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Stephen Colbert (JASON REED)
Stephen Colbert (JASON REED)

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Stephen Colbert on the loonie and 'poutine-sucking' Canadians Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Colbert on Canada A wonderful performance last night from Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, lamenting the ascension of Canada as it strikes out to forge a global currency. Canada, of course, isn't, but the segment was hilarious.

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Mr. Colbert was doing a schtick on the chatter over Iceland possibly adopting the loonie, and the challenge this creates for the mighty greenback.

"The U.S. dollar remains the global currency standard," he said. "You can use it all over the world, from buying sushi in Tokyo to prostitutes in Cartagena. There are no challengers to America's currency domination. Until now."

Never mind that Iceland says it's still on track to adopt the euro - which I could make fun of - Mr. Colbert took a very funny look at Canadiana.

"Nation, I have never trusted our poutine-sucking, health-care-addicted nemesis to the north. They always have to make our stuff their stuff. Canadian bacon. Canadian beer. Canadian baseball." - here he shows a hockey game - "And now, now they're angling for a Canadian global currency ... Iceland, you must resist the pressure from Canada's charismatic strongman, Queen Elizabeth II."

Well, you never know. With all the talk about Mark Carney possibly heading to the Bank of England, we could rule the world. Unless, as Mr. Colbert urges, the U.S. gets working on a scratch-and-sniff dollar and a 3-D dime to rival the glow-in-the-dark Canadian quarter.

Wendy's, too, thinks poutine is quite something. It's launching a petition to make it Canada's national dish (and get people into its restaurants) for the "Quebec classic."

S&P warns on Ontario Standard & Poor's is taking a dimmer view of Ontario's prospects following the Canadian province's latest budget.

The U.S. ratings agency lowered its outlook to "negative" from "stable" today, warning there's at least a one-in-three chance of a downgrade within two years, The Globe and Mail's Karen Howlett reports.

S&P would lower its rating by a notch if it chose that route.

"In our view, the government will need to be successful in implementing these measures in order for it to hold program spending growth to a 1-per-cent average annual rate in fiscal 2012-2015," the agency said.

"In our opinion, it is a challenge for any province to sustain this low growth rate in spending, due to the substantial cost pressures in health care delivery alone."

S&P based its warning on the minority Liberal government's ability to meet its cost targets in the next one to two years.

It agreed that Ontario's growth forecast is "reasonably cautious," while it also has "ongoing support" from the federal government.

Fed holds the line The Federal Reserve stuck to the script this afternoon, but with a nod to inflation and the housing market, and suggested again that it will hold its benchmark lending rate at an emergency low near zero until late 2014.

"Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March suggests that the economy has been expanding moderately," said the FOMC, the central bank's policy-setting panel, repeating its oft-heard line of late.

"Labour market conditions have improved in recent months; the unemployment rate has declined but remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment have continued to advance. Despite some signs of improvement, the housing sector remains depressed. Inflation has picked up somewhat, mainly reflecting higher prices of crude oil and gasoline. However, longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable."

After the statement, the central bank released the projections of individual members of the FOMC, who expect economic growth of 2.4 per cent to 2.9 per cent this year, 2.7 per cent to 3.1 per cent next year, and 3.1 per cent to 3.6 per cent in 2014. Where the unemployment rate is concerned, they project 7.8 per cent to 8 per cent this year, 7.3 per cent to 7.7 per cent in 2013, and 6.7 per cent to 7.6 per cent in 2014.

"What are they assuming about monetary policy in the near term to get these growth rates (beyond a near zero overnight rate), and what are they factoring in for fiscal tightening in 2013?" said chief economist Avery Shenfeld of CIBC World Markets. "The slightly less-extremely-dovish tone is what markets might key on, but we are still miles from Fed hikes."

Is iPhone killing off iPod? The trend isn't new, but a look at the numbers of the last couple of years is fascinating considering how the iPod changed the way the world listens to music.

Neither is the concept dying - indeed, it's gaining rapidly - but the original instrument of change is fading.

Yesterday's second-quarter results from Apple Inc. highlighted the wild popularity of the iPhone, and how it's cannibalizing sales of the iPod, sales of which slipped 15 per cent in the quarter to 7.7 million.

To be sure, 7.7 million is still a lot, but consider that at the iPod's peak, in the first quarter of 2009, Apple sold a record 22.7 million of the devices.

In fact, on a year-over-year basis, iPod sales have declined every quarter since the trend began in the third quarter of 2009. Sales of the iPhone have surged from 5.2 million to 35.1 million over the same period, climbing 88 per cent in the latest quarter, according to Apple's results announced late yesterday.

At the same time, Apple's iTunes has become an $8-billion (U.S.) operation.

Apple shares soared today after yet another blowout quarter, which, as The Globe and Mail's Omar El Akkad writes in today's Report on Business, should put to rest any question of slowing growth.

The tech giant, whose iPad sales climbed 151 per cent in the second quarter to 11.8 million, posted a profit of $11.6-billion or $12.30 a share, diluted, compared to $6-billion or $6.40 a year earlier. Revenue rose to $39.2-billion from $24.6-billion.

Britain back in recession Markets may be in a better mood, but the economic readings from Britain are disappointing.

Britain's Office of National Statistics said today the economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the first quarter, which puts the country back into a technical recession, given the fourth quarter's fall of 0.3 per cent.

"It’s turning into another bad week for Mr. Cameron," sales trader Yusuf Heusen of IG said of the prime minister.

"After yesterday’s revelations of close contact between the Murdochs and the culture secretary, he now has a renewed recession in the U.K. to contend with. Preliminary GDP data from the ONS showed that the economy shrank by 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2012, where growth of 0.1 per cent had been forecast."

House prices slip Canadian house prices slipped 0.2 per cent in February, marking the third dip in fourth months, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index.

Prices fell from January in Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, Hamilton and Ottawa, but rose in Quebec City, Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto.

Energy in spotlight Quarterly results from Canada's oil patch are beginning to flow in, and are something of a mixed bag so far.

Nexen Inc. posted a dip in first-quarter profit, while Encana Corp. swung to a profit, boosted by asset sales and hedging amid an ongoing slump in natural gas. Cenovus Energy Inc. posted a surge in profit.

At Nexen, whose earnings are linked more to the Brent price, profit slipped to $171-million or 32 cents a share, from $202-million or 38 cents a year earlier. Production averaged 202,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, which the company said was at about the midpoint of its projections.

Encana, on the other hand, earned $12-million (U.S.), or 33 cents a share, compared to a loss of $361-million or 30 cents a year earlier.

The company cited the fact that came despite "further downward pressure" on natural prices. Its hedging program churned out $358-million in after-tax gains.

Cenovus posted a quarterly profit of $426-million (Canadian) or 56 cents a share, diluted, compared to $47-million or 6 cents a year earlier.

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