Oil posted a slight gain Thursday, while natural gas rose three per cent as supplies fell more than expected.
Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery hit a low of US$100.13 a barrel before rising in the last 90 minutes of trading to finish the session up 11 cents at US$101.56 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, gained 34 cents to US$108.10 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
Natural gas gained 14 cents to US$4.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Natural gas futures rose after the U.S. Energy Department said supplies fell by 152 billion cubic feet last week to 1.2 trillion cubic feet. Analysts surveyed by Platts expected a drop of 135 billion to 139 billion cubic feet.
U.S. supplies of natural gas are 39 per cent below year-ago levels.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline rose one cent to US$2.95 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) while heating oil fell one cent to US$2.98 a gallon.
(TSX:ECA), (TSX:IMO), (TSX:SU), (TSX:HSE), (NYSE:BP), (NYSE:COP), (NYSE:XOM), (NYSE:CVX), (TSX:CNQ), (TSX:TLM), (TSX:COS), (TSX:CVE)
TORONTO - The Canadian dollar closed higher Thursday amid a strong housing sector report while traders looked ahead to key employment data coming out Friday.
The loonie rose 0.38 of a cent to 90.98 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that the total value of building permits issued by municipalities rose 8.5 per cent to $7 billion in January. That was much higher than the 1.7 per cent rise that economists expected and followed a 4.8 per cent decrease in December.
The agency said the increase in January came from higher construction intentions in the residential sector, which more than offset a decline in the non-residential sector.
Economists looked for the Canadian economy to have created about 15,000 jobs in February.
Markets will also look to American job creation figures from last month on Friday.
Harsh winter conditions have crimped job creation and expectations for the February U.S. non-farm payrolls report are muted. Economists looked for around 145,000 new positions to have been created last month after only 113,000 jobs were created in January.
There was positive news out ahead of that data. Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, declined to 323,000 last week from 348,000, the lowest level in three months.
Markets are still monitoring developments in Ukraine after getting off to a rocky start at the beginning of the week after Russia invaded the countryâ€™s Crimean peninsula. Russia has major military installations in Crimea and many people are Russian speaking.
European leaders said Thursday that Russia will face sanctions unless it withdraws its troops from Crimea or engages in credible talks to defuse the situation.
But leaders appeared divided between countries close to Russiaâ€™s borders and some western economic powerhouses â€” notably Germany â€” that were taking a more dovish line.
On the commodity markets, April crude was up 11 cents to US$101.56 a barrel.
May copper was ahead two cents at US$3.22 a pound while April gold bullion gained $11.50 to US$1,351.80 an ounce.
Overseas, Chinaâ€™s finance minister said Thursday that creating jobs is the governmentâ€™s priority this year and economic growth below the official target of 7.5 per cent might be acceptable. Chinaâ€™s economic growth tumbled to a two-decade low of 7.7 per cent last year.
TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed lower Thursday as traders prepared to take in the release of job creation data Friday. They also absorbed the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine crisis that could see Ukraine break up.
The S&P/TSX composite index declined 32.25 points to 14,271.92.
The Canadian dollar gained 0.38 of a cent to 90.98 cents US amid a better than expected read on building permits in January.
U.S. indexes were mainly higher, with the Dow Jones industrials up 61.71 points to 16,421.89. The Nasdaq declined 5.84 points to 4,352.13 while the S&P 500 index was ahead 3.22 points to 1,877.03.
Harsh winter conditions have crimped job creation and expectations for the February U.S. non-farm payrolls report are muted. Economists expect the report to show around 145,000 new positions were created last month.
But there was positive news out ahead of that data. Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, declined to the lowest level in three months.
In Canada, analysts expect the report to show the economy created about 15,000 jobs last month, according to Thomson Reuters.
Markets were monitoring developments in Ukraine following a rocky start to the week after Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula where it has major military installations and many people are Russian speaking.
On Thursday, lawmakers in Crimea declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days.
Analysts point out that markets are trying to take a pragmatic approach to the issue.
"It doesnâ€™t matter economically," said John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Funds Inc.
"The reality is there is no economic pie to fight over," Stephenson said. "If the Russians rolled into Iran, different story because youâ€™re talking oil, something economic that is of interest in the West, as opposed to wheat and potatoes."
The industrials component lost 0.55 per cent as engineering firm SNC-Lavalin Group (TSX:SNC) reported a quarterly profit of $92.54 million or 61 cents a share, down from $93.84 million a year ago, missing forecasts by a penny. Revenue declined to $2.12 billion in the fourth quarter, down $300 million from a year earlier and its shares fell $1.98 to $46.39.
The consumer discretionary segment was also weak. But shares in Linamar Corp. (TSX:LNR) ran up 78 cents to $50.08 as the auto parts maker posted quarterly net earnings of $68.7 million or $1.06 per share, compared with $30.7 million or 47 cents in the same 2012 period. Revenue increased to $926.1 million from $756.5 million and Linamar increased its quarterly dividend by 25 per cent to 10 cents a share.
The base metals sector led advancers, up 1.72 per cent with May copper two cents higher at US$3.22 a pound.
The gold sector was up about 0.47 per cent while April bullion rose $11.50 to US$1,351.80 an ounce.
