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Let's put Ryan Reynolds and Ellen Page on our currency

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How would a $5 bill look with Ryan Reynolds? Maybe we should take note of what Sweden's doing and replace some of the figures on our currency. (Let's not take the hockey game off the $5 bill, though.)

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Sweden's central bank announced today that it plans to adorn its new bank notes with images of such famous people as Greta Garbo, Ingmar Bergman, Birgit Nilsson and Astrid Lindgren, among others.

"The General Council has chosen people who have made positive and important contributions to Sweden's cultural heritage during the 20th century," a statement on the Riksbank's website says.

"We believe that the new motifs reflect Sweden's cultural heritage and different parts of our country in a positive and representative way."

The late Ms. Lindgren, who created Pippi Longstocking, will grace the 20 kronor bill. The late Ms. Garbo, a Hollywood icon, will be featured on the 100 kronor note. And movie director Bergman will be on the 200 kronor bill.

There will also be a 2 kronor coin with the face of the monarch.

So, move over Laurier and Macdonald? How about Terry Fox? Or actors Ryan Reynolds, Ellen Page and Rachel MacAdams? Norman Bethune? Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell or director Norman Jewison? A couple from the Group of Seven? Christopher Plummer? Donald Sutherland or Kiefer? Just, please, not Justin Bieber; the hair wouldn't work.

Portugal seeks bailout Portugal said late today it would follow in the footsteps of Ireland and Greece and seek a bailout amid its mounting debt crisis. The question now becomes, will markets turn their attention to Spain? Put another way, the P, I and G have now topped, leaving only Spain in what markets have dubbed the PIGS, the embattled countries of the 17-nation euro monetary union.

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"With Portuguese sovereign bond yields surging over the past month (the five-year yield rose above 10 per cent in the past few days, the highest since joining the euro), the government finally gave in on Wednesday and asked its European partners for a bailout," said economist Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"With Portugal in the bailout camp, markets might turn their attention to Spain," he said in a research note.

"Spanish yields have actually fallen this year in anticipation the bailouts would end with Portugal. However, the Spanish banking system remains a question mark. Watch Spanish bond yields closely for any signs of contagion."

Dollar continues its run The Canadian dollar continued to power ahead today, topping $1.04 U.S. and following what Scotia Capital says will be a path of "slow, steady" appreciation to $1.09 by the end of next year.

The loonie is being driven by the usual suspects, said Scotia Capital currency strategist Camilla Sutton, including a soft U.S. dollar and strong oil prices . The U.S. dollar is weaker on the threat of a government shutdown this weekend.

Ms. Sutton forecasts the dollar will end this year at $1.05, pushing to $1.09 by the end of 2012.

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Late yesterday, BMO Nesbitt Burns said the loonie is just about on track based solely on its connection to oil, though it still believes it's overvalued.

"An old rule of thumb is that every $10-a-barrel move in oil prices translates into a 3-cent to 5-cent (U.S.) move in the Canadian dollar," said deputy chief economist Douglas Porter.

"And a corollary is $100 crude equals parity for the loonie. Well, bingo - those rules seem to be holding quite well. The C$ seems to be almost right where it 'should' be based solely on oil prices. Of course, there's more than oil that drives the currency, and there have been episodes where the two have diverged meaningfully (C$ high in '07, oil high in '08). Plus, the C$ was a bit 'high' versus oil for much of the past year, but crude has closed the gap."

BMO sees 3-per-cent growth Canada's economy should grow 3 per cent this year, just a touch below the 3.1 per cent of 2010, but unemployment will remain high at 7.4 per cent by the end of the year, BMO Nesbitt Burns says.

But, senior economist Sal Guatieri warned in a report today, soaring oil prices could mean a "serious blow" to North America's economy.

"Every $10 increase in oil prices carves about 0.2 percentage points from annual U.S. growth," Mr. Guatieri said.

The $30 increase in the past year to $107 isn't large enough to derail the U.S. expansion, but a further move to over $150 would elevate recession risks, with knock-on effects to Canada."

Should we ratchet down inflation fears? Are Canadian businesses frantic about inflation? The chief economist of High Frequency Economics thinks so, based on a Bank of Canada survey earlier in the week.

"Here is the buzz we picked up on Bay Street this week: People in Canada are terrified about inflation," Carl Weinberg said in a research note today.

"The immediate cause of this is, quite apparently, a one-third increase in the price of gasoline at the pumps ... Nothing triggers inflation fears faster than a run-up in gas prices. The symptom of this is that many analysts and traders have departed from their usual hard-nosed look at the data and turned emotional on the subject of inflation."

He was referring to the Bank of Canada's Survey of Business Conditions, released Monday, that showed 53 per cent of companies are worrying about input costs rising over the next year, while 54 per cent expect the prices of their products to climb at the same pace or less compared to the past year.

"We interpret this to mean that companies cannot pass input cost increases through to output prices," Mr. Weinberg said.

"We say that is because demand, while growing nicely, is still well below peak levels. Absorbing cost increases is bad news for shareholders and their dividends but good news for consumers, who like lower prices."

