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Companies that sell services abroad designed by workers in Canada are emerging as big winners from the currency’s almost 30-per-cent decline over the past three years. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Companies that sell services abroad designed by workers in Canada are emerging as big winners from the currency’s almost 30-per-cent decline over the past three years. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Slumping loonie starting to drive gains for Corporate Canada Add to ...

The benefit of a weaker currency is beginning to spread through Corporate Canada.

Companies such as CGI Group Inc. and DHX Media Ltd., which sell services abroad designed by workers in Canada, are emerging as big winners from the currency’s almost 30-per-cent decline in the past three years. Forestry, autos and manufacturing are also getting a lift as they win market share with cheaper products.

Does a low loonie actually help exporters? (The Globe and Mail)

“The drop in the Canadian dollar means that if you find a U.S. company that will move their work to Quebec, just on the currency alone, they are going to get a 30-per-cent discount,” CGI’s CEO Michael Roach said in a phone interview last week.

The CEO is on the prowl to lure more U.S. work to its Quebec operations along with a major acquisition. “We see this as an opportunity.”

Shares of CGI, which gets almost one-third of its sales in the United States, surged to a record after reporting better than forecast fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 27. The company generated $1.3-billion in cash in the past 12 months, and chairman Serge Godin said in the same interview the Montreal-based company could spend as much as $8-billion in cash on a deal.

International exposure

Canada’s economy has been hobbled by the commodity slump as energy and mining companies cut investment and jobs, and analysts have lamented the inability of non-resource exporters to make headway amid competition from countries such as China and Mexico. Beneath the surface, the currency’s tumble to 2003 lows is stirring a revival.

Greg Taylor, a fund manager at Aurion Capital Management Inc. in Toronto, which manages about $8-billion, is buying CGI and DHX Media, the largest independent producer and distributor of children’s shows, because of their international exposure. DHX shares have declined 11 per cent over the past year, after rising more than fourfold in the two years before.

“That’s a constant thing that everyone’s going through now, is trying to screen their companies for foreign revenues to try and get in those areas,” Mr. Taylor said in a Jan. 20 telephone interview. DHX, based in Halifax, declined an interview request.

Ontario manufacturing

Manufacturing is also feeling the loonie updraft, particularly those companies hooked into the booming North American auto industry. Solid export gains and accelerating household disposable income growth lifted auto sales in Ontario to a record last year and a further increase will probably occur in 2016 as exports gain momentum, Carlos Gomes, economist at Bank of Nova Scotia, said in a report last week.

Even with sluggish global demand, 17 out of Ontario’s 21 manufacturing sectors posted export gains above 9 per cent in 2015, with more than half reporting advances of more than 20 per cent, Mr. Gomes said. Export gains are also expected to lift economic activity and vehicle sales in British Columbia and Quebec, he said.

Ontario clothing manufacturers posted 47 per cent growth in the 12 months that ended in November, while fabricated-metal producers saw gains of 30 per cent and wood manufacturers gained 26 per cent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

”Strengthening exports are particularly evident in British Columbia, with nearly half of all manufacturing industries posting export growth in excess of 20 percent in 2015,” Gomes said in the report.

Canada’s two big auto-parts suppliers, Magna International Inc. and Linamar Corp., have slumped in recent weeks as investors worry auto sales have reached a peak, leaving the companies’ price-earnings ratios at 7.7 per cent and 8.9 per cent, respectively.

Oil drags

Canadian National Railway Co., the country’s biggest railway, has benefited from both the export boost and the lower costs wrought by a declining currency, reporting earnings last week that exceeded analysts estimates.

”We are in position to support those shippers for whom the weak Canadian dollar has become a cost advantage like the manufacturers, like the service industries that are selling into the U.S. market, for example the forest product industry and the Canadian port-terminal industry,” Jean-Jacques Ruest, chief marketing officer, said in a conference call.

Manufacturers with exposure to the oil sector are having a tougher time. Canadian exports over all are at about the same level they’ve been since September, 2014.

“A falling currency is nice but it’s not going to solve the weak market dynamics we have to face,” Velan Inc. CEO Tom Velan said in a telephone interview.

The Montreal-based industrial steel-valve manufacturer has seen a lot of delays and cancellations in orders in the oil and gas sector and “that’s not going to change even with the dollar at this level,” Mr. Velan said. While a weaker loonie helps lower costs and make Canadian production more competitive, the dollar is still quite high when compared with Asian currencies and the company announced the closure of a Montreal-area plant in October, he said.

Educate customers

New Flyer Industries Inc., the largest transit-bus manufacturer in North America, has Canadian customer contracts that are affected when the loonie drops as they were priced and bid with a significant U.S. dollar input cost, CEO Paul Soubry said in an e-mail. While dramatic drops in the loonie can help the company’s United States-based motor-coach business, it has established a supply base that “makes it very difficult” to change suppliers to take advantage of the low dollar, he said.

“We do not operate our business to gain or lose on FX movement,” Mr. Soubry said. The company’s shares have gained 93 per cent over the past year.

Mr. Roach at CGI said it takes time to convince customers.

“The average guy in the United States doesn’t necessarily follow the Canadian currency, and we have to educate them on that,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

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