North American stock markets rise as vaccine news boosts energy sector

Vaccine news pushes stocks

Canada's main stock index rose alongside U.S. markets, as news of another COVID-19 vaccine boosted investors' outlook for the economy and oil demand.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 75.43 points at 17,094.53.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 327.79 points at 29,591.27, the S&P 500 index was up 20.05 points at 3,577.59, while the Nasdaq composite was up 25.66 points at 11,880.63.

The Canadian dollar traded for 76.44 cents US compared with 76.51 cents US on Friday.

The January crude oil contract was up 64 cents at US$43.06 per barrel and the January natural gas contract was up more than five cents at about US$2.82 per mmBTU.

The December gold contract was down US$34.60 at US$1,837.80 an ounce and the December copper contract was down more than three cents at nearly US$3.26 a pound.

Online shopping set to hit record this year in Canada

Online shopping hits record

Online sales are set to hit a record this year in Canada, Statistics Canada said on Monday, amid limits on in-person shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new data is in line with Statistics Canada's estimates from the spring, when retail e-commerce sales more than doubled from February to May.

Online shopping fell this summer from its high of $4 billion in May as more stores opened to in-person shopping.

Nonetheless, Statistics Canada says that 2020 is on pace to beat 2019's total e-commerce sales of $305 billion, a figure that has more than doubled since 2013 and includes business-to-business sales as well as retail purchases.

A separate online survey of 600 adults from Google Canada in late October also suggested that 70 per cent of respondents were looking online, not in-store, for holiday gifts. (The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.)

The data comes as Canada's biggest city, Toronto, and neighbouring Peel Region entered a lockdown ahead of the key holiday shopping season, limiting non-essential retailers to curbside pickup an online sales. Only essential businesses, such as grocers and pharmacies, are open to in-person shopping for the next 28 days, and store capacity is limited to 50 per cent. Other municipalities across Canada are also tightening restrictions amid rising COVID-19 case counts.

Meanwhile, several Canadian retailers, including Le Chateau, Mountain Equipment Co-operative, GNC Holdings, and Aldo, have filed for creditor protection this year.

Up until last year, online sales represented about eight per cent of revenue for Canadian businesses with five or more employees, Statistics Canada said in the report. As of 2019, 39 per cent of large businesses had online sales in Canada, compared with 23 per cent of small businesses, the report said.

Statistics Canada also noted that in the past, wholesalers and shippers, rather than retailers, have been the top beneficiaries of the trend toward online shopping.

Wholesalers contributed $85 billion toward total online sales last year, while transportation and warehousing represented $60 billion, manufacturing was worth $38 billion, and retailers grossed $22 billion.

While one in four Canadian businesses had some online sales in 2019, Statistics Canada said goods sold in retail stores were often bought in bulk online from higher in the supply chain, meaning that the majority of online sales across the country were business-to-business.

Tourism operators focus on local as restrictions expected to put a lid on travel

Bracing for sluggish season

Pressure on B.C. residents to stay put this holiday season is likely to further crimp the province’s hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors.

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said Thursday that B.C. residents should not embark on non-essential travel outside their communities until at least until Dec. 7.

That directive echoed her earlier strong recommendations aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“I strongly encourage people to limit your travel as much as possible, and that is in all areas of the province,” Henry said Nov. 16. “Now is not the time to travel for recreational or non-essential purposes, whether it’s from the Lower Mainland to the Island, whether it’s between the Interior and the North, or whether it’s to and from other provinces in Canada. We need to stay local.”

On Nov. 7, Henry issued an official ban on travel to play sports from within the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions to outside those zones, and even travel between those two health regions, but she did not issue a legal ban on travel for non-sports purposes.

The government’s wording lent encouragement to some ski resort operators, such as Big White senior vice-president Michael Ballingall, who stressed that there was no official ban on travel.

“They use the term ‘highly recommended,’” he said Nov. 12, before adding that his resort had pulled marketing initiatives in Metro Vancouver. “There’s no point in teasing the market when the right thing to do is not to travel. What we’ve always said is, ‘When the time is right, and you feel safe to travel, we’ll have a bed waiting for you.’”

He added that while some British Columbians cancelled bookings at his resort after Henry’s advice to stay home, others, from Quebec and Ontario, made bookings in part because Swoop continues to operate non-stop flights between Kelowna and Toronto.

Premier John Horgan, however, has been beseeching Canadians in other provinces not to travel to B.C. unless on essential business. Communities such as Tofino and Ucluelet have issued statements urging visitors to stay away.

Whistler Blackcomb, unlike Big White, is within the Vancouver Coastal Health region, so visitors from Vancouver would be staying in the same health region.

