Suncor earnings jump

Suncor Energy is reporting net earnings of $1.35 billion or 81 cents per share in the first quarter of 2017, compared with $257 million or 17 cents a year earlier, thanks to higher commodity prices and oilsands production.

The company reports operating earnings of $812 million or 49 cents per common share, beating the 31 cents estimated by a consensus of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

A year ago, it posted an operating loss of $500 million or 33 cents per share.

Suncor says it had total upstream production of 725,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the three months ended March 31, compared with 691,400 boe/d in the year-earlier quarter, driven mainly by its increased ownership interest in Syncrude Canada acquired during 2016.

Oilsands production came to 448,500 barrels per day in the first quarter of 2017.

"Our commitment to operational excellence remains a top priority and we will continue to seek ways to become more efficient, including development of regional synergies with Syncrude," says CEO Steve Williams in a statement.


An 'amicable' trade war

Anyone looking for a political decoder for how the Trudeau government might be interpreting Donald Trump's latest spate of anti-Canadian trade rhetoric could do worse than American comedian Stephen Colbert.

The late-night television personality lampooned Canada's polite response to Trump's claims that Canada's lumber and dairy policies have been "rough" on the U.S. or a "disgrace" that is hurting U.S. dairy farmers.

Colbert poked fun at Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr — depicted as a cartoon beaver — for saying he "disagreed strongly" with the Trump administration's imposition of new duties on Canadian softwood lumber.

"Them's fightin' words — that's Canadian for (expletive deleted)," Colbert deadpanned late Tuesday.

The Trudeau government is resisting the urge to drop the rhetorical gloves, sticking to its muted, don't-offend-Trump message discipline. But insiders suggest the last week has put that to the test.

"In terms of our approach to the United States, I would describe it as polite, but firm," Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday in a conference call from Berlin, where she was attending G20 meetings.

"I want to assure Canadians that I am absolutely firm and absolutely tough and strong."

She said she is optimistic a new softwood deal can reached and that it will be a win for both Canada and the United States.

McDonald's joins dark side

McDonald's new uniforms are prompting some teasing online, with comments saying the grey-toned shirts and aprons make employees look like they're part of totalitarian regimes.

Among the comparisons being made on social media to an image of the new uniforms : characters from Star Wars and The Hunger Games, and even the North Korean government.

The jokes came after McDonald's Corp. had said earlier that the uniforms would start appearing in April.

The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company had said they were developed based on feedback from employees and customers, and that more than 70 per cent of employees said they would be proud to wear the new uniforms.

The uniforms may be worn by about 850,000 employees in the chain's more than 14,000 U.S. locations.

Bell bets big on streaming

Bell Canada says it's on the cusp of launching a new streaming product to attract customers who prefer to watch video such as Netflix through the Internet instead of traditional TV services.

Chief executive George Cope said the Montreal-based company will announce its plans in the next four to six weeks as it combats the trend of customers cutting or reducing their television connections.

"This industry's in an evolution towards people viewing TV in different ways over time," he told shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Ottawa.

He said Bell leads the country with TV subscriptions but Internet protocol television (IPTV) growth slowed in the first quarter as customers continued to opt for online streaming services. It added 22,000 Fibe TV customers, down from 48,000 a year ago.

Still, Cope sees opportunities to grow against cable competitors who have more than half of the TV market by expanding television and satellite services while also offering its new streaming product.

Maher Yaghi of Desjardins Capital Markets said "competitive dynamics" weighed on Bell's wireline business as it faced heavy promotions from Rogers and Videotron during the quarter.

Cope added that having powerful and fast Wi-Fi in the home will increasingly be required as consumers continually increase the number of devices they use.

"Everything is going to be plugged into the Internet and we need this speed to stay competitive and make sure the Canadian economy for business also stays competitive."

He said enhancing its so-called over-the-top (OTT) service, which includes Crave TV, would also help to enhance its wireless position.

