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business briefing

These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, March 6, 2014.

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Who wants to be a UHNWI?
The ranks of the mega-wealthy are projected to swell in Canada over the next decade, with Toronto leading the way.

In its annual wealth report, its flagship publication, real estate consultant Knight Frank looks at people in the group dubbed ultra-high-net-worth individuals, those who have more than $30-million (U.S.) in net assets not including their primary residences.

According to the group, Toronto, one of the three Canadian cities ranked, was home to 1,184 such people last year, but their ranks are projected to swell by 23 per cent to 1,456 in 2023.

The wealthy of Montreal will see their numbers climb 18 per cent to 613 from 520, while Vancouver lags with a 9-per-cent increase to 278 from 255.

But, hey, you get a view of the mountains in Vancouver.

Over all, the number of mega-wealthy Canadians is projected to surge by 19 per cent to 5,068 from 4,248

"London was home to the most UHNWIs in 2013, and this will still be the case in 2023, with nearly 5,000 expected to be living in the U.K.'s capital by then," Knight Frank said in its latest report.

"Singapore and New York will leapfrog Tokyo and Hong Kong to take second and third places respectively," it added.

"The prevalence of wealth being attracted to, and created in, cities is highlighted by the fact that the top six cities have more UHNWIs living in them than the whole of Latin America and the Middle East combined."

ECB holds firm
The European Central bank left interest rates on hold at record low levels today even though inflation is expected to remain well below its target through 2016, our European correspondent Eric Reguly reports.

The decision to leave the rate at 0.25 per cent on the bank's main refinancing operations came as fresh economic data pointed towards a somewhat quicker, though still fairly weak, economic recovery in the 18-country euro zone. ECB president Mario Draghi said the bank would keep rates low for "an extended period"  to help shore up the recovery.

The ECB now expects euro zone gross domestic product to rise by 1.2 per cent this year, 1.5 per cent in 2015 and 1.8 per cent in 2016. The tentative recovery is sufficient to prevent the region's jobless rate – 12 per cent in January -- from climbing. In a few countries, such as Portugal, unemployment is falling fairly quickly, though it is still climbing in other countries, such as Italy.

"While it appears the ECB isn't keen on easing further (and there are few options left the governing council is comfortable with), the slow pace of recovery and very subdued inflation argue for more action from the central bank," said senior economist Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Economy throws curve balls
A top Bank of Canada official is making an unusually candid admission: The economy is misbehaving.

"The macroeconomy has not been unfolding exactly as we had expected," deputy governor John Murray bluntly told an audience of accountants in Victoria, B.C. today, The Globe and Mail's Barrie McKenna reports.

Inflation is stubbornly low, exports aren't bouncing back with global demand, and businesses have cash but refuse to invest.

Likewise, the housing market seems to defy gravity, even as all the usual warnings signs – including record high debt levels and prices – are flashing red.

Mr. Murray, making his last public speech before his retirement in April, acknowledged that Canadian household debt levels and home prices have reached levels "where real estate busts were observed in other countries."

But he said the bank remains convinced Canada is not headed for a housing crash.

Canadian Natural boosts dividend
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. took a page from the country's banks today, hiking its dividend as its fourth-quarter profit climbed.

The energy giant boosted the quarterly dividend to 22.5 cents from 20 cents.

Canadian Natural profit rose to $413-million or 38 cents a share from $352-million or 32 cents a year earlier.

"Our record cash flow of approximately $7.5-billion was due to strong operating performance overall and a healthy price environment, which contributed to a 24-per-cent increase in cash flow over the comparable period in 2012," said chief financial officer Corey Bieber.

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