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Business Briefing

Canadian mutual funds top $1-trillion for first time Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.

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Mutual funds reach milestone
It took more than 80 years to get there, but mutual funds now represent a $1-trillion industry in Canada.

The industry’s assets under management topped that mark by the end of January, rising more than $140-billion or some 16 per cent over the previous year.

“Mutual funds have grown tenfold in value since 1990 and are a cornerstone of Canadians’ retirement savings,” Joanne De Laurentiis, president of the Investment Funds Institute of Canada, said in a statement today as she unveiled the results.

“Of the $986-billion increase since 1990, approximately 54 per cent was generated by net sales, while 46 per cent is the increase in the total value (market effect) of those savings.

The report, which comes in the middle of RRSP season, notes that the first such fund was offered in 1932, looking to bring in $50,000, though the dramatic surge “began in the early 1990s as Canadians saw interest rates on traditional savings accounts fall and began looking for new ways to grow their wealth.

Today, more than 115 fund companies offer almost 2,950 funds.

Canadian Natural in $3.1-billion deal
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is buying some of Devon Energy Corp.’s liquids-rich natural gas assets in Canada in a cash deal valued at $3.1-billion, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

The lands being acquired are all in Western Canada in areas next to or close to CNRL’s current operations and exclude Devon’s Horn River and heavy oil properties.

CNRL characterizes the properties as “liquids-rich natural gas weighted assets, with additional light crude oil exposure.”

The transaction comes a little more than a month after CNRL yanked plans to sell or share some of its Montney natural gas assets in British Columbia because of low-ball bids.

CNRL said in a statement today that the assets being acquired include a royalty revenue stream which is expected to earn about $75-million in cash flow this year.

Managing forward guidance
The U.S. central bank is ready to change its forward guidance, but its leaders are split on how to do it, our Washington correspondent Kevin Carmichael reports.

To instill clarity during a confusing period for the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve is being unusually explicit about when it foresees raising its benchmark interest rate. The Fed has tied an increase to a drop in the unemployment rate, currently communicating that it would consider a higher benchmark rate when the jobless rate drops to a point “well past” 6.5 per cent.

The outer edge of that threshold has come into view sooner than the Fed and most economists expected. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 per cent in January from 7.9 per cent a year earlier, a positive development on the surface, but one that has been met with something less enthusiasm because much of the decline is the result of people leaving the work force.

Policy makers puzzled over what to do about their guidance at the end of January, according to minutes of the meeting released today. They ultimately decided to leave things alone, in part because they couldn’t decide on a better way forward.

B.C. budget lauded
British Columbia is winning applause for being among just two provinces to end the 2013-14 fiscal year with a surplus.

“Stronger economic growth and ongoing spending restraint look to leave B.C. in the black through 2016/17,” said Warren Lovely of CIBC World Markets.

“The province continues to protect itself from disappointment via prudent planning assumptions, including cautious growth/commodity price forecasts, annual forecast allowances and sizeable contingencies.”

As The Globe and Mail’s Justine Hunter and Brent Jang report, Finance Minister Mike de Jong is betting on a cash inflow from the liquefied natural gas sector, saying the promise of a hearty industry in the province is “very real.”

That won’t happen for some time, however.

Still Mr. de Jong’s budget showed a small surplus, enough to get economists talking.

“Over all, this budget continues to focus on spending restraint, does little on the revenue side after some modest tax increases last year and outlines a much-anticipated preliminary framework for the LNG sector,” said Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Bombardier signs deal
Bombardier Inc. has signed a previously announced train supply contract for London’s massive Crossrail project that is now valued at about $2.1-billion (U.S.), Mr. Marotte also writes today.

Montreal-based Bombardier’s rail unit said the project to supply 65 nine-car trains and construct a new rail depot at Old Oak common will get underway April 17.

British authorities said two weeks ago it was their intention to award the contract to Bombardier. The value of the deal at the time was estimated to be about $1.6-billion.

The etiquette of Google Glass
Google Inc. has some succinct advice for those using its new computer eyewear: Don’t be a “Glasshole” in public.

The Internet giant has posted online a list of do’s and don’ts for wearers of Google Glass, put together by its “explorers,” those using the eyewear before wider releases.

“Since the program started, our explorers have gotten a lot of attention when they wear Glass out and about,” Google says on the Glass website.

“Reactions range from the curious – ‘Wow! Are those the Google glasses? How do they work?’ – to the suspect – ‘Goodness gracious do those things see into my soul?!’”

Among the do’s are exploring the world around you, taking advantage of the eyewear’s voice commands, asking for permission before using the Glass camera, and remembering to use the screen lock.

The don’ts are much more fun: First, use it for “short bursts of information and interactions.

“If you find yourself staring off into the prism for long periods of time you’re probably looking pretty weird to the people around you. So don’t read War and Peace on Glass.”

Next is the obvious: It wasn’t made for “high-impact” sports.

“Water skiing, bull riding or cage fighting with Glass are probably not good ideas.”

Third is to develop etiquette and expect to be asked questions.

And, finally, don’t be “creepy or rude (aka, a ‘Glasshole’).” Be polite when asked about it, and don’t use it in areas where cameras are banned.

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