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These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.

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Death and taxes
A new study of global taxes puts Canada at No. 24 of 34 countries, with high scores for consumption levies but lower for property and income taxes. And lower still where international tax rules are concerned.

The study ranks countries on the competitiveness of their tax regimes, putting Estonia at the top and France at the bottom.

While Canada's overall ranking was 24 in the Washington-based Tax Foundation's study of OECD countries released today, the findings were mixed across the group's categories.

The country ranked No. 19 for corporate taxes, No. 10 for consumption taxes, No. 23 for property taxes, No. 24 for income and payroll levies, and No. 27 for international tax rules.

Ranking in the top five over all, for most competitive, were Estonia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden and Australia, though Switzerland came it at No. 32 on property taxes.

At the very bottom was France, just below Portugal, the United States, Italy and Spain.

But there's a bit more to the story, according to Tax Foundation economist Kyle Pomerleau.

While Canada is clumped near the bottom of the 34 nations, it's actually within a few points of several others.

So, unlike France, for example, Canada is "near the middle, really."

"In today's globalized economy, the structure of a country's tax code is an important factor for businesses when they decide where to invest," the group said as it released its index.

"No longer can a country tax business investment and activity at a high rate without adversely affecting its economic performance," it added.

"In recent years, many countries have recognized this fact and have moved to reform their tax codes to be more competitive. However, others have failed to do so and are falling behind the global movement."

WestJet to charge
It's starting to look like you might just want a carry-on when you fly shorter hops.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. today joined rival Porter Airlines Inc. in charging travellers a fee for their first checked bag, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

The Calgary-based carrier said it will charge a $25 fee for a first checked bag on Econo fares for travel within Canada and between Canada and the United States. The fee will apply to flights starting Oct. 29 that were booked as of today.

Airlines have been mulling or instituting checked-bag fees as they face rising fuel costs and the drop in value of the Canadian dollar.

Air Canada has not yet set up such a policy.

Dodig unveils management team
A key executive of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is leaving early amid management moves unveiled today by CIBC's new chief executive officer.

Victor Dodig, who took the reins at the bank today following the sudden retirement of former CEO Gerry McCaughey, appointed Steve Geist as the bank's new wealth management head, filling Mr. Dodig's old role, The Globe and Mail's Tim Kiladze reports.

The bank also announced that chief operating officer Richard Nesbitt, who originally planned to retire in October 2015, "has advanced his departure date and is now leaving the bank."

With both Mr. McCaughey and Mr. Nesbitt gone, the bank starts a new chapter without arguably its top two executives under the old regime.

Microsoft buys Mojang
Microsoft Corp. is buying the developer of the hit Minecraft game for $2.5-billion (U.S.).

Mojang, a Swedish company whose cult game went mainstream, announced the deal to join Microsoft Studios today.

"Gaming is a top activity spanning devices, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile, with billions of hours spent each year," Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella.

"Minecraft is more than a great game franchise – it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft," he said in a statement.

Apple sees record
Apple Inc. shares are up slightly today after the tech giant reported a "record number of first day pre-orders" for its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

The company announced more than 4 million orders in the first 24 hours for the phones, which launch this Friday in several countries, including Canada.

OECD trims outlook
Canada's economy will be among the top performers in the G7 this year, the OECD says in a new forecast today. But hold that thought.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development trimmed its 2014 outlook for Canada, to economic growth of 2.3 per cent from 2.5 per cent, but that should be second only to Britain's projected 3.1 per cent.

The U.S. economy is forecast to grow by 2.1 per cent, Germany by 1.5 per cent, Japan by 0.9 per cent, and France by 0.4 per cent. Italy's economy is projected to shrink by 0.4 per cent.

While Canada may sit near the top of the G7, that's still just moderate economic growth.

Next year, according to the group's forecasts, economic growth in Canada will pick up to 2.7 per cent, trailing America's 3.1 per cent and Britain's 2.8 per cent, but still outpacing the rest.

"Really what they've done is brought them more into line with consensus," Camilla Sutton, Bank of Nova Scotia's chief currency strategist, said of the new forecast for Canada.

While painting a stronger picture for the United States, and arguing that the Federal Reserve should continue to pull back from its stimulus measures, the OECD warned of the challenges still facing continental Europe.

