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U.S. faces euro-like crisis, George Soros warns

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Soros warns of U.S. crisis George Soros warned today of a euro-like crisis in the United States as states and local government rack up debt.

According to The Associated Press, the financier told a conference in Munich today that "in the coming two years you'll see something of a replay of the euro crisis in the United States in connection with the finances of the states and local governments."

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Mr. Soros, according to other reports, also warned of a Lehman-like meltdown in Europe unless governments clean up their fiscal mess and work toward fixing regional imbalances.

His comments came as European leaders met today in Brussels, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for a "pact for competitiveness."

The leaders of the 17 nations of the euro zone are being pushed to adopt tough measures to help solve the debt crisis among the countries that use the common currency.

In Greece, meanwhile, protests continue over its harsh austerity measures. Even if you could get a prescription, given that doctors are striking, pharmacists are also off the job. And there's no bus transport, anyway, because drivers have walked out, too.

Economy churns out jobs A healthier labour market is prompting people to hunt for jobs. The economy pumped out 69,000 jobs in January, though the unemployment rate inched up to 7.8 per cent as more people joined the search for work, The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant reports today.

Still, that's also a stark reminder that there are unemployed workers out there who aren't counted because they aren't looking.

The job gains were split between full- and part-time work, Statistics Canada reported. Here are some interesting tidbits from today's report:

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  • Part-time employment is up by 2.8 per cent over the past year, while full-time work has increased by 1.7 per cent.
  • The public sector has notched up employment gains of 3.4 per cent in the last year, and the private sector 2.5 per cent. Self-employment has dropped by 2.3 per cent.
  • Manufacturing which had taken such a hit, has gained 57,000 jobs over the 12 months.
  • Job gains among women have, over the last year, been concentrated among those 55 or older. Men aged 25 to 54 have made stronger gains than those above 55, though.

"Following last week's release of benchmark job revisions that downgraded last year's job gains, Canada can, once again, trumpet the fact that 428,000 in net job losses during the recession have been fully recouped (and then some)," said deputy chief economist Derek Burleton of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"Notwithstanding today's good news, the labour market still has a significant amount of healing to do. The number of full-time jobs continues to sit about 100,000 positions short of its level prior to the downturn, while both the employment-to-population ratio and the labour force participation rate remain under water by some 1 to 2 percentage points. Lastly, the jobless rate was plumbing the depths at about 6 per cent as recently as mid-2008."

Youth unemployment remains stubborn, with the jobless rate actually rising in January to 14.4 per cent. The jobs market for young people has stalled over the last year.

January's overall hiring spree, noted Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC World Markets, was "swamped by an even greater increase in the number of Canadians actively seeking employment, with a particularly notable jump among young workers under 25, a group that had left the work force in droves since the start of the last recession as they opted to stay in school and give up looking for part-time positions in a weak jobs market."

Here's another telling comment from Yanick Desnoyers and Matthieu Arsenau of National Bank Financial: "Total hours worked are still lagging. While we reckon that full-time employment has not fully recovered, by our calculation, more than 50 per cent of the shortfall in the total hours worked is explained by the 15-24-year-old cohort (14.3 per cent of total employment), where jobs are still down 8.4 per cent."

Ms. Grant also reports today on how deep youth unemployment runs around the world.

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U.S. adds few jobs The United States remains mired in a jobs crisis, unable to climb back in any meaningful way from the ugly toll of the recession.

The U.S. economy created just 36,000 in January, the Labor Department said today, though it's worth noting that the private sector added 50,000 positions.

The jobless rate, which, unlike the Statistics Canada comes from a separate survey, declined to 9 per cent. Besides poor weather conditions, there were weird factors, and two different surveys, at play.

"New, lower population estimates were used for the household survey results for January 2011, but were not backdated into the December 2010 results," said Avery Shenfeld, the chief economist at CIBC World Markets.

"If the December population is adjusted downward by a similar margin, the total change in household survey employment shows up as a sharp gain of 589,000, rather than the modest 117,000 in the actual data. That explains why the unemployment rate dropped so sharply in the month. As well, the household survey results were even more impressive given that weather kept 707,000 Americans from working that week."

TSX chalks up gains Canada's benchmark stock index is now just about 10 per cent shy of its record high, having climbed back from the depths of the crisis.

The S&P/TSX composite still has a way to go before topping the previous high of 15,073 on June 18, 2008, but stronger economic signs and higher commodity prices are pushing it along.

"We would point out that had you invested the day before Lehman went down, you would have had higher total returns in the TSX than in bonds (even with the incredible carnage in stocks in late 2008) thanks to the powerful recovery in stocks over the past two years," notes deputy chief economist Douglas Porter of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Leaders warn of food price hikes World leaders are issuing warnings again today over the dangers of spiralling food prices. France's farm minister, Bruno Le Maire, and the chief of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Jacques Diouf, held a news conference in Rome, where they said they want action against commodities speculators.

"We share the same view that today the real risk of a global food crisis exists," the French official told reporters, according to Reuters.

Yesterday, the FAO said food prices hit a fresh record in January, sparking new warnings of spreading unrest.

In Egypt, costs rise The costs to Egypt's economy are rising as the 10-day uprising shows no signs of easing, having turned deadly amid mounting pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to leave.

The country's vice-president said yesterday that tourists are fleeing the country, as are investors, with costs so far of at least $1-billion (U.S.).

A more independent report, from analysts at Credit Agricole, pegged costs at at least $310-million a day. The bank also cut its projections for economic in Egypt to 3.7 per cent this year.

Domtar posts higher profit Domtar Corp. today reported fourth-quarter profit of $325-million (U.S.) or $7.59 a share, up sharply from $124-million or $2.86 a year earlier.

The Montreal-based paper company said revenue dipped to $1.37-billion from $1.4-billion.

"Fourth quarter paper shipments were weaker partly due to seasonal factors, but our average pricing held up well," said chief executive officer John Williams. "We were able to post best ever fourth quarter profit before items even though production related issues resulted in higher than expected maintenance costs."

Boyd Erman's Morning Meeting U.S. regulators including the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. are set to recommend more clawbacks and deferrals for trader pay at large financial institutions, Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman reports today.

A kiss is just a kiss, but Torstar wants to patent it Harlequin Enterprises wants to patent the kiss. Not just any kiss, but the "essential romantic kiss."

Harlequin, the romantic fiction publisher owned by Torstar Corp. , has applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a spokeswoman said today. Obviously a publicity and attention-getter, the company said that, if patented, it will make the kiss "freely available" to anyone.

Whatever the motivation, Harlequin sure goes into a lot of detail, quoting studies, past data and even Romeo & Juliet.

In Personal Finance today

Sure, a high dollar makes foreign equities cheap, but beware of its long-term effects on your retirement portfolio.

Worried about outliving your retirement savings? The solution isn't to pay high fees for a guaranteed income product, says adviser Ted Rechtshaffen.

Once you have money to invest, no matter how little, it's a good time to start looking for advice, writes Preet Banerjee.

From today's Report on Business

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