The Vail Resorts, Inc.-owned attraction has instituted health protocols, and corporate communications manager Jennifer Smith told Glacier Media that skiers and snowboarders are required to have reservations to get up the mountain once it opens on Nov. 26.

“Pass-product holders have a window from now until Dec. 8 to lock in their priority access days,” she said. “We are expecting most people will be able to get the ski days they want the majority of the time.”

Whistler also requires face-covering and social distancing.

Destination British Columbia stopped marketing the province to British Columbians on Nov. 7, the marketer’s vice-president of global marketing, Maya Lange, told Glacier Media.

Her organization normally markets the province internationally and does not market the province to British Columbians because that is typically the role of local destination marketing organizations. DBC pivoted fast, however, in the summer, and started domestic marketing when the province’s restart plan allowed intra-provincial travel. DBC launched a ski-focused marketing campaign on October 12, only to pause it when Henry warned against non-essential travel within B.C., even while not explicitly forbidding it. 

Even if case counts start to fall, and the province again encourages travel, resort operators are likely to suffer steep revenue declines in part because many visitors like to plan in advance.

Quebec judge orders Hudson's Bay to pay rent to landlords at multiple shopping malls

Bay ordered to pay rent

A Quebec judge has ordered Hudson's Bay Co. to pay rent at several of its department stores in the province, saying the retailer cannot take the law into its own hands.

In separate rulings issued Friday, Justice Katheryne Desfosses granted safeguard order applications made by shopping mall landlords Cominar Real Estate Investment Trust, Oxford Properties Group and Dorval Property Corporation.

The Quebec Superior Court judge ordered HBC to pay the full outstanding rent at multiple locations starting from when the applications were filed and extending for a six month period – the maximum time the emergency order can apply – or until a judgment on the merits of each case is rendered.

The decisions were handed down on the same day an HBC department store in B.C. was reportedly shuttered for non-payment of rent, and two weeks after an Ontario judge ordered HBC to pay half the rent owing at a Richmond Hill, Ont., store to stave off eviction.

Daniel O’Donnell, a spokesman for Oxford, says the real estate company welcomes the court’s decision, and is now calling on the retailer and its "New York-based private-equity owners" to honour its obligations and pay rent across Canada.

Ian Putnam, president and CEO of HBC Properties and Investments, says the company is continuing to seek a "fair and mutually-beneficial compromise" during the pandemic.

The move follows the closure of the Bay store in Coquitlam after its lease was terminated for not paying rent, and an ongoing dispute at the retailer's Penticton store, in which it is refusing to pay rent but is staying open.

Iamgold reducing underground workforce at Westwood after seismic event

'Seismic event' at mine

Iamgold Corp. says it is temporarily reducing the underground workforce at its Westwood mine in Quebec following what it called a seismic event.

The company says underground work at Westwood remains suspended following the event that occurred on Oct. 30.

The temporary reduction affects 437 workers, or about 70 per cent of the underground workforce, Iamgold says.

The company is investigating the cause of the seismic event and a business recovery plan for Westwood is being assessed.

It says the Westwood mill was restarted on Nov. 4, processing stockpile and Grand Duc open pit ore.

Iamgold has three gold mines including the Essakane mine in Burkina Faso, the Rosebel mine in Suriname and the Westwood mine in Canada.

US tells GM to recall nearly 6 million trucks with Takata inflators

Massive GM truck recall

The U.S. is making General Motors recall and repair nearly 6 million big pickup trucks and SUVs equipped with potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators.

The decision announced Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will cost the automaker an estimated $1.2 billion, about one third of its net income this year.

GM had petitioned the agency four times starting in 2016 to avoid a recall, contending the air bag inflator canisters have been safe on the road and in testing. But owners responded by accusing the company of putting profits over safety.

Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to fill air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate when exposed to heat and humidity and explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.

Twenty-seven people have been killed worldwide by the exploding inflators including 18 in the U.S.

It took the agency more than four years to arrive at its decision, which comes toward the end of President Donald Trump's four-year term.

Twenty-seven people, including 18 in the U.S., have been killed and hundreds injured by Takata inflators worldwide.

NHTSA said in a prepared statement that it analyzed all available data on the air bags, including engineering and statistical analyses, aging tests and field data.

“Based on this information and information provided to the petition’s public docket, NHTSA concluded that the GM inflators in question are at risk of the same type of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity as other recalled Takata inflators,” the agency said.

The company has 30 days to give NHTSA a proposed schedule for notifying vehicle owners and starting the recall, the statement said.

