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These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.

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Loonie to weaken
Exporters can thank the U.S. and Canadian central banks for what's expected to be a further erosion of the loonie as the year winds down.

The currency took it on the chin last week when the Bank of Canada shifted its policy – it's no longer signalling an interest rate hike - and softened yesterday as the U.S. dollar strengthened on the Federal Reserve announcement.

The loonie, as the dollar coin is known in Canada, has since come back from its Fed-induced dip, and is now up about 0.3 per cent since yesterday's close, buoyed also by today's Statistics Canada report on how the economy fared in August.

Where Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues are concerned, it all has to do with the expected timeline of the central bank's quantitative easing program, or QE, under which it buys $85-billion (U.S.) in bonds every month.

Originally, the Fed was expected to begin cutting those purchases in September, but held off, surprising markets.

It did so again yesterday, but, as our Washington correspondent Kevin Carmichael reports, it certainly left the door open to what the markets call "tapering" later this year.

In its classic style, the Federal Reserve didn't show its full hand: The stimulus package was left unchanged, but there were also suggestions that tapering might begin sooner rather than later," said market analyst David Madden of IG in London.

"It would appear that when Mr. Bernanke steps down there will be no change to monetary policy, so Janet Yellen may become the Wicked Witch of the West who will trim the QE policy."

Market players are all over the map on this, some believing the Fed won't begin to pull back until the end of the first quarter of next year, or possibly at some point in the second quarter. Others see the move occurring earlier.

Chief currency strategist Camilla Sutton of Bank of Nova Scotia believes there's a chance that market sentiment will change, and that investors could begin to bet on an earlier tapering, which would boost the U.S. dollar, in turn weakening the loonie further.

Barrick holds off on project
Barrick Gold Corp. is suspending construction at its troubled Pascua-Lama project, which has been dogged by regulatory delays.

The gold mining giant described the suspension as temporary, saying any decision to start back up will depend on the economics of the massive project, such as costs, the outlook for metal prices, and more certainty over the regulatory requirements, The Globe and Mail's Rachelle Younglai reports today.

Costs at the project have swelled.

"As a result of our previous decision to slow down and re-sequence construction, which resulted in significant demobilization over the last few months, we are in a much better position to implement this temporary suspension quickly and efficiently, with many ramp-down activities already under way," chief executive officer Jamie Sokalsky said of the gold and silver project on the border between Chile and Argentina.

"Our previously lowered capital cost guidance for 2014 is now expected to be further reduced by up to $1-billion while we continue to address all our environmental and social obligations."

Barrick also posted a third-quarter profit of $172-million (U.S.) or 17 cents a share, well down from $649-million or 65 cents a year earlier.

Fort Hills a go
Barrick may be putting a major project on hold, but oil sands companies have decided to go ahead with a new mine after years of delays in the wake of the financial crisis and amid rising costs, The Globe and Mail's Carrie Tait reports.

Suncor Energy Inc. and its partners in the $13.5-billion Fort Hills project, France's Total SA and Teck Resources Ltd., announced the green light last night.

Suncor expects to see the first production from Fort Hills in late 2017.

Separately, Jeffrey Jones reports, Royal Dutch Shell PLC today gave the go-ahead to a new steam-driven oil sands project.

Android surges
Google Inc.'s popular Android operating system now controls 81 per cent of the global market for new smartphones, new research shows.

The surge in the mobile system comes largely at the expense of BlackBerry Ltd. and, slightly less so, Apple Inc., Strategy Analytics said today. It added that Microsoft Corp.'s Windows offering has doubled its share of the market, and now boasts the fastest-growing platform.

Global smartphone shipments reached 251.4-million devices in the third quarter of this year, the research firm said, with 204.4 million of them powered by Android.

"Android's domination of global smartphone shipments reached a new peak in [the third quarter of] 2013, with four out of every five smartphones now running Google's OS," said senior analyst Scott Bicheno.