More losses at Sears

Sears Canada Inc. reported a $45.8-million loss in its latest quarter, but noted that same-store sales improved compared with a year ago as the company has worked to reinvent itself.

The retailer said Wednesday same-store sales for the quarter ended Jan. 28 were up 1.3 per cent compared with the same quarter last year. It says there's also been growth in same-store sales through the first two months of its current quarter.

Sears, which has struggled in recent years, said same-store sales were up 6.2 per cent in February compared with the same month last year and up 4.1 per cent in March compared with a year ago.

The loss for what was the fourth quarter of its financial year amounted to 45 cents per share.

That compared with a profit of $30.9 million or 30 cents per share a year ago when the company benefited from a $170.7-million gain on the termination of a credit card agreement.

Revenue fell to $744.0 million, compared with $887.6 million a year ago, due in part to store closures and a decline in its direct business due to a reduction in catalogues, challenges with its new website and fewer merchandise pick-up locations.

"Our work to reinvent our business with product innovation, customer experience, and brand positioning is starting to resonate with consumers," Sears Canada executive chairman Brandon Stranzl said in a statement.

"After many, many years of decline, Sears Canada is starting to realize growth in same store sales. We still have a lot of hard work to do and challenges ahead of us, but we are resolutely focused on the steps required to drive sustainable growth and profitability over time."

Tims beats expectations

The owner of Tim Hortons and Burger King is reporting flat sales at its established locations in the first quarter but a nine per cent increase in revenue, which was above analyst estimates.

Restaurant Brands International Inc. says comparable sales at locations open at least a year were down one-tenth of a per cent at both chains, after adjusting for currency fluctuations.

"I can assure you we're going to be working very hard ... to improve the pace of sales growth in the coming quarters," said CEO Daniel Schwartz, adding the company believes they have the right initiatives in place to drive long-term growth.

For example, starting today, Tim Hortons will serve freshly-ground espresso bean lattes at nearly all of its restaurants.

The Oakville, Ont.-based company says its net income, reported in U.S. dollars, was also flat compared with a year ago, at US$50.2 million or 21 cents per share.

However, RBI's overall revenue increased by $82.1 million to about US$1 billion — about three-quarters of it from Tim Hortons — and adjusted earnings rose 20 per cent to $170.6 million, or 36 cents per share.

Cenovus profits jump

Cenovus Energy Inc. says production from its oilsands operations was up 32 per cent in the first quarter from the same time last year, helping to fuel a $211-million net profit.

The profit was better than expected since analysts had estimated a loss of six cents per share under general accounting rules and an adjusted loss of eight cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The Calgary-based oilsands producer says its net income was equal to 25 cents per share in the three months ended March 31, compared with a loss of $118 million or 14 cents per share in the first quarter of 2016.

Revenue was $3.87 billion up nearly $1.7 billion from a year earlier, when benchmark oil prices were at a 13-year low, but in line with analyst estimates.

The results are contained in the first Cenovus quarterly report since it announced at the end of March that it plans to buy most of the Canadian assets belonging to ConocoPhillips in a $17.7 billion blockbuster deal.

Trump to slash business tax

President Donald Trump plans to propose massive tax cuts for businesses big and small as part of an overhaul that he says will provide the biggest tax cuts in U.S. history.

In addition to big tax cuts for corporations, Trump also wants to cut taxes for small business owners from a top tax rate of 39.6 per cent to a top rate of 15 per cent, said an official with knowledge of the plan.

The top tax rate for individuals would be cut from 39.6 per cent to the "mid-30s," the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss the plan publicly ahead of Trump's announcement, scheduled for Wednesday.

White House officials had already revealed that Trump's plan would reduce the top corporate income tax rate from 35 per cent to 15 per cent. The plan will also include child-care benefits, a cause promoted by Trump's daughter Ivanka.

Republicans who slammed the growing national debt under Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday they are open to Trump's tax plan, even though it could add trillions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade.