Drivers can check to see if their vehicles have been recalled by going to https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and keying in their 17-digit vehicle identification number

Third major COVID-19 vaccine shown to be effective and cheaper

Third vaccine effective

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals.

The results are based on interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca. No hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 were reported in those receiving the vaccine.

AstraZeneca is the third major drug company to report late-stage results for a potential COVID-19 vaccine as the world anxiously waits for scientific breakthroughs that will bring an end to a pandemic that has wrought economic devastation and resulted in nearly 1.4 million confirmed deaths.

Pfizer and Moderna last week reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were almost 95% effective. But, unlike its rivals, the AstraZeneca vaccine doesn't have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute, especially in developing countries.

“I think these are really exciting results,” Dr. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the trial, said during a news conference. “Because the vaccine can be stored at fridge temperatures, it can be distributed around the world using the normal immunization distribution system. And so our goal … to make sure that we have a vaccine that was accessible everywhere, I think we’ve actually managed to do that.”

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is also cheaper. AstraZeneca, which has pledged it won’t make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, has reached agreements with governments and international health organizations that put its cost at about $2.50 a dose. Pfizer’s vaccine costs about $20 a dose, while Moderna's is $15 to $25, based on agreements the companies have struck to supply their vaccines to the U.S. government.

All three vaccines must be approved by regulators before they can be widely distributed.

Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

HVAC companies kept busy

Air filters have become big business in the age of COVID-19, for the HVAC companies that can get their hands on them.

As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems.

Air filters, it turns out, are made of similar materials used in face masks and other personal protective equipment, putting them in short supply, says Gregg Little, president of Springbank Mechanical Systems in southern Ontario.

“We work with dozens of different developers, and they are all looking at that,” Little says.

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering Ltd., says his HVAC company is jumping to buy inventory of high-grade filters to keep clients from facing four-to-six-week turnarounds.

"The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost," says Mastronardi.

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver dubbed "indoor air quality” as a top real estate trend to emerge from the pandemic, noting that the pandemic "created more demand for air purifiers, ranging from stand-alone models to sophisticated smart systems.” Portable air purifiers are also getting harder and harder to find, notes Jeffrey Siegel, a professor in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering who studies indoor air quality.

That doesn’t mean business has been easy for HVAC companies, notes Little, who says that many clients have slashed their maintenance budgets because they can’t afford to stay open. Demand has been on a roller-coaster, as some clients who initially upgraded to fancier filters couldn't carry the cost, while purchases from dentists' and doctors' offices that “went crazy” buying air filters this spring and have since levelled off.

That said, HVAC operators have noticed a newfound recognition for their expertise in light of COVID-19, Little says, and engineers have their pick of clients who might previously may not have given much thought to the person turning on their heater, says Mastronardi.

Demand for HVAC companies has spiked as local jurisdictions push tenants to look at their buildings' HVAC systems. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health on Nov. 14 told businesses to review their HVAC systems to make sure they work and that they have increased air-exchange settings, are using the highest efficiency filters and aren’t blocking air vents or putting furniture directly beneath them.

But the city’s public health officials also advise that “there is no evidence to show that air purifiers on their own are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” noting that they may be useful to “supplement to HVAC ventilation or if there is no outdoor air exchange.”

Little says he recommends steady HVAC maintenance plans, but has spent a good deal of time this year personally reviewing some of the newer air filtration products on the market. Little says he’s still skeptical of some of them, such as dry hydrogen peroxide.

Another technology that is taking off, bipolar ionization, doesn’t have much independent data to back it, Siegel says. The process has been around for decades but many of the studies around it are of “questionable independence,” says Siegel.

“I know they're being promoted very heavily …. but the technology is an unproven technology, you want to be very, very careful if a manufacturer presents some reports and shows you that it works,” Siegel says. “It may have a role. It just hasn't been demonstrated to be effective in this context.”

That has not stopped some landlords from betting on air purification.

Brookfield says it is piloting advanced air ventilation and filtration systems in its New York, Toronto and Calgary offices, with plans to expand the system to all its office properties. Brookfield’s system, which uses bipolar ionization, was under consideration before the pandemic as a way to reduce energy usage and emissions. But the company is now wagering that tenants will view buildings with older air systems as “obsolete," said Brian Kingston, chief executive of Brookfield Property Partners, at an investor event this fall.

Air filters can be used to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it is very important for buildings to meet minimum ventilation standards assessed by professionals, but Siegel warns that adding better air filters is no silver bullet.

“If you have an infected person and an uninfected person close together, even if there's a great filtering system somewhere else, it's not going to capture the virus,” says Siegel.

