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From swoon to surge: US stocks reach record levels after Japan's surprise economic stimulus

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The U.S. stock market is capping a seesaw month by jumping to all-time highs just two weeks after enduring its worst slump since 2012.

Global markets roared higher after Japan's central bank committed to a huge increase in its purchases of bonds and other assets, the country's latest effort to shake off two decades of stagnation. In the U.S., stocks extended a late-month rally that has been powered by strong corporate earnings.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 174 points, or 1 per cent, to 17,369 as of 1:13 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 19 points, or 1 per cent, to 2,014 and the Nasdaq composite rose 60 points, or 1.2 per cent, to 4,626.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 index are back at record highs and the Nasdaq composite is at its highest level in 14 years.

The Bank of Japan surprised investors by announcing it would increase its bond and asset purchases by 10 trillion yen to 20 trillion yen ($90.7 billion to $181.3 billion) to about 80 trillion yen ($725 billion) annually. The announcement came after economic data showed that Japan's economy remained in the doldrums.

The move comes only two days after the U.S. Federal Reserve brought an end to its own bond-buying program. Investors have been hopeful that the European Central Bank might also start buying bonds to stimulate that region's economy by keeping interest rates low and injecting cash into the financial system. That form of stimulus is called quantitative easing, also known among investors as "QE."

"The Japanese central bank has taken the QE baton from the Fed, and equity traders couldn't be happier," said David Madden, market analyst at IG.

Japan's stock market rose 4.8 per cent to the highest level since 2007.

The yen weakened sharply following the Bank of Japan's announcement. The yen slumped 2.6 per cent against the dollar to 112 yen. The Japanese currency is trading at the lowest level in more than five years. Japanese companies typically like a weak Japanese yen because it makes their exported goods cheaper abroad.

After a volatile month, U.S. stocks are on pace to end October broadly higher. The Dow and S&P 500 are up 2 per cent for the month, while the Nasdaq is up nearly 3 per cent. All three indexes had been down as much as 3 to 5 per cent for October only two weeks ago.

European stock markets rose broadly following the Bank of Japan's announcement on hopes that the ECB could be tempted to follow Japan's lead in stepping up stimulus measures. However, few think anything will be announced at the ECB's next policy meeting next Thursday.

"The willingness of the Bank of Japan to ease further in the fight against deflation will encourage those who think the ECB should be doing the same," said Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.3 per cent. France's CAC 40 jumped 2.2 per cent and Germany's DAX climbed 2.3 per cent.

In the U.S., GoPro jumped $10.61, or 16 per cent, to $78.886. The maker of small, wearable video cameras posted profit and revenue that was well ahead of analysts' projections. The company also raised its profit forecast for the fourth quarter.

The price of U.S. benchmark crude oil fell $1.12to $80 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price oil in international markets, dipped 84 cents to $86.28 in London.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.34 per cent from 2.31 per cent Thursday.

The Canadian Press


US consumer spending retreats in September, first setback in 8 months

WASHINGTON - U.S. consumer cut spending in September for the first time in eight months, as incomes grew at the slowest pace this year. The figures underscore nagging economic soft spots that are expected to ease in the coming months.

Consumer spending slipped 0.2 per cent in September, the Commerce Department reported Friday, the weakest performance since an identical decline in January. Income edged up 0.2 per cent in September in the smallest monthly gain since a flat reading last December.

Shoppers appeared to take a breather after a big spending spree in August, which lifted consumer spending 0.5 per cent. Economists say September's downturn shouldn't last, especially amid a strengthening job market and a growing economy.

Spending, which accounts for 70 per cent of economic activity, has fallen only three times since the recession ended in 2009.

Economists blamed the weak September spending figure on falling energy prices and slower auto sales after a surge the previous month.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said he expects consumer spending to accelerate to a 2.5 per cent rate in the current October-December quarter, faster than the 1.8 per cent spending gain in the third quarter.

"The next couple of months will see spending pick up strongly as people start to spend their windfall from falling gas prices," Shepherdson said.

In September, spending on durable goods such as autos dropped a sizable 2 per cent after a 2.1 per cent jump in August. Spending on nondurable goods such as clothing, food and gasoline, was down 0.3 per cent, while spending on services such as doctor's visits and utilities posted a modest 0.2 per cent rise.

Lower prices at the pump mean consumers will have more to spend on other items.

