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French court rules in favour of extraditing Kazakh dissident banker to either Russia or Ukraine

PARIS - A French appeals court has authorized the extradition to Russia or Ukraine of a Kazakh dissident banker whose legal case is tangled up in at least five countries.

His lawyer immediately announced a decision to appeal, which blocks the procedure.

Mukhtar Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan amid the nationalization of BTA Bank, which he once led as chairman. He was arrested in southern France in July 2013 and both Russia and Ukraine have requested his extradition. France has no extradition agreement with Kazakhstan.

Ablyazov's lawyers say the cases against him are political and that he will be sent back to autocratic Kazakhstan if extradited.

A lower French court had ruled to send him back to either Russia or Ukraine in January. The appeals court in Lyon confirmed the decision on Friday.

BTA Bank, one of Kazakhstan's largest financial institutions, welcomed the Lyon court ruling, calling it "an important decision that will allow the bank to continue its efforts to get its billions back."

Lawyers for Ablyazov said Friday they were "confident" that Lyon court rulings "will be overturned at one of the multiple, subsequent levels of appeal."

Friday's hearing in Lyon was the latest episode in a saga that began in 2001, when Ablyazov, once a trusted member of Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev's inner circle, turned against his mentor and founded an opposition movement. The oligarch-turned-dissident fled Kazakhstan in 2009.

In Britain, where Ablyazov received political asylum in 2011, courts found he concealed assets as BTA sought to recover more than $6 billion the bank says he appropriated.

Ablyazov fled Britain in 2012 and had been on the run for 18 months under international warrant until his arrest in southern France, where he is jailed.

The Canadian Press


Google exec's supersonic freefall from near-space sets skydiving records, breaks sound barrier

ROSWELL, N.M. - Google executive Alan Eustace broke the sound barrier and set several skydiving records over the southern New Mexico desert early Friday after taking a big leap from the edge of space.

Eustace's supersonic jump was part of a project by Paragon Space Development Corp. and its Stratospheric Explorer team, which has been working secretly for years to develop a self-contained commercial spacesuit that would allow people to explore some 20 miles above the Earth's surface.

Friday's success marked a major step forward in that effort, company officials said.

"This has opened up endless possibilities for humans to explore previously seldom visited parts of our stratosphere," Grant Anderson, Paragon president and CEO, said in a statement.

The technology that has gone into developing the balloon, the spacesuit and the other systems that were used in Friday's launch will be used to advance commercial spaceflight, namely efforts by Arizona-based World View Enterprises to take paying tourists up in a high-altitude balloon and luxury capsule starting in late 2016.

As more people head into the stratosphere, the spacesuits could be adapted for emergency rescues or other scientific endeavours, officials said.

After nearly three years of intense planning, development and training, Eustace began his ascent via a high-altitude, helium-filled balloon just as the sun was rising. It took more than two hours to hit a record altitude of 135,908 feet, from which he separated himself from the balloon and started plummeting back to Earth.

Wearing his specially designed spacesuit, Eustace hit a top velocity of 822 mph during a freefall that lasted 4 1/2 minutes.

Jim Hayhurst, director of competition at the United States Parachute Association, was the jump's official observer. He said Eustace deployed a drogue parachute that gave him incredible stability and control despite the massive Mach 1.23 speed reached during the freefall.

Eustace didn't feel it when he broke the sound barrier, but the ground crew certainly heard the resulting sonic boom, Hayhurst said.

"He just said it was a fabulous view. He was thrilled," Hayhurst said of his conversation with Eustace after he landed.

The supersonic skydive happened with little fanfare, out of the media spotlight, unlike the 2012 attempt by daredevil Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team. Baumgartner, who was taken aloft in a capsule with the help of millions of dollars in sponsorships, had set the previous altitude record by jumping from 128,100 feet.

Watching Eustace and his team prepare was historic, said Hayhurst, likening the scene to what it must have been like to watch Ryan Airlines Corp. build the Spirit of St. Louis in the late 1920s.

"This was a bunch of quiet engineers doing the job," he said. "This is a scientific endeavour. This is a stepping stone to space."


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The Canadian Press

NBCUniversal settles with unpaid interns from 'Saturday Night Live,' other shows for $6.4M

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Nearly 9,000 unpaid interns stand to benefit from a $6.4 million settlement with NBCUniversal over back wages.