“I consider it to be a secondary measure. The primary measures are wearing masks, people physically as far apart, hand-washing and surface cleaning … and making sure spaces are not poorly ventilated.”

A portable HEPA filter can work in almost any space, Siegel says, as long as it is the right size and not positioned to spew unfiltered air onto a person or high-touch surface. But upgrading the filters of a centralized system can be more cost-effective, Siegel says, if the system can handle it.

Siegel says proper installation is make-or-break, especially with thicker filters and more high-tech air cleaning technology like ultraviolet lamps. Little warns that building owners should look for HVAC companies that can give customer references in air filtration.

“There are a lot of people who take advantage of bad situations," Little says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22,2020.

'Less is more:' Restaurants pandemic-proofing menus to survive the second wave

Pandemic-proofing menus

The menu at the Stubborn Goat Gastropub in downtown Halifax will always have a classic burger and gourmet mac n' cheese.

But the slightly more eccentric dishes, peppered with unique ingredients, might be harder to come by these days.

"We reduced the size of our menus right across the board," says Joe McGuinness, co-owner of Legendary Hospitality, which operates three restaurants in the coastal city.

"We took the best of the best and put it on the menu."

It's part of a trend at restaurants across the country.

In a bid to survive the second wave, eateries are pandemic-proofing their menus by offering customers top sellers while deleting the less popular items for now.

"Less is more on menus is a good idea right now," says Martin Vezina, a spokesman for the Quebec Restaurant Association.

"Restaurants are figuring out what they do well, and what works for delivery, and cutting the rest."

It's not a panacea. Restaurateurs are tinkering with nearly every facet of their operations in an effort to stay afloat, including operating hours, staffing levels, delivery packaging, contactless payment systems, website upgrades, patio enclosures and the installation of Plexiglas dividers. Other changes include grocery sales and the retrofitting of bathrooms with touchless toilets and faucets.

"There's not a magic bullet," says Luc Erjavec, Atlantic Canada vice-president with Restaurants Canada. "It's about doing a number of things differently to survive."

Yet changes to menus are among the most visible ways eateries are adapting to the pandemic.

While generally based on the popularity of a dish, menu edits are also influenced by what travels well for take out and delivery — the sole source of revenue for restaurants in regions where indoor dining is off limits.

"During the lockdown, we did remove items from our menu that didn't make sense to offer for delivery," says Dan Joseph, owner of Darrell's Restaurant in Halifax.

"Like lasagna, for example, that's not something that people will order much for delivery … it doesn't hold up particularly well."

Indeed, Darrell's is credited by some as getting food delivery down to a science.

The milkshake-and-hamburger institution is using bamboo and sugarcane containers, biodegradable cutlery and paper straws.

Joseph says the restaurant is currently testing three paper bags. He says they don't "sweat" like a plastic bag, and can be stapled shut to ensure they aren't tampered with by a driver.

'We want to make sure we get it right," he says. "Once that bag is in place, it's foolproof."

Smaller menus have additional benefits, including lower inventory levels in kitchens, which reduces potential losses in the event another full lockdown is ordered.

"You want to reduce your inventory because that was one of the significant losses that hit all restaurants back in March," McGuinness says. "We discarded tens of thousands of dollars of inventory."

Still, even though restaurants are streamlining menus to curb costs, diners may not always notice.

Meagan Andrews, the head chef at the Stubborn Goat, says the menu was designed so ingredients could be used in several meals.

"Our menu still looks big, but if you look closely a lot of the ingredients are used in multiple dishes," she says. "For example, half the ingredients in a mac n' cheese might be used on a pizza, and that cuts down on our inventory and prep time."

The chef was also inspired by the mood of the pandemic when developing the menu.

"When we reopened after the lockdown, we took the opportunity to take comfort classic dishes and recreate them," Andrews says. "People want something they're familiar with, but elevated in creative way."

Meanwhile, it's not just the menu selection that's been altered at the restaurant, but the medium of the menu itself.

Rather than receive a physical menu when you sit down, the eatery's tables are equipped with a type of bar-code called a QR code.

"You scan the QR code on your phone, and the menu pops up," McGuinness says. "We don't want people touching a menu and then passing it on to somebody else. This eliminates the need to wipe down shared menus or print new menus."

Yet while many restaurants are trying new things to survive the pandemic, Erjavec with Restaurants Canada says it remains a work in progress.

"This is uncharted territory and things are still changing every day," he says. "Restaurants are using a lot of trial and error to survive."

Canada Post Group of Companies reports $216-million pre-tax Q3 loss

Canada Post reports loss

The Canada Post Group of Companies is reporting a third-quarter pre-tax loss of $216 million, as increased revenue from parcel shipping failed to compensate for higher pandemic-related costs and a slowdown in its Canada Post segment.

