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(PATRICK SINKEL)
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Top Business Stories

Love or money? More in U.S. shacking up amid hard times Add to ...

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More U.S. couples live together amid hard times A new U.S. Census Bureau study finds an "unusually high increase" in unmarried couples living together, likely because of economic reasons such as unemployment. In a working paper that looks at 2010 data, the Census Bureau's Rose Kreider notes a 13-per-cent increase between 2009 and this year in the number of opposite-sex couples living together, up to 7.5 million from 6.7 million. For same-sex couples, the numbers do not differ statistically.

The increase came as the brutal recession threw millions of Americans out of work, and made looking for a job that much harder for those not yet employed. "Taken together, the ways in which newly formed couples in 2010 differed from existing couples suggest that economic situations such as longer-term unemployment may have contributed to the increase in opposite-sex cohabiting couples between 2009 and 2010," Ms. Kreider says in the paper. "The recession began at the end of 2007, so why wouldn't such an increase happen earlier? Perhaps the length of unemployment resulted in people exhausting other methods of coping - unemployment benefits, savings accounts, available credit, or assistance from friends and family."

Newly formed couples in 2010 had a lower percentage with both partners employed, at 39, than existing couples from the same time point, at 50, the study shows.

It would be odd to suggest 2010 was somehow "emotionally different," and thus it's more likely practical considerations were behind the increase, she told The Associated Press, which in its article on the study asks, is it love or money?

Gold forecast to remain high Gold prices continued to climb today, reaching a record near $1,300 (U.S.) an ounce, and some analysts believe they will remain high for years to come. "Fears of runaway inflation or a dollar collapse, which underpin some of the most bullish forecasts for gold, remain exaggerated," Capital Economics in London said in a report today. "Nonetheless, prices should continue to be supported by strong demand for a safe haven from other potential economic and financial shocks, such as a U.S.-China trade war and the breakup of the [euro zone]

Believing inflation will remain low, Capital Economics said any fading demand for gold as a hedge against inflation could be replaced by heightened demand for a safe haven. The report projected prices will remain high for several years, dipping slightly to $1,200 an ounce by the end of this year but rallying further next year to at least $1,400 "as new shocks hit the global economy and financial system."

As Globe and Mail reporter Brian Milner notes in today's Report on Business, investors are rushing to the safety of gold, and other assets, on mounting concern that the U.S. economy isn't about to come back to life any time soon.

How Canada fares on debt Canada has been winning praise throughout the industrialized world for Ottawa's fiscal position, a relatively low level of government debt-to-GDP when compared to its peers. But, Scotia Capital notes today, add in private debt and it doesn't look so good.

"Just as the federal government vacated the debt markets from the mid-1990s onward, Canadian households, businesses and some provinces all too eagerly stepped up to the plate to fill the space," said economists Derek Holt and Grocia Djeric. "Canada's combined household debt and business debt readings relative to GDP give us among the most indebted private sectors anywhere using this World Economic Forum measure of private debt extended by lenders to households and businesses."

As their chart above illustrates, Canada is "pushing toward the outer limit," in company with the likes of the United States, Britain and Spain when you look at both public and private gross debt.

"Connect the dots between the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Italy and Japan on the chart, and being near the resulting ring isn't terribly appealing to us," the Scotia economists said in a research note. "Canada has a lot of company in this zone, but the view that the country is vastly superior on debt exposures that itself stems from focusing just on the federal government or just net debt of all governments combined is incorrect."

Blockbuster files for court protection Remember when DVDs were a new technology that quickly knocked VHS out of the picture? Blockbuster Inc., the giant U.S.-based video rental chain, filed today for bankruptcy protection as even newer technology and changing consumer habits hurt the way it does business. Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 protection, having reached a debt-for-equity swap with bondholders that would markedly reduce its crushing debt burden of more than $900-million (U.S.) to about $100-million.

How consumers watch movies at home has changed dramatically over the years. Many people in the U.S. rent through vending machines, through the popular Netflix Inc. mail-order and online service, and on-demand cable operations. And they increasingly watch TV shows and movies on their computers or devices such as the iPod.

Blockbuster chief executive officer Jim Keyes noted this, saying in a statement that "after a careful and thorough analysis, we determined that the process announced provides the optimal path for recapitalizing our balance sheet and positioning Blockbuster for the future as we continue to transform our business model to meet the evolving preferences of our customers."

The filing does not affect Blockbuster Canada, which said today it is "financially stable."

Luck of the Irish? Maybe they're not so lucky, after all. Ireland, once the Celtic Tiger and now one of Europe's basket cases, said today the economy contracted in the second quarter by 1.2 per cent. That's 4.8 per cent at an annual rate and marks the 9th contraction in 10 months, BMO Nesbitt Burns noted.Things had been looking up given growth of 2.2 per cent in the first quarter, but today's reading added to the disappointment in Europe. "Ireland was the first to take the austerity medicine, and having shown some positive growth in [the first quarter] is right back into recessionary territory," said Elsa Lignos, currency strategy at Royal Bank of Canada Europe.

In his Morning Meeting post, Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman notes that major Irish banks are among the worst performing corporate credits today on cerns that investors won't be repaid as the country struggles.

French protest retirement age Plans by the French government to raise the official retirement age sparked another 24-hour strike today, disrupting transportation, schools and government offices. President Nicolas Sarkozy's government is raising the minimum retirement age by two years, to 62, and for a full pension to 67 from 65. France is among several European countries hit by social unrest in the wake of austerity and other measures.

McDonald's boosts dividend McDonald's Corp. raised its quarterly dividend by 11 per cent today, to 61 cents (U.S.), continuing a string of increases since the first payout in 1976. McDonald's is doing better than its rivals, despite the sputtering recovery in the United States, possibly even doing better because people are looking for cheap meals out. Chief executive officer Jim Skinner said shareholders will receive the equivalent of $5-billion this year, divided between stock buybacks and dividends.

From today's Report on Business

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