Mr. Weinberg noted that the core inflation rate, which strips out volatile prices, is just 0.9 per cent on an annual basis, which he calls "trivial." Overall inflation is far higher, and over the Bank of Canada's 2-per-cent target. Were commodity prices to fall, he added, the overall inflation rate could dip below the core, or perhaps even turn negative.

"Yes, a one-time increase in the prices of some stuff relative to all other stuff is pushing up the CPI and generating the impression of inflation - and people are really ticked off by the rise in gasoline prices, eh? - but there is no inflation undermining this economy. Indeed, the increase in energy prices relative to wages and all the other prices in the economy is actually deflationary because it siphons away spending on other goods and services by forcing higher expenditures on energy products. Lower demand means lower prices."

Provinces hold the line Provincial governments are holding the line on program spending this year, but their restraint efforts aren't particularly tough if you compare them to what officials are doing around the world.

Economist Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns studied six of the eight provincial budgets unveiled so far, and found program spending is poised to increase by just 1.1 per cent in fiscal 2011-2012.

"That marks a contraction in real terms, and even more so in real per-capita terms, but it's not overly aggressive restraint either, compared to what's going on elsewhere in the world," Mr. Kavcic said, referring to the budgets from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

His research was done before Nova Scotia unveiled its budget yesterday, and PEI followed suit today.

"Perhaps the five provincial elections scheduled for the fall are keeping the spending taps from closing completely," he added. "In Western Canada, rising commodity prices aren't hurting either."

How will Alberta's plan affect firms? Alberta's proposed new environmental plan should have just a "minor impact" on the oil sands sector, an energy analyst says, and investors should consider buying stocks in the industry if prices drop as a result, The Globe and Mail's Carrie Tait reports today from Calgary.

"A detailed scanning of the proposed areas by us suggests a minor impact on the oil sands industry as a whole, and we would recommend investors take advantage of any potential knee jerk reaction in the market [Wednesday,]rdquo; Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick said in a research note late Tuesday.

Mr. Skolnick singled out privately-held Sunshine Oil Sands as the outfit that will be hit hardest.

Where Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. is concerned, he said, part of its Birch Oil Sands asset falls within protected boundaries under the plant, but it will be "immaterial" given the size of the area and because "it appears to be part of the lease not considered prospective by the company."

Other companies, such as Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. , Cenovus Energy Inc. , Imperial Oil , Nexen Inc. , and Suncor Energy Inc. could feel a "marginal impact" because of the proposed plan, although their holdings that fall within the proposed protected areas appear to be "just slivers of land," Mr. Skolnick said.

Late Tuesday, Alberta unveiled proposed new environmental rules that would revoke several oil sands leases, including some with already active projects, to protect sensitive habitat, wildlife and forest land.

Harper cautious Stephen Harper says he'd be worried if a Chinese state-owned company made a bid to snap up Canadian resource company but did so for ulterior motives rather than commercial reasons, Globe and Mail Ottawa correspondent Steven Chase reports today.

He made it clear he was not talking about any specific transaction, careful to sidestep the fact that two state-owned Chinese enterprises are currently making plays for a Canadian mining and petroleum assets.

A 'pension Rubicon' Canadian companies have crossed a "pension Rubicon" and are continuing to dismantle traditional defined benefit plans even as the economy improves, according to a review by Towers Watson.

A survey of 150 Canadian pension plan sponsors found 51 per cent have converted to defined contribution plans for current employees or new hires, up from 42 per cent in 2008, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland reports today.

Australia reassures investors Sound familiar at all? Australia's Treasurer Wayne Swan is taking pains to signal to foreign investors that his rejection of a proposed takeover of the country's stock exchange operator doesn't mean the country is closed.

"I welcome foreign investment, but ultimately all proposals have to be in our national interest," Mr. Swan said in an interview today with Australian Broadcasting Corp., according to Reuters. "We've got an open and transparent process and I've acted in accordance with well- established guidelines and legal advice."

Here's what Stephen Harper said after his government rejected the takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan last year: "No one should doubt this government's policy ... that, generally speaking, foreign investment is in the interests of the Canadian economy and an open global trading economy."

CIBC keen on Forzani CIBC World Markets today boosted its price target on shares of Forzani Group Ltd. , to $21 from $20, after the retailer posted stronger fourth-quarter results yesterday.

"Forzani reported its Q4 results, with a strong top line and good store expense control offset by greater-than-expected markdown activity and higher compensation costs," said analyst Mark Petrie.

"At the bottom line, [earnings per share]of 84 cents was short of our 92-cent forecast, but up 12 per cent from last year. Forzani continues to lead the way among major retailers in Canada, with todal same-store sales ... growth of 7.4 per cent in Q4 well ahead of any of its peers."

In Personal Finance today

Teaching kids financial responsibility is all very well, says Home Cents blogger Sonali Verma, but are we going too far?

An Ottawa couple are debating whether a second car is worth the cost. Financial expert Kelley Keehn weighs in.

To save on your cellphone bill, check your plan and make sure your features reflect your usage. If you're not happy, there are options, writes Angela Self.

From today's Report on Business

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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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