Unpaid interns who worked on "Saturday Night Live" and other shows brought a class action suit last July in Manhattan federal court claiming NBCUniversal violated the law by classifying them as non-employee interns and paid them nothing or less than minimum wage, when they were actually doing employee work. NBCUniversal said in court documents that even though it's settling the suit, it denies the allegations and doesn't admit any wrongdoing.

The average amount that class-action members of the suit will receive is $505 before taxes, although the main plaintiffs will receive more. The number of class members is capped at 8,975. The interns had been seeking recovery of unpaid wages, attorneys' fees, interest and liquidated damages.

The settlement still has to be approved by a judge.

Unpaid internships have long been a way that students and young graduates got a foot in the door in many industries. Companies get some help, interns potentially get experience and contacts — if they can afford to work for free. But in the last few years, unpaid internships have come under legal fire. Last June, a federal judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie "Black Swan." Other lawsuits were filed against record companies, magazine publishers, modeling agencies and TV talk show hosts. Some companies, including Conde Nast, subsequently did away with their intern programs.

In addition to back wages, lead plaintiff Monet Eliastem will receive up to $10,000, and other named plaintiffs will receive between $2,000 and $5,000, for their efforts in bringing the class-action, according to court documents. Eliastem agreed not to apply for jobs at NBCUniversal for five years, as a stipulation of the deal.

NBCUniversal is owned by Philadelphia-based cable provider Comcast Corp.

The Canadian Press

Business Highlights


Market jolt is reality check for investors

NEW YORK (AP) — Sometimes a little fear is healthy for stock investors.

A violent lurch lower nine days ago knocked the Standard & Poor's 500 index down as much as 7.4 per cent from its September peak as fears of a global economic slowdown intensified. Stocks have revived this week, thanks to strong corporate earnings, and on Friday the S&P 500 was marching toward its best performance in nearly two years.

How should investors view this intense flip-flop? As an overdue reminder that stocks aren't a one-way ride up.

While last week's slump doesn't technically count as a correction — defined as a 10-per cent drop from a peak — that's how many professional investors view it.

In fact, such sell-offs often provide a base for another move higher in stocks, market observer say.


Venezuelans brace for slump in oil prices

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The falling oil prices that are providing relief to drivers around the world threaten to bring more misery to the life of Milagro Alvarez and millions of other Venezuelans, whose country depends almost exclusively on oil revenue.

The math teacher has been getting up before dawn each day and rushing out to hunt for disposable diapers, one of scores of products that have been in short supply due to price restrictions and currency controls put in place by the socialist government long before the slide in petroleum prices.

Now Venezuela is suddenly a lot less rich, and many fear those lines will just get longer.

The country with the world's largest oil reserves was struggling to keep shelves filled even when crude was selling for $100 a barrel or more. Now prices for benchmark Brent crude have fallen $28 in the past four months, to $86, the result of too much supply and weaker global demand.


Out-of-patience investors sell off Amazon

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon has long acted like an ideal customer on its own website: a freewheeling big spender with no worries about balancing a checkbook. Investors confident in founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' invest-and-expand strategy flooded into the stock as the company revolutionized shopping, upended the book industry and took on the cloud — even though its vast range of initiatives ate up all the company's profits.

After all, when filed for its IPO 17 years ago, it was very clear: the company would post losses for the "foreseeable future" while it invested in the business to drive bigger and bigger sales. Stockholders seemed to like playing Bezos' long game: shares more than quadrupled between 2010 and 2014 to over $400 apiece.

Lately, they've lost a little patience.

After the Seattle company on Thursday reported a huge third-quarter loss and issued a disappointing holiday forecast, the stock sold off by nearly 10 per cent. It's now lost 28 per cent of its value since the beginning of the year, closing at $287.06 Friday.


What you need to know about massive air bag recall

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. investigators, automakers and a parts supply company are trying to figure out why some automobile air bags inflate with too much force, blowing apart metal canisters and sending shards flying at drivers and passengers.

So far, more than 12 million vehicles worldwide with air bags made by Japanese parts supplier Takata Corp. have been recalled for the problem. But safety advocates says as many as 25 million vehicles may be equipped with the faulty air bags in the U.S. alone. There have been recalls in Japan, Europe, China and other areas.

