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These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Oct. 25, 2013.

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Where Canada ranks
Canada holds the No. 20 spot in an annual global ranking of gender equality, having gained in some areas but slipping where the wage gap is concerned.

Canada moved up one spot from 21st in last year's report by the World Economic Forum, but is still down two notches from No. 18 in 2011. In 2010, it also held the No. 20 spot. But in 2006, the country ranked as high as No. 14.

Topping the list is Iceland, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland and Nicaragua in the top 10.

Still ahead of Canada to round out the top 20 are Belgium, Latvia, the Netherlands, Germany, Cuba, Lesotho, South Africa, Britain and Austria.

In the divide between women and men, the annual study looks at four measures: Economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. Those are then broken down into sub-categories.

Canada scores well in the first two – No. 9 and No. 1, respectively – but far lower in the latter categories – No. 49 and No. 42.

"Canada (20) moves up one spot in the overall ranking," the report says.

"This is due to improvements on the labour force participation, estimated earned income, and the legislators, senior officials and managers' indicators," it adds.

"These gains are partially offset by decreases in the wage equality and professional and technical workers indicators."

Here's how Canada ranks in some of the sub-categories:

  • No. 22 for labour force participation. Malawi is first.
  • No. 35 for wage equality. Malaysia is first.
  • No. 11 for estimated earned income. Luxembourg is first.
  • No. 25 for legislators, senior officials and managers. Jamaica is first.
  • No. 24 for professional and technical workers. Lithuania is first.
  • No. 59 for healthy life expectancy. Russia is first. (In this case, a lower ranking is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember, it's measuring the gap between men and women.)
  • No. 41 for women in parliament. Cuba is first.
  • No. 35 for women in ministerial positions. Norway is first.

Nordic countries, the report says, have held the top spots consistently. For Iceland, it's the fifth year in a row at the top for the narrowest gap.

U.K. picks up
Britain's economy is gathering steam, though others in Europe continue to struggle, of course.

Its economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the third quarter, the government reported today, following a similarly solid gain of 0.7 per cent in the previous quarter.

"This is the second consecutive strong print … and shows that the U.K. is picking up after GDP was either flat or negative for three out of the four quarters in 2012," said Derek Holt and Dov Zigler of Bank of Nova Scotia.

"The strength in the U.K. is in stark contrast to what we're seeing on continental Europe," they added.

Japan fights deflation
Japan is making huge strides in its battle against deflation, an apparent win for so-called Abenomics.

The country's core rate of inflation, which excludes volatile items in a measure of consumer prices, held steady in September. That marked the first time in about five years that the core rate hasn't dropped.

Annual inflation, over all, came in at 1.1 per cent as consumer prices climbed also at the speediest rate in about five years.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his economic team have made the economy a priority, particularly a battle against years of deflation.

"Policy makers are pushing to end entrenched expectations of deflation, which will hopefully spill over into wage increases and firmer economic growth," said BMO's Mr. Kavcic.

Microsoft, climb
Keep an eye on shares of Microsoft Corp. and Inc. shares, which climbed today after both reported third-quarter results late yesterday.

Microsoft shares rose 6.4 per cent in early Nasdaq trade after the software giant posted a hefty gain in profit to $5.2-billion (U.S.) or 62 cents a share from $4.5-billion or 53 cents a year earlier.

Revenue climbed to $18.6-billion from $16-billion.

Shares of rose 6.7 per cent after the online retailer posted a jump in sales to $17.1-billion. Its loss narrowed to $41-million or 9 cents a share from $274-million or 60 cents.

Doyle on Uralkali
I love how Bill Doyle sums up the decision by a foreign rival to break up a Russian potash cartel.

"We have seen a lot of people over the years in charge of billions of dollars of assets in the fertilizer world do some pretty silly things, but this is probably the single dumbest thing that I've ever seen," the chief executive officer of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan told analysts yesterday after reporting a bleak quarter, according to Bloomberg.

Potash Corp. blames that weak quarter on the uncertainty created by Uralkali's move to break up its cartel, a moved aimed at driving up sales rather than prices, which have declined.

Potash Corp. profit fell in the quarter to $356-million (U.S.) or 41 cents a share from $645-million or 74 cents a year earlier, The Globe and Mail's Rachelle Younglai reports. It also cut its profit forecast for the year.

Analysts are taking a dimmer view of Potash Corp.'s prospects in the wake of that.

"We are reducing our one-year target price on the shares of Potash to $35.55 ($38.50) after lowering our 2014 average realized potash price forecast for the company to US$330/tonne (from US$360/tonne)," said John Hughes of Desjardins, who still has a "buy" rating on the stock.

"The negative impact following the break-up of the Uralkali/Belaruskali potash cartel continues to affect both sales volumes and realized prices for Potash," he said, adding he has cut his forecast for earnings per share next year to $2.54 (U.S.) from $2.81.

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