Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Top Business Stories

The last thing Italy needs is the Berlusconi sex scandal Add to ...

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

What Italy doesn’t need The last thing Italy needs right now is to be sidelined by a sex scandal.

Its economy is stalled, and while not the focus of the European debt crisis, it’s certainly in the crosshairs of the markets.

Data released today by Europe’s statistics agency showed Italy’s economy eked out economic growth of just 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, a weaker showing than expected.

And while its central bank chief, Mario Draghi, is well respected, he’s now firmly in the running for the top job at the European Central Bank, and is considered a leading candidate.

The sex scandal is tying up Italian politics. What’s needed, is a firm hand on the tiller of the economy. Already, Silvio Berlusconi’s government has barely survived a non-confidence motion.

Unemployment in Italy is running at 8.6 per cent, and the sex scandal has already played into the bond market.

Today, Globe and Mail European correspondent Eric Reguly reports, Mr. Berlusconi was ordered to stand trial on allegations that he paid for sex with a Moroccan belly dancer, whose stage name is Ruby, when she was 17. He has denied the allegations, calling them a left-wing conspiracy.

Europe's disparity Europe's overall economy ended 2010 on softer-than-expected note, and individual readings of gross domestic product today continue to highlight the disparity in the region.

The euro zone economy expanded by 0.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, while the full 27 members of the European Union posted growth of 0.2 per cent. The euro zone readings are for the 16 countries that were members of the monetary union last year, though there are now 17.

GDP in the euro zone, according to Carl Weinberg, the chief economist at High Frequency Economies, remains 3 per cent below its pre-crisis levels.

"Anyone who tries to tell you that Euroland has recovered from the 2008-09 economic crash is just wrong," he said. "The economy is growing, but growth is grinding to a halt and output remains depressed."

Among the major economies, Germany posted growth of 0.4 per cent, France 0.3 per cent and, and noted, Italy 0.1 per cent. Bad weather is believed to have played a role.

"Key is that the prints for Germany and France showed a greater than expected deceleration," said Scotia Capital economists Derek Holt and Gorica Djeric.

What's notable here is that the weak economies, those such as Greece and Portugal, continue to struggle, highlighting how the region has become a story of haves and have-nots. Greece's economy shrank by 1.4 per cent, for example, and Portugal's by 0.3 per cent.

That's not just a problem for individual governments, but also for the European Central Bank, whose one-size-fits-all monetary policy has much to encompass.

"The real problem is the divergence across the economies, with the strength mainly coming from core Europe, with Germany leading," BNP Paribas economist Luigi Speranza told Reuters. "... In countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal you don’t see a turnaround and domestic demand continues to be weak."

Exchange deal unveiled NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Boerse have unveiled details of their historic marriage, but the fact that they don't yet have a name for the combined group suggests just how sensitive the deal is.

The two companies are still calling it a merger, though it's effectively a takeover of the Big Board, the symbol of American capitalism, which is why it's such a hot button. D. Boerse shareholders would end up owning 60 per cent, and NYSE shareholders the rest.

There will be dual headquarters, in Frankfurt and New York, though the German group will have a majority of the board seats. The NYSE's chief gets the CEO job, and Deutsche Boerse's chief the chairman's role.

It doesn't, of course, come down to a name, but the fact that they don't have one shows officials are struggling with the sensitivities surrounding the entire deal, and the political and regulatory hurdles that will follow in both the United States and Europe.

There had been speculation that the combined group, which would be the world's biggest exchange operator, would be named DB-NYSE. But NYSE chief Duncan Niederauer told CNBC today that won't be it and "it's still under discussion."

“No decision has been made yet," he told reporters. "It's an emotional decision for everyone, let's be honest about it."

For now, they're setting up a holding company that will be based in the Netherlands, known as Alpha Beta Netherlands Holding NV.

TransCanada boosts Keystone costs TransCanada Corp. has boosted its estimated cost of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project by $1-billion to $13-billion (U.S.), blaming regulatory delays and higher-than-expected costs in the initial phases of construction.

TransCanada said it now expects regulatory approval from the U.S. State Department in “mid to late 2011,” Globe and Mail energy writer Shawn McCarthy reports today. The company had been targeting mid-year for the final permit.

"Accordingly, the in-service date of the expansion is now guided loosely as '2013,'" said UBS Securities Canada analyst Chad Friess.

"As a result of the delay in timing and increased cost estimates, we expect fiscal 2013 earnings estimates to fall ... Much is riding on gaining regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of State. In the interest of reducing U.S. energy dependence on the Mid-East and elsewhere we see minimal risk that approval for the expansion will not be achieved."

TransCanada also posted lower fourth-quarter profit of $283-million, or 39 cents a share, down from $387-million or 56 cents a year earlier. Revenue, though, climbed to $2.06-billion from $1.99-billion. It also hiked its quarterly dividend.

China inflation at 4.9% Skyrocketing food prices and drought have pushed China’s inflation beyond official targets for the fourth time in as many months, increasing the likelihood of further tough measures by the country’s central bank.

The 4.9-per-cent increase in consumer prices in January, compared to the same time last year, was slightly lower than economists’ earlier forecasts and may ease some of the immediate pressure on government to toughen its monetary controls, Carolynne Wheeler reports today from Beijing. But it’s still well above China’s inflation target of 4 per cent this year, and some economists say it will be just a temporary reprieve.

