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What U.S. election could mean to U.S. dollar, Fed and loonie

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

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Whither the dollars
Bank of Nova Scotia's senior currency strategist takes a look today at how the U.S. dollar and Federal Reserve policy could be affected by the outcome of today's election, moves that could be key given the concern over the strength of Canada's currency.

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Camilla Sutton was looking at negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff, and questions surrounding the next chairman of the Federal Reserve as markets expect a tougher chairman under Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Remember, that the Fed under Ben Bernanke has the easiest policy going, with a program of quantitative easing and a pledge to hold the benchmark Fed funds rate at an emergency low near zero until at least mid-2015.

Here's how she sees it:

Obama wins, with Republican House and Democratic Senate: "Negative" for the greenback in the short-term and medium-term "as the fiscal path remains uncertain, but there is minimal impact on the Fed."

Obama wins, with Republican House and Senate: "Positive" impact on the U.S. dollar in the short-term "as the fiscal cliff negotiations will likely be difficult," sparking aversion to risk in the markets, but "negative" in the medium-term over the issue of developing a credible fiscal plan, and with possible tension over Fed policy.

Romney wins, with Republican House and Democratic Senate: "Neutral" in the short-term because the currency has already gained and there could be successful talks over the fiscal cliff, and "positive" in the medium-term because of "significant" tensions over Fed policy.

Romney wins, with Republican sweep of House and Senate: "Positive" over all "as the fiscal cliff is avoided by Bush tax cuts being deferred, there is likely to be a credible fiscal plan put forth and changes at helm of Fed to a less dovish governor are likely."

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What happens to the U.S. dollar, of course, affects the path of the Canadian currency. Similarly, what happens at the Fed would also affect the loonie, as the dollar is known in Canada, because of the projected path of the spread between the key lending rates of the U.S. central bank and the Bank of Canada.

The strength of the loonie is a huge concern in Canada given slowing economic growth and the toll it takes on exports.

Indeed, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney noted it again yesterday after G20 finance ministers and central bankers met in Mexico.

"The BoC learned its lesson on currency intervention through failed attempts in the 1990s, but has signalled its willingness to alter its rate bias in response to currency movements," said Ms. Sutton's Scotiabank colleagues, economists Derek Holt and Dov Zigler.

In a report yesterday that was not tied to the U.S. election, Michael Gregory and Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt projected some weakness for the loonie over the fiscal cliff concerns through the beginning of next year.

"However, once we get over this hurdle, the Canadian economy's ride on U.S. coattails and the countdown to an eventual BoC rate hike should re-ignite a mild strengthening trend."

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Australia holds steady
Australia's central bank held its benchmark lending rate steady at 3.25 per cent today, and, in a signal for Canada, cited lower commodity prices.

Some observers believed the Reserve Bank of Australia would follow several cuts to its cash rate with another decline of one-quarter of a percentage point.

But, said Governor Glenn Stevens, "with prices data slightly higher than expected and recent inflation on the world economy being slightly more positive, the board judged that the stance of monetary policy was appropriate for the time being."

Mr. Stevens noted that key commodity prices are "significantly lower" than earlier this  year, though are more mixed now, with some rebounding somewhat and others slipping more.

On being No. 2
Canada has slipped one notch, but still commands the No. 2 spot, in a ranking of countries as a "brand."

Canada had been No. 1 for two years running in the Country Brand Index by FutureBrand, a firm that helps companies and organizations such as Intel Corp., the London Olympics and the U.S. Army build their brands.

But in the latest ranking, Canada slipped to No. 2, swapping spots with Switzerland. Rounding out the top 10 in the recent report were Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, the United States, Finland and Norway.

Given that Canada holds the No. 2 spot, the report spends surprisingly little time examining the country, which looks at areas such as governance, the investment and business climate, health care, education, culture and tourism.

There's a big piece on Switzerland, of course, and ink spilled on Germany in the midst of the euro crisis, and the United States because of its declining fortunes.

It does, however, note how both Canada and Australia have made notable gains in promoting heritage "despite a record of underperforming" in that area, and gives the country high marks for its "world-class ski resorts."

As for Europe's debt crisis, FutureBrand cites the fact that this has led to a drop in confidence in the economies of the 17-member euro zone.

"Germany is the crucial exception," it says of the continent's economic engine. "Its role as an economic driver has not gone unnoticed in the CBI rankings. While the economies of most European Union countries have declined since 2008, Germany's has grown – emerging quickly from the global financial crisis to achieve over 3-per-cent GDP growth in 2011 alone."

And while the U.S. is "undeniably one of the most widely recognized country brands in the world," it's being hurt.

"In the face of successive fiscal crises in both the United States and Europe, the influence and normative values of the West are beginning to lose clout with a global audience," FutureBrand says.

"Perhaps as a consequence, the United States brand has declined eight places in the overall index since 2009 - a year when the U.S. led across a number of dimensions."

It's an interesting report, ranking Canada as No. 2 for job opportunity, No. 4 in the categories of health care and standard of living, No. 5 for investment climate and political freedom, No. 6 for both environmental friendliness and freedom of speech, and No. 7 for education.

But I have to quibble with some of the rankings.

We don't make the top 10 for food. Have they never heard of Canadian bacon? Or for shopping. Don't they know about Roots? And No. 12 for nightlife? Hello? Vancouver's Cactus Club.

We're not in the top 15 for history, despite the government's obsession with the War of 1812, and we're not in the top five for natural beauty, presumably because these people don't know who Shania Twain and Ryan Gosling are.

I'll accept that we're not in the top 15 for beaches. But I will point out that when the water's just right, you can surf Lake Ontario.

Wells Fargo boosts presence
U.S. banking giant Wells Fargo & Co. is bolstering its presence in the Canadian market, with a push into wholesale banking that looks to capitalize on the number of companies doing cross-border business, The Globe and Mail's Grant Robertson reports today.

The fourth-biggest U.S. bank by assets is launching a new wholesale banking division in Canada, after recently receiving the go-ahead from regulators. The expansion also includes the opening of a branch in Toronto, where Wells Fargo's Canadian operations are currently headquartered.

Yellow Media boasts profit
Yellow Media Inc., which spent the last several weeks arguing before a judge that it needs to restructure its debt if it is to survive, posted a $24-million profit in its third quarter, The Globe and Mail's Steve Ladurantaye reports.

The Montreal-based company is carrying $1.4-billion in debt, and says it must convert its debt to equity in a deal that would largely wipe out its common shareholders and put the company in the hands of its debt holders.

But critics say Yellow Media is still making money and can service its debt while it reinvents itself as a digital company, making any restructuring opportunistic and premature.

Bridge in focus
A 10-year long fight to get a new six-lane bridge built between Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ont. reaches a critical juncture today, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte writes.

Michigan voters are being asked to vote for or against Proposal 6, one of several items on the ballot besides who gets the nod for president on this U.S. election day.

If approved, Proposal 6 would halt or delay the $4-billion New International Trade Crossing, intended to ease cross-border trade, a project the Canadian government is so keen to see through that it's offering to finance Michigan's $550-million share.

Nissan cuts forecasts
Unlike its rival Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. today cut its outlook for the year, citing Japan's strong yen, a dispute with China and economic troubles in Europe.

Nissan now expects a profit of ¥320-billion, or about $4-billion (U.S.) for the year, revenue of ¥9.8-trillion and a drop in unit sales to 5.1 million from 5.4 million.

Sales of Japanese goods in China have taken a hit of late because of a consumer backlash sparked by a Japan-China fight over a group of islands.

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