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These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, April 10, 2015.

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How high?
It didn't happen today, but Canada's jobless rate is probably still heading higher.

The question is how high.

First, there's the oil shock that has already sparked a spike in unemployment in Canada's oil-sensitive regions. Then there's the shutdown of Target Corp. in Canada, and the loss of 17,000 retail jobs there. Then there's government restraint.

This morning's report from Statistics Canada showed the country gained about 29,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate held steady at 6.8 per cent.

But that in no way, shape or form tells the story of what's playing out in the labour market.

Here's what happened in March: Canada gained 56,800 part-time jobs, but lost 28,200 full-time positions. In fact, over the first quarter of the year as a whole, the country's job gains of 63,000 are because of part-time gains. Having said that, the gains of 138,000 over the past year was attributed to full-time work.

Let's look at the oil-sensitive provinces: Alberta gained jobs, but its unemployment rate continued to climb, to 5.5 per cent from 5.3 per cent. The jobless rate also spiked in Newfoundland and Labrador, to 13.3 per cent, though it dipped in Saskatchewan to 4.4 per cent.

"Employment is a lagging indicator, and hiring in Canada has held up well in recent months while the broader economy slowed to a crawl," said economist Leslie Preston of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"We had expected a weaker employment tally in March to bring employment more in line with other indicators. We continue to expect weakness in hiring in the second quarter. March's job gains were also concentrated in part-time employment, which is not great for income growth."

In the main manufacturing provinces, where it's hoped that the oil-induced drop in the Canadian dollar will help their economies, unemployment held steady in Ontario at 6.9 per cent and rose edged up in Quebec to 7.5 per cent.

As well as the oil shock, the shutdown of Target Corp. in Canada has yet to play out fully, though this will happen over the course of the next few months.

Canada's jobless rate is projected by some to stick stubbornly close to the 7-per-cent mark, at least through the end of this year.

Still others believe it may well top 7 per cent, and hold at uncomfortable levels through to the end of 2016.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter, for one, believes things will improve marginally.

"The point is that the labour market is grinding out very modest gains amid an economy that is grinding out very modest growth," Mr. Porter said after today's numbers.

"We suspect that conditions will be a tad better in the spring given less miserable weather and the fact that much of the oil sector weakness was front-loaded into Q1," he added.

"The Target layoffs will be a challenge for overall jobs and spending, but we still expect both employment and GDP to perk up a bit in Q2 from a lacklustre opening three months to the year."

This is all playing out amid an election campaign in troubled Alberta, and in the run-up to the April 21 federal budget.

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver met yesterday with several private sector economists as he prepares the budget, which he has pledged to balance, and was told to expect a modest showing this year.

"The economists noted that the sharp decline in global crude oil prices and weak global economy were affecting Canada's economy," the Finance Department said.

"However, they also noted that Canada's underlying economic fundamentals remain strong, and that they expect real gross domestic product (GDP) growth to average about 2 per cent for 2015 as a whole."

Today, in a new forecast, Toronto-Dominion Bank said the economic news for the oil regions will only "get worse."

The study by deputy chief economist Derek Burleton and economist Jonathan Bendiner projects, for example, that Alberta's economy will "grind to a virtual standstill" this year, with growth of just 0.5 per cent, before regaining ground to 1.8 per cent in 2016.

Unemployment, they predict, will average 5.6 per cent this year, and 5.9 per cent next.

They see the jobless rates of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador climbing from last year, as well, to 4.9 per cent and 5 per cent for the former, and 12.5 per cent and 12.8 per cent for the latter.

GE in huge overhaul
General Electric Co. today unveiled a sweeping overhaul that drove its stock higher.

The first part of the grand plan involves the sale of GE Capital's real estate assets to Blackstone Group and Wells Fargo & Co. for $26.5-billion (U.S.).

GE's plan will create a "simpler, more valuable" company via the sale of most of GE Capital's business, the company said.

This will happen over the course of the next two years, in what chief executive officer Jeff Immelt called a "major step in our strategy to focus GE around its competitive advantages."

When all is said and done, GE said, more than 90 per cent of its profits will be driven by "high-return" industrial assets by 2018.

GE will hold onto certain GE Capital operations related to those industrial operations.

At the same time, GE announced a stock buyback of up to $50-billion, which it expects will offset the hit to earnings over the timeframe for disposing of GE Capital.

There will also be some $16-billion in after-tax charges in the first quarter of the year.

Ontario drivers dinged: study
If you live in Ontario and happen to drive, take note.

Two professors at York University's Schulich School of Business say Ontario drivers are being dinged for insurance.

"In 2013 alone, consumers likely overpaid by $840-million," said the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which is demanding Ontario's Auditor General review the situation.

The group commissioned the report by Professors Fred Lazar and Eli Prisman, which is being unveiled today in Toronto.

Housing starts climb
Construction starts in Canada are on the rise, but the country's housing agency says the trend is actually steady.

Housing starts jumped in March to an annual pace of 189,708 units from February's 151,238, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said today.

But the six-month moving average inched down to 179,016 from 180,236.

"Despite recent month-to-month changes in the [seasonally-adjusted annual rate], the trend in housing starts essentially held steady in March compared to February, said the agency's chief economist Bob Dugan.

"However, the trend in housing construction has moved lower since September 2014, partly reflecting efforts to manage the level of completed but unsold units."

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