Echoing the White House, Republicans on Capitol Hill argued that tax cuts would spur economic growth, reducing or even eliminating any drop in tax revenue.

Loonie hits 14-month low

A rekindled softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States pushed the Canadian dollar to its lowest level in 14 months on Tuesday.

The loonie lost 0.29 of a U.S. cent to close at 73.72 cents US, after American President Donald Trump imposed tariffs averaging at 20 per cent against Canadian softwood exports.

The last time the loonie closed below that level was Feb. 24, 2016, when it finished the day at 73.06 cents US.

Craig Jerusalim, a portfolio manager of Canadian equities with CIBC Asset Management, said the trade dispute wasn't the only reason why the loonie closed lower Tuesday.

"With oil being below $50 and gold being pressured, there's a whole host of reasons why the Canadian dollar has lagged," Jerusalim said.

He added that other protectionist measures — such as the renegotiation of NAFTA and a possible tax on Canadian dairy products — are also weighing on the loonie.

Meanwhile, the S&P/TSX composite index added 32.73 points to 15,745.19, led by the base metals sector, which added 2.23 per cent, while gold stocks retreated 4.13 per cent.

Lumber, dairy into NAFTA?

The Trump administration is signalling an interest in making big additions to NAFTA.

Those additions could relate to softwood lumber and dairy.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trump's point man on the upcoming negotiations, says it's precisely because these issues are not settled in NAFTA that disputes have been erupting in recent days.

Ross says all the irritants recently raised by the White House are interconnected in some way.

He says if NAFTA were functioning properly, there wouldn't have been back-to-back irritants in dairy and then softwood lumber, where U.S. tariffs of up to 24 per cent are being imposed on Canadian wood.

Justin Trudeau's federal Liberal government also wants a long-term, permanent deal on softwood lumber — indeed, that's the first thing it mentioned as a priority, the day after Trump's election.

Lumber job losses likely

The federal government is reaching out to reassure forestry workers, lumber producers and others facing the impact from a fresh sofwood trade war that it stands ready to help cushion what it suggests will be a heavy blow.

The U.S. is imposing significant duties of up to 24 per cent on lumber imports — the latest flare-up in Canada's escalating trade skirmish with President Donald Trump's administration.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr acknowledged Tuesday that job losses are likely in the offing, saying Employment and Social Development Canada is standing by to provide essential services for anyone who is impacted.

"If we look at the history of these trade actions, there inevitably will be job losses," Carr told a news conference in Ottawa.

"We will focus our efforts on doing whatever we can to ease the impact of those job losses; that is the reality of this countervail. It is going to result in some tough times for some operators across the country.

"We are prepared and well-positioned to do whatever governments can reasonably do to help the workers, the industries and the communities that will be affected."

Available ESDC supports include employment insurance, career counselling, retraining and provincial skills development programs, said Carr, noting Canada is no stranger to softwood disputes with the U.S., and has always prevailed in the past.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who held a news conference immediately following Carr and Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, was incredulous that the federal government had nothing significant on offer for those who will feel the impact.

"We don't seem to have a plan," Mulcair said.

"When you're dealing with a bully, at some point you have to stop backing up. That's all (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau seems to be able to do."

Trudeau, meanwhile, said earlier Tuesday that the Canada-U.S. relationship is bigger than any one trade irritant — and that Canada needs to impress upon the U.S. that both countries would suffer from a "thickening" border.

Beer coming to Taco Bell

Taco Bell customers will be able to grab beer with their tacos and burritos at some Canadian stores starting this June.

The Mexican-style fast-food chain says its flagship Toronto location on Queen Street West will be the first store to serve a selection of beer.

Additional stores are expected to follow and the beverage list could expand beyond just suds.

The company says it's making the move as part of its aim to reinvent how customers dine in their restaurants.

American customers have been able to purchase beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages at some Taco Bell locations since 2015.

Taco Bell also announced its plan to grow from 170 restaurants in Canada to 700 locations.

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