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A Greek flag flies as thick smoke from a forest fire rises a few miles east of Athens August 25, 2007. (REUTERS/YIORGOS KARAHALIS/REUTERS/YIORGOS KARAHALIS)
A Greek flag flies as thick smoke from a forest fire rises a few miles east of Athens August 25, 2007. (REUTERS/YIORGOS KARAHALIS/REUTERS/YIORGOS KARAHALIS)

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Mounting turmoil in Greece hits stock, currency markets Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Markets sink Global markets sank today as an agreement to rescue Greece remained elusive.

Greek politicians had agreed on another round of austerity measures, including pension reform and a deep cut to the minimum wage, but finance ministers in the euro zone weren't satisifed and told Athens to find €325-million more in savings and get the plan through parliament amid mounting opposition.

One of the leaders in the coalition government, George Karatzaferis of the Laos party, said today he can't support it, a comment that also rippled through stock and currency markets.

The confusion surrounding Greece, where unemployment is almost 21 per cent in this fifth year of recession, came as unions launched another strike to protest the government's austerity measures, which are aimed at securing a further €130-billion in bailout funds.

Athens needs that money before a late March bond redemption lest it default, which many observers expect will happen at some point regardless.

Greece’s announcement that it had reached a debt deal yesterday was greeted with a certain amount of cynicism amongst EU policy makers especially as they appeared to offer no real evidence as to the veracity of the claims that a deal had been done.

Along with the further cuts and the parliamentary vote, EU finance ministers are demanding that the deal will actually be brought in, despite an election in April.

"It seems that EU policy makers remain concerned that the deal could get unpicked if there is a change in government in April, not an unreasonable assumption to make," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

We've been here before, of course, and investors, who have counted on an agreement all week, aren't happy, though there are other issues feeding into the market as well.

Stock markets slipped in Asia and then Europe, followed in North America by the S&P 500 and Toronto's S&P/TSX composite . The Canadian dollar also sank amid the turmoil in currency markets.

Greece has been negotiating with a group known as the Troika, made up of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank. It appeared they had a deal yesterday, and Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos headed to put it to his euro colleagues, who instead called for more.

"If you blinked, you missed the joyous reaction to the news yesterday that Greece finally reached a deal with the Troika," said senior economist Jennifer Lee of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"So this morning, the [euro]tumbled to as low as $1.322 as uncertainty was thrown back to the market and as a two-day austerity strike began in Athens," she added.

"And to top off the suddenly negative tone in financial markets, China released some considerably weaker-than-expected trade data overnight that re-awakened hard-landing fears," she said in a research note.

"Never mind that January’s $27.3-billion trade surplus nearly tripled expectations. For the first time in over two years, imports and exports dropped from year-ago levels."

Telus profit climbs Internet-based television and an increase in wireless subscribers helped boost fourth-quarter profit at Telus Corp. , one of Canada's major phone companies.

Telus earned $237-million or 76 cents a share, basic, in the quarter, compared to $226-million or 70 cents a year earlier. Revenue climbed to $2.7-billion as the carrier grabbed 148,000 more subscribers. Revenue from data rose 43 per cent.

"Given our healthy financial position, we funded a $100-million discretionary pension contribution in January 2012 to maintain a strong pension funding position that is among the best in corporate Canada," added chief financial officer Robert McFarlane.

Trade surplus widens Canadian exporters chalked up hefty gains in December, widening the country's trade surplus to $2.7-billion and bringing trade with the United States back to pre-crisis levels.

Canadian exports climbed 4.5 per cent in December while imports rose just 0.8 per cent, Statistics Canada said today, boosting the surplus from November's $1.2-billion.

Notable, too, is that exports, which have been generally climbing since July 2011, increased 4.9 per cent in straight volume terms, led by shipments of machinery and equipment, though broad-based and including autos and resources.

Exports to the key U.S. market climbed 5.3 per cent, outpacing the 2.8-per-cent rise in imports. Both are at their highest levels since October 2008, Statistics Canada said. The trade surplus with the U.S. widened to $5.5-billion from $4.7-billion.

It's not just the United States. Exports to other countries increased 2.5 per cent, hitting a record, while imports slipped, largely those from Europe.

"Looking ahead, how the U.S. economy fares will be the critical factor for Canadian exporters," said economist Francis Fong of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"Our largest trading partner has been faring much better than expected in recent months and this was obviously reflected in today’s gain. Still, a single month does not a trend make and economic growth in the U.S. is expected to be moderate, at best, in the near-term. Meanwhile the high Canadian dollar and European debt woes still represent challenges for Canadian exporters."

The U.S. trade balance is going in the other direction, the deficit widening in December to $48.8-billion (U.S.), pushed along by higher energy prices and vehicle imports.

China trade worries The latest trade and loan numbers out of China have some observers worried, though they represent one month only, and a month with a major holiday at that.

Exports fell 0.5 per cent in January, while imports slipped by more than 15 per cent, according to official data today, which, of course, still left China with its best surplus in several months.

"We draw two very tentative conclusions from today’s lending and trade data: domestic demand is still slowing and the pace of policy easing is very slow," said Mark Williams and Qinwei Wang of Capital Economics in London, referring to lending data also released today, and below what was expected.

January included the Lunar New Year holidays, when businesses close up shop.

"Loan growth is a significant data set for a number of reasons: it provides a direct window into the extent of monetary growth in China, and therefore, it offers perhaps one of the stronger leading indicators of Chinese economic growth (and concomitantly, Chinese demand for international goods)," said Derek Holt and Dov Zigler of Scotia Capital.

"As China has become the source of marginal increase in demand for much of the world’s output, ranging from crude oil to capital manufactures, it’s hard to under-emphasize the importance of leading indicators of Chinese growth. The weak number will add to speculation about whether the [People's Bank of China]will embark on additional relaxation of China’s bank reserve ratio."

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