Many of the U.S. recalls have been limited to high-humidity areas in the South, but the boundaries of recall zones vary by manufacturer. All of this has confused car owners and even government safety regulators who published incorrect and incomplete lists of recalled models.


Enticing low rates, but impact could be limited

WASHINGTON (AP) — With mortgage rates sliding for a fifth straight week, the possibility of locking in a rate below 4 per cent is tempting for consumers and could unleash a wave of refinancing. It may even convince some Americans to buy their first home.

Yet there are limits to how far the wave can extend. Millions of homeowners already re-financed in 2013, when the average 30-year mortgage rate stayed below 4 per cent until mid-year. And the overall housing market remains hampered by tight mortgage credit, rising home prices and stagnating incomes.

This week the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 3.92 per cent, mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday. The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, retreated to 3.08 per cent from 3.18 per cent.


US new-home sales close to flat in September

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. sales of new homes were nearly flat in September, after the government sharply revised downward what was initially an August surge in buying.

New-home sales edged up 0.2 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 467,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. The report also revised down the August sales rate to 466,000 from 504,000.

The pace of sales for newly built homes has improved a mere 1.7 per cent so far this year compared to 2013. Only the South has experienced gains in buying year-to-date, while purchases have fallen in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

Housing has struggled to fully rebound since the recession ended more than five years ago. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing houses instead of upgrading.


Procter & Gamble taking out its batteries

NEW YORK (AP) — Procter & Gamble plans to remove its batteries and make Duracell a stand-alone company.

The world's largest consumer products maker, which acquired Duracell in 2005, has been trimming its product lineup to focus on its top performers. After it finishes jettisoning more than half its brands around the globe over the next year or two, P&G said it will be left with about 70 to 80 brands.

If a split-off of Duracell occurs, P&G said its shareholders would have the option of exchanging some, none or all of their P&G shares for shares of the new Duracell company.

P&G also makes Tide detergent, Pampers diapers and Olay skin care.

The Procter & Gamble Co., based in Cincinnati, said Friday it prefers a spinoff of Duracell, but that it's considering a sale or other options for Duracell.


Disney pens love letter to Japan with robot film

TOKYO (AP) — Disney executives call their next film "a love letter to Japanese culture." No wonder: This nation can't get enough of animation, especially Disney's.

Walt Disney Animation Studios is practically bending backward to woo Japanese moviegoers after the stupendous success of "Frozen." The fifth-highest-grossing movie of all time made more than $250 million of its total in Japan alone, nearly a third of its overseas numbers and more than five times what it made in France, according to Box Office Mojo.

"Frozen" is third of all time in Japan, behind "Titanic" and Japanese animation classic "Spirited Away," delivering success that even Disney executives acknowledge was surprising.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 127.51 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 16,805.41. The S&P 500 gained 13.76 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,964.58. The Nasdaq composite climbed 30.92 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 4,483.72.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.08 to close at $81.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 70 cents to close at $86.13 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 2.5 cents to close at $2.182 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.7 cents to close at $2.482 a gallon. Natural gas rose 0.1 cent to close at $3.623 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The Canadian Press

Most actively traded companies on the TSX

TORONTO - Some of the most active companies traded Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange:

Toronto Stock Exchange (14,543.82, up 56.99 points):

Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B). Aerospace. Up five cents, or 1.32 per cent, to $3.83 on 8.2 million shares.

MBAC Fertilizer Corp. (TSX:MBC). Agriculture. Down one cent, or 9.09 per cent, to 10 cents on 3.7 million shares.

Southern Pacific Resource Corp. (TSX:STP). Oil and gas. Unchanged at 2.5 cents on 3.6 million shares.

Cenovus Energy Inc. (TSX:CVE). Oil and gas. Down 47 cents, or 1.68 per cent, to $27.50 on 3.5 million shares.

Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU). Agriculture. Up $7.39, or 7.62 per cent, to $104.33 on 3.1 million shares.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ). Oil and gas. Down 61 cents, or 1.54 per cent, to $38.94 on 2.9 million shares.

Companies reporting major news:

Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB). Oil and gas. Up 19 cents, or 0.36 per cent, to $52.56 on 892,459 shares. The Calgary-based company insists in a regulatory filing that its design for the Line 9 pipeline through southern Ontario has the right shut-off valve configuration to minimize the risk to waterways and reservoirs in the event of a rupture. The company was responding to the National Energy Board's decision to delay a restart of the pipeline because it's "not persuaded" that Enbridge has met one of the the conditions attached to the NEB's approval.

