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Morning Business Briefing

As Tokyo stocks plunge, Japan’s Abenomics on ‘shaky foundations’ Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, June 3, 2013.

Follow Michael Babad and the Globe’s top business stories on Twitter.

Whither Abenomics
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s honeymoon may well be over.

Japanese stocks, which have been in turmoil over the past couple of weeks, plunged again today and questions are being raised over so-called Abenomics, the aggressive economic and monetary policy program launched by the new prime minister and his new governor at the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda. The Nikkei has now tumbled more than 15 per cent from its peak.

“One driver of the nearly two-week slide in the Nikkei has been erratic communication from the BoJ as Governor Kuroda appears to be facing internal dissent while several BoJ officials have expressed doubt that the revised 2-per-cent inflation target will ever be met,” said Derek Holt, vice-president of economics at Bank of Nova Scotia.

“Even Kuroda has been vague on lining up a timeline with expectations of hitting his doubled inflation target,” Mr. Holt said today.

“Profit-taking after an enormous rally since last fall could be another sensible reason. More fundamentally, we’re sticking to our view that Abenomics is on shaky foundations and markets are coming around to this view.”

Japan, of course, is struggling to get out of a protracted period of deflation, though fresh numbers Friday showed it inching ever closer to that goal. And, of course, it will take time for Abenomics to filter through.

Mr. Holt, however, also cited the fact that Japan’s corporate sector doesn’t appear to be following through.

“In another blow to Abenomics, Japanese companies are still not heeding the political plea to raise their capital spending,” Mr. Holt said, noting that a new reading today showed a spending drop of 3.9 per cent in the first quarter.

“In fairness, cap-ex decisions can be rather long-tailed, such that hoping for such an immediate swing in capital spending in response to Abenomics was a tad unrealistic to begin with,” he said.

“I don’t, however, have a good explanation as to why momentum was lost the minute Abenomics started to get priced in,” he added, though it would seem that the new policies haven’t boosted confidence among Japan’s companies.

CRTC unveils new code
Canada’s telecom regulator has unveiled a new wireless code of conduct that will ease one of the biggest irritants for cellphone users.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will allow Canadians to cancel their contracts after two years and pay no cancellation fees, no matter than they may have signed up for longer, The Globe and Mail’s Rita Trichur reports.

There are other measures, as well, including a ceiling on the cost of data and overage and data roaming. The new rules take effect in early December.

“The wireless code will contribute to a more dynamic marketplace by making it possible for Canadians to discuss their needs with service providers at least every two years,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, the chairman of the broadcast and telecom agency.

Suitors eye Iron Ore
A huge commodities player and a private equity group are among potential buyers eyeing Rio Tinto PLC’s stake in Iron Ore Co. of Canada, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The recently merged Glencore Xstrata PLC and Blackstone Group LP are among others that have also been studying an offer the 58.7-per-cent interest said to be worth some $4-billion (U.S.).

Mitsubishi Corp. holds 26.2 per cent of the company, and Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Income Corp. 15.1 per cent.

The Globe and Mail reported in early March that Rio Tinto had put the stake on the auction block, part of widespread assets to deal with the huge debt from acquiring Alcan in 2007.

Antitrust watchdog pushes ahead
Canada’s Competition Bureau says it’s now in a position to forge ahead with its probe into the setting of key interest rates after Royal Bank of Scotland abandoned its legal attempt to hold back documents.

RBS had been challenging an Ontario Superior Court of Justice order from mid-2011 to produce bank records, arguing, among other things, that the judgment breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The order involved not only RBS, but others that are part of the probe, as well, and demanded documents from outside the country.

No allegations have been proven.

The Canadian arm of RBS has now given up its challenge, the Competition Bureau said on its website.

“The abandonment comes approximately 18 months after the launch of the challenge and will allow the bureau to move forward with its investigation of alleged collusive conduct into the setting of yen Libor rates,” the antitrust watchdog said in its Friday statement.

“With the abandonment of its challenge RBS Canada is now required to comply with the order issued against it by June 28, 2013,” it added, warning it could still take further action on the delay.

“The bureau is considering its options for recuperating the costs arising from the resources expended to respond to RBS Canada’s now abandoned challenge.”

This is part of an ongoing tussle between the Competition Bureau and RBS, and part of a broader, global probe into the setting of key interest rates.

Last November, for example, the Canadian agency took on the bank over statements in connection with its third-quarter financials, where it says is was co-operating with the various investigations.

“The suggestion that the RBS Group is ‘co-operating fully’ with the bureau is false,” it said at the time.

“The RBS Group has not applied to the bureau’s immunity or leniency programs and, in fact, has challenged a production order issued by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in relation to the bureau’s investigation.”

RBS, which last week appointed a former official of Britain’s Financial Services Authority to oversee its conduct and compliance, said today it’s not commenting on the Competition Bureau statement, though a spokesman for the bank did tell Reuters is co-operating with the agency.

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