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These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, April 11, 2013.

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Of beer and wine
Let's totally stereotype here and talk about beer in front of the TV while the Flames lose, or beer and a hot dog at the ballpark as the Jays lose.

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For some, beer is as Canadian as the Maple Leaf, and anything less would be downright unpatriotic. But, new statistics show, a nation of beer drinkers are increasingly switching from hops to grapes.

"Despite the small increase in beer sales, both in terms of volume and dollar value, the market share dominance of beer continued to decline as consumers turned more to wine," Statistics Canada said today, referring to numbers that are now a year out of date, but still show how tastes continue to change.

"In 2002, beer had a market share of 50 per cent by dollar value, while wine had 24 per cent," the agency said in an annual report on alcoholic beverages.

"By 2012, the market share for beer had declined to 44 per cent, while wine accounted for 31 per cent."

As the business goes, net income among the provincial and territorial liquor authorities rose 3.6 per cent to $6.1-billion.

The report, for the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2012, showed beer and liquor sales climbing 3 per cent from a year earlier, to almost $21-billion.

Beer remained "the alcoholic drink of choice," Statistics Canada said, but the 5.9-per-cent increase in the dollar value of sales for wine outpaced the 0.6 per cent for beer and 3.9 per cent for spirits.

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By volume, sales climbed 3.5 per cent to 236.2 million litres.

Here's how it breaks down:

  • Beer sales tallied more than $9-billion, with Alberta notching up the biggest increase, 7.1 per cent, and Quebec the fastest decline, 3.9 per cent.
  • Wine represented $6.5-billion, on the rise everywhere but for Nunavut. And, FYI, red wine is on the upswing, now accounting for 57 per cent of wines sold, compared to 48 per cent in 2002.
  • Spirits were worth $5.3-billion, largely on the growing popularity of whisky, up 4.7 per cent, and liqueurs, up 2 per cent.

The numbers are different across the country, of course. According to Statistics Canada, sales on a per-capita basis for those 15 and over – 15 and over? – were highest in the Yukon, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador.

In those two regions, beer is by far the drink of choice, far outstripping wine.

RBC apologizes
Royal Bank of Canada today issued an open letter apologizing to employees in the wake of the controversy surrounding outsourcing of work to a firm under scrutiny for use of temporary foreign workers.

Chief executive officer Gordon Nixon said the bank is in total compliance with regulations, but should have handled the situation better, The Globe and Mail's Grant Robertson reports.

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"The question for many people is not about doing only what the rules require – it's about doing what employees, clients, shareholders and Canadians expect of RBC," the letter says.

"And that's something we take very much to heart."

The bank added it is offering comparable jobs to all 45 employees affected.

It also plans to soon unveil an initiative to help young people get work experience at RBC.

Analysts cut Barrick outlook
Analysts are cutting their outlook for Barrick Gold Corp. shares after the mining giant suspended work on its huge gold and silver project in Chile.

As The Globe and Mail's Pav Jordan reports, Barrick announced late yesterday it was putting construction of the Pascua-Lama project on hold in the wake of a court order related to allegations of pollution of groundwater and rivers in a desert area where water is at a premium.

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No allegations have been proven, but the appeals court decision will set back an $8-billion mine that's already over budget and behind the original schedule.

Stephen Walker, chief of global mining research at RBC Dominion Securities, cut his price target on Barrick shares to $32 (U.S.) from $37, still rating the company at "sector perform." Anita Soni of Credit Suisse trimmed hers to $38 from $40, holding the rating at "outperform."

"We believe Barrick has the ability to generate strong free cash flow over the next five years which we expect would be used to fund its large capital expenditure program ($6-billion in 2013 and $4.6-billion estimated in 2014," Mr. Walker said in a research note today.

"In the near-term, we believe Barrick's ability to increase its earnings payout ratio from the current 18 per cent (80 cents/share) is limited given its capital spending commitments, although free cash flow could rebound following completion of the Pascua-Lama project, currently estimated in early 2015."

Barrick said it is "working to address environmental and other regulatory requirements to the satisfaction of Chilean authorities," though construction on the Argentina side of the project continues.

