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The Week

Just say no (and the executives will still likely get megabucks) Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business followed this week.

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Barrick under fire
Shareholders of Barrick Gold Corp. just said no. Only time will tell whether it makes a difference.

The world’s biggest gold miner is under fire from shareholders over how much it’s paying its executives, notably its new co-chairman John Thornton, who joined with a signing bonus of $11.9-million (U.S.).

Chairman Peter Munk defended the bonus at Barrick’s annual meeting this week, saying the company had to pay such big money to get someone of Mr. Thornton’s standing.

But, as The Globe and Mail’s Janet McFarland reports, shareholders voted more than 85 per cent against the company’s overall compensation plan.

That followed the protestations of eight big investment management firms, which said in advance of the meeting that they would oppose it, noting that Mr. Thornton’s total pay package last year was an “unprecedented” $17-million.

Barrick’s showing in the yearly say-on-pay vote was the lowest ever in Canada. And it comes amid increasing scrutiny around the world of high executive pay and bank bonuses.

But this is not binding on the company, and Barrick says only that it will take a close look at the vote.

It may particularly sting where shareholders are concerned, given how tough 2012 was for the company, so much so that chief executive Jamie Sokalsky told them that “I share your disappointment.”

Barrick also said it will consider suspending its key Pascua-Lama project after a court in Chile halted work amid allegations of groundwater pollution that have not been proven.

The tweet that roiled the markets
Investors got a lesson in the power of social media this week as markets plunged briefly Tuesday on a fake tweet that said President Barack Obama had been injured in an explosion at the White House.

A group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army, which backs Syria’s president, said it hacked the Twitter account of The Associated Press and sent the tweet, driving down the Dow Jones industrial average by more than 140 points, pushing down the price of oil and even the Canadian dollar.

Most humans realized the tweet was bogus, and observers blamed computer-assisted trading.

The markets quickly recovered, and U.S. authorities are now investigating.

The incident took on added importance, given that the Securities and Exchange Commission is now allowing companies to make material announcements via social media such as Twitter and Facebook, raising security implications.

“Today, we learned the sheer speed of social media can have economic consequences,” said sociology professor Vincent Mosco of Queen’s University.

U.S. economy picks up
The U.S. economy rebounded in the first quarter of the year, but government spending is proving to be a drag.

Gross domestic product expanded at an annual pace of 2.5 per cent, according to the Commerce Department, well up from the fourth quarter’s lame 0.4 per cent but below the 3 per cent economists had forecast.

Economic growth was driven by consumer spending, but limited by government cuts.

“The recovery in economic growth going into 2013 is encouraging after the minimal increase in the fourth quarter of last year,” said assistant chief economist Paul Ferley of Royal Bank of Canada.

“However, there is reason to doubt whether growth will strengthen further in the current quarter,” he added in a research note.

“A full percentage point of growth in Q1 came from a rebuilding of inventories that is not expected to continue in Q2. As well, there have been a number of indicators showing a slowing in activity at the end of the first quarter with a weakening in March data for both employment and the manufacturing [purchasing managers’ index].”

Keystone XL pushed back
TransCanada Corp. expects both a delay and higher costs for its controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

It now sees the pipeline not being operational until the second half of 2015 because of the delay in getting a presidential permit, The Globe and Mail's Kelly Cryderman reports.

It also expects the estimated cost of $5.3-billion (U.S.) to rise depending on the timing of securing the permit.

Its first proposal was rejected, but TransCanada rerouted the project around an environmentally sensitive in Nebraska, winning the approval of the state's governor.

In an interview with The Globe, chief executive officer Russ Girling said the pipeline project had become "this symbol of everything that's wrong with the fossil fuel energy industry," while it actually just transports oil safely "from A to B."

In Business Briefing this week

In Streetwise this week (for subscribers)

In Economy Lab this week

In ROB Insight this week (for subscribers)

Required reading
Falling commodity prices have hit Sprott Asset Management funds and dented the reputation of Eric Sprott, Tim Kiladze and Jacqueline Nelson write.

Mortgage price wars have barely cooled, but Canada's banks are fighting on another front: the auto industry. Grant Robertson and Greg Keenan report.

Tiff Macklem confirms for the first time in public that he wants to be governor of the Bank of Canada. Kevin Carmichael and Boyd Erman report.

Given precarious finances and job prospects, it can make sense for young people to put home ownership on hold. Rob Carrick gives his advice.

Britain's surprising growth and Spain's relentless deterioration are again highlighting Europe's north-south economic divide, Eric Reguly writes.

 

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