The euro zone economy is forecast to expand by just 0.8 per cent this year, and 1.1 per cent next, though, of course, fortunes diverge across the countries of the monetary union.

The OECD called for more action from individual countries and the European Central Bank, which has recently cut interest rates twice.

"Given the low-growth outlook and the risk that demand could be further sapped if inflation remains near zero, or even turns negative, the OECD recommends more monetary support for the euro area," it said.

"Recent actions by the European Central Bank are welcome, but further measures, including quantitative easing, are warranted," it added.

"Given the weakness of demand, European countries should also use the full degree of flexibility available within the EU's fiscal rules.

Among emerging nations, the group projected China's economy will expand by 7.4 per cent this year, and 7.3 per cent in 2015, compared to India's 5.7 per cent and 5.9 per cent, and Brazil's 0.3 per cent and 1.4 per cent.

Hold on tight
It's going to be an anxious week across financial markets.

Maybe even wild and crazy.

The highlights include a speech by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, a meeting of the Federal Reserve, and the Scottish independence referendum.

"We are now in the final stretch of the Scottish referendum and the pressure remains on RBS and Lloyds," said market analyst David Madden of IG.

"If there is one thing the markets don't like it is uncertainty, and nothing could be more uncertain than the outcome of the referendum. As the future of the U.K. hangs in the balance international traders are staying clear of British stocks as the state may have one less nation by the end of the week."

Mr. Poloz gets the ball rolling tomorrow with a speech in Quebec. Given that the topic is "a floating exchange rate in the Canadian economy and in the bank's policy framework," there's plenty of room there for a man who can, and frequently does, move the currency.

"Sounds like the perfect topic to highlight the benefits of a weaker currency while reinforcing the bank solely targets inflation," said senior economist Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

A day later, Mr. Poloz's American counterpart, Fed chair Janet Yellen, takes the stage after the U.S. central bank's latest policy decision.

Some observers believe the Fed may change its language to signal the first step on the path to higher interest rates, though others expect no change.

"Over all, our expectation is this statement will not undergo significant tailoring but will be nipped and tucked here and there," said strategists at Royal Bank of Canada.

"We also think those expected a detailed exit plan/strategy at this meeting may be disappointed."

The Fed statement will be followed by new economic projections, and a news conference with Ms. Yellen.

Thursday brings the Scottish independence vote, which follows threats by major banks move their headquarters in the event that the "Yes" camp wins.

"The biggest concern for the markets this week is going to be the Scottish referendum and not just because it could bring an end to the 307-year union it has had with the U.K.," said market analyst Craig Erlam of Alpari in London..

"This, of course, is a great concern simply because no one seems to know exactly what impact Scotland's independence would have on the U.K. economy," he added.

"What could be a greater concern though is whether even a close vote could set a precedence for regions in other countries to request a similar vote on independence. We've already seen support for the Scottish vote in Catalonia which has long sought independence from Spain and this would be a bigger problem due to how much tax the region generates which is then transferred to other regions."

CREA ups forecast
The Canadian Real Estate Association has boosted its projection for the country's hot housing market.

The group said today it forecasts home sales will rise 3.8 per cent this year from last, to 475,000, The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports.

This came as the group also reported that sales climbed 1.8 per cent in August from July, and 2.1 per cent from a year earlier.

Prices, CREA said, rose 5.3 per cent.

"As in recent months, activity continued to be fuelled disproportionately by increases in Greater Vancouver, Calgary and Metro Toronto," said Peter Buchanan of CIBC World Markets, noting that the housing market "still has some wind in its sails."

Who's stalking who
Forgive me for this one: Big things are brewing in the beer industry.

SABMiller wants to buy Heineken NV, and, apparently, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV has its eye on SABMiller.

Heineken said yesterday that SABMiller has approached the Dutch brewer about a takeover, but that it rejected an acquisition.

"The Heineken family has informed SABMiller, Heineken and Heineken Holding NV of its intention to preserve the heritage and identity of Heineken as an independent company," it said in a statement.

"The Heineken family and Heineken NV's management are confident that the company will continue to deliver growth and shareholder value."

Bloomberg News quoted sources as saying that the move by SABMiller was part of its strategy to fend off a possible bid from Anheuser-Busch.

And today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Aheuser-Busch is discussing financing with banks for just such a move, a deal that could be valued at more than $120-billion (U.S.).

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