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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 21, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 21, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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Regulator warns on circle of low rates, consumer debt Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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OSFI warns on debt Canada's bank regulator issued a warning today on high consumer debt levels, citing the challenges of emergency low borrowing costs for both households and the economy.

"The Canadian economy is also less robust and less resilient to adverse shocks compared to the last recession," the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions said in its plan and priorities document for the period 2012-2015.

Following warnings on high debt levels from other policy makers, OSFI hit the nail on the head, discussing the impact of low interest rates and what could happen if consumers pull back.

"Elevated household debt levels not only make households vulnerable to adverse shocks but continued low interest rates could encourage even higher household indebtedness for a period of time," the regulator said. "Also, consumers themselves could become a source of negative domestic influence if they take action to rein in spending to address their indebtedness."

OSFI noted that risks to the global economy remain. There's a high probability that the U.S. recovery will continue to be weak, observers project a recession in Europe this year.

The regulator added it would boost its oversight of mortgage insurers.

Fed disappoints markets Federal Reserve officials appear to be in no rush for further stimulus, disappointing some investors who want a third round of quantitative easing.

Minutes of the U.S. central bank's last meeting, released today, showed that "a couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below its mandate-consistent rate of 2 per cent over the medium run."

The minutes showed what the Fed has been saying, that the economy has been "expanding moderately" and that the jobs market has improved though unemployment remains high.

Overall, the minutes dashed any immediate hopes for another asset-buying program, dubbed QE 3, knocking markets.

"So there will be no QE3 unless the recovery falters and, even under those circumstances, it is still questionable whether there would be a majority in favour of more action," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

"All in, the easing door may be closing but it’s unlikely to swing in the other direction unless the expansion picks up," added senior economist Sal Guatieri of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"Given our outlook for modest to moderate growth in the next two years, we continue to expect steady rates until the back half of 2014. "

Why I'm LMAO over Arizona digital profanity bill I wonder if Arizona's state senate knows just what it's getting into with a new bill that seeks to police profanity in the digital world.

Like all things thus, Bill 2549 has good intentions, to protect kids from creeps, bullying, etc. But in this age of Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerrys, iPhones, texting and sexting, good luck with that.

It's meeting with stiff opposition, notably from a group known as Media Coalition, which includes the film, recording and book publishing industries.

Arizona politicians have passed the bill, and now it's up to Governor Janice Brewer to sign it.

The bill would replace "telephone" with terminology more suited to 2012, and is, to be fair, aimed at stalking and bullying. Still, here's what it actually says:

"It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the communications were received."

That's awfully broad. And, its critics say, it would apply to the Internet as a whole.

"Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on websites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication," Media Coalition said in a letter to Ms. Brewer.

"H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person."

The proposed law is, of course, unworkable, and, in its current form, unwanted by free thinkers. Just like other legislation being studied in Arizona that would allow parents to read their children's text messages.

Molson to buy StarBev Molson Coors Brewing Co. is forging deeper into central and eastern European markets with a €2.65-billion ($3.5-billion) deal for StarBev LP today.

The giant Canadian-American brewer said StarBev is a leader in the region and the acquisition fits with its strategy to "increase our portfolio of premium brands and deepen our reach into growth markets around the world."

StarBev has nine breweires in central and eastern Europe, with sales in 2011 of about €700-million.

"Following the acquisition, Molson Coors expects that significantly more of its revenue will come from growth and emerging markets," the brewer said in a statement. "The [central and eastern Europe]markets are expected to benefit from positive volume and per capita consumption trends over the long-term."

RBC strikes Dexia deal Royal Bank of Canada is buying the 50-per-cent stake in RBC Dexia Investor Services that it doesn’t already own from its struggling European partner.

Canada’s largest bank said today it will buy the 50-per-cent stake of RBC Dexia partnership from Banque Internationale à Luxembourg SA for $1.1-billion in cash, The Globe and Mail's Grant Robertson reports.

The deal will give RBC full control of the European business, which advises institutional investors and administers large pensions and investment funds. The assets went on the block last year when Banque Internationale à Luxembourg, formerly known as Dexia Banque Internationale, was hit hard by the European banking crisis and forced to jettison assets to stabilize its operations.

Through an accompanying swap of securities, RBC Dexia will take a loss that will mean a hit of some $30-million to RBC. As well, in an accounting move related to the deal, RBC will see a non-cash loss of $170-million after tax.

Teachers' cites shortfall The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan had a $9.6-billion funding shortfall at the start of this year, despite recent contribution increases, benefit cuts, and solid investment returns, The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports.

The funding gap is symbolic of struggles across the pension sector, as plans grapple with low interest rates and lacklustre markets at the same time as baby boomers hit retirement.

Audit firms lack progress Canada’s audit firms have made little progress in improving the quality of their work and continue to demonstrate the same sorts of weaknesses that have been highlighted in past years, according to a new inspection of audit firms.

The Canadian Public Accountability Board, which oversees the work of audit firms, released its annual inspection report today, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland writes, saying it is "disappointed" by the lack of progress being made on improving audit quality.

Death of a saleswoman Beauty is big business. But try selling it direct. While juggling a bribery probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission and looking for a new CEO at the same time.

Which sort of sums up the troubles of Avon Products Inc. , the world's biggest direct seller of beauty products, which now finds itself the target of a smaller suitor, Coty Inc.

Avon shares shot up yesterday when Coty unveiled a $10-billion (U.S.) approach to Avon, which became a household name in decades past for what can only be considered now as an annoying jingle. Avon rejected it as too low.

The 126-year-old company is on the ropes, partly because it's hard to sell direct in this era of drugstores on every corner in advanced markets, though that may work in emerging economies. Its sales have slumped, it's looking for a successor for CEO Andrea Jung, and it's being investigated under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, though no allegations have been proven.

Coty, among other things, boasts Beyoncé perfume.

Avon has almost 6.5 million sales reps around the world, but that's slipping. The number of reps fell 1 per cent last year, and, in the United States, fell by 8 per cent in the fourth quarter alone.

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