That's where the "critical infrastructure" is based, it said, adding it's too soon to peg any impact of the court decision.

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Barrick stock tumbled 8.6 per cent yesterday on news of the injunction.

"Barrick underperformed its peers by 5 per cent today and 15 per cent year-to-date, which is reflected in our revised [target price]," Ms. Soni said of yesterday's market action.

"We continue to recommend ABX on a 12-month timeframe for re-rating as it continues to resolve the issues which weight on the stock," she added, referring to Barrick by its stock symbol and citing issues two other issues, as well.

Auto makers recall millions of vehicles
Japanese auto makers are recalling some 3 million vehicles, some in Canada, because of a problem with airbags.

The troubles for Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. relate to the airbags on the passenger side of the vehicles, and could spread to other car makers as the supplier, Japan's Takata Corp., has other customers.

No injuries have been cited, but the inflator on the bags are at threat of bursting.

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"It is possible that the passenger front airbag inflators in affected vehicles may deploy with too much pressure, which may cause the inflator casing to rupture and could result in injury," Honda said in a statement as it recalled more than 100,000 vehicles in Canada.

"Honda is aware of one crash in which a passenger front airbag deployed with too much pressure, causing the casing to rupture. Honda is not aware of any injuries or deaths related to this issue."

Cyprus woes deepen
The crisis in Cyprus is proving to be far more troublesome, with potentially far wider ramifications than it first appeared.

First, according to a draft plan of the bailout deal, the rescue by international lenders has climbed to €23-billion ($30-billion), up from €17.5-billion, with Cyprus itself having to bear the brunt of the extra burden to escape bankruptcy.

This comes because its economy is expected to plunge further into a tailspin.

"But even the new projections incorporate a considerable degree of optimism over the medium-term prospects," said Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics.

"Cyprus could therefore still be forced into further fiscal tightening to meet its borrowing targets, casting more doubt on the sustainability of the bailout," he said in a report today.

Bank depositors and bondholders are going to take a hit. While deposits of under €100,000 won't be touched, "even bigger losses on larger deposits may still prompt increased concerns amongst depositors in other euro zone countries with weak banking sectors."

The fallout could spread to the gold market as well, given that among the measures cited in the document, Cyprus would sell its excess gold reserves, worth some €400-million.

That could come to nothing, said Julian Jessop, a colleague of Mr. Loynes at Capital Economics, but there is speculation this could spread. Gold prices tumbled yesterday partly on word of the proposal.

"Clearly this should only become a major concern for the gold market if countries with much larger holdings were forced to sell," said Mr. Jessop.

"However, among the other troubled euro zone members, only Italy and Portugal hold significant amounts."

Italy, for example, holds almost 2,500 tonnes.

Wiklevoss twins hold Bitcoins
The Winklevii, the famous twins who took on Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, have bought into the Bitcoin craze.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss say they now hold some $11-million (U.S.) of the digital currency, or about 1 per cent of the total amount, The New York Times reports today.

"People really don't want to take it seriously," Cameron Winklevoss said, according to the publication. "At some point that narrative will shift to 'virtual currencies are here to stay.' We're in the early days."

The Winklevii, as the tall twins are called, certainly have the money for the gamble. After suing Mr. Zuckerberg from their Harvard days, they got Facebook stock that The New York Times says is now worth more than $200-million, along with $20-million in cash.

Nowhere near what Mr. Zuckerberg is worth, of course, but enough to start up an investment firm.

According to the twins, they bought low. But rather than sell high – like yesterday before the value of a Bitcoin plunged from $266 – they've held on.

The main exchange for the virtual money closed today to allow everything to cool off after yesterday's price plunge.

Bitcoin is a confusing thing, and many are struggling to make sense of it.

You can do some things with it, you can buy it and sell it, but it becoming a full-scale currency is still a dream.

As one currency chap put it to me yesterday, amid the drop, "it could well be the time when the tulip which bought a castle becomes the tulip you eat the next day, or it may just be the first sizeable correction as some were trying to cash in."

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