The company said Friday the result for the quarter compared with a loss before tax of $87 million in the same quarter last year.

The company's Canada Post segment recorded a loss before tax of $265 million for its latest quarter compared with a loss before tax of $135 million in the third quarter of 2019, while its Purolator segment saw a profit before tax of $42 million, up from $41 million a year ago.

In August, Canada Post reported unprecedented growth in parcel volume and revenue during the second quarter, as the COVID-19 pandemic led more Canadians to shop online. Parcel revenue for Canada Post in the third quarter grew by 30 per cent compared with the same period last year, the postal service said Friday.

However, Canada Post's gains in parcels revenue were offset by declines in revenue for transaction mail and direct marketing, which fell by 8.8 per cent and 24.1 per cent respectively, compared with the third quarter of 2019.

Canada Post also reported higher costs associated with the pandemic, including special leaves and additional collection, processing and delivery costs.

Salary planning survey finds employers reeling in costs

Pandemic wipes out raises

If you were relying on a pay raise before the end of 2020, chances are that’s not happening.

According to Gallagher's 2020/2021 Salary Planning Survey – Canada Edition, 62 per cent of employers implemented pay raises before the pandemic. However, as the economic realities of COVID-19 set in toward the end of first quarter 2020, many organizations were forced to reduce employee headcounts, implement hiring freezes and decrease salary-increase budgets. As a result, 38 per cent of employers indicated that their salary-increase plans were modified for 2020 – a trend that will continue into 2021.

As Canadian employers plan for the year ahead, nearly half (43 per cent) of organizations modified salary increase plans in 2021 due to COVID-19. Among the employers expecting their 2021 salary-increase plans to be adversely affected, 45 per cent expect to reduce raises, 35 per cent plan to suspend raises and freeze salaries, while six per cent plan to reduce salaries next year.

"Market reactions to the pandemic and the economic downturn are applying downward pressure to Canadian salaries and employers tell us that these compensation-containment measures will extend into next year," said Melanie Jeannotte, CEO of Gallagher's Benefits & HR Consulting division in Canada. "The impact COVID-19 will have on costs and revenue will be unpredictable in the year ahead, which is causing many employers to reconsider salary increases in an effort to preserve jobs in 2021."

"Employers' priorities have changed as a result of the pandemic, and leaders have shifted their focus from talent acquisition and retention to financial stability and business continuity," said Jeannotte. "However, while many employers have looked to reduce expenses in response to COVID-19, it's critical to remember that employee wellbeing and engagement remain key components to business performance. As employers review total rewards cost structures to reflect new financial realities, it's imperative that they also address their employees' evolving needs."

"'Business as usual' lost all meaning in 2020. Co-existing with COVID-19 has required an unprecedented level of adaptability, however employees are looking for stability more than anything," said Jeannotte. "Employers who can strike the right balance between cutting costs and investing in their employees' financial, physical and mental health will be better positioned to retain staff and compete for new talent when the labour market picks up."

Layoffs hit staff at Burnaby's Metropolis at Metrotown

Metrotown lays off staff

The owner of Burnaby’s biggest mall has laid off about 50 people, as it continues efforts to turn around the performance of its shopping centres.

Ivanhoe Cambridge, which owns Metropolis at Metrotown, said its latest restructuring in five months will affect seven Quebec employees and about 43 elsewhere in Canada. Six positions are being added in Quebec elsewhere at Ivanhoe.

Spokeswoman Katherine Roux Groleau says the job cuts are part of changes that began last June to simplify its structure as the company deals with the impact of COVID-19 that temporarily closed shopping malls to prevent the spread of the virus.

Metropolis at Metrotown has seen many of its stores close permanently due to COVID-19 sales impacts. These include the Microsoft flagship store, as well as many fashion outlets such as Frank & Oak and Pink.

Le Chateau recently announced it was shutting down its Burnaby store after decades in the community.

Previously, the real estate company — which has stakes in the office, industrial and logistics building segments as well as the residential sector — slashed 57 positions, including 12 in Quebec. Twelve vice-presidents were among those let go.

At the end of this latest restructuring, Ivanhoe Cambridge will have some 1,100 employees across the country. Twenty-four of Ivanhoe Cambridge's 44 shopping centres are located in Canada.

For the first half of the year ended June 30, the Caisse de depot's property portfolio, which includes shopping centres, posted a negative return of 11.7 per cent.

Overall, the Caisse posted a negative half-year return of 2.3 per cent.

More Business News

Data from CryptoCompare
Recent Trending
Castanet Proud Member of RTNDA Canada
Press Room