confidante.

Lawmakers are looking into any links to prosecution claims that South Korean President Park Geun-hye allowed a corrupt confidante to pull government strings and extort companies.

Park's scandal has increased doubts over deep ties between politicians and the country's top family-controlled businesses, known as chaebol. The South Korean president faces allegations she played a role when big business groups donated funds for non-profit foundations under the control of her confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether some of the 53 businesses that donated funds received any favours in return.

Samsung's Lee faced most of the questions from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers as the group donated the largest amount of money to the non-profit foundations and also because it was the only group that sponsored the Choi family outside the foundations. They tried to have Lee explain who at Samsung made decisions to sponsor the Choi family, but he evaded answering.

Lawmakers also grilled the 48-year-old heir regarding his one-on-one meetings with President Park, his company's business deal with the Choi family-owned company and a contentious merger of two Samsung companies last year. Lee admitted that the way Samsung sponsored Choi's daughter was not appropriate and that he regrets it.

But most of the time, he answered that he was not aware of it or could not recall details. When asked about how he first knew the secretive confidante of the president, the Samsung leader said he cannot remember.

Some lawmakers' questions went beyond the scandal to other issues such as Samsung semiconductor workers who fell gravely ill and how Lee accumulated wealth. Park Young-sun, an opposition party lawmaker, grilled Lee on how much tax he paid since he received 6 billion won ($5.1 million) from his father 20 years ago, which snowballed to 8 trillion won ($6.8 billion) through complicated business dealings within Samsung and initial offerings of Samsung companies.

Notley's tough sell

Some observers say Alberta's premier will have a difficult job trying to convince British Columbians to support the Trans Mountain pipeline project between the provinces as she began a two-day visit to B.C. on Monday.

Rachel Notley appears to be taking a low-profile approach to her sales pitch. Her itinerary doesn't include any public speaking engagements and she isn't meeting with Premier Christy Clark, who has attached conditions to her government's support for the Kinder Morgan project.

She has scheduled interviews with media outlets to discuss the pipeline expansion, which received federal approval last week to triple the amount of oil already flowing from Edmonton to a marine terminal in Burnaby.

Notley released a statement to mark the start of her visit, saying Alberta and British Columbia share "deep ties and common values."

"The Kinder Morgan pipeline offers an opportunity to show that a strong economy that benefits working families and world-class environmental standards go hand in hand. I look forward to having thoughtful and constructive conversations about the mutual benefits the project will bring to our two provinces."

Notley's office said she will meet Clark in Ottawa later this week during a first ministers meeting. Clark said last week that the federal government is close to meeting B.C.'s five conditions for approval of the pipeline.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver challenged Notley to a public debate on the project, saying she is not engaging with British Columbians during her trip.

Notley's visit is all about making deals to gain the provincial NDP's support for the pipeline expansion, he said.

"It's not about British Columbians, it's about political calculations, and that's what is so frustrating for so many people in Canada," Weaver said.

A spokeswoman for Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan said he will meet with Notley because the two are old friends, but the party remains firm in its opposition to the Trans Mountain project.

Weaver said there's no way the majority of British Columbians will ever support the pipeline expansion because it will dramatically increase tanker traffic off the coast.

"The risk-reward is just not worth it for those of us who live in coastal British Columbia," he said.

Environmental groups and First Nations have promised to continue their vocal opposition to Trans Mountain with court challenges and protests.

Suncor avoids $1.3B tax bill

Suncor Energy says it has successfully defended its accounting practices and avoided a $1.3-billion tax bill sought by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Calgary-based company said Monday that the Tax Court of Canada had ruled in its favour on a tax dispute stemming from how it accounted for losses in 2007.

The CRA had told the company in 2013 that it could be on the hook for the extra taxes because of how hedging losses from the Buzzard offshore field were handled in 2007, when the asset belonged to Petro-Canada.

Suncor said the Tax Court ruling means it won't have to pay any additional taxes, interest or penalties, and that all taxation matters related to the issue are now closed.

The company said it was also in the process of getting back the roughly $657-million security it had provided to the CRA and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario for the potential taxes.


Refinery news welcomed

Dominion Energy Processing Group has announced plans to build a 40,000 barrel a day refinery complex in southeast Saskatchewan.

The company, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Quantum Energy, says the refinery will be built near the town of Stoughton and the Bakken oil formation.

Stoughton Mayor Bill Knous says it's good news.

Knous says the refinery would provide an economic boom at a time when the oil industry is in a slowdown.

