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These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Canadian executives more stressed Canadian business executives appear to be bucking a global trend: It's not that they're overly stressed compared to their peers in other countries, but their stress levels are growing.

A survey released today by Grant Thornton International shows that stress levels among business leaders around the world are easing. Twenty-eight per cent of the 6,000 businesses polled showed 28 per cent felt more stress last year than they did a year earlier, on a net basis. That was down from 45 per cent in the 2010 survey.

"With economies depressed and the outlook for many still uncertain, this raises the question of whether business leaders are alleviating stress by scaling back on their goals - and possibly adding a further brake to growth - or whether they have learned to better manage the challenges they are facing," Grant Thornton said.

Levels are down just about everywhere, including in Europe, though Lord knows why. (Maybe that's why the two-year-old debt crisis is a two-year-old debt crisis.) Canadian business leaders, though, are bucking the trend, with an increase to 18 per cent from 16 per cent.

It's important to note that the numbers are higher in other countries - 44 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region, 20 per cent in the United States and 22 per cent in Europe - though those levels are down.

"As the economic crisis has continued, the majority of business leaders have learned to better manage the challenges they are facing, including dealing with stress by adjusting to more realistic performance measures and goals," Grant Thornton International's chief executive officer, Ed Nusbaum, said in a statement.

"This is just as true in the booming BRIC economies as in troubled Europe. What we are seeing from our clients across the globe is more effective management of this economic volatility and uncertainty."

ECB hands out hundreds of billions more The European Central Bank has now doled out more than €1-trillion in cheap, long-term loans to the region's commercial banks with what one strategist dubbed a "Goldilocks" second round today. As in, not too hot, not too cold.

Some 800 banks gobbled up €529.5-billion in three-year money at 1 per cent under the ECB's longer-term refinancing operation, or LTRO, according to numbers released today. That followed the first round in December, when more than 500 banks took up almost €490-billion.

When you factor in shorter-term ECB loans that came due this week, the net amount is just shy of €379-billion from today's round, but the program has been credited with calming market angst amid the euro zone's raging debt crisis and easing concerns over the stability of its banks.

"Of course the LTRO doesn't solve any long-term problems but then no one expected it to," said Elsa Lignos of RBC in London, the currency strategist who used the Goldilocks term. "Our rates strategists argue this should keep periphery spreads in check and we see no reason to turn euro-negative on this."

What are the banks doing with the money? At least some in Italy and Spain appear to be buying their governments' bonds in a move to keep borrowing costs in check, which suggests a limited effect on the economy in terms of broader lending.

"Much more important than the size of LTRO take-up is what banks decide to do with it," said Megan Greene, head of European economics at Roubini Global Economics.

"I expect we'll see a continued domestication of sovereign debt as banks pick up their own countries' government bonds," she told me.

"Banks are in the process of deleveraging, and the LTRO might decelarate that process, but it is unlikely that we'll see banks lend significantly. The impact of the LTRO on the real economy is likely to be mild at best. The LTRO buys time for Italy and Spain to implement structural reforms, but whether that is a successful crisis strategy or not depends on what Italy and Spain do in the time that has been lent to them."

Nasdaq hits key mark The Nasdaq hit a milestone of sorts today, albeit temporarily, crossing the 3,000 mark for the first time since the dot-com meltdown a decade ago. As David Berman writes in our Market Blog, you can thank Apple Inc. for that.

Finley closes centres Here's what Canada's Human Resources Minister said in a news release Jan. 27 when she announced "enhanced online resources" to help young people find jobs:

"This new approach is in line with the government of Canada's continued commitment to provide youth with the information they need to gain relevant work experience. Canadian youth have asked for easier and better online access to information and services and our government is responding to those needs."

Here's what Diane Finley didn't say: We're cancelling the student employment centres we've run every spring across the country for more than 40 years.

As The Globe and Mail's Gloria Galloway reports today, Ms. Finley quietly scrapped the centres, at a saving of $6.5-million a year.

For its part, Ms. Finley's department says young people are turning more to their computers to find summer jobs, and it has enhanced its online tools. And it does have its Service Canada outlets.

But the Service Canada Centres for Youth are gone.

I get what Ms. Finley is saying about online access, but it's not the same, particularly in this era of uncertainty.

So I did Ms. Finley what I hope is a favour, and dug up some data for her perusal:

  • The unemployment rate among our youth, defined by Statistics Canada as between the ages of 15 and 24, has certainly dipped from its peak, but stood in January at 14.5 per cent, up from December and compared to a national rate of 7.6 per cent. While youth unemployment will top the national average, it's up from 10.8 per cent in September 2008, before the crisis set in, while national jobless levels were at 6.1 per cent.
  • Jobless youths now number 412,000, compared to 321,000 in September 2008.
  • Employed youths now number 2.4 million, compared to 2.6 million.
  • The employment rate has declined to 54.7 from 60.3.
  • The partication rate has declined to 63.9 from 67.7.

So, yeah, young people are more than adept at navigating job sites and the like. But what we need from this government is a concerted, well thought-out effort to get our kids working. It could have kept the centres running, and improved online resources as well.

I will remind Ms. Finley that at their summit in Cannes last November, the leaders of the G20 put a particularly emphasis on fighting youth unemployment, calling the current high levels unacceptable.

