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How the Canadian dollar's reserve status has surged

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

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The popular loonie
The Canadian dollar has become somewhat popular among the world's central bank.

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Its status as a reserve currency surged last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, though that now appears to be stabilizing, with a small quarter-over-quarter rise.

The loonie, as Canada's dollar coin is known, is now the world's fifth-largest reserve currency, trailing the biggies like the U.S. dollar, the euro, Britain's pound and the Japanese yen.

It's ahead of Australia's dollar and the Swiss franc, however, on the IMF's elite list of currencies.

According to the latest IMF report, central banks increased their holdings of the loonie to $108.5-billion (U.S.) by the end of last year.

That's up from $108.1-billion in the third quarter of 2013, but markedly higher than the $86.8-billion at the end of 2012.

The loonie, which has slumped to just above the 90-cent mark, now accounts for 1.7 per cent of the allocated reserves of central banks.

The U.S. dollar represents 61.2 per cent, the euro 24.4 per cent, the pound 4 per cent, and the yen 3.9 per cent.

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Among the smaller group, the Australian dollar accounts for 1.6 per cent and the franc just 0.2 per cent.

The loonie's popularity widened amid the euro zone debt crisis, noted chief currency strategist Camilla Sutton of Bank of Nova Scotia, as central banks diversified away from Europe's common currency, but didn't want to dive further into the greenback.

Now that the euro crisis has eased, monetary officials are getting back in, she added, and thus holdings of currencies like the loonie and Aussie dollar are stabilizing.

Teachers sees surplus
The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is in a surplus position for the first time in a decade, saying strong returns and design changes implemented in recent years have restored its financial health.

The pension plan, which manages pension assets for 307,000 active and retired teachers in Ontario, earned 10.9-per-cent returns on its investments last year, which helped boost its net assets to a record $140.8-billion from $129.5-billion at the end of 2012, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland reports.

Teachers said stronger investment returns and an increase in long-term interest rates have left the fund with a $5.1-billion surplus as of Jan. 1, which means the plan is 103-per-cent funded on a solvency basis.

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The funding turnaround came after the Ontario Teachers' Federation and the Ontario government increased contributions in recent years and reduced inflation indexing to reduce the cost of funding the plan.

Report finds link to oil sands
In one of the first reports to link oil-sands production to human health effects, a panel reporting to Alberta's energy regulator says odours from a heavy oil site in the northwestern part of the province have the potential to cause health issues, The Globe and Mail's Kelly Cryderman reports.

Human health is a concern often cited by opponents of rapid oil-sands development. But while other Alberta government entities have examined long-standing cancer concerns in the small First Nations community of Fort Chipewyan north of Fort McMurray, no study in that area has found a conclusive link to nearby oil-sands sites and human health. Last week, for instance, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan are similar to those in the rest of the province.

Monday's panel report, which makes recommendations to the Alberta Energy Regulator, follows panel hearings in January on heavy-oil health concerns from residents of a small farming community south of Peace River. For more than two years, people living near the Baytex Energy Corp. bitumen site have reported symptoms such as headaches and pains, a lack of co-ordination and spasms.

This report doesn't require immediate action from the company, though Baytex says it's either doing or has promised to do much of what the panel suggests.

Breakfast might as well be at Tiffany's
Your morning meal is about to get a lot more expensive as prices for coffee, bacon, OJ and cereal climb.

The Globe and Mail's Eric Atkins today tracks the cost of breakfast.

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