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The Week

Alberta: Where real estate sells and cars fly off lots (but oil's a sore spot) Add to ...

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Alberta's fortunes
Put energy royalties aside, and Alberta is looking sharp.

Calgary’s housing market is unique, holding up as the rest of Canada cools, cars are selling well, and Albertans are spending.

It’s oil, specifically the large price gap between Western Canadian Select, the most commonly traded Canadian heavy oil, and the West Texas Intermediate and Brent benchmarks.

This “bitumen bubble,” as Premier Alison Redford put it, is going to cost Alberta some $6-billion in lower oil and gas revenues this year.

Some things to consider:

  • Calgary’s real estate market is holding up well as Canadian housing cools, with sales up by more than 7 per cent in December from a year earlier, The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Cryderman and Tara Perkins report.
  • Alberta led Canada in household spending in 2011, Tavia Grant writes.
  • The province will be “the auto industry’s growth leader” this year, according to Scotiabank auto analyst Carlos Gomes, driven by “a buoyant labour market, record population inflows and a continuing, albeit single-digit increase in energy sector investments.”
  • Alberta boasts the lowest jobless rate in the country, at 4.5 per cent, compared to the national average of 7.1 per cent.
  • And then there’s this: WCS is selling at a discount of more than 33 per cent to WTI.

This latter issue is hurting provincial revenues, and economists believe the province’s strong growth is slowing. This also affects Saskatchewan and the federal government.

According to Patricia Mohr of Scotiabank, one of Canada’s top commodity analysts, the price gap is due to several factors, primarily constraints on the pipeline system, exacerbated by surging output in North Dakota, and thus competition for transport.

Economies on the mend
The latest signals from the global economy are mixed, to say the least, but they do illustrate how the world is slowly healing from the meltdown.

Europe remains troubled, but has stabilized from the depths of its debt crisis, the United States is on the mend despite the blip that was the fourth quarter, and Canada has just turned in its best showing in months.

That’s not to suggest boom times, or fast-easing jobless levels, however. Indeed, some observers expect a slow start to the year, and a stronger pickup in the second half.

This week, Statistics Canada reported that the economy expanded by 0.3 per cent in November, ending a months-long slump.

And while the latest reading from the U.S. showed a contraction of 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter, that’s believed to have been a temporary pause, due to huge cuts in government spending and the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

On Friday, the U.S. Labour Department reported only modest job creation in January, and, indeed, an unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent, but it revised up last year’s numbers to show hiring was more than initially believed.

Some economists expect a better beginning to 2013, now a month old, in the United States and Canada, though hurdles remain, notably America’s lingering budget issues and Canada’s cooling housing market, and its dependence on the U.S. market.

Wasn't that a party? (1)
Research In Motion Ltd. launched its new BlackBerry 10 offerings with events around the world and generally positive reviews. For the BB10s, that is, not its stock price.

First, there's a touchscreen version, which went on sale in Britain this week and hits Canada next week, to be followed by keyboard models. One of the trouble spots for RIM, as The Globe and Mail's Iain Marlow, Omar El Akkad and Susan Krashinsky report, is a delay in launching the devices in the United States, where they won't be until March, affecting sales in the current quarter.

Some analysts remain cautious, though others suggest the weakness in RIM shares, which have plunged since last week, is a buying opportunity.

RIM is also changing its name, to BlackBerry, and will trade beginning next week under different symbols, BBRY on Nasdaq and BB in Toronto.

“BlackBerry has demonstrated truly unique software innovation within BB10, including hub, balance, its virtual keyboard, and heavy use of multitasking,” Raymond James said.

“However, convincing the many BlackBerry users who have abandoned the platform for iOS and Android over the last few years to return will be a difficult challenge as Microsoft and Nokia can surely attest to,” it said in its research note, referring to the Apple and Google operating systems.

“Early tech media reviews are mixed, with essentially universal love for the virtual keyboard, praise for the differentiated user interface and multi-tasking capabilities, but concerns about missing a number of key apps (Pandora, Netflix, etc.), battery life, and general concern about the dramatic change it will be for traditional BB users,” the report added.

Wasn't that a party? (2)
U.S. markets closed out the week in fine fashion, capping a strong January. And that gets tongues wagging over a January effect.

The S&P 500 gained 0.7 per cent over the week, while the Dow Jones industrial average closed Friday above the 14,000 mark for the first time since the fall of 2007 and is now nearing record territory. The Toronto Stock Exchange was the laggard in the bunch, slipping slightly.

"Cautious late-year sentiment has been helped by fading U.S. fiscal concerns, hardening evidence of a much-needed housing recovery and solid early-season earnings results," said senior economist Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"So what about this January phenomenon?" Mr. Kavcic wondered.

"Going back to 1960, January’s direction has correctly predicted the direction of the S&P 500 for the remainder of the year a hardly-convincing 65% of the time," he said in a research note.

"Interesting, however, is that of the nine years that have seen a 5-per-cent-plus performance in January, fully eight have seen stellar returns over the remainder of the year, with the median move clocking in at a whopping 17.2 per cent - the lone exception was 1987, when the market crash wiped out prior gains."

Note that the S&P 500 indeed gained 5 per cent last month.

Streetwise this week (for subscribers)

ROB Insight this week (for subscribers)

Required reading
The former chief of Canada’s largest metropolitan newspaper chain and current head of The Fight Network plans to launch a new channel dedicated exclusively to fantasy sports, Steve Ladurantaye reports.

Canada's top 1 per cent remains a largely male group, but more women are part of the club that requires at least $201,400 to join, Tavia Grant reports.

Listening to Metro Inc. executives address their shareholders in a lofty Montreal conference hall was not unlike reading tea leaves, Sophie Cousineau writes. You could foresee the future transaction you were hoping for.

The newspaper industry is a financial Gong Show. Can it be saved by turning it into a reality TV show? Simon Houpt examines the issue.

After stumbling for two decades, the Japanese stock market is showing signs of regaining its stride. Josh O'Kane reports.

Follow on Twitter: @michaelbabad

 

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