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Miracle-Gro eyes marijuana (but not the backyard kind)

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Scotts targets pot Weed killer may soon take on a new meaning.

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As The Wall Street Journal reports, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. , long known for its weed killer, is looking at breaking into the medical marijuana market in a move to bolster sales.

"I want to target the pot market," chief executive officer Jim Hagedorn told the newspaper. "There's no good reason we haven't."

Scotts, the newspaper noted, counts on three of the big U.S. retailers for the bulk of its revenue. Now, as states increasingly legalize pot for medical purposes, Scotts may have found a new place to grow.

Mr. Hagedorn's father co-founded Miracle-Gro, and, according to the Journal, he's not your typical CEO. He's a former F-16 fighter pilot who's not averse to swearing, or, on occasion, wearing jeans and running shoes to the office.

No pun intended here - well, okay, maybe - the stock hasn't been much of a high flyer recently, though it has surged since mid-2008.

Air Canada agents strike It's not quite like Greece, where almost everyone is on strike almost all the time, but two major unions are out on the picket lines today as labour tensions rise.

The Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents some 3,200 airport check-in agents and 600 call centre staff at Air Canada walked off their jobs overnight in a fight over pensions.

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As Globe and Mail transportation writer Brent Jang reports today, the airline plans a full schedule of flights, but customers should expect long lineups at the airport.

The CAW walkout follows rotating strikes by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Postal workers are off the job today in Toronto and Montreal.

As The Globe and Mail's Emily Jackson reported in Economy Lab, the sluggish world economy, globalization and pension shortfalls are adding pressure on employers to cut costs, which threatens to spark labour disputes around the globe.

There have been four major work stoppages in Canada so far this year.

For the record, Greece's biggest public sector labour group plans a 24-hour walkout tomorrow that will hit several areas.

Suncor shuns Gadhafi's Libya Suncor Energy Inc. will stay out of Libya as long as Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime remains in power and the company may have to take a second-quarter writedown on its operations in the strife-torn country, the energy giant's chief executive says.

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"We will not go back into Libya as long as the Gadhafi regime is in place," Rick George said today after a talk to the Canadian Club of Montreal, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

He added that Suncor has already alerted the market that it may take a writedown on its Libyan oil production operations in the second quarter, but that a decision has not yet been made.

Charest backs Maple bid Quebec Premier Jean Charest is backing a rival bid by Canadian financial institutions for TMX Group Inc. , he said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The institutions, which call themselves the Maple Group, have launched a hostile bid they value at $3.7-billion, aimed at busting up a proposed marriage of TMX and London Stock Exchange Group PLC.

In an interview in New York, Mr. Charest noted guarantees by the rival group on derivatives jobs in Montreal.

"We would much prefer to see ownership in the hands of the Maple Group, if only because we would much rather see Canadian ownership of our stock exchange," Mr. Charest said. "What we are first of all interested in is making sure that Montreal is able to preserve that niche or expertise."

Carney won't hike, TD says Economists had initially expected the Bank of Canada to hike interest rates again in July, but then changed their forecasts to expect an increase in the fall. Today, Toronto-Dominion Bank said it doesn't believe Mark Carney will move at all this year.

Mr. Carney will instead begin to hike rates again next January, and throughout the course of the year to bring his benchmark rate to 2 per cent, from its current 1 per cent, said TD chief economist Craig Alexander. In 2013, the rate will rise to 3 per cent, Mr. Alexander projected.

"This delayed and slow rebalancing of monetary policy reflects the risk-filled economic environment, which has reduced confidence in model-based economic projections that predict a closing of the output gap in mid-2012," Mr. Alexander said.

"It also reflects the possibility that there is more slack in the economy and that the 'neutral' level of interest rates is lower than previously thought," he added in a report.

"Well anchored inflation expectations provide the Bank of Canada with additional flexibility to delay tightening policy until the economic uncertainty diminishes. With the U.S. Federal Reserve on hold, the Bank of Canada is also constrained in raising interest rates, as widening interest rate spreads would boost the Canadian dollar that is already above parity."

OECD warns on Canada Canada's economic growth will probably slow somewhat, the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development says in an overall report suggesting a "mild loss" of momentum globally.

The organization's leading indicators, released today, point to more moderate growth in the United States, a stable rate of expansion in Germany and Britain, firm signs of slowing growth in France and Italy, and a "likely moderation of growth towards its long-term trend" in Canada.

Economists generally believe output in Canada is slowing markedly in the second quarter.

China moves on inflation Underlying inflation may be relatively tame in Canada, and Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke may see commodity price surges as "transitory," but sharp increases in consumer prices are playing havoc in many other countries, notably the Asia-Pacific region.

As Carolynne Wheeler reports today from Beijing, inflation in China, at 5.5 per cent, is at its highest level in almost three years, which prompted the country's central bank to raise requirements among the banks yet again in a bid to cool lending.

And in India today, the official wholesale price index showed prices surging by more than 9 per cent, suggesting India's central bank could hike interest rates again.