The Canadian Press

Your ad here: Postmedia says luring advertisers a challenge as it posts Q4 loss

TORONTO - Advertisers were still elusive for newspaper publisher Postmedia in the fourth quarter and executives say there hasn't been much improvement ahead of the key Christmas holiday shopping season.

"Unfortunately, the weakness in print advertising has persisted into the early portion of the first quarter," chief financial officer Doug Lamb told analysts on Friday, as the media company deepened losses by four per cent to $49.8 million.

Postmedia, owner of several newspapers and websites, including the National Post, "may see some modest growth" in digital ads during the current quarter, Lamb said.

However, he added that print "continues to be a challenge" heading into November, an important buying period for marketers who are lining up campaigns for the Christmas holiday. Postmedia's current quarter ends Nov. 30.

Weakness in advertising isn't a new phenomenon for newspapers, but it's troubling for a company like Postmedia, which has aggressively reworked its digital presence in hopes more marketers will buy space on its websites.

The company has blamed technology giants like Facebook and Google for advertising dollars passing it by. The Silicon Valley giants sell marketing campaigns catered to very specific demographics across the country, a platform that older media companies have struggled to replicate.

"I would guess most other newspapers in Canada would also be following the same trends," president and CEO Paul Godfrey said on the company's quarterly conference call.

"We know why they're falling, it's the same reason why we're falling."

On Friday, Postmedia Network Canada Corp. (TSX:PNC.B) reported that losses deepened in the fourth quarter as revenues dropped 13 per cent, weighed down by weaker print and digital advertising sales.

The Toronto-based media company's net loss amounted to $1.24 per share in the most recent quarter ended Aug. 31, compared with $1.19, or $47.9 million in the same period a year ago.

Overall revenue slipped to $146.8 million from $169.3 million, mainly on weaker print advertising sales that fell 21 per cent to $74.2 million. Print circulation revenue slipped 2.8 per cent to $48 million.

Digital revenue, which includes ad sales and digital subscriptions, dropped 5.3 per cent or $1.1 million.

Postmedia has made its digital business a priority with the redesign of websites for several local city news outlets, including the Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette.

The company has also been reworking its operations under a three-year turnaround plan and expects that cuts made in the quarter will result in annual savings of $3 million.

Earlier this month, Postmedia announced a deal to buy the assets of Sun Media from Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) for $316 million.

The company plans to finance the acquisition through a combination of debt and equity financings. They include the issuance of an additional $140 million in senior secured notes and a rights offering of subscription receipts for shares in the company.

Postmedia also intends to cover as much as $50 million of the cost of the transaction, which still requires regulatory approval, through the sale of real estate in Montreal and Calgary. Both of those transactions are slated to close before the end of the year.

The company has also struck a conditional agreement to sell its Kennedy Heights printing facility in Surrey, B.C., for $17.5 million, with the transaction slated to close June 30.

For the year, Postmedia reported losses were tightened by a third to $107.5 million, compared with a loss of $160.2 million in fiscal 2013 when it benefited from a $100-million non-cash impairment charge related to a production facility that was up for sale and other costs tied to goodwill and intangible assets.

Revenue dropped 10.3 per cent to $674.3 million, pulled lower by a 15.7 per cent decline in print advertising revenue and a 3.9 per cent drop in digital revenue.

Subscribers to its digital platform helped partially offset the overall revenue declines, the company said.

Postmedia shares, which are thinly traded, closed up 30 cents at $2.30 Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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The Canadian Press

Ford opts for Mexico instead of Ontario for engine plant, union says

TORONTO - Ford Motor Co. has decided to build its new engine in Mexico after it was unable to reach a deal with the federal and Ontario governments to bring the investment to Windsor, Ont., Unifor said Friday.

Both levels of government suggested that they would not provide public money for the project because the automaker wouldn't make certain job and economic commitments.

"Our government is committed to partnering with business in a fiscally responsible way, but we will not invest taxpayer dollars in any partnership that doesn't provide a strong return for Ontarians," Economic Development and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid said in a statement.

"This includes creating good jobs, anchoring key facilities, building an industry supply chain, fostering research and development, and leveraging a larger investment from the private sector."