April crude ticked 11 cents higher to US$101.56 a barrel and the energy sector was ahead 0.23 per cent.
Canadian Natural Resources' (TSX:CNQ) quarterly adjusted net income came in at 52 cents per share, four cents below estimates. Cash flow per share was $1.64, which was 10 cents below the estimate. Its quarterly dividend will rise to 22.5 cents per shares, up two cents and its shares gained 11 cents to $40.81.
CALGARY - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. says it will slow down its heavy oil output whenever the price gap between that type of crude and its lighter counterpart widens substantially.
President Steve Laut said Thursday it's a new strategy to work around the volatile light-heavy differential, which has caused headaches for industry and the provincial government alike.
In December â€” when the differential was at 40 per cent â€” Canadian Natural (TSX:CNQ) cut heavy oil production by just over 10,500 barrels per day, assuming the gap would narrow in the new year.
Canadian Natural's prediction proved right, with the differential shrinking to 31 per cent in January, 19 per cent in February and 21 per cent in March so far, Laut said.
Some difference between light and heavy crude is normal because of differences in quality and transportation costs.
Withholding some production in anticipation of better market conditions was "good business sense," Laut told conference call with analysts.
"We're creating significant value for shareholders doing that, and that's what we're going to do going forward."
Also Thursday, Canadian Natural provided an update on a bitumen leak at its Primrose oilsands site in eastern Alberta, which began last spring.
The company said it has finished cleaning up three of four sites where an emulsion of bitumen and water was oozing up to the surface, with the last set to be completed before the ground thaws.
At Primrose, Canadian Natural pumps steam underground and allows it to soak into the reservoir before drawing the crude to the surface, a process known as high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation, or HPCSS.
Canadian Natural is seeking approval from the Alberta Energy Regulator to start steaming in the area this month or next, causing alarm amongst environmental groups.
Laut said the steam will be pumped at pressures so low that it would be "impossible" for there to be problems.
Pembina Institute analyst Erin Flanagan said Canadian Natural shouldn't be allowed to use HPCSS near the site of last year's blowout until the regulator has completed its investigation, the results have been made public and the recommendations have been opened to public comment.
"It is premature to debate additional production until this report is complete and has been subject to public review," she said.
"CNRL has made claims that steaming can be resumed safely, but has not backed up those claims by making public the findings of any recent investigations."
On the call, Laut reiterated the company's view that the Primrose issues are "solvable" and that faulty wellbores are to blame. So far, the regulator has not come to the same conclusion. Following a similar event in 2009, it flagged geologic weaknesses as a potential cause.
Earlier Thursday, Canadian Natural raised its dividend by 12.5 per cent or 2.5 cents to 22.5 cents per share â€” the second hike in three months.
The increase came as the company reported a fourth-quarter profit of $413 million or 38 cents per share on $3.95 billion in revenue, up from a profit of $352 million or 32 cents per share on $3.70 billion in revenue a year earlier.
Adjusted for one-time items, profits were $563 million, or 52 cents per share â€” missing the average analyst estimate of 56 cents per share, according to estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters.
For the full year, Canadian Natural earned $2.27 billion or $2.08 per share on $16.15 billion in revenue. That compared with a profit of $1.89 billion or $1.72 per share on $14.59 billion in revenue in 2012.
Total production for the full year averaged 671,162 barrels of oil equivalent per day, representing an increase of three per cent over 2012.
The company credits greater reliability of its huge Horizon oilsands mine and strong production at its Pelican Lake oil pool in Alberta.
John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Funds, said Canadian Natural's story is improving â€” and a lot of that has to do with Horizon.
"I think really for the company, the big issue is how is Horizon tracking, how is it looking? And itâ€™s looking pretty good," he said.
"And not only is it looking pretty good in terms of production but itâ€™s looking good in that the capital expenditures going to fall."
Last month, Canadian Natural announced it would buy Devon Canada's conventional energy business, which includes a lot of natural gas production, for more than $3 billion.
That was a change of direction for CNRL, which had said in early 2013 that it trying to sell off its own natural gas acreage in British Columbia's Montney formation â€” an attempt it abandoned in January.
â€” with files from Malcolm Morrison
â€” Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter
HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's premier isn't ruling out future help for Michelin Canada but Stephen McNeil says any financial assistance will be free of grants to the multinational corporation.
McNeil said Thursday the tire manufacturing giant has not asked for assistance but the government would consider a proposal if it is brought forward.
Michelin had been a good corporate citizen during its time in the province, he said.
"If they see their opportunities for expansion here, then our government would be willing to have the conversation, but there's been no ask," said McNeil.
The Liberal premier was elected last fall after a campaign in which he promised to end so-called giveaways to large corporations.
Asked whether he would break that pledge to keep Michelin in Nova Scotia, McNeil replied: "We've sent a message to companies in this province that were not in the business of giving out free money. We have not ruled out the possibility of being in a loan position with companies."
When prompted for clarification, McNeil said there would be "no grants."
He said the government is sending three cabinet ministers to Pictou County on Friday for discussions with local politicians on how best to respond to the loss of 500 jobs over the next two years at Michelin's plant in Granton.