Another reason for optimism is continued strong job growth, which pushed the unemployment rate down to a six-year low of 5.9 per cent in September. More people working means higher incomes and more fuel to drive consumer spending.

The small rise in income and the decline in spending in September resulted in a slight increase in the saving rate.

Savings as a percentage of after-tax income rose to 5.6 per cent in September, up from 5.4 per cent in August. The saving rate averaged 4.9 per cent in 2013, down from 7.2 per cent in 2012. That had been the highest level in nearly two decades as Americans worked to boost savings following the 2007-2009 recession.

Inflation as measured by a gauge tied to consumer spending edged up a slight 0.1 per cent in September, with prices up just 1.4 per cent over the last 12 months. That is well below the 2 per cent target for annual price increases which the Federal Reserve considers an optimal level for inflation.

The government reported Thursday that the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of 3.5 per cent in the July-September quarter. Analysts believe after five years of sub-par economic growth, the economy has finally accelerated, helped by solid employment growth.

Economists project growth of 3 per cent in the current quarter, helped by solid consumer spending. They are also forecasting 3-per cent growth in 2015, which would be the strongest level since 2005, two years before the start of the Great Recession.

The improving economy prompted the Federal Reserve this week to end its third round of bond purchases, which have pushed the central bank's balance sheet up by more than $3 trillion over the past six years. The Fed bought the bonds as a way to put downward pressure on long-term interest rates and provide an extra boost to the economy after it had slashed its key short-term rate to a record low near zero.

The Canadian Press

Former Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman John Forzani dies at 67

CALGARY - John Forzani, a former offensive lineman with the Stampeders who became a prominent businessman in Calgary after his CFL career ended, died Friday. He was 67.

The Stampeders confirmed Forzani's passing in a statement Friday morning. The Calgary native had been on life support in a California hospital after suffering a heart attack.

After attending Utah State, John Forzani won a Grey Cup in 1971 in his first of six seasons with Calgary. He played alongside his brothers Tom and Joe.

Forzani's nephew, Johnny, was also with the club from 2010 to '12.

"John's passion for community and football were singularly essential in the revival of the Stamps' important role in the community," Stampeders chairman Ken King said in a statement. "It is one, among many, of his great legacies. I will miss him dearly."

Commissioner Mark Cohon said the CFL family was saddened by the news of Forzani's passing.

"As a league, we are immensely proud to say he was one of ours," he said in a statement. "As individuals, we are so grateful to have known him. On the field, John was a Grey Cup champion. In business, he epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit. In the community, he supported causes he believed in. And as a member of our Board of Governors, and an owner of the Calgary Stampeders, he did much to move the CFL forward.

"Gregarious and outgoing, John was a joy to be around. He not only demonstrated to us all how to reach lofty goals; he showed us how to enjoy the journey as well. Our thoughts are with his family. Like all of his other friends across the country, we will miss him, and remember him."

After retiring from football, Forzani built a chain of successful sporting goods stores exceeding 500 outlets. That chain, FGL Sports, was sold to Canadian Tire in 2011.

Forzani also established Calgary's annual Mother's Day Run and Walk in 1977, a fundraising event which continues to this day.

In 2000, the Forzani Foundation was established to assist charities including Canadian amateur athletics.

Forzani was also part of a local group that purchased the Stampeders in '05. The Calgary Flames became majority owners of the football franchise in '12 but Forzani retained a minority stake and was the team's co-chair in 2013.

Upon the arrival of the ownership group that included Forzani, the Stampeders went from a 4-14 team in 2004 to 11-7 the following season. The club has posted a winning record in nine of 10 seasons since.

Stampeders president Gordon Norrie said Forzani will forever be a key figure in the CFL club's history.

"This is a very sad day for the organization and we feel the weight of this great loss," he said. "There is absolutely no doubt the Stampeders are a better organization and team because of the efforts and dedication of John and his partners.

"On behalf of the entire organization, I extend my condolences to John's wife Linda and his children Jodi and Michael."

John Hufnagel, the Stampeders head coach and GM, was also a former teammate of Forzani's.

"I'm very saddened by John's passing," said Hufnagel. "He was a teammate, a friend and a hunting buddy.

"John was very instrumental in my return to the Stampeders organization in 2008 and I'm very proud of what we were all able to build here together."

Forzani is survived by his wife Linda and grown children Mike and Jodi.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

The Canadian Press

Claude Resources ordered to pay $172K for fuel spill in northern Saskatchewan

LA RONGE, Sask. - Claude Resources has been ordered to pay a penalty of $172,000 for a fuel spill almost two years ago at its Seabee gold mine in northern Saskatchewan.

