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RIM’s Balsillie and Lazaridis lose their billionaire status Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, June 23. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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RIM's co-CEOs, their stock and their generosity Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have been knocked out of the ranks of the world's billionaires.

The plunge in Research In Motion Ltd. shares in the past several months has put a hefty dent in what the co-CEOs of the BlackBerry maker are worth, Forbes reports, compounded, laudably, by how they fund their charitable causes.

Louisa Kroll, who follows the world's wealthy for the magazine, notes on its website that Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis "easily" made the Forbes annual ranking of the world's billionaires in March. RIM was trading at more than $60 (U.S.) then, compared to less than $30 today.

In March, Mr. Lazaridis was worth $1.9-billion, slightly ahead of Mr. Balsillie at $1.8-billion. Now, they're in the $800-million area.

Forbes has an interesting side note to all this: Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis would probably still be billionaires but for their "notable generosity." Ms. Kroll cites the millions Mr. Lazaridis has given to the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and how Mr. Balsillie founded the Centre for International Governance Innovation, the Canadian International Council and the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

"Had they not given away so much, they’d still have lost a bundle in the past few months but they would have remained billionaires," Ms. Kroll said.

Outlook dims The outlook for Europe and the United States does not bode well for Canada, at least in the short run.

Economic soft spots, sovereign debt troubles and high unemployment all point to more trouble. Add to that the strong loonie and tapped-out Canadian consumers, and you're looking at slow going for at least a few months.

Economists already believe that second-quarter growth is flagging. And, as The Globe and Mail's Jeremy Torobin and Kevin Carmichael report today, red flags are popping up around the world.

The Bank of Canada warned yesterday in a review of the financial system that Europe's crisis is a threat, and again flagged high debt levels among Canadian households as a concern. Separately, the Federal Reserve yesterday cuts its outlook and warned unemployment will remain high for some time yet. It also said its program of quantitative easing, an asset-buying scheme dubbed QE2, would end as scheduled this month, and gave no hint of a QE3.

The central bank's review shows that Governor Mark Carney and his colleagues are very concerned "about the risk looming over the Canadian and global landscape," said Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Diana Petramala.

"All of these risks – if they are borne out – could have significant economic consequences on Canada’s economy and financial system," she warned. "In addition, they are medium-term (rather than short-term) in nature, suggesting they are unlikely to disappear any time soon."

European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet also threw some fuel on the fire by warning last night that the signs of risk in the euro zone are flashing red.

Today, Reuters reports, Greece reached a deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund officials on its new austerity program.

Softer readings from purchasing managers indexes in Europe and China, coupled with the latest reading on claims for jobless benefits in the United States, only add to the concerns, driving markets sharply lower today.

IEA to release millions of barrels The International Energy Agency says its 28 member countries plan to release 60 million barrels of oil from stockpiles over the next month to make up for the shortfall from Libya. Today's announcement sent the price of crude plunging.

"This supply disruption has been under way for some time and its effect has become more pronounced as it has continued," the agency said. "The normal seasonal increase in refiner demand expected for this summer will exacerbate the shortfall further. Greater tightness in the oil market threatens to undermine the fragile global economic recovery."

By the end of May, the IEA said, the Libya troubles had resulted in the estimated loss of 132 million barrels of light, sweet crude.

“Today, for the third time in the history of the International Energy Agency, our member countries have decided to release stocks.” executive director NobuoTanaka said in a statement. “I expect this action will contribute to well-supplied markets and to ensuring a soft landing for the world economy.”

U.S. jobless claims rise As Fed chairman Ben Bernanke points out, the U.S. jobs crisis shows no sign of easing.

Initial claims for jobless benefits in the United States climbed last week by 9,000 to 429,000, well above the key 400,000 mark, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

The four-week moving average didn't change, and still sits at more than 426,000.

"The data suggest that the disappointing pace of labour market recovery noted upon by Bernanke yesterday is likely to continue for the time being," said economist Peter Buchanan of CIBC World Markets.

Regular EI claims dip In Canada, the number of jobless workers collecting regular Employment Insurance benefits fell in April by 6,500, marking the seventh monthly decline in a row. But the number of initial and renewal claims climbed by 2.8 per cent to 234,000, a setback after three months of declines.

The number of people on regular benefits is now 598,400, and Canada's jobless rate stands at 7.4 per cent. It's projected to remain above the 7-per-cent mark for some time yet.