He pointed to instances in which the province has partnered with Ford Canada in the past "where it makes sense," such as providing $71 million for the Oakville, Ont., assembly facility in 2013 and $98 million for the Essex, Ont., engine plant in 2010.

"Ontario is prepared to work with our business partners to encourage and recruit investment into the province," Duguid wrote. "However, any financial incentives that the province would participate in would need to meet our standards."

The federal government said Ford recently approached Ottawa and Ontario with an "unprecedented funding request."

"After weeks of discussions it was determined that the terms laid out in Ford's proposal were not in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers," said Jake Enwright, press secretary for Industry Minister James Moore.

"Our government supports projects that secure high-value jobs and deliver long-term economic benefits to Canada. The terms laid out in Ford's proposal did not meet those objectives."

Ford would not confirm whether it would be building its new engine in Mexico, saying for "competitive reasons" it does not discuss future product plans.

"We meet with government on a regular basis to discuss a variety of issues," said Michelle Lee-Gracey, Ford Canada's manager of communications. "We consider these discussions to be confidential."

Unifor's national president Jerry Dias said he is "disappointed" that months of discussions between Ford and the two levels of government did not result in the production of a global engine at the Windsor facility.

"The auto industries that are flourishing around the world are ones where there is a deep commitment from government and an understanding of the importance and wisdom of investment — which always pays dividends," Dias said in a statement.

"While we are disappointed that this work will be lost to Mexico, we remain optimistic that the tide is changing. Government, industry and labour are increasingly committed to finding ways of securing the strategic investments we need to rebuild our manufacturing base."

Unifor Local 200, which represents Ford workers in Windsor, is expected to hold a meeting Sunday to explain the decision to its members.

Earlier this month, Ford said it would add 1,000 jobs at its plant in Oakville, Ont. by the end of this year to build the 2015 Ford Edge crossover SUV.

The provincial New Democrats' three Windsor-area MPPs said in a statement they were "deeply disappointed" the city would not be the home of Ford's new engine line.

"The plant could have created 1,000 new auto jobs in Windsor, but we are watching as they go to Mexico," wrote Lisa Gretzky, Percy Hatfield and Taras Natyshak.

"It's clear that this won't be the last time we're faced with these challenges. We need a strategy and policies in place so that we're not caught flatfooted the next time Ontario has an opportunity like this. We need to protect existing jobs and to lay the groundwork to attract more auto jobs in the future."

Ontario Progressive Conservative critic Ted Arnott said in a statement that while he is not privy to the details of the Ford discussions, the Liberal government has made Ontario uncompetitive when it comes to attracting job-creating investment.

"Ontario businesses are hampered by excessive red tape, exorbitant hydro rates, and high taxes," he wrote.

The Canadian Press

Stocks up at end of positive week, indexes continue to recover from sell-off

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market registered a solid gain Friday at the end of a positive week as share prices continue to recover from a sharp sell-off earlier this month.

The S&P/TSX composite index ran up 56.99 points to 14,543.82 and the Canadian dollar was unchanged at 89.02 cents US.

New York markets were also higher with the Dow Jones industrials ahead 127.51 points to 16,805.41, the Nasdaq climbing 30.93 points to 4,483.72 and the S&P 500 index gaining 13.76 points to 1,964.58.

Markets have continued to claw back losses from the recent sharp sell-off.

The Toronto stock market just had its best week since late August with a gain of 316 points or 2.2 per cent, leaving it down seven per cent from its highs of early September. The TSX is still up 6.75 per cent year to date.

The Dow industrials gained 425 points or 2.6 per cent this week and the blue chip index is also well off the worst of the retracement, down just 2.75 per cent from its most recent record high Sept. 19.

Traders were encouraged as worries about the global economy lessened. Solid manufacturing data from China and the eurozone, along with a strong earnings report from heavy equipment maker Caterpillar, a company viewed as a global economic bellwether, were key factors during the week.

"We’re closer to the end of this than the beginning," said Bob Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse.

"People ask if its the start of a bear market — I say, no, this is simply a long overdue correction in a bull market and I think that, at the end of the day, earnings growth will be decent but not great and this will prevail and I think we’re going higher."

Investors began heading for the exits late last month on worries that indexes had run up too high amid worries about the health of the global economy. Buying sentiment was also hurt by the impending end of the U.S. Federal Reserve's key stimulus program of massive purchase of bonds.