"We firmly believe that employment and social inclusion must be at the heart of our actions and policies to restore growth and confidence," they said at the time.

Ms. Finley's actions hardly meet that pledge.

Flaherty sets budget date And on that note, Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he will deliver his next budget on March 29, a document that will show where the government plans to cut.

The budget will also reveal other measures aimed at eliminating the federal deficit by 2016, and should also provide some answers to questions around Conservative plans to change the eligibility requirements for Old Age Security, The Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson reports.

OSC unveils plan The Ontario Securities Commission is creating a new Office of the Investor to help the regulator solicit input from investors when considering new policy matters, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland reports.

Canada's largest securities regulator unveiled a new strategic plan today, saying it will improve its policy-making processes, work more closely with investors and improve monitoring of risks in financial markets as they evolve.

The plan will serve as a blueprint for the OSC as it contemplates a long-term future as a stand-alone securities commission after the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a federal proposal to create a new national securities regulator to replace the existing system of 13 separate provincial and territorial regulators.

Cogeco Cable sells Portuguese unit Shares of Cogeco Cable Inc. leapt today after the company announced the sale of its Portuguese division, Cabovisão – Televisão por Cabo SA, to European Group ALTICE for €45-million.

The sale of the unit marks the end of a difficult saga for Cogeco, The Globe and Mail's Rita Trichur writes.

"Overall, we see this news as positive from a long-term perspective, as it eliminates overhang from Cogeco Cable's ownership of Cabovisão and the risk that the company invests free cash flow from its Canadian operations to fund the Portuguese operations," said analyst Maher Yaghi of Desjardins.

RIM in spotlight Amid all the hype over the iPad 3, Research In Motion Ltd. is putting its popular BBM into its upgraded PlayBook later this year.

BBM is the instant messaging system on the BlackBerry, and wasn't part of the last upgrade.

"It's taking a bit longer that way than I think we had time for to release with 2.0," Alec Saunders, vice-president of developer relations, told Bloomberg News at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

RIM has actually had an "underwhelming presence" at the Barcelona event, UBS Securities Canada analysts Phillip Huang and Amitabh Passi said today.

"As we expected, and not a surprise, RIM's presence at MWC was underwhelming with no new product announcements, no further clarity on the timing of BB10 devices, and no updates on Mobile Fusion," they said in a research note.

"RIM's BB7 devices (hit the market in fall 2011) and its PlayBook tablet were on display at MWC. The show reinforced the uphill battle RIM faces in reversing its position in a market that continues to evolve at a torrid pace and with formidable competitors that include [Google, Apple, Microsoft]"

This comes as Apple Inc. is widely expected to unveil the iPad 3 next week.

House prices slip There's more evidence today of Canada's cooling real estate market.

House prices in December slipped 0.2 per cent from November, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index. That's the second month of decline, following two flat readings.

Prices fell in Victoria, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, rose in Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Calgary and Halifax, and were flat in Edmonton.

Year over year, prices are up by 6.8 per cent, a slower pace than November's 7.1 per cent.

"On a national basis, the deceleration of home price inflation in December is a first in 11 months," said Marc Pinsonneault of National Bank.

"It stems from the fact that monthly changes (seasonally adjusted) have been trending down lately ... This recent trend is consistent with the fact that the Canadian resale market has remained in the midst of its balanced zone for more than a year ... Further orderly year-over-year deceleration is in the offing. This development, coupled with a slow rise in interest rates, remains consistent with our view that the Canadian housing market will experience a soft landing."

Investment to rise Canadian companies plan to pump about 6 per cent more into construction and equipment this year, notably in the mining and energy sectors.

Public and private concerns intend to invest almost $395-billion, Statistics Canada said, and more than half of the increase will go to mining, oil and gas.

"This sector has reported steady increases every year since the economic slowdown in 2009," the agency said today.

The companies surveyed plan to put 8 per cent more into capital construction, and 2.1 per cent more into machinery and equipment.

"Reported capital investment intentions in the mining and oil and gas extraction sector indicate a 17.7-per-cent increase to $86.9-billion," Statistics Canada added. "If this investment is realized, this sector would account for more than one-fifth (22 per cent) of total capital investment nationally in 2012."

Manufacturers plan to slow their spending to 6 per cent.

How to read this?

"Unfortunately, the pace of spending may not be enough to help Canada with its ailing international competitiveness," said Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Diana Petramala.

"Improvements in business investment intentions in the manufacturing sector are largely welcome. However, capital expenditures are still 12 per cent below levels experienced in 2000, before the Canadian dollar began its ascent to parity. In the face of a high loonie, investment in machinery and equipment could be the key to helping manufacturers compete more strongly on productivity and costs."

U.S. economy stronger The U.S. economy is doing a bit better than earlier numbers suggested.

The U.S. Commerce Department today revised its measure of gross domestic product for the fourth quarter, pegging the expansion at 3 per cent, annualized, compared to earlier estimate of 2.8 per cent.

That's the best showing since early- to mid-2010.

"Factors driving the upward revision were broad based, with personal consumption growth revised up a tick and fixed investment growth slightly stronger," said Andrew Grantham of CIBC World Markets.

"With the economy appearing to finish 2011 with slightly more momentum, and with growth more evenly distributed, this supports our view of only a modest deceleration to a 2.5-per-cent pace in Q1," he added.

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