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What's the difference between Mark Carney and Toronto's Rob Ford? (One's sexy and we like him) Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Nov. 26, 2012.

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Carney jumps, Ford pushed
Two surprises in Canada today: Mark Carney is leaving as Bank of Canada governor, because the British want him, and Rob Ford might be leaving as Toronto’s mayor, because the Ontario Superior Court doesn’t want him.

On the first, as The Globe and Mail’s Kevin Carmichael and Bill Curry report, Mr. Carney stunned the country by announcing he has changed his mind and is going to the Bank of England after all.

On the second, as Kelly Grant writes, the court found the mayor flouted conflict-of-interest regulations where his football foundation is concerned.

Mr. Ford, who leads Canada’s biggest city, could appeal and win. But at this point, the court has found his office “vacant.”

Mr. Ford was elected to his office, though it has been a bumpy ride and he has fallen out of favour with some.

As The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee writes, Mr. Ford made some progress, but this was overshadowed and many who voted for him were "rueing the day" by the end of his second year. (A recent Nanos Research poll released in early October showed just 26 per cent of those surveyed believe Mr. Ford should be re-elected, and 56 per cent want change.)

Mr. Carney was appointed, and he is credited with steering Canada through the financial crisis exceptionally well.

Ignore the fact that at least one reader has told me her mother finds him attractive, and look at his accomplishments, and how he’ll be missed.

Canada rebounded from the recession by gaining back all the jobs it lost, though there’s much more to be done there. Its economy is deemed sound, as is its banking system.

Mr. Carney, who also heads the global Financial Stability Board, had said he wouldn’t take the U.K. job, and the switch comes at a crucial point in Canada’s recovery given that growth is slowing and, as already mentioned, unemployment remains high and is projected to stay there.

Still, analysts don’t believe he’s leaving big challenges behind.

“Carney’s exit is still six months away, and much can change between now and then,” said BMO Nesbitt Burns.

“Depending of course on the choice and the policy penchant of the new governor, he/she will have the opportunity to reinforce the bank’s mild tightening bias, reshape it, or eliminate it.”

That bias was to indicate that the next move in interest rates would be up, not down, and that there was no rush to go there.

“The longevity of the bias has been questioned by the run of recent soft economic data in Canada,” the BMO economists said in a report.

“Even so, the new governor may well decide to maintain the bias, partly for policy consistency purposes. Recall that BoC policy is determined by consensus among six people,

and there is no indication that Carney has been more or less hawkish than the consensus within the bank.”

CIBC World Markets noted Mr. Carney's reputation, and the snub to Britain's "esteemed" economists.

“For Canada, it’s a nice recognition that we’ve handled our monetary and regulatory affairs well enough to be recognized abroad, but it leaves a gap at the top of the monetary policy house here,” CIBC said in a research note

“Governor Carney has been somewhat hawkish in words, but dovish in action, in the past couple of years, but the absence of rate hikes since 2010 largely lines up with the absence of inflation pressures and the generally mediocre growth picture. In that sense, then, it’s unclear that any likely replacement would have a markedly different take on monetary policy in the near term, as Canada will still need faster growth than we’ve seen to justify higher rates, and an easing in rates would be similarly unlikely without an extended run of weak growth that would open up slack.”

Ottawa boosts TFSA limit
The Canadian government today boosted the limit on its popular Tax-Free Savings Account, by $500.

Beginning next year, the ceiling will be $5,500 a year.

When it introduced the savings vehicle in 2009, the government said the $5,000 limit would move in $500 increments tied to inflation. This is the first year that's happening.

"An additional $500 in annual TFSA contribution room can have an important impact on the amount of tax-free savings an individual can earn," the government said.

"Over a 20-year period, an individual can accumulate significantly more in TFSA savings than under the original $5,000 annual contribution limit. For example ... a middle-income saver could accumulate about $2,340 more in tax savings on their investments than if the additional investment had been made in a taxable savings vehicle (unregistered account)."

The TFSA has been popular since it was introduced, though recent surveys suggest Canadians still need more education.

The latest survey by Bank of Montreal showed less than 50 per cent of savers are putting in the maximum of $5,000 a year, though 57 per cent say they will go to ceiling within the next five years.

But while 60 per cent of those polled claim to be “knowledgeable” about the savings vehicle, only 44 per cent knew the contribution limit and 37 per cent didn’t know what TFSAs can hold, such as stocks and bonds.

Once more unto the breach
Europe’s finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund have reportedly (finally) struck a deal on new fiscal targets for Greece’s embattled government.

Today’s agreement is meant to pave the way for another round of bailout money for Athens.

The finance ministers met in Brussels today for the third time amid a tiff with the IMF.

According to reports from Reuters that followed almost half a day of talks, those involved agreed to help cut Greece’s debt to 124 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020.

The parties were still working out the details late in the day.

Another RIM upgrade
Shares of Research In Motion Ltd. climbed again today amid another analyst's upgrade.

The more upbeat look by Todd Coupland of CIBC World Markets follows moves by two analysts last week.

Mr. Coupland hiked his price target on RIM shares to $17 (U.S.) from $8, citing, as did the others, the feedback from carriers and developers on the new BlackBerry 10 devices scheduled to be launched Jan. 30.

"Our rating change is based on RIM's existing subscribers wanting to upgrade to BB10," he said in a report.

RIM now has 80-million subscribers.

Onex to acquire USI
Onex Corp. is buying U.S. insurance broker USI in a $2.3-billion (U.S.) deal, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

Based in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., USI is the ninth biggest insurance broker in the United States, and recently acquired the TD Insurance Inc. unit from Toronto-Dominion Bank.

USI has a mix of property and casualty, employee benefits and retirement consulting, with more than 3,300 employees in some 100 offices throughout the U.S.

The current owner of USI, Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, bought the company for $1.4-billion in 2007.

Poison pill
Quebec’s proposed, sweeping pilule empoisonnée spells trouble ahead.

For those who may have missed it,  Nicolas Marceau, the Parti Québécois finance minister, announced late Friday that he plans to shelter Quebec companies from foreign hostile suitors.

As The Globe and Mail’s Rhéal Séguin reports, he wants to give boards of directors the power to examine the impact on a company’s employees, pensioners and suppliers and, if need be, refuse to call a vote among shareholders.

His proposal would also ensure shelter from legal action.

To be fair, this was a promise made during the recent election campaign. And the PQ has pledged to consult with the business community.

For those who may be unfamiliar with business terms, shareholders are the people who own a company but, in Quebec now, would have no say in what to do with it. Chief executive officers and directors are the people who run a company, and, in Quebec now, are probably rubbing their hands in glee.

I actually support the sentiment behind the PQ move: The impact on all stakeholders in a company is generally ignored in a buyout because a takeover premium rules.

The PQ’s plan can’t work anyway. At this point, it’s not defined. And when it comes to pass, it promises to be ill-defined.

Several U.S. jurisdictions have “just say no” regulations and a co-ordinated, well-defined, cross-Canada plan may be in order.

But that’s not where we’re headed.

First, what happens if a board of directors opts for a takeover that the government doesn’t like? Will the PQ intervene? How far does this go?

And what happens in the case of a shareholder battle, as is now the case at Rona Inc., the hardware chain that put the PQ on this path?

I’m not suggesting for a moment that takeovers should not be scrutinized for their impact on communities, only that this may not be the best way to do it.

One need only look at Rona to understand the pitfalls and dangers ahead.

The home improvement chain needs a corporate improvement chain of command.

Which is why Invesco Canada is now trying to unseat the board. Should that happen, and a new board decide that a sale of the company is in order, will the government stand in its way?

This began with America’s Lowe’s Cos. Inc. taking a run at Rona at $14.50 a share, sending the target stock to a high of $14.49.

The previous Quebec government suggested it was a strategic asset, which is about as nutsy as the current government’s suggestion that shareholders own the company only when the PQ government says they do.

Lowe’s, of course, was sent packing, only to be named as a potential suitor again after Rona’s CEO left the company amid horrendous financial results and Invesco launched its battle.

As David Milstead wrote in our Inside the Market blog, Rona’s stock tumbled to $9.25 after Rona’s latest quarterly report, but before the resignation of the CEO. Thus, he says, that’s what the market thinks it’s worth.

It’s now just shy of $11, and, one could argue now, there’s absolutely no reason why it should go any higher.

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