The Fed's interest rate meeting is the major economic event for next week as markets will be curious if the Fed decides to postpone the end of its quantitative easing program, which has kept long-term rates low and underpinned a strong rally on stock markets.

A big loser in New York was Amazon. Its stock, already close to 52-week lows, fell 8.35 per cent as it posted a quarterly net loss of US$437 million, or 95 cents per share, far steeper than the loss of 76 cents per share analysts had been expecting. Revenue jumped 20 per cent to $20.6 billion, but that fell short of expectations as well.

Most TSX sectors were higher, led by a 2.45 per cent rise in consumer staples.

The TSX also found support from financial and tech stocks.

Selling pressure came from the resource sectors.

The energy component led TSX decliners, down 1.27 per cent as December crude dropped $1.08 to US$81.01 a barrel.

December copper was unchanged at US$3.04 a pound and the base metals group lost 0.7 per cent.

The gold sector slipped about 0.4 per cent as December bullion climbed $2.70 to US$1,231.80 an ounce.

The Canadian Press

Canadian dollar flat ahead of Fed meeting, economic growth data

TORONTO - The Canadian dollar closed flat Friday with markets cautious ahead of key economic happenings next week.

The loonie ended the session at 89.02 cents US.

The interest rate meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve is the major event as markets will be curious to see if the Fed decides to postpone the end of a key stimulus program, its massive purchases of bonds.

The Fed has been winding down the program, which has kept long-term rates low and fuelled a strong rally on stock markets.

There has also been a high degree of speculation about when the Fed might raise interest rates once the so-called quantitative easing ends. Markets generally have expected a Fed interest rate hike sometime in 2015, with sentiment pointing to mid-year if the bond buying program ends this month.

"As global growth fears took hold, the expectations shifted and were pushed out until late 2015 — now these are being pulled back in, sitting at October 2015 for the first (rate) hike," said Camilla Sutton, chief FX strategist, managing director, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets.

Traders also looked ahead to the first reading of third-quarter gross domestic product in the United States and August GDP data for Canada.

On the commodity markets, December crude dropped $1.08 to US$81.01 a barrel, while December copper was unchanged at US$3.04 a pound and December gold bullion rose $2.70 to US$1,231.80 an ounce.

The Canadian Press

Chiquita shareholders reject plans to merge with Irish fruit importer Fyffes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Chiquita shareholders have rejected plans to merge with Irish fruit importer Fyffes that would have made the world's largest banana supplier.

Chiquita Brands International Inc. said Friday that the shareholders didn't approve a revised transaction agreement between the two companies during a special shareholders meeting. Chiquita and Fyffes PLC have given notice to terminate their agreement.

The proposed agreement with Fyffes was an all-stock deal, with the companies planning to incorporate in Dublin to take advantage of lower tax rates. Chiquita is now based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On Monday proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services recommended that Chiquita investors support the Fyffes deal because it is the best option for shareholders. ISS had previously said shareholders should vote against the deal because Chiquita might get a better offer elsewhere.

Chiquita President and CEO Edward Lonergan said in a statement that while the company was convinced Fyffes would have been a strong merger partner, the companies "will now go forward as competitors."

Chiquita said it now expects to enter talks with investment firm Safra Group and juice company Cutrale Group on their competing offer of $14.50 per share in cash, or $681 million. Chiquita received the latest bid from the pair on Wednesday after previously rejecting buyout offers from the two Brazilian companies. The prior offer from Safra and Cutrale was $14 per share. They had bid $13 per share in August.

Shares of Chiquita added 49 cents, or 3.6 per cent, to $14.25 in morning trading.

The Canadian Press

Procter & Gamble to split off its Duracell business as part of overhaul

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Procter & Gamble plans to remove its batteries and make Duracell a stand-alone company.

The world's largest consumer products maker, which acquired Duracell in 2005, has been trimming its product lineup to focus on its top performers. After it finishes jettisoning more than half its brands around the globe over the next year or two, P&G said it will be left with about 70 to 80 brands.

If a split-off of Duracell occurs, P&G said its shareholders would have the option of exchanging some, none or all of their P&G shares for shares of the new Duracell company.

Jon Moeller, the company's chief financial officer, said during a call with reporters that Duracell is an "attractive" business that generates about $2 billion a year in sales. But he said P&G wants to focus on products that are "even more attractive."