Quantum Energy also wants to build a refinery complex in the U.S. in the Bakken oil field.

Shopping, checkout free

Amazon is testing a grocery store model in Seattle that works without checkout lines.

Called Amazon Go, shoppers scan their Amazon app when they enter the store, and then sensors register items that shoppers pick up and automatically charge them to the Amazon app.

If a shopper puts the item back they aren't charged.

The store offers ready-to-eat meals, staples like bread and milk and meal-making kits.

The store is in testing and is open to Amazon employees on a trial run. It is expected to open to the public in early 2017.

The e-commerce powerhouse has also been dipping its toe into the physical realm. It has opened three bookstores in California, Oregon and Washington with traditional check outs. Two more are in the works in Illinois and Massachusetts.

Cowen & Co. analyst John Blackledge says the new grocery store is just one way that Amazon has been setting its sights on the food and beverage category, a lucrative $795 billion market. It also offers grocery delivery in some markets and Prime Now for last-minute items delivered in one or two hours.

Work sucks for young

A new study from Statistics Canada says young people have seen their job quality decline over the last four decades, even as the unemployment rate has remained virtually unchanged.

In a report released today, the national statistics office says fewer young Canadians, who are not full-time students, are working in full-time jobs today than in 1976, a result driven mainly by the rise of part-time work rather than increases in unemployment rates or decreases in labour force participation.

The youth unemployment rate in both 1976 and 2015 was 2.3 times higher than the rate among those aged 25 and older.

Researchers say the declines in full-time work for those aged 17 to 24 have been almost even across the country and mirror international trends of rising part-time and temporary jobs as a share of total employment since the mid-1980s.

Full-time workers aged 25 to 34 were also more likely to hold temporary jobs, but the study says they have been less affected than their younger counterparts.

The study says people under age 25 who were employed full-time have seen their wages fall behind the cost of living since the early 1980s.

Bombardier wins Paris deal

Bombardier Transportation (TSX:BBD.B) says it has won a US$370-million contract from French national railway SNCF to supply 52 more commuter trains for the Paris area.

The trains will be delivered in early 2018.

The order flows from the 2006 framework agreement for up to 372 trains.

Almost 200 of the electric trains built at Bombardier's Crespin plant in France are in service.

Dow hits another record

U.S. stocks are resuming their climb Monday, led by gains in energy companies and banks, sending the Dow Jones industrial average to another record high. Technology companies, which have weakened since the presidential election, recovered some of their recent losses. European stocks were mostly higher, but Italy's market slipped after Italian voters rejected constitutional changes and the country's premier said he would resign.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 49 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 19,219 as of 1:30 p.m. Earlier it rose as high as 19,274. The Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 13 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 2,204. The Nasdaq composite climbed 50 points, or 1 per cent, to 5,305. Small-company stocks on again outpaced the rest of the market.

RUSSELL RISING: Small-company stocks rose more than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 jumped 19 points, or 1.5 per cent, to 1,333. Thanks to a big rally in November, the Russell is up 17 per cent this year, more than twice as much as the S&P 500. Smaller companies, which are more domestically focused than large multinationals, could stand to benefit more than larger companies from a pickup in U.S. growth.

ENERGY: Oil prices rose for the fourth day in a row and reached their highest level since July 2015. Benchmark U.S. oil rose 22 cents to $51.90 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 49 cents to $54.95 a barrel in London.

The rising price of oil sent energy companies higher. ConocoPhillips picked up $1.30, or 2.7 per cent, to $49.42 and Hess rose $1.91, or 3.3 per cent, to $59.83. Chevron, which has surged 27 per cent this year, rose $1.39, or 1.2 per cent, to $114.39.

The price of oil has surged since OPEC countries finalized a deal that will trim oil production starting in January.

Second Cup signs $8M loan

The Second Cup Ltd. (TSX:SCU) has signed a deal for a four-year, $8-million secured term loan from an affiliate of Serruya Private Equity following a review of its strategic options.

The company says proceeds from the loan will be used to repay its existing $6-million credit facility and for general corporate purposes.

Second Cup had established a special committee to review its strategic options. Such moves often result in a sale or other major transaction.

The company said Monday that the special committee has fulfilled its mandate and is no longer required.

The loan carries an interest rate of 10 per cent and includes warrants to purchase up to 600,000 common shares at a strike price of $2.75 per share.

The company has also agreed to nominate someone from Toronto-based Serruya Private Equity to sit on its board of directors.