The mining company recently pleaded guilty to one charge under the federal Fisheries Act and one charge under Saskatchewan's environmental legislation.

The charges were laid after 24,000 litres of diesel fuel leaked from a storage tank at the mine, which is 125 kilometres northeast of La Ronge.

An investigation found that the tank, which was 35 metres from the north shore of Laonil (LYE'-oh-nihl) Lake, had not been serviced by a certified installer.

The fuel spilled when a connection point failed.

Enforcement officials concluded that the spill was preventable and Claude Resources was charged.

The spill affected an area along the bank and shoreline, and had to be contained within a boom on the lake.

"It is very important that owners and operators of fuel storage tanks in our province abide by the regulations under the Environmental Management and Protection Act," Ken Aube of Saskatchewan's Environment Ministry said in a release Friday.

The Canadian Press

Canadian dollar lower amid subpar economic performance during August

TORONTO - The Canadian dollar plunged almost three-quarters of a U.S. cent late morning Friday as economic growth for August missed already modest expectations. The loonie was also under pressure amid a move by the Bank of Japan to stimulate the world's third largest economy.

The loonie was down 0.7 of a cent to 88.62 cents US to as Statistics Canada reported that gross domestic product dipped 0.1 per cent against the flat showing that economists had expected.

TD Economics said that the report "is consistent with real GDP growth tracking around two per cent annualized for the third quarter."

It represents a marked slowdown from the 3.1 per cent increase recorded in the second quarter "but it's still respectable."

Meanwhile, markets were surprised overnight as the Bank of Japan expanded a key stimulus program aimed at boosting the world's third-largest economy.

The bank will increase its purchases of government bonds and other assets by between 10 trillion yen and 20 trillion yen (US$91 billion to $181 billion) to about 80 trillion yen (US$725 billion) in total annually.

Bank governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the increase was required to prevent a reversal into a "deflationary mindset" that the country's leaders contend has stymied growth for many years. The bank judged the move necessary in the wake of weakening consumer demand following a consumption tax hike and the recent substantial decline in oil prices, which have been exerting downward pressure on inflation.

The move by the Japanese central bank comes at a point when the U.S. Federal Reserve is winding up its marquee stimulus program. The Fed's quantitative easing program has been a fixture since the 2008 financial crisis.

It announced Wednesday that the third such QE exercise would end at the end of October.

Gold prices have been a major casualty of the Fed move.

That is because the QE program of massive bond purchases had elevated inflation concerns. Traders had bought into gold as an inflation hedge but the program is now wrapping up and inflation is tame in most parts of the world.

The December bullion contract dropped $33.10 to US$1,165.50 an ounce on top of a $26 slide Thursday.

Also working against gold and other commodity prices has been a U.S. dollar that strengthened following the Fed's decision and moved higher against other currencies Friday following the Bank of Japan announcement. A stronger greenback makes it more expensive for holders of other currencies to buy oil and metals, which are dollar-denominated.

December crude fell 87 cents to US$80.25 a barrel and December copper added to Thursday's four-cent decline, down a cent to US$3.05 a pound.

At the same time, currency analysts are pointing out that the Bank of Japan move has the potential to spark a currency war.

The yen fell sharply following the Bank of Japan announcement and "a weaker yen is clearly part of the (bank's) strategy," said Camilla Sutton, Chief FX Strategist, Managing Director Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets.

"A weaker yen has significant implications for the other Asian currencies in the region (and) a weaker yen, combined with a weaker euro, have negative growth implications for the U.S."

The Canadian Press

Imperial profits rise during third quarter on strong refinery performance

CALGARY - Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO) posted a 45 per cent increase in third-quarter profits thanks to strong performance in its refining and chemical business.

The major oil producer and refiner, majority owned by ExxonMobil Corp., said net income for the third quarter was $936 million, or $1.10 per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 98 cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

During the same quarter a year earlier, profits were $647 million, or 76 cents per share.

The downstream part of Imperial's business, which includes refineries in Alberta and Ontario, had profits of $343 million versus just $46 million a year earlier. The refineries ran more reliably and benefited from cheaper crude.

Imperial's chemical business had a record quarter with profits of $66 million, up from $39 million a year earlier.

