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morning business briefing

These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.

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Keeping up with the Joneses
Pity the poor Canadian billionaire: Once you've hit that mark, it's apparently somewhat difficult to stay there.

Canada has a low "retention rate" when it comes to staying in the billionaire group over the longer term, according to the latest global wealth report from Credit Suisse, which might be seen as surprising given how the financial crisis played out across the globe.

Credit Suisse tracked the staying power of billionaires, as ranked by Forbes, between 2000 and 2010. While Canada wasn't at the bottom, it didn't rank particularly high, either.

"Among the G7 countries, France, Italy and Japan might be expected to have a lower percentage of stayers because their billionaire ranks shrank considerably over the decade," Credit Suisse said in this year's annual report.

"However, Canada, Germany and the U.K. also have fairly low retention rates."

According to the recent report, there were 18 billionaires in 2000-2001, 17 in 2005 and 24 in 2010. Of those who hit the mark in 2000-2001, some 56 per cent still remained in 2005, and just 44 per cent in 2010.

Looking at a shorter time-frame, however, puts Canada high on the list, with 88 per cent of 2005 group still there, a much better showing than the other countries studied.

The United States was at the top over the longer term, with 78 per cent of the 2000-2001 billionaires still there in 2005 and 65 per cent in 2010.

Measuring the entire Group of Seven countries, the showing was 70 per cent in 2005 and 55 per cent in 2010.

In the section of the report on Canada specifically, Credit Suisse noted that household wealth in Canada rose at an annual pace of 6.7 per cent between 2000 and mid-2013.

But that's by measuring wealth in U.S. dollars. When you strip out the effects of currency moves, it was 3.7 per cent a year.

Credit Suisse also flags the nagging concern about the housing market and the record high debt burden among Canadian consumers, noting the rather short cooling-off period after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tightened the mortgage rules in the summer of last year.

"Rapid growth in mortgages has fuelled a continuing rise in household debt," Credit Suisse said.

"Mortgage terms were tightened in 2012 and the market cooled somewhat, but there are continuing concerns. It is not clear whether the final landing will be hard or soft."

Canada, EU strike trade deal
Canada and the European Union today unveiled a sweeping trade agreement designed to eliminate thousands of tariffs, encourage foreign investment and promote movement of labour.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, goes far beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement and will see 98 per cent of EU and Canadian tariffs eliminated once the deal takes effect, The Globe and Mail's Paul Waldie reports from Brussels.

That includes 95 per cent of EU tariffs on agriculture products such as grains, canola and fruit. Other tariffs and restrictions will be phased out over seven years.

The agreement will have far reaching impacts, touching just about every sector of the Canadian economy and millions of workers and consumers.

The final result could see Canadians paying less for thousands of products made in Europe, such as cars which are currently subject to a 6 per cent tariff. European companies will also be able to bid on large provincial and municipal government contracts. And Canadian companies and farmers will gain open access to the EU for hundreds of products, some of which now face tariffs as high as 12 per cent.

Inflation steady
Where inflation's concerned, there's really nothing to see here, folks. And little for the Bank of Canada, for that matter.

Canada's annual inflation rate held steady in September at 1.1 per cent, with consumer prices largely driven by higher costs of shelter and food.

Oh, and the alcohol and tobacco basket took a hefty jump, too.

On a month-over-month basis, seasonally adjusted, consumer prices rose 0.2 per cent, Statistics Canada said today.

The so-called core index, which strips out volatile items and helps guide the central bank, also held steady, at 1.3 per cent on annual basis.

"Today's inflation reading is consistent with the broad trend of soft price pressures in the past several months, and is roughly consistent with the Bank of Canada's expectations for inflation this quarter," said economist Emanuella Enanajor at CIBC World Markets.

Morgan Stanley rebounds
Morgan Stanley shares climbed today after the bank topped analysts' estimates with a rebound in the third quarter.

Shares are up 3.2 per cent about 30 minutes before New York opens.

The bank posted a quarterly profit of $906-million (U.S.) or 45 cents a share, compared to a loss of $1.02-billion or 55 cents a year earlier, when the company took a hefty charge.

"Over all, our stronger year-over-year revenues and net income reflect the progress we have made to position the firm well for the future," said chief executive officer James Gorman.

GE shares climb
Shares of General Electric Co. also rose, after the industrial giant posted third-quarter results that showed a record backlog.

The stock is up 3.2 per cent within about 30 minutes of the New York open.

GE profit slipped to $3.2-billion (U.S.) or 31 cents a share, while revenue dipped 1 per cent from a year earlier to $35.7-billion given the continuing move to shrink the portfolio of GE Capital.

Stripping out charges, operating earnings per share came in at 40 cents.

Notably, orders climbed 19 per cent, with the backlog at a record $229-billion, up by $6-billion from the second quarter.

"Our third-quarter results were very strong in an improving global business environment," said chief executive officer Jeff Immelt.

Chinese growth picks up
China's economy expanded in the third quarter by 7.8 per cent, a slight pickup that has prompted Capital Economics to wonder if this is "as good as it gets."

"With the headline GDP number in line with consensus, the most important news today was the further evidence in the September data that momentum is peaking," said Mark Williams and Julian Evans-Pritchard.

The Capital Economics analysts were referring to the fact that, in September alone, growth in industrial output slowed to 10.2 per cent from 10.4 per cent in August.

Fixed investment growth also slowed.

Overall economic growth compared to 7.5 per cent in the second quarter.

"A slowdown in growth in the fourth quarter would probably reawaken fears of a hard landing but we would welcome it," the Capital Economics analysts said.

"A prolonged surge in credit-fuelled investment is the last thing China now needs."

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