These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, Sept. 13. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.
The world's banker One wonders what the world will look like when the music stops.
China, the economic engine of the post-recession era, has already been on a buying spree, striking deals around the world largely in the resources sector. It's also the biggest foreign holder of America's debt, and has helped buoy other countries and companies. Now, it it's also poised to come to Rome's aid as Italy becomes the latest victim of Europe's debt crisis.
Italy confirmed today that Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti met this month with Chinese officials, who hold massive foreign exchange reserves, to drum up support for its bonds. It's not clear how much of a difference this will make to Italy, but it's yet another signal of China's increasing importance to a world in turmoil.
Does China even have the heft? With $3-trillion (U.S.) in currency reserves, Carl Weinberg of High Frequency Economics doesn't think so.
"These maths suggest that China is just not big enough to move the Italian bond market much, or to save the entire economy," the chief economist said in a research note today.
"For what it is worth, it should be clear that the ECB does not have the muscle to do this, either. Altogether, the bond markets of the PIIGS add up to €3-trillion. China's participation would be nice and would help, but China alone cannot pick up the slack if the world decides it ain't buying any more Euroland paper."
Reports from Sao Paulo today also suggest that the full BRICS contingent - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - will meet soon to discuss helping the euro zone through its crisis.
The reports came as European officials, notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, scrambled to reassure markets that Greece is not about to default on its debts, which, in the eyes of many obsevers, has become a when-not-if scenario.
It took a Russian business leader to put it all in perspective today with a warning that Europe has only "two very bad options," including expelling a country from the monetary union or cutting spending even more.
"If I was a politician in Europe, I would commit suicide," Vladimir Potanin, a major shareholder in Norilsk Nickel, who's said to be personally worth almost $18-billion (U.S.), told a Reuters investment summit in Moscow.
"There is really such a big difference between the interests of different countries, I simply do not understand how you can match the interests of Germany and Greece," Mr. Potanin said.
- China's interest in Italian debt is purely business
- BRICS group weighs buying euro-denominated debt
- Chinese buyer says no layoffs planned at Wescast
Italy in the spotlight As The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly reports today, Italy, with €1.6-trillion of debt, threatens to become a far bigger problem than Greece, Portugal or Ireland.
That became even clearer today as Italian bond yields spiked after a widely watched auction, reaching their highest in the history of the euro zone, 5.6 per cent on five-year notes.
To put it in perspective, it's not at distressed levels. Consider that the yield on Greek two-year paper topped 76 per cent today.
Italy's Parliament is expected to approve harsh budget measures tomorrow, but observers question whether that will be enough.
"Italy can still access markets, at a cost," said David Watt, senior fixed income and currency strategist at RBC Dominion Securities.
"What Europe needs, but is unlikely to get, is a 10-year window of tranquility to sort out debt issues. Unfortunately markets deal in real time and instantaneously discount infinite future contingencies. Practically, how does Europe buy itself the time to sort through what is a decade long process of restructuring while operating in a market environment with a deficit of patience? Markets will be awaiting the results of the Merkel/Sarkozy/Papandreou chat and the EU finance ministers meeting."
- Europe struggles to contain debt crisis
- Italy's debt woes fuel new fears
- What a Greek default would look like
Turning down the volume It will be another year before Canadians can safely watch TV in the middle of the night and not have to worry about loud commercials waking up the baby.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the country's regulator, told broadcasters today they'll have to begin controlling the loudness of the ads by Sept. 1, 2012, The Globe and Mail's Susan Krashinsky reports.
"This decision means that viewers will no longer have to reach for their remotes to manually control the volume when regular programming cuts to commercial advertisements," the CRTC said. "Broadcasters will have to ensure that both programs and ads are transmitted at the same volume."
It's a touchy issue. The regulator received some 7,000 comments on the issue, most saying commercials were too loud and wanting the CRTC to do something about it.
"Broadcasters have allowed ear-splitting ads to disturb viewers and have left us little choice but to set out clear rules that will put an end to excessively loud ads," chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said in a statement. "The technology exists, let's use it."
Economists flag recession risks Economists today flag the possibility of a second slump - either we're in it or maybe we're headed for it - as the United States and Europe drag Canada down.
Canada had recovered smartly from the financial crisis and recession, and the labour market had bounced back to the envy of many other countries. Then the economy contracted in the second quarter, while jobs growth has stalled in the last two months.
That means that if the economy were to shrink again in the current quarter, Canada would meet the technical meaning of a recession. Scotia Capital economists Derek Holt and Karen Cordes Woods flag that possibility in a report today.
"This wasn't supposed to happen," they wrote. "Many of the world's troubles were supposed to be focused upon Europe and the U.S. Yet, we're faced with the distinct possibility that the Canadian economy could be the first to stumble. It contracted ever so slightly in Q2 (-0.4 per cent) but ... a reasonable scenario could well have the economy facing another contraction this quarter that cannot for a minute be ruled out."
Not everyone thinks that - many see growth coming back in the third quarter, which, by the way, ends this month, meaning a technical recession would be over before Statistics Canada even reports it. Economists at Toronto-Dominion Bank, though, are fretting about whether Canada may be headed for another slump, pegging the chances of a contraction in the fourth quarter of this year and first quarter of next at 40 per cent.
"Given the fragility of economic growth in the coming year, any significant nasty surprise could conceivably push real GDP into negative territory," TD economists Craig Alexander, Derek Burleton and Diana Petramala said in a new forecast.
"However, should a contraction occur, it would be dramatically milder than the experience of 2008-09 and the weakness should pass relatively quickly."
Whether growth is, or is going to be, mildly negative or marginally higher may be beside the point. We're in for a slower recovery than initially expected and unemployment is projected to creep back up, possibly to 7.5 per cent or higher.
The TD economists project the jobless rate will remain above 7 per cent through 2013, averaging 7.5 per cent this year, 7.4 per cent in 2012, and 7.1 per cent a year later.
- Technical recession possible: Scotiabank
- Ottawa vows action on jobs as hiring slumps
- For young people, Ontario's election is about jobs
- RBC cuts outlook for Canada, others
Income inequality on rise The gap between the rich and the poor is widening faster in Canada than in many other countries, the Conference Board of Canada warns.
"Canada had the fourth largest increase in income inequality among its peers," the group's president, Anne Golden, said today as the Conference Board released a global study.
"Even though the U.S. currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate."
Between the mid-1990s and the 200s, the group said, inequality widened in 10 of 17 countries, narrowed in five and was unchanged in Norway and Japan.
The Conference Board report came as a new look by Statistics Canada showed we're all a tad poorer, largely because of falling stock prices.
National net worth rose 1.2 per cent in the second quarter to $6.4-trillion, though household net worth slipped 0.3 per cent as falling equity prices more than offset rising house prices.
"Per capita household net worth fell from $185,500 in the first quarter to $184,300 in the second quarter, marking the first decline since the second quarter of 2010," the federal agency said.
Personal debt levels were also up in the quarter, and debt rose faster than personal disposable income.
"A lower for longer interest rate environment poses the risk that indebtedness could rise further, putting significant additional strain on households once interest rates do begin to climb," TD's Ms. Petramala warned.
- Income inequality rising quickly in Canada
- Read the Conference Board report
- Household debt rises in second quarter
Court upholds convictions The Ontario Court of Appeal today upheld the 2009 fraud convictions of the founders of Canada's Livent Inc., but cut their prison sentences, saying they were too harsh.
The court ruled Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb were properly convicted in 2009 for misstating the financial results of the live theatre company, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland reports.
Mr. Drabinsky had been sentenced to seven years, and has now had his sentence reduced to five. Mr. Gottlieb had received a six-year sentence, which has been cut to four years.
Both men were required to surrender to custody on Monday evening in Toronto. The appeal court decision means they will remain behind bars to begin serving their sentences unless they decide to try to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. It is not known yet where they will serve their prison terms.
In Economy Employers expect the hiring climate to hold steady in the fourth quarter, according to the latest Manpower Inc. survey. The Canadian Press reports.
In International Business The chief executive of Volkswagen insists Europe's biggest car maker is not suffering growing pains in light of the delay of a planned merger with sports car maker Porsche and the near collapse of a co-operation agreement with Japan's Suzuki. Chris Bryant of The Financial Times reports from Frankfurt.
In Globe Careers What do members of the clergy, firefighters and physical therapists have in common? Check out the list of the 10 happiest jobs.
From today's Report on Business