The Second Cup was founded in 1975 and has more than 295 franchised and company-owned cafes in Canada.

Energy East 'still needed'

New Brunswick's premier says there's still a strong need for the proposed Energy East pipeline despite the federal government's approval of two pipeline expansions in western Canada.

"One way to potentially interpret this is that the Trudeau government has shown that they're willing to approve projects that will get our resources to market," Brian Gallant said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week announced that work can proceed on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and Enbridge Line 3 pipelines, but that has raised speculation the federal government and the oil industry might see less need for TransCanada's pipeline heading east.

Gallant said to really analyze the future of the Energy East pipeline, you have to go back to the fundamentals that make it an interesting project for the country.

"It's going to help stimulate the economy in the short term — creating jobs. It's going to help us diversify our export markets when it comes to oil, and that's as a country. It's going to help us reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and it's going to offer us a safe mode of transportation getting our oil across the country," Gallant said.

The 4,500-kilometre pipeline would cost $15.7 billion and carry 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Energy East spokesman Tim Duboyce said the pipeline will end the need for refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick to import hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil every day, and improve overseas market access for Canadian oil.

"Energy East remains of critical strategic importance," Duboyce said in an email to The Canadian Press.

New Brunswick Energy Minister Rick Doucet said he's convinced there's still a strong business case for Energy East.

"With the amount of crude oil that Alberta is expected to bring online in the coming years, we believe there is enough resource for multiple markets," he said in an emailed statement.

Softwood duties would sting

The imposition of import tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber will place a heavy burden on consumers and U.S. workers, a leading American voice for free trade with Canada says.

The U.S. National Association of Home Builders says duties or volume caps on imported lumber will raise the price of lumber, adding more than $1,300 to the cost of a new single family home.

It also forecasts higher lumber prices will result in a net loss of almost 8,000 jobs if 25 per cent of duties are imposed on Canadian lumber flowing into the U.S. About US$450 million in wages would be lost along with US$320 million in government taxes.

The impact would mainly be felt by the construction industry, but also hit other sectors including mattress firms that use Canadian lumber in bed frames, transportation, finance, insurance and real estate.

Increased lumber prices along with higher interest rates would make new homes less affordable for average consumers. The association, which this year formed the American Alliance of Lumber Consumers, claims that about 153,000 households would no longer qualify for average mortgages with every US$1,000 increase the home prices.

That would hamper the U.S. housing recovery which is slowing improving since the 2008 financial crisis, says Paul Emrath, vice-president survey and housing policy research at the home builder association.

"It's one of the roadblocks and obstacles we're trying to overcome to get back to what should be a long and sustainable rate of production," he said in an interview.

Last week, the U.S. Lumber Coalition petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to impose duties to offset the harm to U.S. mills, workers and communities by what it claims is subsidized Canadian softwood lumber.

The coalition accused the builders of conducting a "highly flawed analysis" to reach its forecast, adding that forestry sector jobs are at risk.

"Insisting on fairness in trade would create more jobs in this sector that would support and strengthen thousands of American communities across the country," it wrote in an email.

Canadian producers dispute the coalition's claims of unfair trade, saying similar assertions were rejected by independent NAFTA panels in the prior round of trade litigation.

Industry analysts expect that following an investigation, the U.S. government will impose preliminary duties next April of between 25 and 40 per cent.

What to watch for in biz

Five things to watch this week in Canadian business:

Pipe Dreams: There are expectations that a pipeline charm offensive in British Columbia could heat up this week. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said she will head to B.C. as early as this week to plead her case for the Trans Mountain expansion. The project has sparked fierce protests, particularly in the Vancouver area.

Interest Rate Announcement: On Wednesday, the Bank of Canada will make its latest interest rate announcement. Since July 2015, the trend-setting rate has been set at 0.5 per cent. It's widely expected to remain on hold, but observers will be looking carefully at the announcement for clues on the state of the economy.

Retail Earnings: As the busy Christmas shopping season enters its final weeks, we will get a good look at how some of Canada's retailers are faring. Hudson's Bay, Sears, Dollarama and Lululemon are among those reporting quarterly results.

Big Banks: The Bank of Montreal will issue its fourth-quarter and full-year results on Tuesday, wrapping up the parade of financial reports from Canada's big banks.

Oilpatch spending: Cenovus Energy Inc. will hold a conference call to discuss its 2017 capital budget. The company will talk about its spending plans for next year in the wake of a decision by OPEC to cut production that has helped boost oil prices.

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