The upstream side of the business, which includes vast oilsands operations around Fort McMurray and Cold Lake, Alta., had weaker performance for some of the same reasons the downstream thrived.

The impact of lower prices for both synthetic crude oil, and the bitumen from which it's derived, was about $200 million. Higher royalties and operating costs were also a drag. Overall, upstream net income was $532 million, 12 per cent lower than a year earlier.

Bitumen production from the Kearl oilsands mine averaged 78,000 barrels per day during the quarter. Without two weeks of planned maintenance work factored in, production would have averaged 92,000 barrels per day. The mine's planned capacity is for 110,000 barrels per day.

CIBC World Markets analyst Arthur Grayfer said Kearl performed better than expected.

"This is encouraging and suggests the company is on track to consistently achieve capacity around year end," he wrote in a note to clients.

An $8.9-billion expansion project that would add another 110,000 barrels per day to Kearl is 97 per cent complete. It's currently tracking ahead of its schedule of starting up in late 2015.

In August, Imperial and its partner Kinder Morgan announced they're doubling the capacity of their planned Edmonton rail terminal to 210,000 barrels per day. The terminal would enable Alberta crude to get to market on trains as major pipeline proposals remain mired by delays. It's on track to start up early next year.

Imperial shares rose more than three per cent to $53.42 in late morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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The Canadian Press

Feds closer to black ink as deficit slips to $300 million in August

OTTAWA - The federal government inched closer to a budget surplus in August as the deficit slipped to about $300 million for the month, down from $2 billion in August 2013.

In its monthly Fiscal Monitor, the department said the deficit for the April to August period shrank to $1.1 billion, compared with $6.6 billion in the same period last year.

For August alone, revenues were down $7 million, as increases in personal income tax and GST were offset by a decrease in corporate income tax revenues.

Program expenses decreased by $1.6 billion, or 8.4 per cent, largely reflecting a decrease in direct program expenses.

Personal income tax revenues were up by $700 million for the month, but corporate tax revenues were down by $1.2 billion.

Excise taxes and duties were up $500 million, or 14.3 per cent, mostly due to a $400 million jump in GST revenues. Revenues from EI premiums rose by $100 million, reflecting higher earnings.

Transfers to people, including elderly, EI and children's benefits increased by $100 million, or 2.4 per cent.

Transfers to other levels of government rose by $200 million.

Direct program expenses were down $2 billion.

Public debt charges fell by $0.1 billion, or 4.9 per cent.

For the April-August period, total revenues rose by $4.4 billion or 4.2 per cent, to $108.2 billion.

Personal income taxes for the period totalled $53.2 billion, up from $50.9 billion in 2013. Corporate income tax brought in $12.3 billion, compared with $11.4 billion in 2013.

The Canadian Press

Stock markets advance, Bank of Japan expands asset purchases to boost economy

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market ran ahead sharply Friday on relief that another major central bank is stepping up to help keep the global economic recovery on track.

The S&P/TSX composite index jumped 149.88 points to 14,608.57 after the Bank of Japan unexpectedly expanded a key stimulus program.

It will increase its purchases of government bonds and other assets in the world's third largest economy by between 10 trillion yen and 20 trillion yen (US$91 billion to $181 billion) to about 80 trillion yen (US$725 billion) in total annually.

Bank governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the increase was required to prevent a reversal into a "deflationary mindset" that the country's leaders contend has held back growth for many years. The bank judged the move necessary in the wake of weakening consumer demand following a consumption tax hike and the recent substantial decline in oil prices, which have been exerting downward pressure on inflation.

"At the very least it says central bankers are going to do everything they can to try to get growth going," said Philip Petursson, director of institutional equities at Manulife Asset Management.

"And that’s what it seems like in Japan — this is everything and the kitchen sink."

The Canadian dollar plunged 0.91 of a cent to 88.41 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that gross domestic product dipped 0.1 per cent during August against the flat showing that economists had expected.

New York's Dow Jones industrials ahead 184.48 points to 17,379.9, the Nasdaq climbed 62.22 points to 4,628.36 and the S&P 500 index climbed 20.88 points to 2,015.53.

The move by the Japanese central bank comes at a point when the U.S. Federal Reserve is winding up its marquee stimulus program. It announced Wednesday that quantitative easing would end at the end of October.

Meanwhile, the TSX found support from the financial, tech and industrials sectors.

The energy sector was also positive, up 0.7 per cent as December crude fell $1.36 to US$79.76 a barrel.

Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) reported a 45 per cent jump in quarterly profit to $936 million or $1.10 a share, up from $647 million, or 76 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 12.4 per cent to $9.66 billion and its shares gained $1.61 to $53.42.

The base metals sector also gained 0.7 per cent while December copper dipped a penny to US$3.05 a pound.

Gold prices have been a major casualty of the Fed move to end QE.

That is because the program of massive bond purchases had elevated inflation concerns. Traders had bought into gold as an inflation hedge but the program is now wrapping up and inflation is tame in most parts of the world.

"When you are absent inflation in any meaningful way, it‘s a real challenge to hold onto what has long been known as the best inflation hedge," added Petursson.

"So the outlook for gold and gold companies continues to be negative."

The December bullion contract dropped $36.10 to US$1,162.50 an ounce, on top of a $26 slide Thursday.

The Toronto gold sector has dropped more than 12 per cent this week alone. On Friday, it fell a further four per cent.

Also working against gold and other commodity prices has been a U.S. dollar that strengthened following the Fed's decision and moved higher against other currencies Friday following the Bank of Japan announcement. A stronger greenback makes it more expensive for holders of other currencies to buy oil and metals, which are dollar-denominated.

The Canadian Press

Greater optimism about economic growth, incomes spurs consumer confidence to 7-year high

WASHINGTON - U.S. consumers expect better economic growth and rising incomes in the coming months, pushing a measure of confidence to a seven-year high in October.

The University of Michigan says that its index of consumer sentiment rose to 86.9 from 84.6 in September. That's the highest since July 2007, five months before the Great Recession began. Still, the index regularly topped 90 before the downturn.

Richard Curtin, the survey's chief economist, says that almost six in ten of the respondents said the economy has improved recently, the highest proportion in more than 10 years.

The measure is the second this week to show consumer confidence has reached the highest level since the recession. Greater confidence and more hiring could lead to faster spending and healthier economic growth.

The Canadian Press

Fairfax's Prem Watsa says stock markets remain out of sync with global economy

TORONTO - Prem Watsa hasn't budged on his concerns that lofty stock market levels remain out of sync with the uncertain global economy.

The billionaire head of insurer Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. (TSX:FFH) said Friday that he believes financial markets in North America and Western Europe are still threatened by potential weakness in China's economy and emerging markets.

"We have said it for some time. We believe there continues to be a disconnect between the financial markets and the underlying economic fundamentals," he told analysts during a conference call after the company's latest earnings release Thursday.

Watsa said Fairfax is responding by staying particularly cautious in the short term.

The company has about $5.9 billion of cash in its coffers, representing 23 per cent of its total investment portfolio, to take advantage of any acquisitions opportunities, Watsa said.

"As a result in the short-term our investment income will likely be reduced," he added.

A storm of uncertainty has been gathering over the past few months on fears that the Eurozone could fall back into recession and put a damper on improvements in the U.S economy.

Oil prices have fallen to four-year lows this month as demand slides but production remains abundant.

Watsa stated his concerns with stock markets earlier this year, and his opinion hasn't wavered since.

Fairfax, which reports in U.S. dollars, returned to profits during the third quarter helped by gains on its investment portfolio.

Net earnings attributable to shareholders were $461.2 million versus a net loss of $571.7 million in the year-earlier period.

On a per share basis, the earnings were US$21.10 compared with a loss of US$29.02.

Net premiums written by the insurance and reinsurance operations decreased to $1.52 billion from $1.57 billion, while net investment gains were $493.7 million versus net investment losses of $828.6 million in the 2013 period.

Both Watsa and Fairfax president Paul Rivett are part of an ongoing investigation by the Quebec securities regulator over possible insider trading or tipping. Insider trading happens when an individual has access to confidential information and then uses it to trade on a stock exchange.

In August, Fairfax announced plans to acquire Pethealth Inc. (TSX:PTZ), a medical insurer for dogs and cats based in Oakville, Ont., for $100 million. The proposal was approved by Pethealth Inc. shareholders on Thursday and should be complete by the end of this year, the company said.

On Friday morning, Fairfax shares rose about one per cent, or $4.85, to $513.32 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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The Canadian Press

Unifor extends strike deadline for St. Lawrence Seaway through weekend

CORNWALL, Ont. - The union representing workers on the St. Lawrence Seaway says a strike deadline set for just past noon Friday has been extended through the weekend.

Unifor says the new strike deadline is 5 p.m. Monday.