The company says it will phase out production of small tires at the plant in response to a continuing shift towards larger tires in the North American car tire market.
MONTREAL - The CEO of SNC-Lavalin called 2013 a "year of housekeeping" as the company continued to deal with allegations of corruption and fraud and posted lower profit and revenue in its fourth quarter.
Chief executive Robert Card said Thursday that he expects this year to be one of rebuilding for the Montreal engineering and construction giant.
And by 2015 there should be a "beginning of a return to normalcy," he told financial analysts on a conference call.
"We have made good progress in 2013 on many fronts," Card said. "I'm confident we'll continue this momentum in 2014."
SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) operates around the world and has been dealing with the fallout from multiple allegations of corruption levelled at certain former SNC senior executives, including its former CEO.
The reputation of the Canadian company has been tarnished since it disclosed in March 2012 that an internal investigation found that $56 million in questionable payments had been made.
SNC's former chief executive, Pierre Duhaime, was "relieved of his duties''' and was later charged with fraud involving $22.5 million in payments related to the construction of a Montreal hospital.
Last August, the company disclosed that 32 employees had admitted ethical violations under the company's three-month amnesty program. It was launched after both internal and police investigations into the allegations of fraud and corrupt practices in Canada and abroad.
SNC-Lavalin has since introduced a company-wide ethics and compliance program.
Card noted that SNC-Lavalin received approval last month to bid on public contracts in Quebec and called it a "key milestone."
Quebec's securities regulator gave the authorization in February after months of investigation and has said the company passed all checks from the province's anti-corruption squad and has ensured that all people associated with alleged improprieties have left the company.
The company recently hired a senior executive from Dow Chemical Co. to oversee its governance, ethics and compliance efforts as it works to restore confidence in its practices.
But SNC-Lavalin said it's confident in its long-term outlook and will raise the quarterly dividend to 24 cents per share, a four per cent increase from its current dividend.
In its financial results, the company said that its revenue fell to $2.12 billion in the fourth quarter from $2.42 billion a year earlier.
The $300-million reduction in revenue in the quarter was spread across most of SNC's activities, but was offset by increased revenue from its investments in infrastructure concessions, such as AltaLink, which is Albertaâ€™s largest regulated electricity transmission company.
SNC's overall net income fell to $92.6 million, from $93.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. The decrease would have been bigger without improvements from infrastructure concession investments.
Net income per diluted share fell to 61 cents from 62 cents a year earlier and were a penny below analyst estimates.
Its main operating activities â€” building, operating and maintaining major projects in several industries â€” had a loss of $31.3 million in the quarter, compared with $23.46 million in net income a year before.
Net income from infrastructure concession investments grew to $123.8 million from $70.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2012, offsetting most of the decline in SNC's operating activities.
The company said that several of its divisions â€” infrastructure and environment, oil and gas and mining and metallurgy â€” will continue to face challenges in the coming year.
MONTREAL - Quebec's energy regulator has approved a 4.3 per cent increase in Hydro-Quebec rates as of April 1.
The Regie de l'energie released its decision late Thursday afternoon.
Hydro-Quebec had originally asked for a 5.8 per cent increase but the energy regulator revised several of the Crown utility's calculations.
The increase for large industrial clients will be 3.5 per cent.
Hydro-Quebec cited losses incurred in windmill-energy contracts as one reason for seeking the hikes.
TORONTO - Some of the most active companies traded Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the TSX Venture Exchange:
Toronto Stock Exchange (14,271.92 down 32.25 points):
Artek Exploration Ltd. (TSX:RTK). Oil and gas. Up six cents, or 1.60 per cent, to $3.81 on 8.7 million shares.
Carpathian Gold Inc. (TSX:CPN). Miner. Unchanged at six cents on 6.6 million shares.
Legacy Oil + Gas Inc. (TSX:LEG). Oil and gas. Up 37 cents, or 5.79 per cent, to $6.76 on 6.5 million shares.
Primero Mining Corp. (TSX:P). Miner. Up 10 cents, or 1.33 per cent, to $7.60 on 6.4 million shares.
Santonia Energy Inc. (TSX:STE). Oil and gas. Up one cent, or 0.68 per cent, to $1.47 on 6.1 million shares.
Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K). Miner. Down 11 cents, or 1.97 per cent, to $5.48 on 5.8 million shares.
Toronto Venture Exchange (1,039.36 up 10.08 points):
Enablence Technologies Inc. (TSX:ENA). Communication equipment. Up eight cents, or 266.67 per cent, to 11 cents on 17.9 million shares.
Midlands Minerals Corp. (TSX:MEX). Miner. Up 0.5 cents, or 33.33 per cent, to two cents on 10.2 million shares.
Companies reporting major news:
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ). Oil and gas. Up 11 cents, or 0.27 per cent, at $40.81 on 4.2 million shares. The stock went up even though the company's adjusted earnings of 52 cents per share missed analyst estimates by four cents as the company increase its quarterly dividend by 12.5 per cent, or 2.5 cents, to 22.5 cents per share as both net earnings and revenue improved in the fourth quarter.