"The persistence of inflation was the key message in today's data releases," Mark Williams, senior China economist at Capital Economics in London, said of the numbers from Beijing.

"Food prices declined for the third month in a row but annual food price inflation still picked up," Mr. Williams said in a research report.

"Non-food inflation also increased, from 2.7 per cent year over year to 2.9 per cent. Price increases have slowed significantly in seasonally-adjusted terms since the start of the year. But food price pressures seem to have rebounded recently and inflation overall remains high as a result. Consumer prices have risen at an annualized pace of over 5 per cent in the last three months by our estimate, which the government understandably sees as too high for comfort."

Nokia, Apple settle Two giants of the mobile world have settled a patent dispute.

Apple Inc. and Nokia Corp. said today they struck a deal that will end litigation between the two.

Apple will make a lump sum payment, and pay royalties, though there were no specifics.

Nokia had complained about patents after the launch of the iPhone, and analysts now estimate it could be in for about 1 per cent or 2 per cent of the huge revenue generated by the popular mobile device.

Sherritt International sinks Shares of Sherritt International Corp. sank today after the mining company boosted the estimated cost of a nickel-cobalt project in Madagascar, as well as changing the timeline.

Sherritt said in its update that the estimated cost of the Ambatovy project is now $5.5-billion (U.S.), well up from the earlier estimate. It also said it expects production to start early next year, rather than this year. It owns 40 per cent of the project.

"We are investing to ensure this project is done the right way," chief executive officer Ian Delaney said in a statement. "That means building a platform that will meet the demands of the world's largest lateritic nickel operation for thirty years. That is a challenge because of the infrastructure and location. Making the right decisions now, and not cutting corners, will insure our productive capacity for decades."

Retail sales dip Americans are feeling the pinch from higher gas and food prices.

Retail sales in the United States slipped in May by 0.2 per cent, largely on cutbacks of major purchases such as cars, and suggest that household budgets are being shifted to help pay higher costs elsewhere, like the gas pump.

It was the first decline for retailers in 11 months, according to data from the Commerce Department.

A shortage of cars played a role, said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns, noting that sales climbed 0.3 per cent when autos are excluded. But that doesn't mean the report was bright, she added, citing "many pockets of weakness."

"Clearly the impact of gasoline prices, which surged to over $4 a gallon in May from $2.95 a year ago (although they were down in the second half of the month), are driving consumers away from spending on discretionary items and perhaps even the act of driving," she said.

Euro ministers meet European finance ministers meet in Brussels today amid a standoff between politicians and the European Central Bank over Greece.

The ECB is steadfast in its opposition to any form of debt restructuring for Greece, while nations such as Germany want private bondholders to share the burden of bailing out Athens.

Some form of restructuring is increasingly seen as inevitable, and markets fear an outright default. Yesterday, Standard & Poor's downgraded Greece again, giving the Greeks the dubious distinction of now having the world's worst credit rating, saying a restructuring could be counted as a default under its criteria.

Greece hasn't had an investment grade rating in more than a year, The Globe and Mail's Brian Milner writes today.

IMF race down to two The International Monetary Fund has knocked Israel's Stanley Fischer out of the race for its top job.

The IMF's executive board says it will consider only French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Mexico's central bank chief Agustin Carstens, adding that others missed the deadline, though it did not name the Israeli central banker.

Mr. Fischer complained today that he was knocked out because of his age, which is 67, while the age limit for the job is 65.

"I was hoping that the IMF. board of directors would change its regulations, not only for the sake of my candidacy, but also for the sake of future candidates for the position of managing director," he said.

RBC keen on Lululemon Analysts at Royal Bank of Canada are keen on shares of Lululemon Athletica Inc. after the yoga retailer's strong earnings last week.

They boosted their price target on the shares to $105 (U.S.) from $88.

"The momentum continues," the analysts wrote, referring to the company by its U.S. stock symbol.

"Business at LULU remains strong despite headwinds in the retailing environment. Unfavorable weather in the U.S. and Canada, lean inventories, and an e-commerce transition, did not disadvantage the company in a meaningful way and [earnings per share]grew 68 per cent. Momentum likely continues in 2Q ... This remains a stock we want to own."

UBS recommends Methanex UBS Securities Canada has shaved its 12-month price target on shares of Methanex Corp. in the wake of the slump in the stock.

Analyst Brian MacArthur trimmed the target to $33.50 from $36, and changed his rating to "buy" from "neutral" for the global methanol producer.

"Methanex's share price is down 14 per cent since its high of $33.61 on April 26," he said in a research note.

"We are upgrading the shares from neutral to buy based on share price depreciation. We continue to expect that as the year progresses the company's production will increase meaningfully as the new Egypt facility and the restarted Medicine Hat facility contribute to production."

In International Business today

Globe and Mail Washington correspondent Kevin Carmichael reports on the race for the IMF leadership, and why Mexico's Agustin Carstens jumped in knowing France's Christine Lagarde had it locked up.

In Personal Finance today

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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