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RIM 'backed into a corner,' faces months of tough going Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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RIM 'backed into corner' Investors will be watching Research In Motion Ltd. at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, and while analysts expect nothing new in the way of products they are flagging "incremental news" for the BlackBerry maker.

RIM did say today, however, it was unveiling a wide range of software improvements for its BlackBerry 7 models.

Regardless, RIM faces "tough slogging" over the next six to nine months with little in the product pipeline until its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones launch later this year, though the second version of its PlayBook tablet could be unveiled next month.

In the short term, shareholders demanding change at the embattled technology company will have their eyes on corporate governance. A committee is due to report at the end of the month, and is expected to recommend separating the jobs of chief executive officer and chairman, The Globe and Mail's Iain Marlow reported last week.

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie are now co-CEOs, and also chair the board. But the betting is that Barbara Stymiest, formerly of Royal Bank of Canada and TMX Group Inc., will be named the new chair, though analysts suggest there's little she can do in the short term.

"Ms. Stymiest has been on RIM's board for four years and we remain skeptical such a move will produce significant change," analysts Phillip Huang and Amitabh Passi of UBS Securities Canada said in a report today.

"In the meantime, we believe the next six to nine months will be tough slogging for RIM with no new, major product cycle till BB10 later this year."

The UBS analysts said RIM is "backed into a corner," and isn't likely to attract a potential buyer, even if it wants to, in the near term."

SNB chief quits The head of the Swiss National Bank has resigned amid a burgeoning scandal over a currency trade made by his wife.

Philipp Hildebrand has been under pressure after a currency trade by his wife last summer, which happened to be made just a few weeks before the central bank slapped on a cap on the Swiss franc. He has said he knew nothing of his wife's trade of more than $500,000 (U.S.), and an independent investigation found no wrongdoing.

Kashya Hildebrand is a former hedge fund trader, and now the owner of an art gallery in Zurich. She bought U.S. dollars in mid-August, before the central bank moved to halt the surge in the franc.

"In view of the continued public debate centred on these financial transactions and following detailed examination of all documentation and reflection since the news conference, I have come to the conclusion it is not possible to provide conclusive and final evidence that my wife did initiate the transaction without my knowledge," Mr. Hildebrand said.

"The fact is my word is my bond I had no knowledge of my wife's transaction on that day."

Mr. Hildebrand also said he had donated money to charity to make up for the profit, though she was not aware of what the central bank had discussed.

CP rebuffs Ackman Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. is set for a battle over its management with an activist shareholder demanding a change at the top.

Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management LP had been calling for the railway to replace its current chief executive officer, Fred Green, with Hunter Harrison, the retired CEO of rival Canadian National Railway Co.

But in a letter to shareholders today, The Globe and Mail's Brent Jang reports, CP fully backed Mr. Green and rebuffed Mr. Ackman, though it again invited him to join the board so a discussion could take place there.

The fight with the New York-based shareholder threatens to distract the railway at a crucial point.

“Having considered Pershing Square’s demand, the board came to the unanimous conclusion that replacing the company’s chief executive officer, and thereby jeopardizing the successful execution of the multiyear plan, is not in the best interests of CP or its shareholders,” chairman John Cleghorn said in the letter.

“Pershing Square did not provide a credible, detailed plan to improve CP’s operations or make any concrete suggestions - either in the presentation or in subsequent discussions

Teck strikes SilverBirch deal Teck Resources Ltd. has struck a cash-and-stock deal to acquire SilverBirch Energy Corp., its partner in Canada's oil sands.

SilverBirch was formed from the remains of UTS Energy Corp., and now holds stake in the Frontier and Equinox oil sands project. Teck is a partner in the project, and said it has opted for a simpler structure with today's deal.