"Android's gain came mainly at the expense of BlackBerry, which saw its global smartphone share dip from 4 per cent to 1 per cent in the past year due to a weak line-up of BB10 devices," he added in the Strategy Analytics report.

"Apple also lost some ground to Android because of its limited presence at the lower end of the smartphone market."

There are many different Android-powered phones. And Apple's iPhone, of course, is in the high-end of the market, though the tech giant recently introduced a lower-cost device.

But the pricier iPhone 5S is "proving popular," Mr. Bicheno said, which will pump up Apple shipments in the fourth quarter.

According to today's report, Android phones captured 81.3 per cent of operating system market, up from 75 per cent a year earlier. Apple's share slipped to 13.4 per cent from 15.6 per cent, and BlackBerry's to 1 per cent from 4.3 per cent.

Microsoft climbed to 4.1 per cent, with more than 10 million devices in the three-month period, from 2.1 per cent a year earlier, the report added. That's almost all because of Nokia's Lumia line.

Other potential suitors are also interested, including BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, and former Apple Inc. chief John Sculley.

Consumers can sue
Consumers have a right to sue manufacturers in class-action lawsuits over price-fixing allegations, even when they do not buy products directly from those manufacturers, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in three cases today.

Justice Marshall Rothstein, writing for a unanimous court, said there is no reason that so-called "indirect purchasers" – consumers who buy from retailers, not manufacturers – should not be able to recover improper charges that begin early in a product's creation, The Globe and Mail's Sean Fine reports.

"Indirect purchasers actions may, in some circumstances, be the only means by which overcharges are claimed and deterrence is promoted," Justice Rothstein wrote.

GDP up 0.3 per cent
We're getting a truer picture of the economy with Statistics Canada's report today on gross domestic product.

The economy expanded by 0.3 per cent in August, down from July's 0.6 per cent, but  the earlier month was skewed somewhat by the end of a construction strike in Quebec and the rebound in Alberta from widespread flooding. As was June, which saw a decline of 0.5 per cent.

The oil and gas industry, agriculture and forestry made strides in August, while manufacturing lagged, The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant reports.

"Canada continues to recover after output was impaired in June following extraordinary events, e.g. Alberta floods and Quebec construction strike," said senior economist Krishen Rangasamy of National Bank.

"The August results were better than expected and it now seems [third-quarter] GDP growth will be better than the Bank of Canada's recently downgraded forecast of just 1.8 per cent annualized for the quarter."

Bombardier profit dips
Bombardier cited disappointing market conditions today as it posted a dip in third-quarter profit and sales.

The Canadian plane and train maker posted a quarterly profit of $147-million (U.S.), or 8 cents a share, down from $172-million or 9 cents a year earlier, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

Adjusted profit slipped to $165-million or 9 cents a share, just shy of the 10 cents expected by analysts.

Revenue was $4.1-billion, compared to $4.2-billion.

"In aerospace, results were in line with our guidance, but the low order intake and overall market conditions were a disappointment," said chief executive officer Pierre Beaudoin.

Europe despairs
Europe remains the home of economic despair.

The jobless rate across the European Union held in September at 11 per cent, while that of the smaller, 17-member euro zone is running at 12.2 per cent.

According to the Eurostat agency today, almost 27 million people can't find work in the EU, more than 19 million of them in the troubled monetary union.

While countries such as Austria, Germany and Luxembourg continue to boast relatively low jobless rates, the battered economies of others such as Greece and Spain are crippled, with more than one-quarter of the work force unemployed.

At the same time, Eurostat estimated an annual inflation rate at 0.7 per cent in October, easing from 1.1 per cent last month.

"That's the weakest headline inflation reading since late 2009," said Derek Holt of Bank of Nova Scotia.

"This is consistent with a global move toward low inflation readings and explains part of why several central banks have turned more dovish – thus far with the significant exception of the ECB which often lags behind through both the Trichet and Draghi eras, in my opinion."

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