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Canadian dollar now fifth most-used world payments currency Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Feb. 28, 2014.

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The loonie's popularity
Say what you want about bears and the Canadian dollar, but the loonie is now the fifth most-used currency for world payments.

According to the latest report from SWIFT, a co-operative for financial messaging services, the Canadian dollar accounted for 1.8 per cent of activity in January.

That’s the same as one year earlier. However, the loonie, as the country’s dollar coin is known, was the seventh most-used at that point.

The difference lies in changes for other currencies, notably the Australian dollar and Swiss franc, whose share dropped below that of the loonie compared to last year.

The SWIFT report was actually about the rise of the Chinese yuan, which moved to the No. 7 spot in January from No. 13 a year earlier to become more popular than the Swiss currency, at 1.39 per cent compared to Switzerland’s 1.38 per cent.

Notable is the surge.

According to SWIFT, yuan payments surged by almost 31 per cent, compared to the 4.8-per-cent increase for all payment currencies.

Having said that, the activity in the yuan is “heavily concentrated” in Hong Kong, where it accounts for 73 per cent.

Canada hikes mortgage insurance premiums
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is raising its mortgage loan insurance premiums effective May 1, The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins writes.

The increases will be for new policies, not those that are already insured. Premiums will rise by about 15 per cent on average, CMHC said today.

Mortgage insurance is mandatory in Canada for home buyers who have a down payment of less than 20 per cent. The insurance compensates lenders, or banks, in situations where the mortgage borrower defaults. The banks are technically responsible for the premiums, but they are almost always passed on to the buyer.

Mega Brands, Lego in spotlight
Who knew that kids’ building bricks could mean so much more than plugging up the hose on the vacuum cleaner?

First, Lego took the box office by storm with a new movie, and then posted solid annual results.

Then today, as The Globe and Mail’s Bertrand Marotte reports, toy giant Mattel Inc. unveiled a takeover of Canada’s Mega Brands Inc. in a deal valued at $17.75 (U.S.) a share or $460-million, including debt.

The big shareholders of the Canadian toy company, its founding family and Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., have agreed to the deal.

Canada's economy picks up steam
Canada’s economy picked up in the fourth quarter of last year despite a December chill.

Gross domestic product fattened by 2.9 per cent, annualized, in the last three months of the year, Statistics Canada said today, though it slipped 0.5 per cent in December alone as 2013 drew to a frozen close, The Globe and Mail's Barrie McKenna reports.

That was slightly better than economists had expected, as consumer and government spending climbed, helped along by a slight gain in exports. Inventories rose, and business investment softened.

For 2013 as a whole, the economy expanded by 2 per cent, after revisions to the readings of the first and second quarters, compared to the 2012 pace of 1.7 per cent.

“While today’s GDP report is a bit of a mixed bag, the bigger picture is that the Canadian economy looks to have had better momentum than widely appreciated through much of 2013,” said chief economist Douglas Porter of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

“The big upward revisions to the first half of the year and the solid Q4 (despite the ice storm) left overall growth for the year at 2 per cent, and even with an icy start we look for something better in 2014.”

The U.S. Commerce Department, in turn, today revised its estimate of fourth-quarter growth, bringing the expansion down to an annual pace of 2.4 per cent, compared to its original reading of 3.2 per cent.

“Today's downgrade was in line with expectations as is a further softening in economic activity due to the unusually bad winter,” economist Dawn Desjardins of Royal Bank of Canada said of the U.S. report.

“More important will be how the data evolve in March and April when the weather impact is likely to lessen and reports will provide a cleaner read on the economy's underlying momentum,” she added in a research note.

“We expect that the combination of stimulative monetary policy, a significant lessening in the drag from fiscal consolidation and sturdier household and business balance sheets will result in a rebound in the economy's growth rate.”

Authorities move on Yanukovych assets
Swiss and Austrian authorities are freezing the assets of Viktor Yanukovych and others, with a money-laundering probe reportedly also under way against the dethroned Ukrainian president and his son.

Switzerland’s financial regulator, FINMA, is acting where 20 people are concerned, including the ousted leader and his son.

“In view of the most recent developments, the federal council wishes to take all measures necessary to avoid the risk of any misappropriation of financial assets of the Ukrainian state,” the seven members of the group said today.

“It has therefore decided, in conjunction with other financial centres, to block all assets Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage might have in Switzerland,” they added in a statement.

“The federal council has also prohibited the sale and any disposal of assets, namely property, of these persons. The aim of this measure is to prevent these assets being taken out of Switzerland before they can be blocked through the ordinary channels of mutual legal assistance in co-operation with the Ukrainian authorities.”

Austria took similar moves related to 18 people.

Separately, Reuters reported, Swiss authorities launched a money-launder probe against the former toppled leader and his son Oleksander.

“A penal investigation for severe money laundering is currently being conducted in Geneva against Viktor Yanukovych and his son Oleksander, Reuters quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying in a statement.

It added that chief prosecutor Yves Bertossa, along with other authorities, raided the offices of a Yanukovych-owned company yesterday.

This comes at the same time that Ukraine’s central bank is moving to block an exodus of money, restricting bank withdrawals.

Liechtenstein is also reportedly acting to freeze accounts.

There’s no real sense of how much money is at stake here, but Arseny Yatseniuk, the new prime minister, has said that $70-billion (U.S.) has gone missing over a three-year period.

Mt. Gox goes under
Mt. Gox has filed for bankruptcy protection, dealing a further blow to bitcoin.

Mark Karpeles, the chief executive of the bitcoin exchange, told reporters in Tokyo today that he was sorry for the failure, and that some $500-million (U.S.) in the virtual currency may have been lost.

He blamed hackers.

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