P&G also makes Tide detergent, Pampers diapers and Olay skin care.

The Procter & Gamble Co., based in Cincinnati, said Friday it prefers a spinoff of Duracell, but that it's considering a sale or other options for Duracell.

The decision to sell or discontinue 90 to 100 brands — many of them smaller, regional products — comes as Procter & Gamble fights to boost sluggish sales. In the latest quarter, for instance, the company said sales volume declined in its beauty, hair and personal care unit. Volume also fell in its grooming unit, with blades and razors declining in developed markets.

Under pressure to boost its performance, the company brought back A.G. Lafley as its CEO last year.

Lafley has said the company's expansive portfolio is the result of a natural evolution of multinational companies, which have a tendency to create or acquire brands over time. But P&G had already been trying to slim down in recent years, including the sale of food brands including Jif peanut butter, Folgers coffee and Pringles chips.

Looking ahead, P&G said it now expects sales in 2015 to be flat to up to low-single digits. It previously forecast growth in the low single digits.

It stood by its guidance for core earnings per share to grow in the mid-single-digit range.

For the quarter ended Sept. 30, it earned $1.99 billion, or 69 cents per share. Not including one-time items, it earned $1.07 per share. That matched the consensus of analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Revenue slipped to $20.79 billion. Analysts polled by FactSet expected $20.76 billion.

Shares of P&G climbed $1.52, or 1.8 per cent, to $84.75 in premarket trading about 90 minutes ahead of the market open.

The Canadian Press

Sales of new US homes tick up 0.2 pct. in September; revisions wipe away much of August surge

WASHINGTON - U.S. sales of new homes were nearly flat in September, after the government sharply revised downward what was initially an August surge in buying.

New-home sales edged up 0.2 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 467,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. The report also revised down the August sales rate to 466,000 from 504,000.

The pace of sales for newly built homes has improved a mere 1.7 per cent so far this year compared to 2013. Only the South has experienced gains in buying year-to-date, while purchases have fallen in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

Housing has struggled to fully rebound since the recession ended more than five years ago. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing houses instead of upgrading.

Construction and buyers of new homes have trickled back from the worst of the bust, but new-home sales remain drastically below the annual rate of 700,000 during the 1990s.

Sales in the most expensive Western states declined in September, reversing some of the gains made in August. Because homes are pricier in the West, that pushed down the median price for a new home to $259,000 from $286,800 in the prior month.

Analysts noted that the new-home sales report from the government is notoriously volatile from month to month, yet sales have basically been stuck in place for the past few years.

"There is little evidence that the new single-family housing market is decisively breaking out of its medium-term flat pattern," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at the forecasting firm MFR.

Some of the financial pressures on homebuyers are starting to ease, yet it's unlikely that will do much to suddenly boost sales of new homes in the final months of this year.

Over the past two weeks, federal regulators have unveiled plans to loosen down payment requirements, and mortgage rates have tumbled below 4 per cent. Along with a slowdown in price growth, these factors could eventually help usher more buyers into the real estate market.

Average rates for a 30-year mortgage fell to 3.92 per cent from 3.97 per cent last week, the mortgage company Freddie Mac reported. That is the lowest level since June 2013 and marks a solid decline from average rates that began the year at 4.53 per cent. When rates fall, it becomes cheaper for people to borrow and makes homes more affordable.

But many potential buyers are unable to upgrade to a new home by selling their current home, as prices still have yet to exceed mortgage debt for much of the country.

More than 8 million homes are "seriously underwater," representing 15 per cent of all properties with a mortgage and roughly $1.4 trillion worth of negative equity, according to the housing data company RealtyTrac. The lasting damage from the housing bust continues to weigh on the market, preventing some homeowners from upgrading to larger houses and limiting the options of buyers.

Builders have yet to meaningfully ramp up construction of single-family houses.

Almost all of the 6.3 per cent growth in housing starts last month came from apartments and multi-family construction, the Commerce Department reported. Starts for single-family houses rose just 1.1 per cent in September compared to the prior month.

Increased apartment construction reflects a broader shift toward renting. Many would-be buyers endured the loss of their financial savings and potentially their jobs during the recession. As wages have barely surpassed inflation during the recovery, a broad swath of Americans lack the income needed to buy a house.

