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Italy's Silvio Berlusconi at a news conference at G20 summit Nov. 4, 2011 (PASCAL GUYOT)
Italy's Silvio Berlusconi at a news conference at G20 summit Nov. 4, 2011 (PASCAL GUYOT)

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Berlusconi, belly dancers and bond yields: What ails Italy Add to ...

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Markets eye Italy, France The market's attention has clearly shifted away from the so-called periphery of the euro zone to its larger economies like Italy and France, a development that carries a far greater threat in that it strikes at the core of the monetary union and suggests that the ills of Europe will continue to plague the rest of the world.

Even while Greece was still in the crosshairs of the bond markets last week, the focus was shifting to Italy and its embattled leader, Silvio Berlusconi, who has been dogged by scandals and shamed by other European leaders ho believe he hasn't done enough on fiscal and economic reform.

Now, with Greece in a holding pattern, Italy is today's focus, The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly reports. To a lesser extent, investors are also watching developments in France, where Nicolas Sarkozy's government unveiled fresh austerity measures today.

"It is a case of the same worries, different country this morning as traders now focus on the woes of Italy," said Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG Index.

"Weekend news that the Greek PM had resigned was hardly a surprise of markets, and with Italian bond yields creeping up yet again today there are plenty who think we have been here before with other countries over the last 18 months; and it doesn't tend to end well."

Italy's bond yields spiked again today - they reached almost 6.6 per cent, the highest for the country since the euro zone was formed - and stocks sank. However, the market perked up on rumours that Mr. Berlusconi was poised to quit.

Like Greece's George Papandreou before him, Mr. Berlusconi faces a revolt and rumour and speculation that he'll resign, though he denied that today.

Unlike Mr. Papandreou, Italy's media magnate has had other troubles on his hands, notably a handful of scandals that seem to always be with him. The latest include allegations that he had a paid relationship with an underage Moroccan belly dancer who goes by the stage name Ruby Rubacuori.

No charges have been proven, and Mr. Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing. In a just society, he not be forced from office on allegations alone.

But the market is not a just arena, and the issue of the scandals seem to frequently pop up alongside talk of Mr. Berlusconi's economic record because of the hit to his credibility. Regardless, it is Mr. Berlusconi's failure to deal with the country's €1.9-trillion in debt, the fattest in the euro zone, that should chase him out.

Already, Mr. Berlusconi has been forced to promise his colleagues in the euro zone he will follow through in areas such as pensions and the labour market. And agreeing to be policed by the International Monetary Fund, as he did last week, is a humiliation for the region's third-largest economy.

For the markets, the easing of the crisis in Greece, where Mr. Papandreou is quitting and a new coalition forming, is of little solace today.

"Although developments in Greece should be seen as positive, they were largely as expected and attention is rapidly turning to Italy as next potential pressure point," said Adam Cole, global chief of foreign exchange strategy at RBC in London.

"Italy's parliament votes tomorrow on the 2010 public sector accounts and local media suggest as many as 40 of Berlusconi's MPs may rebel - easily enough for the bill to fail," he said in a research note today.

BP deal collapses BP PLC put a good face today on the collapse of a $7-billion (U.S.) deal to sell off its stake in a major oil producer in Argentina.

BP said today that Bridas Corp., which was poised to acquire the majority position in Pan American Energy LLC, the second-largest producer in Argentina, failed to secure the necessary regulatory Argentine and Chinese regulatory approvals.

Bridas, in turn, blamed BP, citing legal issues but without going into specifics.

"PAE is a strong business," BP said today in a statement.

"As a result of Bridas Corporation's decision to terminate, BP is no longer in discussions with them regarding this transaction. BP is happy to return to long term ownership of these valuable assets, given the considerable improvement in its own financial strength and circumstances, as well as the improved external trading environment."

Cameco profit sinks Canada's Cameco Corp. today posted a 60-per-cent slump in third-quarter profit, but a gain in revenues. The uranium giant also said it took several steps in its strategy to double annual production by 2018.

Cameco earned $39-million or 10 cents a share in the quarter, down from $98-million or 25 cents a year earlier. Revenue climbed 26 per cent to $527-million.

“Cameco performed well during the quarter despite the prevailing economic uncertainty," said chief executive officer Tim Gitzel.

"We realized higher prices on our uranium sales and achieved higher sales volumes resulting in higher adjusted earnings. With sales commitments of over 300 million pounds, we are positioned to continue delivering solid financial performance while preparing our assets for the growth we expect in the nuclear industry."

The company said in a statement it expects to "invest significantly" in boosting production at existing mines over the next several years.

Analysts keen on SNC, on Air Canada not so much Raymond James Ltd. is boosting its price target on shares of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. after the engineering multination's stronger-than-expected earnings last week.

"We continue recommending an overweight position in the stock - the top engineering and construction pick in our coverage universe," said analyst Frederic Bastien, who raised his target on the shares to $65 from $60.

"What attracts us to SNC are the breadth and depth of its operations, a track record of dividend increases and healthy [returns on equity] and an all-time high backlog of services revenues."

CIBC World Markets also boosted its price target on SNC, to $64 from $62.

For Raymond James, Air Canada isn't quite as lofty, however. Analysts Ben Cherniavsky and Steve Hansen slashed their price target on the airlines shares to $1.75 from $3 after its quarterly results last week.

"We believe that current management deserves credit for a number notable achievements," the analysts said. "... Having acknowledged this, we believe there are still too many risks and challenges on the horizon to warrant anything but a neutral rating on the stock right now."

What to watch for this week Watch the shares of Groupon Inc. to see whether they carry through on the momentum from their dot-com-era-like debut Friday. After pricing the $700-million (U.S.) IPO at $20, the shares surged in their initial trading Friday by almost 56 per cent, though then settled back, closing just above $26, still a huge deal for those who got in. Next up, Facebook?

Canada's trade deficit is expected to have narrowed slightly when Statistics Canada reports Thursday on its reading of exports and imports. "With exports hampered by a downshifting U.S. economic recovery and a legacy of an appreciating C$, Canada’s trade balance should fi nd itself in the red for the eighth straight month in September," said Emanuella Enenajor of CIBC World Markets. "But the deficit could actually be a bit better than the balance of prior months, helped by a weakening C$ that helped to boost industrial product prices. And while energy exports have been lagging recently, August’s stunning boom in energy sector production suggests higher resource exports could be in the pipeline for September."

Trade numbers for the United States will be reported at the same time Thursday, but America's trade deficit is believed to have widened slightly. Senior economist Sal Guatieri of BMO Nesbitt Burns: "Firmer oil prices and a pickup in consumer spending likely lifted imports for the first time in four months. Exports should continue to trend upwards, albeit at a more modest pace than earlier this year given weaker global demand and a firmer greenback. Despite the expected deterioration in September, net exports improved moderately in Q3, supporting GDP growth."

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