Notice of the new deadline was served to the Seaway on Friday morning during ongoing contract negotiations in Cornwall, Ont.

Unifor National Representative Joel Fournier says the union remains hopeful that a deal can be reached.

The union says talks are expected to continue through the weekend under a media blackout, and that the two sides have been negotiating since Tuesday.

Five Unifor locals along the seaway from Niagara to Montreal announced Tuesday they were serving 72 hours' strike notice along the waterway.

Under federal labour law, 72 hours' notice must be given of any potential strike or lockout.

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch said earlier this week that the federal government was "disappointed" to hear that the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. and Unifor have not come to terms on collective agreements.

"I strongly encourage both parties to continue negotiating to find a solution that will benefit everyone," Leitch said in a statement Wednesday.

"The best solution in any dispute is always the one that the parties reach themselves."

The union says one of the key issues in contract talks is staffing levels at the locks as the seaway moves to hands-free mooring, eliminating staff currently working on the locks.

The union is calling for minimum staffing levels on the locks to deal with emergencies.

The strike notice was served at the resumption of contract talks in Cornwall on Tuesday, the first time the two sides had met in months.

A federal mediator is assisting with negotiations after Unifor filed for federal conciliation in August. The workers earlier voted 96 per cent in support of a strike.

The five union branches along the St. Lawrence Seaway — Locals 4212 and 4211 in Niagara and Cornwall, Locals 4319 and 4320 in Montreal and Local 4323 in Iroquois, Ont., — have about 460 members.

The St. Lawrence Seaway, which extends from Montreal to mid-Lake Erie, includes 13 Canadian and two U.S. locks.

The Canadian Press

Banks, credit card companies cutting rates charged to merchants, capping fees

OTTAWA - Canada's major banks and credit card companies have reached a deal with the federal government to cut the fees charged to merchants for credit transactions, sources familiar with the negotiations say.

The voluntary agreement could mean cost savings for up to 700,000 large, medium-sized and small businesses across the country.

However, it remains to be seen whether the cuts will translate into savings for consumers.

The deal will result in lower interchange fees charged to retailers and service providers for using credit cards to complete direct transactions, said sources speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The fees would then be capped for an unspecified period of time.

The agreement comes after years of back-and-forth among retailers, the federal government, banks, credit card companies and the Competition Tribunal.

Interchange fees currently range between $1.50 and $3 or more for every $100 worth of transactions, depending on the credit card.

The federal Competition Bureau estimated in 2010 that credit card acceptance fees added up to $5 billion annually — a figure that has likely grown since — with about $4 billion of that coming in the form of interchange fees.

While the big banks stand to lose millions of dollars from their bottom lines, the sources say the negotiated agreement gives retailers price stability.

There are roughly 76 million credit cards issued to Canadians, who use them to pay for about half their overall purchases.

The Retail Council of Canada says high-cost premium cards have hurt merchants the most.

And says a majority of the savings from recent interchange fee reductions in the U.S. were passed on to customers.

The Canadian Press

Government hoping for modest increase in immigration levels next year

OTTAWA - Canada is hoping to welcome more immigrants next year.

The government will release its immigration plan for 2015 today, and it's expected to show an increase in overall numbers.

The main focus will be on accepting more economic immigrants, which will make up 65 per cent of the total, up two per cent from last year.

Among the increases will be more spots available in a program designed to get students and temporary foreign workers to permanently settle in Canada.

New data is also expected Friday on the state of the temporary foreign worker program in the wake of program overhauls.

Last year, the government sought to welcome between 240,000 and 260,000 people to Canada.

The Canadian Press

Exxon earnings up 6 per cent, easily beating expectations, as refining offsets low oil prices

IRVING, Texas - ExxonMobil Corp. profits rose 3 per cent in the third quarter as strong refining performance offset lower revenues from falling oil prices and production.

The company said Friday it earned $8.07 billion on revenue of $107.49 billion in the third quarter. Last year during the same period, Exxon earned $7.87 billion on revenue of $112.37 billion.

On a per share basis, the company earned $1.89, up from $1.79 last year and far above the $1.71 per share analysts polled by FactSet had predicted on average.

Oil and gas production fell 4.7 per cent compared with the same period a year ago, and lower prices reduced earnings by $670 million.

But profit at the company's refining operations, which makes chemicals and fuels, rose 38 per cent in the quarter and boosted overall profit.

The Canadian Press

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