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Business Briefing BMO on Canada's economy: 'There’s Alberta, then there’s everyone else'

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, June 10, 2014.

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Alberta's economy powers ahead
As Bank of Montreal puts it, there's Alberta and then the ROC where the economy's concerned.

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Everyone knows that the province's economy is on fire, and that's its forecast to stay that way, but BMO economists today have fresh numbers to back up a research note titled "There's Alberta, then there's everyone else."

Looking deeper into last Friday's jobs numbers, BMO's Benjamin Reitzes says the Statistics Canada report "reinforced that the Alberta economy is in a league of its own."

Employment in Alberta, home to Canada's oil industry, has climbed 3.2 per cent over the course of a year, compared to just 0.1 per cent for the rest of Canada.

"That's +71,200 jobs for Alberta and $14,300 for the rest of the country – note that Alberta accounts for just over 11 per cent of the country's population," Mr. Reitzes said.

"Six of 10 provinces saw employment drop below year-ago levels, including all five east of Ontario," he added.

"Alberta's energy sector continues to suck in workers, while the rest of Canada battles slowing domestic demand and the legacy of a strong loonie and weak productivity."

Separately, as The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports today, Calgary's housing market is red hot.

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So, as BMO's Sal Guatieri puts it, if you're looking for a new condo, good luck.

The latest projections from Royal Bank of Canada call for economic expansion of 3.7 per cent this year and 3.5 per cent in 2015, with employment levels climbing 2.3 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, and a jobless rate of 4.3 per cent and then just 4 per cent.

Alberta, by the way, boasts Canada's highest average weekly earnings, at $1,108.01 last year.

Group pitches refinery
A British Columbia-based consortium is proposing a $10-billion refinery for Canada's West Coast, the second such plan aimed at winning support for processing and exporting petroleum products manufactured from the oil sands, The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Jones writes.

A group called Pacific Future Energy said it wants to build a massive plant in the Prince Rupert, B.C., area that could eventually process 1 million barrels a day, constructed in 200,000 barrel-a-day modules.

The aim is to develop a "near-net-zero" bitumen refinery using an environmentally friendly design powered by natural gas and renewables and employing carbon-capture technology. The group said it will concentrate on seeking support and partnership from First Nations.

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Allergan fends off Valeant
Allergan Inc. has rebuffed Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.

Again.

As The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports, Allergan's board rejected a high takeover bid from Valeant, which is backed by activist investor Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management LP.

Allergan CEO David Pyott, in rejecting the offer, described the bid as undervalued and questioned the "large stock component" of the proposed $54-billion (U.S.) cash-and-stock deal.

Pension plans bounce back
Employee pension plans have bounced back rapidly since the financial crisis, with assets climbing 67 per cent since hitting rock bottom in the first quarter of 2009, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland reports.

Statistics Canada data on employer-sponsored pension plans show Canadian plans had assets totalling $1.34-trillion at the end of 2013, an increase of 67 per cent from $804-billion in the first quarter of 2009 after plans saw their assets sink during a global stock market meltdown.

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Pension fund assets climbed 12 per cent in 2013 alone – and 5.8 per cent in the fourth quarter last year – as a strong stock market performance pushed up the value of pension funds' investment portfolios.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article said employer-sponsored pension plans had $804-million in assets in 2009 instead of $804-billion. This version has been corrected.

Technicolor buys Toronto firm
A Canadian visual effects company is being snapped up by French giant Technicolor.

The amount Technicolor is paying for Toronto's Mr. X wasn't disclosed today, but it will operate the Toronto-based company as its visual effects brand, it said in a statement.

Mr. X is known for its work on this year's RoboCop, last year's Carrie and Anchorman 2, among other film and TV productions.

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