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These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.

Follow Michael Babad and The Globe's Business Briefing on Twitter.

Dollar sinks below key mark
The Canadian dollar tumbled below the 84-cent mark today amid ever-sinking oil prices.

And based on the latest forecasts, the Canadian currency is headed lower still.

The loonie, as the country's dollar coin is known, hit a low of 83.58 cents U.S., the lowest level in about five and one-half years, having touched a high mark of 84.49 cents.

It sat at 83.58 cents by late afternoon.

This came as North American stocks also stumbled and oil hit fresh lows amid a new projection by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that crude has further depths to plumb.

The Canadian dollar was hit hard, given its links to oil.

"We see the core driver for CAD in the near-term as developments with oil prices and expect CAD to reach fresh lows this week," said senior currency strategist Camilla Sutton of Bank of Nova Scotia, referring to the currency by its symbol.

"We expect CAD to weaken further and for near-term traders are biased to be short CAD," she added.

How low could the loonie go?

A new projection today from Nomura Securities predicts the loonie will sink to about 78.75 cents by the third quarter of the year, before picking up slightly to close out 2015.

"Commodity currencies have continued to depreciate in recent months in the face of continued declines in commodity prices and the broad-based USD appreciation," said Nomura's Charles St-Arnaud, referring to the U.S. dollar.

"The decline in commodity prices has already had a major negative impact on the terms of trade for commodity producers and will have a negative impact on their economies," he added.

"Nevertheless, the sharp decline in oil prices in recent months will have an asymmetric impact on AUD, NZD and CAD," according to Mr. St-Arnaud, bringing the Australian and New Zealand currencies into the fold.

Analysts have been revising their currency projections amid the collapse in oil prices, which has sideswiped others such as the Russian ruble and Norway's krone.

In her latest forecast, before today's further drop in oil, Scotiabank's Ms. Sutton projected the loonie will close 2015 at about 83 cents, meaning depreciation this year of 3 per cent, on top of last year's 9 per cent.

There's not just oil.

Playing into all this, as well, are the monetary policies of Canada and the United States, particularly the suggestion that the Bank of Canada will lag the Federal Reserve in hiking rates.

"The Federal Reserve (Fed), facing strong growth and contained inflation risk, is expected to enter its period of policy normalization in the second quarter of 2015," Ms. Sutton said.

"Accordingly the BoC will lag the Fed's first interest rate hike by well over a year, having a material impact on short-term interest spreads and proving a weight for CAD."

Nomura's Mr. St-Arnaud agreed with that timeline, adding that he expects the Canadian central bank to lower its projection for economic growth when it releases its monetary policy report next week.

"If we are correct, this means that growth in 2015 would be only slightly higher than potential," he said.

"With the output gap closing at a slower pace, we doubt the BoC will be in a position to hike rates until 2016. With the Federal Reserve expected to start normalizing its monetary policy around mid-2015, the divergence in monetary policy paths should put further downward pressures on CAD."

Currency speculators, meanwhile, have been adding to their bets against the loonie.

Short positions reported by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission have widened to $1.4-billion, according to the CFTC's latest report, which adds to the pressure on the currency.

Canadian Natural pulls back
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. says it's carrying through on its "capital flexibility" in light of plunging oil prices, slashing its plans and delaying spending on a project.

Its original budget for this year called for $8.6-billion in capital spending, and production increases of 11 per cent from last year's guidance.

But it now sees a capital budget of some $6.2-billion and production growth of 7 per cent, The Globe and Mail's Carrie Tait reports.

"The capital reductions primarily relate to reduced drilling activity and related facility capital for North America and international conventional operations," Canadian Natural said.

"Additionally, the company will defer capital expenditures of approximately $470 million related to the Kirby North Phase 1 thermal in situ project, until such time as commodity prices stabilize at levels that justify such capital expenditures."

Hey, what's new since I last saw you?
India's public works department says it's serious about absenteeism.

In the case of one senior official, it's about time, some might say.

The government's Press Information Bureau says the minister responsible for the Central Public Works Department has fired A.K. Verma, an executive electrical engineer, because he didn't show up for work. Since 1990.

Mr. Verma was sacked for "willful absence from duty" by the Minister of Urban Development, M. Venkaiah Naidu, the government said last week.

Mr. Verma's story is, by its nature, a long one. Though with not a lot of detail from when he joined the department to when he got fired.

Mr. Verma signed on as an assistant executive engineer in 1980, and at some point became executive engineer.

And whoever promoted him surely is regretting that decision.

He went on earned leave in December, 1990, and never came back.

"He went on seeking extension of leave which was not sanctioned and defied directions to report to work," the government said.

There was an inquiry in the fall of 1992, but he didn't co-operate and, along with other reasons, it was delayed, leading to a new "charge sheet" in 2005.

It then took about two years to issue the report, which was handed to the former Minister of Urban Development in August, 2007.

"But no further action was taken in the matter."

That was in the run-up to the global meltdown. And, really, who wants to go back to work in the middle of a crisis, right?

Just after he took over, the new minister, Mr. Naidu, ordered a review of all cases for "expeditious action."

On learning of Mr. Verma's absence, he fired him.

Presumably, there's more to this story. It's not known, for example, what Mr. Verma has been doing for the past 24 years.

Given his skills, maybe he rewired his house. Or the entire neighbourhood.

And given his previous promotion, who knows how far he might have advanced in the government had he bothered to show up.

(Indian and British publications carried this story late last week. But if it takes the government a quarter of a century, I can be a few days late in reporting it.)

Maybe I should call in sick tomorrow.

Lululemon sees better times
Lululemon Athletica Inc. today boosted its outlook for fourth-quarter results, sending its stock up as it cited a strong holiday selling season.

Lululemon now expects revenue of between $595-million (U.S.) and $600-million on a projected increase in same-store sales of 6 per cent to 7 per cent.

That's up from previous forecasts of $570-million to $585-million.

It also expects earnings per share of 71 cents to 73 cents, up from between 65 cents and 69 cents.

"Backed by improving trends and strong holiday results, we are entering 2015 in very good shape," chief executive officer Laurent Potdevin said in a statement.

Linamar creates jobs
Linamar Corp. is creating 1,200 jobs at its Guelph, Ont., operations, helped along by the Canadian government.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Linamar, the country's second-biggest auto parts maker, unveiled the investment of more than $500-million today, The Globe and Mail's Greg Keenan reports.

The government is loaning Linamar almost $51-million.

Warnings on AI
Investors and business people have joined some in the scientific community in warning about the potential perils of artificial intelligence.

Stephen Hawking made waves with this warning last month.

But now, he's being joined by the likes of Tesla's Elon Musk and others in the Future of Life Institute.

Among them are academics and folks from several businesses, including Google Inc., IBM Corp., and others.

"The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable," the group says in an open letter.

"Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls."

The group recommends expanded research "aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: Our AI systems must do what we want them to do."

Mounties fight fee
The Mounties apparently don't want to pay more to always get their man.

Canadian Press reports today that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with other forces, are refusing to pay Rogers Communications Inc. fresh fees to hunt suspects through mobile devices.

According to the news organization, the police believe Rogers must legally provide court-sanctioned requests without additional costs.

Rogers, in turn, says it does that, but there's a marginal fee in some cases.

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