The troublesome housing landscape has created a paradox: It's ostensibly cheaper to own for the time-being but more people are stuck renting, according to an analysis from the real estate data firm Trulia. A recent report by the firm found that current mortgage rates have made it 38 per cent cheaper to buy a home rather than renting, based on a seven-year timeframe.

"Consumers tell us that the main obstacle to homeownership is the down payment," said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia in the report. "For those would-be homeowners —especially first-timers without savings or equity from another home — a low-down-payment mortgage might be the only option."

Federal regulators have announced plans this month to lower the down payment requirements for some Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac programs to 3 per cent from 5 per cent.

The Canadian Press

U.S. fund ValueAct discloses 5.7 stake in Calgary fertilizer giant Agrium

CALGARY - San Francisco-based fund ValueAct Capital has discloses to U.S. regulators that it has acquired a 5.7 per cent stake in Calgary fertilizer producer Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU).

In its 13D document, required whenever an investor buys more than five per cent of a company's shares, ValueAct does not specify whether it wants to see any changes at Agrium, saying only that the purchases were made in its "ordinary course of business" and for "investment purposes."

On its website, ValueAct said its strategy is to buy large positions in firms that it believes are undervalued and work constructively with a company's management team and board of directors to boost returns.

Last year, Agrium defeated a boardroom challenge from New York hedge fund Jana Partners following a protracted and often acrimonious proxy fight.

Jana pushed for several changes at Agrium. The proposal that garnered the most attention was to look at splitting up Agrium's retail and wholesale businesses. Jana also wanted Agrium to improve capital allocation, costs, disclosure in its retail business and corporate governance.

Agrium vice president Richard Downey says the company met a couple of times with ValueAct since the summer and there's nothing to suggest another battle is brewing.

"Meetings have been good. They've been constructive and cordial and they describe themselves as a long-term shareholder. They think Agrium's good value and I would say they are looking for a return on their investment very similar to other investors," he said.

"All investors have views and want to know more about the business. This is not really any different than any other investor meetings."

Agrium shares were up more than eight per cent at $104.86 in mid-day trading Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The Canadian Press

Premiers of Quebec and Ontario warn others not to write off Central Canada

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. - It's time to "put Central Canada back at the centre of the map," Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Friday as he vowed to work with Ontario to restore the influence of the country's two most populous provinces.

"This is what my message is all about," Couillard told the Ontario Economic Summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

"Quebec is back at the table, not on the sidelines but sitting at the table, which means sometimes that it will voice strongly its opinion, but as a partner in the country trying to contribute."

Speaking entirely in English, Couillard noted former Ontario premier David Peterson was in the audience, and said it reminded him of the glory days of Ontario-Quebec relations in the 1980s.

"I do remember the time when premiers Peterson and Robert Bourassa had such a close bond and acted as a block of influence in our great country, and this is exactly what (Ontario premier) Kathleen (Wynne) and myself wish to achieve," he said.

Wynne said she was very pleased to hear Quebec talking about restoring the historic partnership with Ontario.

"Being more than 50 per cent of the GDP of this country and more than 60 per cent of federal revenues, it's hard to argue that Ontario and Quebec are not critical to the health of the country," she said. "And so there is no percentage for anyone within Ontario and Quebec to write us off."

The two provinces have many challenges in common, added Couillard, pointing to a slower-than-expected recovery, declining manufacturing and forestry sectors and desires to further develop their far north regions.

There will be "significant action" taken at a joint meeting of the Ontario and Quebec cabinets Nov. 21 in Toronto, promised Couillard, who led the Liberals to a majority victory in the Quebec election in April.

"Not only a photo-op, but actually real work being done between our ministers and our teams in order to make the economy grow faster and in a more sustainable way," he said.

Wynne, who led her Liberal party to a majority in June, said that having Ontario and Quebec rebuild their close connection will be vital to the economic prosperity of both provinces and of the entire country.

"For this period in our history, I think this is a critical moment," she said.

"At that cabinet meeting, my hope is we'll be able to demonstrate to both our provinces and to the country that we can move ahead, that we can strengthen the relationship."

Both premiers were scheduled to leave on a trade mission to China following their joint question-and-answer session at the Ontario Economic Summit.

"It's very important for central Canada that we expand our export markets, and that is what the trip to China is about," said Wynne.

(By Keith Leslie in Toronto)

Follow @CPnewsboy on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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