Canadian Western Bank (TSX:CWB). Bank. Up 30 cents, or 0.82 per cent, to $36.99 on 541,074 shares. The company says it earned $52.6 million or 65 cents per diluted share, up from $45.5 million or 57 cents per diluted share a year ago. Revenue totalled $151.7 million, up from $133.5 million.
Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB). Oil and gas. Down 25 cents, or 0.51 per cent, to $48.54 on 758,941 shares. After markets closed, the National Energy Board announced it had approved the company's plan to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of its Line 9 pipeline between southern Ontario and Montreal.
SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (TSX:SNC). Engineering and construction. Down $1.98, or 4.09 per cent, to $46.39 on 864,028 shares. The engineering and construction giant reports its fourth-quarter profit and revenue were down as several major divisions faced tough conditions, bringing a close to a difficult year for the company, which has been dealing with fallout related to bribery and corruption allegations against top executives.
Safeway has agreed to be acquired by an investment group led by Cerberus Capital Management, the owner several supermarket chains.
The acquisition is worth about $7.64 billion in cash, and pending other transactions could top more than $9 billion.
The deal, announced late Thursday, will bring together Safeway and Albertsons, one of the five chains that Cerberus bought from Supervalu Inc. last year.
It comes amid ongoing consolidation in the supermarket industry, which is facing growing competition from big-box retailers, specialty chains, drug stores and even dollar stores. Kroger Co., a key competitor, recently snapped up regional chain Harris Teeter.
Safeway said in February that it was looking into putting itself up for sale. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based company has been trying to adapt for some time to increased competition and recently shed some of its smaller, less profitable units, such as its Canadian operations and Dominick's stores in Chicago.
The company has more than 1,300 U.S. locations under banners including Safeway, Vons, Pavilion's, Randall's, Tom Thumb and Carrs.
AB Acquisition LLC, which operates Albertsons, along with Acme, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw's and other stores, is owned by Cerberus and other investors. It operates more than 1,000 stores. Albertsons is based in Boise, Idaho.
Combined, the companies will have more than 2,400 stores, 27 distribution facilities and 20 manufacturing plants.
Safeway and Albertsons say the deal will allow them to better respond to customer needs and lower costs. They also expect to refurbish some stores and expand its product offerings once it is complete.
The deal is expected to close in final three months of this year. It still needs the approval of Safeway shareholders and federal regulators.
Safeway shareholders will receive $32.50 per share in cash. Pending other actions, the company says the deal is worth roughly $40 per share to stockholders.
Shares of Safeway Inc. closed at $39.47 Thursday. Its shares closed at $34.10 on February 18, the day before Safeway announced it was in talks regarding a potential sale.
The stock fell $1.33, or more than 3 per cent, to $38.14 in extended trading after the deal was announced Thursday.
Bob Miller, the current CEO of Albertsons, will become executive chairman of the combined business. Robert Edwards, Safeway's president and CEO, will become president and CEO of the combined company.
The companies said it is too early to determine where it will be based and exactly what its operations will look like following the deal. It does not anticipate any store closings.
Safeway can still actively review other proposals in the coming weeks.
BOBTOWN, Pa. - Critics are raging after an energy giant offered pizza coupons to a community near a natural gas well that exploded last month, killing a worker.
News stories, TV shows and blogs â€” many sarcastic or outright scornful â€” spread the word far and wide. "Shame on you," one person wrote about the offer by Chevron Corp. "How insulting!" said another. Comedy Central's satirical "The Colbert Report" skewered it.
But the 750 or so residents of the hamlet of Bobtown? Not one has signed an online petition demanding an apology for the pizza offer. In fact, during a recent visit, The Associated Press found the talk of the town is more the furious response by outsiders.
"We feel it was something outside groups generated," said Pete Novak, a co-director of the Polish American Club, a local gathering spot. None of the patrons has voiced outrage, he said, and residents laughed about how people who have never set foot in Bobtown claim to speak for its citizens.
Several people noted that Chevron's pizza offer was made to apologize for traffic after the fire, not to downplay the loss of life.
"I thought it was pretty decent of them," said Ray Elli, 54, who noted that the fire was about a mile outside town, on a ridge, and that people in town didn't feel threatened.
Bill Sowden, co-owner of Bobtown Pizza, the area's only restaurant, says 12 people have redeemed the coupons distributed by Chevron. The whole issue, he said, was blown out of proportion.
"We're just a food place," he said.
The outsized reaction from people not directly affected by the accident illustrates the larger passions surrounding the fracking debate. Many critics seek stricter regulations or bans to protect air and water from pollution, while supporters speak of the economic benefits for an energy-hungry nation. Each side claims the high moral ground.
About 12,000 people have signed an online petition demanding Chevron apologize, according to petition organizer Karen Feridun.
"There are a few from nearby communities, but none right from Bobtown," Feridun wrote in emails this week to the AP. She lives about 250 miles away, at the other end of Pennsylvania. The petition isn't even on public display in Bobtown, about 2 miles from the West Virginia border.
One petition signer from New York city mentioned "Chevron's cavalier arrogance." Other signers came from Alaska, Florida and many other states, as well as Australia, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Germany and Italy.
Chevron hasn't responded to the petition, Feridun said.
