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Canadians still pay 62% more for a home than in U.S. Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

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

Canada-U.S. house price gap still wide
The price gap between homes in Canada and the United States remains “yawning” despite the changing fortunes of the two real estate markets, but that’s bound to change.

The U.S. housing market, where the financial crisis began, has been on the upswing after years of depression, while the Canadian market has cooled over the past several months as policy makers try to engineer a soft landing, which, by all appearances, appears to be working.

Home sales have plunged in Canada, but prices have generally held up.

BMO Nesbitt Burns compared the two markets, and found that, while U.S. prices surged on an annual basis to March, average prices in Canada remain a “towering” 62 per cent above those in America.

“That’s right in line with last year’s average gap, but compares with little difference for a 25-year period up until 2006,” said BMO chief economist Douglas Porter.

“There’s nothing in the textbooks that says prices have to be identical between Canada and the U.S., especially in their own currencies,” Mr. Porter said in a research note.

“But a 62-per-cent gap is simply not sustainable for long,” he added.

“The good news is that we believe that most of this yawning gap will be closed by a rebound in U.S. home prices. After all, it’s U.S. affordability that’s off the charts now.”

(For Mr. Porter’s research, see the accompanying infographic or click here.)

Fake tweet panics markets
A bogus tweet from a hacked Associated Press account sent stocks tumbling briefly today, highlighting the power of Twitter in such fast-moving and anxious markets.

The false tweet reported explosions in the White House that injured President Barack Obama, sparking a 150-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average, a drop in oil and even a dip in the Canadian dollar.

“I think there was a lot of damage done on that,” Sean Murphy, a treasuries trader at Société Générale in New York, told Reuters.

“Automatically electronic trading kicks in and they don’t know the difference between a fictitious story and the truth and immediately started to buy and took us right back to the day’s highs.”

Markets quickly recovered when it became clear that the tweet was false and that the U.S. news agency had been hacked.

“The Boston Marathon bombings showed us how difficult it can be to accurately report on social media,” said Vincent Mosco, a sociology professor at Queen’s University.

“Today, we learned the sheer speed of social media can have economic consequences,” he added.

“One question that has to be asked is how can one of the most trusted and most secure wire services get hacked and send out a tweet that has potential economic consequences? What if the tweet said ‘North Korea has launched a nuclear missile at Tokyo.’ It could have created mass panic.”

It's of particular note now that U.S. market regulators have allowed material corporate announcements to be on social media, via Twitter and Facebook, as long as investors know where to look.

"The lesson seems to be to only pay attention to news wires through the usual channels," said Sébastien Galy of Société Générale.

According to calculations by Bloomberg News, some $136-billion (U.S.) was temporarily lost as the S&P 500 index plunged.

“No human believed the story,” Rick Fier, who heads up stock trades at Conifer Securities in New York, told Bloomberg.

“Only the computers react to something that serious disseminated in such a way. I bought some stock well and did not sell into it. Humans win.”

Apple, by the numbers
Apple Inc. posted a drop in second-quarter profit late today – its first annual decline in 10 years - as revenue climbed.

Apple also boosted its share buyback authorization to $60-billion from last year’s $10-billion, calling the new level the “largest single share repurchase authorization in history.”

It also raised its quarterly dividend by 15 per cent to $3.05.

Here the highlights from the tech giant’s report:

  • Profit slipped to $9.5-billion (U.S.) or $10.09 a share from $11.6-billion or $12.30.
  • Revenue climbed to $43.6-billion from $39.2-billion.
  • Its gross margin of 37.6 per cent compared to 47.4 per cent a year earlier.
  • Sales of iPhones climbed to 37.4 million from 35.1 million in the same period.
  • Sales of iPads surged to 19.5 million from 11.8 million.
  • Sales of Macs were just about flat at just shy of 4 million.

Apple also projected third-quarter revenue of between $33.5-billion and $35.5-billion, and gross margin of 36 per cent to 37 per cent.

“Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software and services, and we are very excited about the products in our pipeline,” said chief executive Tim Cook.

Apple also boosted its share buyback authorization to $60-billion from last year’s $10-billion, calling the new level the “largest single share repurchase authorization in history.”

It also raised its quarterly dividend by 15 per cent to $3.05.

Teck profit climbs
Teck Resources Ltd. posted a stronger first-quarter profit, yet felt the impact of faltering commodities prices, The Globe and Mail's Pav Jordan reports.

The Vancouver-based company, the biggest diversified miner in the country, earned $319-million or 55 cents a share, compared to $258-million or 44 cents a year earlier.

Adjusted profit, though, fell 40 per cent to $328-million or 56 cents, well above the 38 cents expected by analysts.

“With continuing uncertain global economic conditions, prices for all of our major products were down compared to the first quarter of last year, resulting in lower profits and cash flows,” said chief executive officer Don Lindsay.

Encana posts loss
Hedging and foreign-exchange losses took a hefty bite out of Encana Corp.’s first-quarter profit, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

The North American gas giant’s operating profit fell 25 per cent to $179-million or 24 cents per share in the first quarter, from $240-million or 33 cents in the year-earlier period.

On a net basis, Calgary-based Encana swung to a $431-million loss in the first quarter from a profit of $12-million.

“Our focus remains on reducing costs and increasing our profitability,” said interim president and chief executive officer Clayton Woitas.

“Through the first quarter we identified several areas where we can become more efficient in our business. We expect the cost reduction efforts we’ve made at the beginning of this year to have an impact on our financial results during the second half of the year.”

Netflix surges
Shares of Netflix Inc. surged today after a better-than-expected earnings report late yesterday.

Netflix earned $2.7-million (U.S.) or 5 cents a share in the first quarter, a rebound from the loss of $4.6-million or 8 cents a year earlier. Sales jumped 18 per cent to just over $1-billion and, notably, it brought in about 2 million new customers.

That was helped along by the Netflix series House of Cards with Kevin Spacey.

Consumers pay more, but hold back
Canadians are spending more, but not necessarily buying more.

Retail sales in Canada climbed in February by 0.8 per cent, Statistics Canada said today. But when you strip out price hikes, sales by volume were flat.

Indeed, the agency noted higher gas prices as behind the drive.

General merchandise stores chalked up the biggest gains, of 2.8 per cent, while those in the auto industry rose 1 per cent.

Electronics and appliance stores also made gains, though, Statistics Canada said, the sector has been on "a downward trend" since the start of last  year.

"Looking ahead, relief is coming on gasoline prices, which should help real consumption, although Q2 will get off to a poor start come April for seasonal items given the cold start to spring," said chief economist Avery Shenfeld of CIBC World Markets.

Carney sticks to script
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney stuck to his script from last week, telling the Commons finance committee today that the next move in interest rates is still expected to be up.

In his opening statement, Mr. Carney repeated much of what the central bank had outlined when it held its benchmark rate steady at 1 per cent and cut the outlook for economic growth this year to 1.5 per cent, with a more optimistic outlook for 2014 and 2015.

"Following a weak second half of 2012, growth in Canada is projected to regain some momentum through 2013 as net exports pick up and business investment returns to more solid growth," Mr. Carney said.

"Consumer spending is expected to grow at a moderate pace over the projection horizon, while residential investment declines further from historically high levels," he added in the opening statement.

"Growth in total household credit has slowed and the bank continues to expect that the household debt-to-income ratio will stabilize near current levels. Despite the projected recovery in exports, they are likely to remain below their pre-recession peak until the second half of 2014 owing to restrained foreign demand and ongoing competitiveness challenges, including the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar.

Economists don't expect interest rates to rise again until late next year or early 2015.

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