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AT&T slams Russia’s anti-gay law, urges Olympic advertisers to act

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.

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AT&T speaks out
AT&T Inc. is joining the growing protest against Russia's anti-gay laws, an aggressive move by an advertiser in the run-up to the Winter Olympics.

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The huge American phone company, the first to take such action, is also pressing other advertisers to follow suit.

AT&T is not an official sponsor of the International Olympic Committee, like others, so it doesn't carry quite the same weight. Nonetheless, it's a notable first against Russia's ban on gay "propaganda" as the games in Sochi, Russia, are set to begin.

According to Bloomberg News, others such as Coke and General Electric Co. say they have spoken to the International Olympic Committee about the issue.

AT&T was forceful in its statement – "a time for pride and equality" - on its consumer blog.

"The Olympic Games in Sochi also allow us to shine a light on a subject that's important to all Americans: equality," the company said.

"As you may know, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community around the world is protesting a Russian anti-LGBT law that bans 'propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.'"

The Human Rights Campaign is urging official sponsors to act, and AT&T was not asked because it isn't one.

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"However, we are a long-standing sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), we support HRC's principles and we stand against Russia's anti-LGBT law," the phone company said.

"AT&T has a long and proud history of support for the LGBT community in the United States and everywhere around the world where we do business," it added.

"We support LGBT equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere. Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society."

Twitter slumps
Twitter Inc. shares sank in after-hours action today after the micro-blogging group's first report as a publicly traded company.

Twitter shares were down sharply, by more than 13 per cent at one point.

The company posted a fourth-quarter loss of $511.5-million (U.S.), or $1.41 a share, compared with $8.7-million or 7 cents a year earlier.

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Revenue climbed 116 per cent to $243-million from $112.3-million, and its average monthly active users increased 30 per cent to 241 million by the end of the year.

"Twitter finished a great year with our strongest financial quarter to date," said chief executive officer Dick Costolo.

Twitter projected first-quarter revenue of $230-million to $240-million, and full-year revenue of $1.15-billion to $1.2-billion.

Google settles
Google Inc. has struck a tentative deal with European antitrust authorities.

The deal came as Google agreed that, when it displays its own specialized search services, it will also promote those of the services of three competitors.

The agreement gets Google off the hook for a potentially hefty fine.

"I believe that the new proposal obtained from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the commission's concerns," said Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission's competition chief.

"Without preventing Google from improving its own services, it provides users with real choice between competing services presented in a comparable way; it is then up to them to choose the best alternative."

Heenan exodus grows
The pace of departures from struggling law firm Heenan Blaikie LLP has escalated sharply this week as lawyers from the firm's Montreal and Ottawa office have left in bulk to join competing firms, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland reports.

Dentons Canada LLP confirmed today it has hired seven lawyers from Heenan's Montreal office - including the bulk of the staff's real estate practice - while Lavery de Billy said it has hired about 12 lawyers from the firm's Montreal office this week. Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP also said it has hired four lawyers from Heenan's Ottawa office.

The new departures come on top of dozens of departures announced in recent weeks, deeply depleting the ranks of many of Heenan's most senior partners as the financially struggling firm continues to work to develop a restructuring plan.

Home prices climb
Toronto home sales edged down in the bitter chill of January, but prices surged, again throwing up red flags.

Sales fell 2.2 per cent from a year earlier to 4,135 as new listings plunged 16.6 per cent, the Toronto Real Estate Board said today.

The average selling price, in turn, surged more than 9 per cent to $526,528. The so-called benchmark price climbed 7.1 per cent from a year earlier.

Senior economist Sal Guatieri of BMO Nesbitt Burns warned that the price growth in Toronto – as well as houses, condo prices surged 4.8 per cent – could spell trouble down the road.

"After a brief pause, Toronto's home prices are once again outpacing family incomes, raising the risk of a correction when interest rates normalize (sometime in the next century)," he said in a research note.

That last bit was, of course, tongue in cheek, as he was referring to the eventual rise in the Bank of Canada's benchmark overnight rate.

Home sales in Calgary, meanwhile, climbed 17.2 per cent in January, with the benchmark price up 9.5 per cent. In Vancouver, sales surged 30 per cent, and prices 3.2 per cent.

U.S. hiring slows
A closely watched measure of private employment in the United States showed hiring slowed in January, suggesting unseasonably frigid weather is temporarily sapping some of the heat from the country's economic recovery, our Washington correspondent Kevin Carmichael reports.

Backroom service provider ADP's latest analysis of the labour market determined private employers added 175,000 jobs last month after creating more than 200,000 positions in each of the final three months of 2013.

The consensus estimate on Wall Street was 185,000. Most market participants likely will greet the slight miss with relief, however, as any indication that the U.S. recovery is spinning off track would have roiled already volatile financial markets.

Union gives CN strike notice
Canadian National Railway Co. says the union representing 3,000 conductors and yard workers has served notice it could strike on Saturday, after two days of contract talks failed, The Globe and Mail's Eric Atkins reports.

The union membership last week failed to ratify a deal reached last year between CN and Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, sending both sides back to the table this week in Montreal.

"We plan to return to the table today with the assistance of federal mediators and will decide our next steps at the end of the day if we fail to reach an agreement with the union," said Jim Vena, CN executive vice-president and chief operating officer.

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More


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