Company spokesman Kent Robertson said in an email that Chevron works to be a good partner in communities, that it has been "overwhelmed by the support" from residents and that it appreciates their understanding.
For more than a century, the region around Bobtown has been coal country, and there's still an active mine nearby. But in the past five years, natural gas locked in shale deep underground became newly accessible because of the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
On Feb. 11, a Chevron well outside of town exploded, killing Ian McKee, 27, who lived about a half-hour away in Morgantown, W.Va., and worked for a contractor. Five days later, as emergency vehicles clogged some narrow roads around Bobtown, Chevron representatives visited about 100 people, seeking concerns or questions and leaving a gift certificate for a large pizza and 2-litre drink at Bobtown Pizza, which had just opened.
Elli, who was born in Bobtown, said that he feels for the worker who died and his family, but that the well fire didn't threaten other residents. And while there are differing opinions about the drilling boom in the community, he doesn't see a problem with it.
"We need gas. Better than getting it from other countries," he said. His current priority is not getting an apology from Chevron, he said, but getting ready for the spring wild turkey season.
He noted that many locals have made money off the drilling boom, both from royalties â€” which can reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for landowners â€” and jobs.
Overall, Pennsylvanians support the drilling boom, said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. A January poll by the school found that 64 per cent of respondents somewhat or strongly favour the gas drilling industry, compared with 27 per cent who somewhat or strongly oppose it. In some conservative rural areas with active drilling, the support is even higher.
"I think it's pretty fascinating that folks in the community" aren't openly upset with Chevron, Madonna said, agreeing that such kerfuffles are surrogates in the political battle over American energy production.
Novak had some advice for all the people who think they know how Bobtown residents feel: "Come to this small rural area and see for themselves."
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Publication has been cancelled for a planned book based on a popular and anonymous Twitter feed about Goldman Sachs and the financial industry.
Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, announced Thursday it would not release John Lefevre's "Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance and Excess in the World of Investment Banking," which had been scheduled to come out in October.
"In light of information that has recently come to our attention since acquiring John Lefevre's 'Straight to Hell,'" Touchstone has decided to cancel its publication of this work."
Touchstone spokesman Brian Belfiglio said the publisher would have no further comment.
The Twitter feed, @GSElevator, had hundreds of thousands of followers and purported to offer an inside and irreverent take on the financial giant. But just weeks after Touchstone announced in January that it had reached a deal with the feed's purported author, The New York Times revealed his identity as John Lefevre, a former bond executive who was based in Texas and had never worked for Goldman Sachs, despite earlier public comments that he did.
Touchstone initially defended Lefevre, saying that he had not misled them and that publication would continue as planned. But earlier this week, Lefevre posted an open letter on businessinsider.com saying the Twitter account was "not a person at all. It's the embodiment or aggregation of 'every banker,' a concentrated reflection of a Wall Street culture and mentality."
"The issue of my anonymity was simply a device, and one that has suited the construct of the Twitter feed," he wrote. "For the avoidance of any doubt, any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overheard in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot."
An agent for Lefevre did not immediately respond to a message left Thursday for comment.
TORONTO - Ontario will take a "huge leap' with proposed legislation to expand the powers of the ombudsman to provide oversight of municipalities, universities and school boards, Ombudsman Andre Marin said Thursday.
Those three sectors get over $30 billion a year in direct provincial funding with virtually no oversight on how they spend it, said Marin.
"It's going to allow Queenâ€™s Park to follow the money," he said. "The oversight of municipalities will include all the different boards within the cities, for example the police services board, so it's going to be a huge leap in jurisdiction."
Marin said his office has had to turn away about 2,000 complaints a year because it had no jurisdiction over those areas, leaving people with virtually nowhere to turn.
The bill would also give Ontario's children's advocate new powers to deal with complaints about children's aid societies, and create a new patient ombudsman for hospitals, long-term care homes and community care access centres.
Marin, who has long pushed for the authority to investigate the so-called MUSH sector â€” municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals â€” said he didn't think a separate patient Ombudsman was the right way to go. He wanted his office to handle those duties.
"We'll call it the MUS sector, because we lost the H," quipped Marin. "The patient ombudsman unfortunately reports to the bowels of the bureaucracy, not to the minister, not to the legislative assembly." As an independent officer of the legislature, Marin reports directly to the legislative assembly.
However, Marin did welcome the fact the government is moving to give patients with complaints about the health-care sector somewhere to turn.
"At long last, Ontario is poised to rectify the accident of history that left millions of citizens with nowhere to complain about the public bodies that touched their lives most closely," he said.
Government Services Minister John Milloy said the Liberals decided it would be best not to give the ombudsman additional powers to provide oversight for hospitals, long-term care homes and children in custody of the state.
"There was a feeling that a sector-specific ombudsperson who could look into that whole range of issues, who would have the expertise to look into health-care issues was the way to go," he said. "The same with the children's aid societies, to give it to an officer of parliament, the child advocate."
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the bill would also force MPPs to post their expenses online and give government the power to impose caps on salaries of public sector executives, including hospital CEOs and officials at Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and the LCBO.
"I came into this office, just over a year ago, saying I was going to do government differently, that we were going to open up and be more transparent, and that is what we're doing," she said.