“For a net cash outlay of $435-million , this transaction strengthens the Frontier project,” said Teck CEO Don Lindsay. “The Frontier ownership structure is simplified, our exposure to oil sands leases not amenable to mining is reduced, and Teck now has the opportunity to explore new potential partnerships and other alternatives to move Frontier towards development.”

SilverBirch shareholders will get $8.50 a share in cash and one share of a new company that will hold SilverBirch assets except for the 50-per-cent stake in Frontier and Equinox. Teck will also pump $25-million in working capital into the new company, as well as half-stakes in a bunch of oil sands leases it already co-owns with SilverBirch.

Businesses downbeat Canadian business are becoming more downbeat, though there's slightly better news on the jobs front.

A Bank of Canada business outlook survey, which polls 100 companies, shows businesses expect to see slower growth over the next year, compared to the past year, The Globe and Mail's Jeremy Torobin writes.

"Responses to the winter survey suggest that the global economic outlook and concerns about demand continue to weigh on firms’ expectations for business activity," the central bank said.

"While the indicator of past sales activity has held up, the balance of opinion on future sales has turned slightly negative, as firms in Western Canada expect sales growth to slow from the recent strong pace and those elsewhere generally expect growth to remain modest. Firms still expect to increase investment and employment, although the balances of opinion remain below the high levels reached earlier in the year."

The results are down somewhat from the central bank's earlier survey, but the details aren't as bad as the overall sentiment.

"While the BOS headline index was a disappointment, with some slowing of sales envisioned, the activity indicators within the survey itself (investment, hiring, current capacity levels) did not reflect the same degree of pessimism and generally carry a bit more weight at the central bank," said Mark Chandler, head of Canadian fixed income and currency research at RBC Dominion Securities.

"At the margin, the results are not markedly different from those seen in Q3, which were enough to keep the BoC firmly pinned to the sidelines. Some trends that are worth watching include: an apparent further widening in performance between the Western provinces and the rest of the country; a notable tightening in credit conditions through the pricing channel for the first time in recovery period; the continued stability of inflation expectations around the 2-per-cent target and somewhat surprising residual strength in hiring intentions, despite a disappointing job performance in the last quarter of 2011."

CIBC keen on Coutu CIBC World Markets has boosted its price target on shares of Jean Coutu Group (PJC) Inc. , describing the chain as a "good place to hide" after last week's third-quarter results.

"Although we do not expect huge upsides for the share prices, drug stores should be a safe haven among Canadian retail stocks," said analyst Perry Caicco, who hiked his target to $15 from $13.

"Unaffected by the [Canadian dollar] and with square footage growth moderating, the sector faces few headwinds over the next couple of years - including from Target."

Mr. Caicco added that the "biggest damages" from drug reform should erode over the next six quarter. And "even if other provinces bring their models in line with Ontario, "PJC looks safe," he said.

Quarterly results begin It will take a couple of weeks to kick into higher gear, but fourth-quarter earnings season begins after markets close today with results from Alcoa Inc.

"Expectations are currently for 7.8-per-cent year-over-year growth in S&P 500 operating earnings, down from a near-18-per-cent year-over-year pace in Q3," said Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"There was a notable uptick in negative preannouncements ahead of this coming earnings season, suggesting that some momentum is being lost. Indeed, the 7.8-per-cent year-over-year consensus estimate for Q4 growth has been trimmed from 15 per cent year-over-year back in early October, but at least the expectations bar is that much lower."

Business Ticker

In International Business The leaders of France and Germany said after a meeting today that boosting economic growth across Europe is a priority in their efforts to stem the debt crisis that is showing signs of spreading across the 17 countries that use the euro. Geir Moulson of The Associated Press reports.

In Economy The value of Canadian building permits declined by 3.6 per cent in November, largely as expected, after an 11.6 per cent rise in October, Statistics Canada said today.

In Globe Careers Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times announces the winners of her annual jargon awards.

In Personal Finance A few newly released books give you a practical, step-by-step approach to fix your finances.

From today's Report on Business

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