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Carl Icahn puts rumour to rest: He's not interested in RIM Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Oct. 17. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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RIM's App-ology Carl Icahn put the rumour to rest today in an interview with CNBC: He's not interested in Research In Motion Ltd. , at least at this point.

"Right now, that is certainly not on our radar screen," is how the financier put it.

RIM shares went on a bit of a tear last month on rumours Mr. Icahn was looking to invest in the BlackBerry maker.

Separately today, RIM began offering customers a selection of premium mobile applications free of charge as a make-up after the embarrassing global service outage annoyed and enraged BlackBerry users around the world, The Globe and Mail's Iain Marlow reports.

The mobile apps, the company said, “will be offered free of charge to subscribers as an expression of appreciation for their patience during the recent service disruptions.”

A 'tug of war' Canadian home sales climbed 2.7 per cent in September from a month earlier, illustrating what economists see as a balanced market with no signs of a bubble about to burst.

"September’s increase reflects strengthened activity in a number of major markets, led by Toronto," the Canadian Real Estate Association said today. "The monthly increase pushed national sales to its highest level since recently tightened mortgage regulations dampened sales earlier this year."

Average prices didn't change all that much, but now sit 6.5 per cent above where they were a year ago.

Canadian housing continues to look balanced and healthy, as low mortgage rates and a falling jobless rate are offsetting weaker consumer confidence and tighter mortgage rules," said Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns. "We continue to expect sales and prices to cool in the year ahead, but the landing should be a soft one."

Economist Sonya Gulati noted that so far this year, sales hit their peak in January, and sales are down 2.6 per cent since then. New mortgage rules, heightened economic uncertainty and a "growing saturation" of first-time buyers have had a dampening effect, offset by continued low interest rates.

"Going forward, we anticipate a tug-of-war action to take hold in the Canadian real estate market between low interest and mortgage rates and only modest economic, income and employment growth," Ms. Gulati said. " With both push and pull momentum, we expect both prices and sales to hold fairly steady, relative to current levels, over the next year."

Sun Life expects loss Canada's Sun Life Financial Inc. expects to post a hefty loss when it releases its third-quarter results, The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports.

Citing both troubled markets and interest rate levels, the life insurer said today it anticipates a loss of $621-million, and a loss of $572-million on an operating basis.

"Results for the third quarter include losses related to substantial declines in both equity markets and interest rate levels, which particularly impacted the individual life and variable annuity businesses in SLF U.S.," Sun Life, which reports Nov. 2, said in a statement.

"The third quarter was a period of exceptional market volatility. North American equity markets dropped by 12 per cent to 14 per cent, while yields on fixed income securities fell amid economic uncertainty in the European Union and U.S. monetary policy actions aimed at lowering interest rates on long-term treasuries."

As Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman writes, Sun Life's announcement shows just how broken the business model is for investors when equity markets are hugely volatile and interest rates are depressed.

Citigroup profit climbs Citigroup Inc. today posted a big gain in third-quarter profit, beating analysts estimates and including a large accounting gain.

The third-largest bank in the United States earned $3.77-billion (U.S.) or $1.23 a share, up from $2.17-billion or 72 cents a year earlier. Revenue rose slightly to $20.8-billion.

Citigroup's chief executive officer Vikram Pandit gave a nod to the current uncertainty as he boasted of the 74-per-cent jump in profit.

"Citi continues to navigate a challenging economic environment and delivered another quarter of solid operating results," he said.

"We continued to manage our risk prudently while growing the businesses that are core to our strategy. We have reduced the size of Citi Holdings to 15 per cent of our balance sheet and further improved our financial strength."

Confidence ebbs Optimism among Canadian companies took a hit in the third quarter as heightened global uncertainty and a weakening U.S. rebound weighed on private-sector executives’ minds, according to a Bank of Canada survey released today.

The central bank’s Business Outlook Survey for the July-through-September period found firms are less bullish about their sales prospects than they were in the last poll and fewer face capacity pressures or predict rapid price gains, The Globe and Mail's Jeremy Torobin reports.

A separate survey showed business lending also easing.

"Overall, the surveys are in line with expectations that the recent downscaling in global and US growth outlooks has affected the optimism of Canadian firms," said Emanuella Enenajor of CIBC World Markets.

"However, businesses are still clearly anticipating at least modest growth in the quarters ahead, and positive intentions for capital expenditures and hiring suggests that this sector of the economy will continue to power forward the domestic recovery."

The G20's deadline Finance officials of the G20 ended their weekend meeting with an Oct. 23 deadline for the European Union "to decisively address the current challenges through a comprehensive plan."

That's when EU leaders meet in Brussels for what has now become a crucial summit, given the demands of the G20 finance minister and central bankers who met in Paris for two days of talks.

The idea that they'll have a comprehensive plan in place is ridiculous, as even Germany signalled today.

"Just in case anyone was at risk of being swept away by the weekend’s optimism, German officials are here with a reality check," said Elsa Lignos, senior currency strategist at RBC in London.

"A German government spokesman says dreams that the euro zone crisis will be solved next Monday cannot be met, while separately German Finance Minister Schaeuble said the Oct. 23 summit would not present an ultimate solution for the euro zone debt crisis."

The idea is somehow that the Europeans, who have been struggling with this issue for about two years now, will have a plan in place at the coming summit that they can then put to a G20 leaders' summit in early November. EU officials are looking at a broad plan that includes a more powerful rescue fund, a recapitalization of the region's bank, and a haircut for Greek bondholders that would be larger than initially suggested.

Also looming large is a vote by Greece's Parliament on its new austerity measures, scheduled for Thursday. While it's not likely the politicians would vote it down, it does come amid ever-growing protests.

"Though Parliament is expected to vote yes to avoid default, public reaction is worsening while some strikers have made it their aim to topple the current government," Ms. Lignos said. "There is a non-negligible chance this vote fails, which would throw up further hurdles to the grand plan."

Is Statscan giving out too much early? Bloomberg News takes an in-depth look today at the number of political aides and other government workers who are privy to market-moving data a day early. The news agency finds the number is at least 69 people, based on interviews and access-to-information data.

Officials and ministry staff at the Finance Department, for example, can get up to nine reports, including those on employment and inflation, Bloomberg said, while staff of the Privy Council office, Bank of Canada and trade and human resources departments also get an early peek.

Some of this should not be surprising, but perhaps the overall number is. Former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, also a long-time civil servant at one point, told the news agency that it's "dangerous from an 'integrity of the numbers' standpoint if there's a sense that this stuff is floating all around and there's some people who can make money off it beforehand."

This isn't the first time Statistics Canada's release of information has been questioned. Indeed, KPMG audited it for Statistics Canada, and the audit showed no significant breaches.

The federal agency said it gives data only to a "restricted number of authorized federal government organizations" and only through "secure channels." These are groups that need to know, it said.

Headlines of note

In Economy Lab Researchers have found a surprising change in the racial composition of South Africa's wealthiest few: While a white minority still dominates the economy, there is an unexpectedly fast-growing number of wealthy black South Africans, Erin Conway Smith reports.

In International Business The Occupy movement is exciting because it is spontaneous and authentic -- and potentially powerful because it is being fired up by social networks, The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly writes.

In Globe Careers Unlike a meeting, which tends to last an hour, a session can be 10 minutes, if that’s all that’s needed. Dianne Nice examines the issue.

From today's Report on Business

Follow on Twitter: @michaelbabad

 
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