There's no details yet on what sort of salary caps the Liberals would impose, but Wynne said it would be done on a sector by sector basis, with differing limits on total compensation packages.
"This legislation will pave the way for those hard caps to be put in place," she said.
The Opposition said the Liberals had 10 years to be open and transparent, but instead tried to cover up their decisions to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election at a cost of $1.1 billion, and have no credibility on accountability.
"This is the most corrupt government possibly in the history of Ontario," said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. "If you actually want transparency and accountability in government, then change the government."
Wynne rejected accusations the bill was simply crass political opportunism because the Liberals know it stands little chance of being approved before a vote on the spring budget, which could trigger a provincial election.
"I can't predict what the outcome of the introduction of the budget is going to be, but I expect that there should be all-party support for this," she said. "The politics of election or not, that is a separate issue from doing government in a way that is accountable to the people of Ontario."
Another measure in the bill, which Wynne said would be introduced in a few weeks, would clarify the rules for keeping government documents so they aren't destroyed in an attempt to avoid freedom of information requests.
Police are currently investigating the deletion of emails by officials in former premier Dalton McGuinty's office related to the Liberals' $1.1 billion decision to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election. There is also another police investigation into financial irregularities at the province's Ornge air ambulance service.
Alberta is back in the black when it comes to day-to-day spending, but the good times are being underwritten with billions of dollars in debt, which is now at $14 billion and rising.
The province will run a consolidated surplus of $1.1 billion, the first surplus in six years, in the 2014-15 fiscal year, Finance Minister Doug Horner said Thursday.
There will be no new taxes and no tax increases, and Alberta will retain its status as Canada's only province without a sales tax.
There is money for 40 more Mounties, 50 news schools and 2,000 new spaces for post-secondary students.
And there is cash to complete twinning of the overburdened and dangerous highway to the oilsands hub of Fort McMurray.
Horner said the province is also earmarking $1.1 billion over the next three years to help Calgary and southern Alberta recover from last year's extensive flooding.
But Alberta is projected to rack up $14.5 billion in debt this year and $21 billion by 2017 — most of it for roads, schools and hospitals for the tens of thousands of newcomers arriving each year.
Horner said it doesn't make sense to dip into Alberta's savings accounts — pegged to reach $24 billion this year — when they're making an 11 per cent return on investment while borrowing costs are less than four per cent.
"This is the right financial plan for the current situation, with interest rates at 50-year lows," Horner said before delivering the budget speech in the legislature.
"If we don't do this, then you stymie the growth in your economy."
But all three opposition parties said the budget is evidence the Tories are grossly mismanaging the economy, noting that the previous debt ceiling of $17 billion has now gone up.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said finance charges on the debt will be crippling by 2017.
"This government has now locked us into spending at least $820 million in finance charges for the next 30 years. That is money that's just wasted, flushed down the drain," said Smith.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and NDP Leader Brian Mason said despite a better bottom line, the Tories have not restored cuts to programs and services made in last year's spending document.
"How is it possible in such a wealthy place, we're going into debt and we're cutting public services?" asked Sherman.
Mason noted that even with increases in this year's budget, only two-thirds of last year's $147-million cut to post-secondary school operating budgets has been restored, leaving the burden to fall on students and their families.
"It's austerity for us, and for corporate sponsors of this government and this government itself," said Mason. "They'll be continuing to live high off the hog."
Alberta has been running deficit budgets since the global economy tanked in 2008, taking oil prices with it. It avoided long-term debt for a time by draining $17 billion from its short-term savings account.
Horner is crediting this year's surplus to rebounding oil and natural gas prices and to a lower Canadian dollar, which helps Alberta's export-based economy.
Non-renewable resource revenue is forecast at $9.2 billion, almost seven per cent higher than last year.
The budget estimates the benchmark West Texas Intermediate price for oil will average US$95.22 a barrel this fiscal year and the Canadian dollar will be average US$0.91. Oil was trading at US$101.56 Thursday afternoon and a dollar was worth about US$0.91.
Total revenue is forecast at $44.4 billion and total operational expenses at $38.5 billion. Spending is up by 3.7 per cent over last year.
The rainy-day savings contingency fund is earning money again and is expected to reach its maximum $5 billion in 2015.
When the long-term Heritage Savings Trust Fund is included, total government savings are expected to be $24 billion this year and $26 billion by 2017.
Total tax revenue is forecast to be $21.1 billion, five per cent higher than last year due to population and economic growth. Alberta's population recently surpassed four million people.
On the spending side, $1 billion more will go to health, education, post-secondary education and social programs.
Cities are to get $150 million more over the next three years to pay for roads and recreation centres as they see fit. They are currently getting $846 million a year.
The education budget is going up to $6.7 billion to accommodate an extra 18,000 students.
Horner's opponents maintained that the government's number crunching is jiggery-pokery and that the capital debt needs to be factored into the day-to-day bottom line.
All three said that by their math, Alberta is running a deficit this year. The NDP says it's a $1.1-billion shortfall, the Wildrose estimates it at $3 billion and the Liberals at $3.9 billion.
The watchdog Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates it is $4.9 billion.