"Inflation data released today show price pressures remain uncomfotably high and look set to pick up further over the next few months," said strategists at the emerging markets research group at RBC Dominion Securities.

They noted that Chinese authorities changed the weights in their consumer price basket, but that the impact was deemed negligible.

Inflation up in Britain Britain is also struggling with higher inflation, putting Bank of England Governor Mervyn King on something of a hot seat.

Inflation rose in January to 4 per cent, picking up from December's inflation rate of 3.7 per cent and well above the central bank's target.

Mr. King is required to give the reasons why in a note to the government.

"It might have been dated on Valentine's Day, but [Bank of England] Governor King's missive to the U.K. chancellor was no love letter," said David Watt, senior fixed income and currency strategist at RBC Dominion Securities in Toronto.

"It was though another in a lengthening series of statements on why inflation is well above target," he said. "There will be more. Many, many more ... However, the [Bank of England] still considers the price pressures as fading and for inflation as liikely to be above as below target in two to three years."

Retail sales disappoint BMO Nesbitt Burns wonders whether today's reading of U.S. retail sales in January marked a New Year's hangover.

Sales fell shy of expectations, rising just 0.3 per cent. Still, it's the seventh monthly increase in a row, and, noted BMO senior economist Jennifer Lee, "despite the disappointing headline, some reprieve is understandable given the strong holiday shopping spree over the prior two months.

Paul Dales, the senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, however, questions the longer-term trend.

"In the three months to January, retail sales have risen at an average monthly rate of 0.5 per cent, down from 1.1 per cent in the three months before that," he said. "This slowdown is more marked when we strip out the boost from gasoline and auto sales. The average monthly increase then falls to just 0.2 per cent from 0.8 per cent."

CREA warns Ottawa The Canadian Real Estate Association today cautioned Ottawa to stay out of the mortgage market until the effects of recent changes can be gauged, as it suggested buyers raced to secure 35-year mortgages in January before they are banned in late March, Globe and Mail real estate writer Steve Ladurantaye reports.

CREA also reported monthly statistics showing the national average price in January was $343,675, little changed from the previous three months. Listings more than doubled from December, however, and on a seasonally adjusted basis new listings rose 3.9 per cent for the largest monthly gain since March 2010.

What Nokia means to Apple, Google UBS AG believes a new strategy launched last week by Nokia Corp. won't be any "real threat" to Apple Inc. or Google Inc.

Nokia's new chief executive officer, Stephen Elop, unveiled plans to fight in the smart phone market and focus on two business areas, traditional cellphones and smart phones. With the Windows Phone 7 system from Microsoft Corp. , the latter will go up against Apple and Google's Android, both of which are taking the market by storm.

"This decision had been speculated for some weeks and is really no surprise, given the fact that Elop is a former Microsoft executive," said UBS analyst Bob Faulkner.

"The company expects this to be a two-year transition process and, in the meantime, it will continue to offer Symbian-based smart phones," he said in a research note. "With these changes, the question for investors is one of who wins and who loses."

On that front, Mr. Faulkner highlights these points:

  • Apple and Google's Android are "the strong horses that everyone else is chasing." Regardless of market share, Apple products are now the benchmark, while Google's Android "now appears to play a pretty good 'second fiddle' and the rest seem to be watching their markets erode."
  • Nokia is backing away from offering Meego, an operating system being developed with Intel. Meego was not key to Intel's future, which instead will rest, in the mobile world, with its ability to cut the power consumption of its Atom microprocessor.
  • The partnership poses little risk to Microsoft, which is already late to the mobile game.

"We are not judging the validity of Elop's plan but are simply saying that it is likely too little, too late," said Mr. Faulkner.

Husky profit dips Husky Energy Inc. today posted a lower fourth-quarter profit of $305-million or 35 cents a share, compared to $320-million or 38 cents a year earlier.

“2010 was a transitional year as we undertook a comprehensive portfolio review," said chief executive officer Asim Ghosh. "From this, we developed and implemented a strategic plan setting out clear financial and operational milestones."

Boyd Erman's Morning Meeting Picture an exchange merger where the bigger partner is being forced to make even more concessions to get political approval to buy a smaller, resource-focused exchange in a deal that the parties have been calling a merger of equals. Sound familiar? It's not the TMX Group Inc. and London Stock Exchange PLC transaction -- it's the Singapore Exchange's attempt to combine with Australian exchange operator ASX Ltd., Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman reports today.

In Personal Finance today Some surprising retailers are entering the lucrative field of service plans.

It’s easy to be misled by insurance that purports to protect you from credit-balance default.

Most advice fails to link actions with consequences, says the author of the new personal finance book Moolala: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things With Their Money (And What You Can Do About It).

From today's Report on Business

Follow on Twitter: @michaelbabad

 
  • TRP-T
  • NOK-N
  • AAPL-Q
  • GOOG-Q
  • MSFT-Q
  • HSE-T
Live Discussion of TRP on StockTwits
More Discussion on TRP-T
Live Discussion of NOK on StockTwits
More Discussion on NOK-N
Live Discussion of AAPL on StockTwits
More Discussion on AAPL-Q
Live Discussion of GOOG on StockTwits
More Discussion on GOOG-Q
Live Discussion of MSFT on StockTwits
More Discussion on MSFT-Q
Live Discussion of HSE on StockTwits
More Discussion on HSE-T

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories