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business briefing

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, June 24, 2013.

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Alberta losses put at up to $5-billion
Bank of Montreal pegs the damages from the Alberta flooding at between $3-billion and $5-billion, though the insured losses are projected to be well shy of that.

"Total insured losses are expected to be less than total losses, due to the fact that insurers do not cover personal property losses from floods, except only in the case of sewer backups if customers purchase water damage extension endorsements," analyst Tom MacKinnon of BMO Nesbitt Burns said today.

"Losses from flood for commercial property are covered only in the case if flood coverage was purchased (penetration of accounts that opt for this is maybe half), and personal auto losses from flood are covered if comprehensive insurance was purchased (likely the majority)."

He pegged the insured losses at between $2.25-billion to $3.75 billion, or, conservatively, about 75 per cent of overall damages.

He stressed those numbers were preliminary.

The focus of his report was Intact Financial, which accounts for some 17 per cent of Alberta personal property insurance, 11 per cent of the commercial property market and 20 per cent where personal autos are concerned.

As The Globe and Mail's Josh Wingrove reports, Alberta today pledge $1-billion for flood relief.

Loonie slumps, markets sink
The Canadian dollar has now slumped from almost parity to the 95-cent area in less than two months.

The loonie, as the dollar coin is known in Canada, fell sharply today from Friday's level amid generally soft markets and a rising U.S. currency, slipping below 95 cents U.S. before rebounding above that key level.

"Markets are pretty weak right across the board, the U.S. dollar is higher, U.S. yields are higher," said chief currency strategist Camilla Sutton of Bank of Nova Scotia.

Feeding into the global angst today are fears related to China's financial system.

For Canadian exporters, of course, a lower loonie is welcome as it makes their goods cheaper. It's also welcome news for retailers hoping to keep shoppers from skipping across the U.S. border.

For travellers to the United States as summer vacation season gets under way, however, it's not so welcome as they have less buying power.

Last week alone, the loonie lost more than 3 cents on the U.S. dollar's rise and softer Canadian economic readings.

"I can't be sure this week will be any calmer, but look for moves in the U.S. dollar to be the primary driver for the loonie for a while yet," said Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

The fall in the Canadian currency today comes amid slumping markets in general, as the volatility of last week, sparked by signs of the Federal Reserve preparing to pull back from, or taper, its asset-buying stimulus program, continues.

"Unless we see a remarkable turnaround this week then we are likely to see the first negative month for European equities this year, as well as the biggest monthly decline in stocks since May 2012," said senior analyst Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in London.

"The sharp reaction from financial markets to even the suggestion that the current Fed stimulus program may be coming to the end of its road has prompted a sharp selloff in not only stock markets globally, but bonds and commodity prices," he added in a research note.

"This mere suggestion of stimulus withdrawal has shown how fragile the current stock market rally has been and it could be some time before markets settle down to where they should be as investors start become more discerning about company fundamentals."

Global stocks slipped, led by a decline in China, but North American markets regained some of the ground lost as the day wore on.

"The Shanghai sell-off and the decline in the commodity suite owing to a stronger dollar has resulted in a palpable investor reticence to indulge in risk assets in European trade today," said senior market strategist Brenda Kelly of IG in London.

"Chinese stocks have entered bear market territory despite the intervention from the People's Bank of China to assuage the continued liquidity crunch amid renewed concerns about banking sector stability," she said in a research note.

"With the U.S. 10-year yield rising to a high last seen in August 2011, investors are clearly still confused and uncertain on the Federal Reserve's tapering policies."

HBC eyes Saks
Hudson's Bay Co. is looking at acquiring U.S. department-store rival Saks Inc., which has been on the block for about a month, The Globe and Mail's Marina Strauss reports.

But private equity groups also are believed to be seriously considering a bid, a source familiar with HBC said.

The stumbling block at the moment appears to be price, the source said. "It's too high right now" for Richard Baker, HBC chief executive officer, a source said.

Barrick said poised for layoffs
Barrick Gold Corp. plans to slash its corporate staff in Toronto by about 100 people.

Jamie Sokalsy, chief executive officer of the world's biggest gold miner, unveiled the cutbacks in a meeting with his Toronto staff last week, Reuters reports.

Barrick boasts a corporate work force of more than 400 people, most outside of Toronto.

Like other miners, Barrick has been slammed by a sinking gold price.

Rio to keep diamond unit
Rio Tinto Ltd. says it's holding onto its diamond operations after all.

The global mining giant had reviewed the business – options included a sale – but said today that "the medium to long-term market fundamentals for diamonds remains robust, fuelled by growing demand for luxury goods in Asia and continuing strong demand in North America.

Among its diamond holdings are 60 per cent of the Diavik mine in Canada. It also owns Australia's Argyle mine and 78 per cent of Zimbabwe's Murowa project.

"We have valuable, high-quality diamonds businesses that are well positioned to capitalize on the positive market outlook," Alan Davies, who heads up the diamonds and minerals units, said in a statement.

"After considering a number of alternative strategic ownership options it is clear the best past to generate maximum value for our shareholders is to retain these businesses."

The potential sale of Diavik came at the same time that BHP Billiton put its diamond operations up for auction, culminating in a sale to what was then Harry Winston.

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