Horner has argued that the opposition math is off kilter.
He likened the government borrowing to investing in an asset, such as a mortgage, which should not be included in day-to-day expenses.
Derek Fildebrandt of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said he wishes the government's debt was like a mortgage.
"When you have a mortgage, your mortgage gets smaller every year," said Fildebrandt.
"The government's plan is to take that debt and make it larger every year."
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The man Newsweek claims is the founder of Bitcoin denies he had anything to do with the digital currency.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press Dorian S. Nakamoto, 64, said he had never heard of Bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a reporter three weeks ago.
Reached at his home in Temple City, Calif., Nakamoto acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek's report are correct, including that he once worked for a defence contractor. But he strongly disputes the magazine's assertion that he is "the face behind Bitcoin."
Since Bitcoin's birth in 2009, the currency's creator has remained a mystery. The person â€”or peopleâ€” behind its founding have been known only as "Satoshi Nakamoto," which many observers believed to be a pseudonym.
WASHINGTON - Orders to U.S. factories fell in January for a second straight month but a key category that signals business investment plans rebounded. That could be an indication that businesses are becoming more confident.
Factory orders dipped 0.7 per cent in January, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. That followed an even bigger 2 per cent decline December, which was a larger decrease than first reported and the biggest decline since July. The weakness in both months was led by large declines in demand for commercial aircraft.
Orders for core capital goods, a proxy for business investment, rose 1.5 per cent in January, recovering after a 1.6 per cent drop in December.
Demand for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, were down 1 per cent in January while non-durable goods orders slipped 0.4 per cent.
The estimate for durable goods was unchanged from a preliminary report. The weakness reflected a 20.2 per cent plunge in orders for commercial aircraft, a drop that followed an even bigger 22.3 per cent fall in December. Orders for motor vehicles and parts fell 0.9 per cent, the second straight decline. Analysts say weakness in this area will be reversed given expectations for continued gains in new car sales.
Orders for primary metals such as iron, steel and aluminum, dropped 1.2 per cent while demand for machinery was down 0.7 per cent and computer orders fell 46 per cent.
Many economists say that manufacturing has gone through a soft patch but will be emerging to stronger growth in coming months.
That expectation is based on the view that the overall economy, after slowing in the final three months of last year and the first quarter this year, will rebound to stronger growth. Many economists are forecasting that the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, could expand at an annual rate of around 3 per cent in 2014, up significantly from last year's 1.9 per cent gain.
Last year, growth was held back by higher taxes which dampened consumer demand and across-the-board spending cuts by the federal government. It is estimated those two factors cut growth by about 1.5 percentage points. However, those adverse impacts are now waning. With the labour market expected to keep expanding, the hope is that growth will reach the fastest pace since before the 2007-2009 recession.
The Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, reported Monday that its closely watched manufacturing gauge rose to 53.2 in February, up from 51.3 in January.
The increase only partly reversed a five-point drop in January, but economists were encouraged that the direction was positive. Any reading above 50 indicates manufacturing is expanding.
For February, the index rose in part because of an increase in both new and backlogged orders. There was strength in other areas as well. Four of the 18 industries that are tracked by the survey reported growth.
TORONTO - Julie Barker-Merz recalls shooting up the corporate ladder very quickly when she started at the bank nearly two decades ago. But by the time she became a manager in her mid-30s, she was no longer ascending while her male counterparts kept moving up.
Now the vice-president and chief operating office at BMO Insurance, Barker-Merz said it made her reassess why she was being judged purely on her performance, while her colleagues were being judged only by their potential.
"But I did break through (the glass ceiling)," she said, citing the importance of women in the industry supporting each other.
"As women, we all need our tribe, people we can call and get our support from," said Barker-Merz. "As leaders, we have that responsibility to help start that and spark that flame."
Barker-Merz was part of a panel of top female executives at the Bank of Montreal on Wednesday who discussed the need for the financial industry to change its ways if it wants to succeed at recruiting more female employees.
Charyl Galpin, who is co-head of BMO Nesbitt Burns, said the industry is beginning to understand the value of attracting women into adviser roles amid changing demographics.
"There's been a lot of change and a lot of recognition that it's a diversity of skill sets that makes a great company," Galpin, who is also a managing director and executive vice-president. "We should be exploiting every opportunity to do that."
Galpin said young workers, particularly women, have been traditionally turned off by a perception that the investment industry is an ultra-competitive workplace defined by long hours and a lack of female mentors.
"The (investment) field has been very slow in moving in that direction, of trying to find ways of letting junior employees have a life outside of work," said Alison Konrad, the Corus Entertainment chair in Women in Management at the Ivey Business School.
The lack of gender diversity in the financial sector, and in other male-dominated industries like consulting, oil, gas and mining, has been a hot-button topic during the past year with the Ontario Securities Commission considering proposals on how to increase the number of women on corporate boards.
In January, the OSC proposed that all publicly-listed businesses be required to disclose targets for the number of women in high-ranking positions as directors and executive officers on their boards, reveal how they search and select candidates and decide who to hire.
The recommendations, which will be revisited in April, shied away from enforcing hard quotes, which some observers said was the only way to enforce change. Others argued that a quota system would force the promotion of unqualified candidates solely to meet gender requirements.
Konrad said industries reluctant to make changes internally will find it most difficult to improve on gender diversity.
"Some of those industries rule themselves out for female talent because they can't get outside the traditional box in how they organize the work," she said.
Karin Mizgala, co-founder of the for-profit advocacy group the Women's Financial Learning Centre, estimates that only about 20 per cent of advisers in Canada are female.
"It really is a shame," said Mizgala.
"Knowing the actual mechanics of investments is important, but not as important as understanding the clients. A lot of women may just shy away from the role as an adviser if they think it's just all about the numbers but it should be more thinking about the holistic side of things."
But the financial industry is making changes. In February, a new policy at BMO Capital Markets requires junior employees to take off at least one weekend a month. In April, BMO Nesbitt Burns will begin a recruitment campaign on its investment website to dispel some of the myths around working conditions in the financial sector.
Galpin said technology has changed, allowing employees more flexibility to manage work amid other family commitments, which is attractive to all employees.
"It's not just a women's issue anymore," said Galpin, who started at the bank 35 years ago as a teller.
"It's not about balance. The new word is integration now. How does your work life work with your personal life? "
Meanwhile, a BMO survey released Thursday found that 55 per cent of Canadians recently polled say they think there is still a "glass ceiling" for women in the financial services industry, while 62 per cent of women agreed with the statement.
Two-thirds of Canadians polled say men have more career opportunities than their female colleagues, while 87 per cent say women need to do more to help their female employees strike a balance between work and home life. Eighty-nine per cent of women agreed.
The survey was conducted with an online sample of 1,009 Canadians between Feb. 21-24.
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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Kroger said its ability to keep its supermarkets open and well-stocked as customers rushed to hoard groceries ahead of winter storms helped boost its results in the fourth quarter.
The nation's largest supermarket operator on Thursday said a key sales figure climbed for the period and issued a better-than-expected profit for the year ahead. The company, which operates, Ralphs, Fry's, Food 4 Less and other chains, noted that it sped up deliveries several days ahead of storms to ensure shelves would be replenished.
"In some cases, our associates even welcomed stranded travellers in extreme freezing conditions to spend the night in one of our stores," CEO Rodney McMullen said during a call with analysts, referencing instances where stores in Atlanta took in people.
That helps cultivate trust among customers that Kroger stores will be open when they're most needed, McMullen said.
The positive benefit of the winter weather is in contrast to many other companies that have cited the conditions for weaker results. At Kroger, executives noted that one of the benefits is that people don't stick to shopping lists when stocking up before storms.
Kroger, based in Cincinnati, has also fared better than its peers more broadly in adapting to intensifying competition. In particular, people are getting their groceries from a wider variety of places, including big-box retailers like Target, specialty chains like Whole Foods, drugstores and dollar stores.
To keep pace, Kroger has adapted its store formats, developing both larger and smaller locations to compete in different segments of the market. It's also trying to keep prices down and improve the in-store experience.
For the period ending Feb. 1, Kroger Co. said sales at established locations rose 4.3 per cent, excluding fuel.
By comparison, Safeway last month said the figure rose 1.6 per cent in its latest quarter. The company, based in Pleasanton, Calif., has put itself up for sale amid ongoing consolidation in the industry.
Kroger, which recently snapped up regional chain Harris Teeter, declined to comment on whether it's interested buying a piece of Safeway. Cerberus Capital Management, which last year led an investor group that bought five chains from Supervalu, also declined to comment on its interest.
For the quarter, Kroger earned $422 million, or 81 cents per share. Excluding one-time items, it earned 78 cents per share, topping the 72 cent per share Wall Street expected.
Revenue slipped to $23.22 billion, reflecting the shorter quarter with one less week compared with last year. But the results were above the $23.15 billion analysts expected.
The company also said it expects to earn between $3.14 and $3.25 in the year ahead, which is more than the $3.12 analysts expected.
Shares of Kroger were up 2 per cent at $44.63.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi
CALGARY - Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton says whatever the decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, it's important that Canada and the United States retain a good working relationship.
"I think it's important not to let whatever that decision is on one pipeline colour the potential for co-operation ... between the United States and Canada on energy production and climate change," Clinton told about 2,500 business leaders at a private event in Calgary on Thursday.
She offered little assurance to the oil and natural gas sector about approval for the proposed pipeline.
"I have nothing more to add to that or on what will happen."
The $5.4-billion pipeline would carry bitumen from the oilsands in northern Alberta to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. The project has been in limbo for more than five years and has become a symbol of the political debate over climate change.
"What pipeline?" Clinton joked during a question-and-answer period with former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna following the speech.
"This is a pipeline that crosses our international border and so falls under the perview of the State Department," she said.
"During the four years I was the secretary, there was a very comprehensive process that took into account many different factors, including some of the concerns ... (such as) pipeline capacity as well as jobs. I can't comment any further than that.
"It's still an ongoing process and ultimately Secretary (John) Kerry will have to make a decision."
Kerry is leading a regulatory review of Calgary-based TransCanada Corp.'s (TSX:TRP) pipeline proposal and is accepting public comments, including a letter of support from the Canadian government.
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