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These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, March 17, 2014.

Follow Michael Babad and The Globe's Business Briefing on Twitter.

Changing fortunes
Montreal and Vancouver are inching closer to Toronto in a global ranking of financial centres, largely because of the perception of those in the industry.

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Toronto slipped to 14th spot in the latest Global Financial Centres Index, a respected study done via an online survey by Z/Yen Group Ltd., from No. 11 last fall.

Canada's financial capital, however, dipped even though its scores increased because of the ascension of three other centres, San Francisco, Washington and Luxembourg.

In fact, Toronto's decline was "statistically insignificant," said the index's principal author, Mark Yeandle.

"Just five points more (out of 1,000) would have seen Toronto remain in 11th," he said of the report, which surveyed more than 3,000 industry players on everything from infrastructure to reputation.

Notable, though, were the gains by Montreal and Vancouver, which each moved up two notches to numbers 16 and 17, respectively, and the reasons for them.

"They got particularly good assessments in the last six months from respondents … and I think in particular Montreal got much higher assessments than it did last time around," Mr. Yeandle said, adding the Quebec and British Columbia cities are doing well in terms of people's perceptions.

In the September, 2013, reading, Toronto was No. 11, with Montreal and Vancouver in the 18 and 19 positions. And in the reading before that, Toronto was No. 12, while Vancouver held 15 spot and Montreal 16.

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That doesn't mean Toronto is losing ground. And over all, Mr. Yeandle said, the Canadian market is "highly respected."

Calgary dropped one notch to No. 22, having been No. 21 last fall and No. 17 in the earlier report.

The biggie in the latest report, released over the weekend, is that New York bested London for the top spot for the first time, albeit by a small margin.

"London sees the largest fall in the top 50 centres," Mr. Yeandle said in a statement.

"This seems to be based on a number of factors including fears of regulatory creep, uncertainty over Europe, the perception that London might be becoming less welcoming to foreigners and perceived levels of market manipulation."

Following those two for the top 10 were Hong Kong, Singapore, Zurich, Tokyo, Seoul, Boston, Geneva and San Francisco.

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False dawn?
More than one analyst is wondering just what is going in the markets as global tensions mount in the wake of yesterday's Crimea referendum and today's sanctions by the U.S. and EU.

While Tokyo's Nikkei lost 0.4 per cent today, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng 0.3 per cent, European and North American stocks climbed.

"European markets have benefited from a relief rally following the selloff that preceded the weekend's referendum in Crimea," said market analyst Alastair McCaig of IG in London.

"Today's comments from the EU and U.S., stating that they have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on officials from Russia and Ukraine, feel very much like a shot across the bows rather than the punitive measures Ukraine's citizens would have hoped for."

In Europe, London's FTSE 100, Germany's DAX and the Paris CAC 40 were up by between 0.6 per cent and 1.4  per cent. North American markets also climbed.

"So far at least, stocks are loving something," said Derek Holt of Bank of Nova Scotia.

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"It's just not clear to us what that might be by way of something credible until we know more. Maybe they're weighting China's weekend developments more significantly than Crimea for now and until we know more. U.S. equity futures are up solidly, but recall that this was often the case during past flash points in euro zone market tensions until more lights came on in North America and developments proceeded further."

Mr. Holt wonders if the market rally is a "false dawn," with investors ignoring some key facts.

"I'd like to share market optimism this morning, but I can't figure out what it's based upon other than perhaps a woeful neglect of what history tells us in such instances," he said.

"Instead, I'd view it as facing the risk of disappointment pending heightened uncertainty in an exchange of sanctions that likely lies ahead and perhaps as soon as today, and that could carry sharply negative implications for economies including Russia and Germany – and that's the best case scenario," Mr. Holt added, indeed just before new sanctions were unveiled by the U.S. and EU, though only on Russian and Ukrainian officials.

He's not alone in wondering what comes next, and what that will mean for the markets.

"There is going to be an element of caution from traders who will be keeping a very close eye on the developments in Crimea," said market analyst Craig Erlam of Alpari in London.

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"Yesterday's referendum went exactly as expected, with residents voting to leave the Ukraine and join Russia. As yet, we haven't had a response from the West, most likely in the form of sanctions, but I imagine this won't be far away. It is the response from the West that the markets are concerned about, as this is what could escalate things very quickly, should it prompt a retaliation from Vladimir Putin."

Canada's housing market cools
Canada's housing market is clearly cooling down in terms of sales, but that hasn't caught up to prices yet.

At the same time, the country's realtors cut their sales projections.

As The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports, home sales across the country climbed 1.9 per cent in February from a year earlier, and 0.3 per cent on a monthly basis from January.

"The February result follows five straight monthly declines and leaves activity 9.3 per cent below the peak reached in August 2013," the Canadian Real Estate Association said today.

Average sales prices shot up again, by more than 10 per cent from a year earlier.

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The MLS home price index, however, which is seen as the preferable measure, increased by 5.1 per cent.

CREA now projects a sales increase of 1.3 per cent this year, and 1.2 per cent next. Average prices are projected to rise 3.8 per cent this year, and 1.1 per cent next.

Whitecap buys assets
Canada's Whitecap Resources Inc. is buying oil and gas assets in British Columbia and Alberta from Imperial Oil Ltd. for some $855-million.

Whitecap today unveiled the deal for the properties, which produce about 15,000 oil equivalent barrels a day, and at the same time hiked its dividend and raised its outlook, The Globe and Mail's Shawn McCarthy reports.

Whitecap, in turn, is selling natural gas properties to Keyera Corp., and with certain adjustments on closing pegged its final cost at just shy of $693-million.

It has struck a financing deal of $500-million to fund the deal.

Whitecap is hiking its dividend to 75 cents a share, annualized.

What to watch for this week
From cars to condos, market watchers will get a sense this week of what Canadians have been buying – and of how much more they've had to pay.

The action began this morning with the Canadian Real Estate Association report.

On Friday, Statistics Canada reports on how retailers fared in still-wintry January, having stayed home in force during those icy days of December in central and eastern Canada and the snows of late 2013 in Calgary.

Economists forecast the report will show a bounce in retail sales in January of about 0.8 per cent, which wouldn't have made up for the 1.8-per-cent drop in December.

Also on Friday, Statistics Canada releases its monthly look at inflation, which economists expect to show a dip to about the 1-per-cent mark on an annual basis in February. On a monthly basis, consumer prices are believed to have increased by 0.6 per cent from January.

In between, the big event of the week will be Janet Yellen's first meeting as the new chair of the Federal Reserve. And, our Washington correspondent Kevin Carmichael reports, there's a lot on her plate.

Investors will also get quarter results this week from the likes of Power Corp. of Canada and Power Financial, FedEx, General Mills, Nike, PetroChina and Winnebago.

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