ISS backs TMX-LSE deal TMX Group Inc. and London Stock Exchange Group PLC have won the support of a powerful advisory firm as a bidding war heats up for the operator of Canada's premier bourse.

ISS, an influential proxy adviser, today recommended TMX shareholders opt for the TMX-LSE deal over the rival bid from a group of Canada's major financial institutions, Globe and Mail Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman reports.

"Given that the Canadian-bound strategic vision driving the Maple Group offer is no more compelling than that of the broader LSE transaction, yet the high leverage alone carries significantly more structural and (in potentially limiting future growth strategies) strategic risk, there is little incentive for shareholders to take that alternate course," ISS said.

"Accordingly, we recommend shareholders take the bird in hand and vote for the proposed merger-of-equals with the LSE."

Yesterday, both groups sweetened their bids. The TMX-LSE group added a special dividend of $4 a share, while the Canadians boosted their overall bid to $50 a share from $48 and added more equity to the proposal.

And as Mr. Erman writes in Streetwise today, the speed of the Canadian response illustrates the nimble nature of the group.

Gaz Métro bids for U.S. utility I wonder if the big shots on Wall Street might be chuckling a bit today over how some Canadians are waging a takeover battle in increments of 15 cents.

Last month, St. John's-based Fortis Inc. struck a deal to expand in the United States via the proposed acquisition of Central Vermont Public Service Corp. for $35.10 (U.S.) a share in cash.

Today, Gaz Métro went 15 pennies better in a rival bid of $35.25 for the state's biggest utility.

TD dims on Barrick TD Securities has slashed its 12-month price target on shares of Barrick Gold Corp. in the wake of its takeover of Equinox Minerals.

"Investors could leave Barrick in the penalty box for a period," analyst Greg Barnes said in a research report titled "Gold and Copper - An uneasy mix for now." He cut his target to $58 (U.S.) from $63, though held his recommendation at "buy."

"Barrick has underperformed its peers since the transaction was announced," Mr. Barnes said.

"We estimate investors have eliminated $5-billion to $7-billion in relative market capitalization from Barrick, a value effectively equivalent to the acquisition of Equinox, which seems overly punitive for a company that remains the largest gold producer in the world.

"While we expect copper exposure to remain at or below 20 per cent of revenue, the message that management has delivered to the market by purchasing a copper-only asset appears to have raised concerns about a long-term drift towards greater commodity diversification, thereby diluting Barrick’s gold focus."

But TD keen on Canadian Tire TD Securities also today boosted its 12-month target on Canadian Tire Corp. shares and upped its recommendation to "buy" from "hold" after its proposed acquisition of Forzani.

Analyst Jessy Hayem raised her target to $72 from $66.

"We believe that the expected accretion from the Forzani acquisition and integration execution will likely overshadow past concerns with the lack of growth within Canadian Tire Retail (CTR) – at least while the company benefits from Forzani’s growth plans and reaps expected cost synergies," Ms. Hayem said.

"'Growth' has been acquired for the short-medium term, though key challenges at CTR persist in our view. The Forzani acquisition was timely, adding a ‘growth’ vector to the ‘retail’ business."

Let he who is without sin ... European leaders are meeting in Brussels today in a continuing quest to contain the Greek debt crisis, but a well known and outspoken Greek Orthodox bishop is taking a different approach.

Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki read a prayer on television yesterday, Agence France-Presse reports, noting that Greeks have sinned when it comes to mismanaging the economy but noting that "no one is perfect and without sin on Earth." (Certainly not the United States, Japan, Ireland, Portugal, etc.)

“Oh Lord, we confess that we have sinned as a state and as a people in the management of the economic and monetary benefits entrusted to us,” he said, requesting "Your mercy" and support.

The Lord's mercy may be one thing, the mercy of the bond markets something else entirely.

In International Business today Swedish Automobile says it can't pay the wages of staff at its wholly owned subsidiary Saab, as it struggles to find funding from investors. The Associated Press reports.

In Economy Lab today Globe and Mail real estate reporter Steven Ladurantaye debunks the urban myth that investors from mainland China are driving the surge in Vancouver house prices.

In Personal Finance today Proposed new rules would make your adviser spell out costs of fees and commissions.

The rules should be simple enough for your kids to understand. But that’s not the case.

If you’re booking your summer flight with Aeroplan points, search both Air Canada and their Star Alliance partners to save on taxes, fees, and surcharge.

From today's Report on Business

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