These are stories Report on Business is following Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015.
It's not all about gas prices
Consumers may be cheering the plunge in oil prices, and manufacturers the accompanying slump in the Canadian dollar.
But there's something of a dark side to all of this: The weaker currency is driving some other prices up fast.
"In fact, the lower loonie's wingprints were all over this report," Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter said today.
He was referring to this morning's inflation report from Statistics Canada, which showed consumer prices dipping by 0.2 per cent in January from December and rising at a slower pace of just 1 per cent from a year earlier.
But when you strip out the plunge in gas pump prices, annual inflation rose to 2.4 per cent in January.
Note these: Food prices rose over the 12 months by 4.6 per cent, for the fastest pace since late 2011.
Food from stores rose by 5.4 per cent, and restaurant meals by 2.8 per cent on an annual basis.
The cost of clothes and shoes climbed 2.1 per cent, and car prices 1.2 per cent.
"Food prices remain on a tear, with grocery costs jumping in the month and now up a honking 5.4 per cent year over year – and both fresh fruit and vegetable prices (which are pretty much all imported this time of year) jumped in the month on a year-over-year basis, again reflecting a weaker dollar," Mr. Porter said.
The cost of fresh fruits, for example, surged 8.9 per cent, while vegetable prices soared 10.9 per cent.
"Fast food restaurants hiked their prices 1 per cent month over month, one of the largest monthly gains in the past 20 years, as at least one particular coffee chain – ahem – hiked prices," Mr. Porter said.
Book prices also rose.
So-called core prices, which strip out volatile items and help guide the Bank of Canada, rose 0.2 per cent on the month and 2.2 per cent on a 12-month basis, The Globe and Mail's David Parkinson reports.
The weaker Canadian dollar, which touched a low point of 79.78 cents U.S. and a high of 80.72 cents today, is behind the difference between Canadian and U.S. inflation trends, Mr. Porter said.
A weaker currency – the loonie has tumbled along with oil prices – drives down export prices but pushes up the costs of imported goods.
"Inflationary pressures linked to imported food costs are, in part, the result of continued pass-through from the weaker C$, a theme that characterized the 2.2-per-cent reading on the Bank of Canada's preferred core measure," said Nick Exarhos of CIBC World Markets.
"A lower-flying loonie is indeed having a meaning impact on prices Canadians are facing at the cash register," he added.
"Excluding the effects of gasoline, prices are up by 2.4 per cent with seven out of eight [consumer price index] categories up on a seasonally basis in January."
In the United States, prices also fell, by 0.7 per cent monthly and by 0.1 per cent on an annual basis, marking the first decline for the latter since the fall of 2009.
- David Parkinson: Canada's inflation at 14-month low on slumping oil prices
- U.S. consumer prices post biggest drop since 2008
Banks hike dividends
Two more of Canada's big banks are boosting their dividends.
As The Globe and Mail's David Berman writes, both Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Toronto-Dominion Bank unveiled the increases today with their first-quarter earnings reports.
CIBC is hiking its quarterly payout by 3 cents to $1.06, and TD by 4 cents to 51 cents.
CIBC profit slipped to $923-million, or $2.28 a share in the first quarter.
Adjusted profit rose to $956-million or $2.36, beating the expectations of analysts.
TD, in turn, posted a rise in profit to $2.06-billion or $1.09 a share.
- David Berman: CIBC boosts payout as profit beats expectations
- David Berman: TD hikes dividend as earnings inch higher, beat Street
Earnings pour in
Other major companies are also reporting quarterly results today.
- Loblaw's profit more than doubles
- Maple Leaf Foods posts 7th straight loss as multiyear revamp nears end
- Canadian Tire profit beats on strong automotive, sports gear sales
- Sears Holdings posts 11th straight loss
From four wheels to two
If you want to transform your old bike into a luxury Lincoln Navigator, you're obviously out of luck.
But if you ever want to turn your car into a bicycle, Ford Motor Co. may one day have just the thing for you.
A recently-published patent application shows that Ford is proposing a vehicle whose parts can be assembled to form a bike.
The application was actually made in the summer of 2013 by subsidiary Ford Global Technologies LLC, but published this month by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Here's how Ford describes it:
"A motor vehicle includes a body configured to house a removable frame, a spare wheel, a removable headrest, and a jack. The frame, the spare wheel, the removable headrest, and the jack can be assembled into a bicycle."
So, for example, the headrest becomes the bike seat. The jack includes a worm gear assembly. And so on.
The drawings suggest a weird-looking bicycle, as you can imagine, but the possible applications are interesting.
In theory, you could park your car and skirt a massive traffic jam, or park far away from your office and bike the rest of the way. And not have to pay those outrageous downtown parking fees.
"Mobility in urban areas becomes increasingly difficult with population growth since increasing the infrastructure to accommodate a larger population can be difficult," Ford says in the application.
"For example, adding roads or increasing the size of existing roads to accommodate more passenger vehicles in urban areas can be onerous," it adds.
"Even if more roads were added and/or existing roads expanded, commuters to urban areas may nevertheless encounter increased pollution and parking shortages."
- Greg Keenan: Ford adds 400 jobs at Oakville plant in global push of Edge model
- Video: Should we fear a crash in auto loans?
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