These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, April 26, 2013.
Where the Swiss keep their gold
The Swiss National Bank broke with confidentiality today and disclosed that it holds 10 per cent of its gold in Canada.
The bulk of its 1,040 tonnes of gold, some 70 per cent, is stored in Switzerland, but 20 per cent of the reserves are at the Bank of England and the rest is here.
"The SNB has been storing gold exclusively in these countries for over 10 years," said Thomas Jordan, the central bank's governing board chairman.
"A number of clearly defined criteria are used when selecting countries for gold storage," he said at the annual meeting.
"First, adequate regional diversification and good market access for the storage of gold must be ensured. Second, the country in which the gold is stored must be politically and economically very stable and guarantee the immunity protection of central bank investments."
Many central banks have spread their gold holdings around. During the Cold War, for example, there were fears of invasion.
But now, the Swiss People's Party has won enough signatures on a petition for a referendum meant to block the SNB from storing its gold in other countries, or selling it, for that matter.
The Swiss central bank doesn't agree with the move, according to the text of Mr. Jordan's speech.
"We share the objectives the initiators put forward, such as maintaining currency and price stability and ensuring both the SNB's capacity to act and its independence," he said.
"However, the measures proposed to this effect are not suitable; in fact, they are even counterproductive."
The referendum would force the central bank to hold at least 20 per cent of its reserves in gold, which, Mr. Jordan said, would mean the central bank would have to buy a lot of bullion to meet that target.
"It would not be allowed to sell this gold at a later point, even if it had to reduce its balance sheet again in order to maintain price stability," Mr. Jordan said.
"In a worst-case scenario, the assets side of the SNB's balance sheet would, over time, be largely comprised of unsellable gold"
Such a move would have "repercussions" for monetary policy, he added.
"In making its monetary policy decisions, the SNB would have to consider the long-term consequences the necessary gold purchases would have on its capacity to act and on the structure of its balance sheet," Mr. Jordan said.
"Furthermore, market participants would hardly regard monetary policy decisions as credible, should these decisions involve a substantial expansion of the balance sheet, which in turn would impair the effect of monetary policy."
As for storing its bullion abroad, each bar has its own identification and is "fully guaranteed at all times."
Early this year, Germany's central bank said it would repatriate almost 700 tonnes of gold stored in the United States and France.
Precious metals projections dim
Precious metals may be on the rise again, but the outlook remains gloomy among some forecasters.
Indeed, Bank of Montreal said today, the bear market may be as ugly as the bull market was sweet.
"The plunge in precious metal prices over the past few weeks has confirmed the return of a bear market for precious metals," BMO Private Bank said today.
"The unwinding of gold and silver prices may prove just as dramatic as their bull market rally in the last decade."
It was in mid-April that gold fell into bear-market territory with a gut-wrenching plunge below $1,400 (U.S.) an ounce, dragged down by suggestions that Cyprus could sell its holdings to help finance its bailout, and by reports from two major banks projecting a slump.
Gold is now well back above the $1,400 mark, and silver at about $24 an ounce.
"The weak price is likely a combination of many factors, but the reality is that precious metals have spent the last decade running up several hundred per cent in an inflationary environment that did not justify such a rally," said senior investment analyst Jeff Weniger.
"Since their most recent peak in 2011, both gold and silver have been struggling and downside risk remains."
- Why Sprott is still bullish on gold
- Gold claws back losses, scores modest rebound from two-year low
- Tumbling gold prices add to miners' miseries
- End of the supercycle looms as commodities, stocks sell off
- Brian Milner's Economy Lab: As price of gold falls, conspiracy theories rise
New banknotes on way
The Bank of Canada plans to unveil our new polymer $5 and $10 bills next week, completing the overhaul of the country's currency that began with the $100 note.
(I never had a new $100 bill pass through my hands, except once when a random guy at a restaurant showed me his, and only a few fifties. I'm far more familiar with the twenty, and now we're really getting into my range.)
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will launch the new notes on Tuesday at the central bank's headquarters, along with officials of Via Rail Canada and the Canadian Space Agency.
In its annual report released earlier this week, the Bank of Canada noted how the new money has made huge strides against counterfeiting, which is now at its lowest since the early 1990s.
According to the latest information, the number of counterfeit bills detected declined last year to just 28 per million, below the central bank's target of 50 and well below the 470 per million found in 2004.
By value, counterfeits fell last year to $1.6-million, compared to $13-million in 2004.
"The security features in the new notes are significant advance in the bank's ongoing efforts to keep the number of counterfeit notes detected in circulation well below a target of 50 counterfeits per million genuine notes," the central bank said in its annual report.
(For the Bank of Canada's numbers on counterfeiting, see the accompanying infographic or click here.)
- Counterfeiting at lowest since early '90s as new money helps foil crooks
- Funny money: How counterfeiting led to a major overhaul of Canada's money
- Bank of Canada puts plastic $100 bill into circulation
- Canada's new plastic banknotes will be nearly impossible to fake
- Bank of Canada report
TransCanada sees later Keystone XL start
TransCanada Corp. expects a further delay and higher costs for its controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The company said today it now expects the pipeline to the Gulf Coast to be in operation in the second half of 2015 given the delays in getting a presidential permit, The Globe and Mail's Kelly Cryderman reports.
And, based on past experience, it also projects the estimated cost of $5.3-billion (U.S.) will rise "depending on the timing of the permit."
President Barack Obama turned down the first proposal, forcing TransCanada to reroute the pipe around an environmentally sensitive area in Nebraska.
Nebraska's governor is now onside.
TransCanada's comments came as it posted an increase in first-quarter profit to $446-million or 63 cents a share from $352-million or 50 cents a year earlier, and a gain in revenue to $2.3-billion from $1.9-billion.
U.S. growth less than expected
The U.S. economy is perking up. Just not as much as expected. Or hoped for.
Gross domestic product expanded in the first quarter at an annual pace of 2.5 per cent, below the projections of economists who had forecast 3 per cent or better, the U.S. Commerce Department said today.
The first-quarter showing was markedly better than the 0.4 per cent in the final three months of last year, but the economy is going to have to make more headway if unemployment is to ease substantially.
In a strong sign, though, consumer spending helped power the economy in the latest quarter, while government spending was a drag.
"Other than government spending, the U.S. economy was moving along nicely in the first quarter, but a second consecutive quarter of deep public sector cuts held GDP to a disappointing 2.5-per-cent pace," said chief economist Avery Shenfeld of CIBC World Markets, noting the second hefty drop in the defence sector in as many quarters.
"Add it up, and while this wasn't a weak quarter, it wasn't the bang-up start to the year we had hoped for, and the signals from March suggested that we will only decelerate from here into the spring trimester."
Samsung, LG gain
South Korean smartphone manufacturers now hold a commanding lead in their industry, further pressuring rivals like Apple Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd.
Samsung Electronics Co., in particular, has surged ahead, powered by its Galaxy devices.
According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics Samsung shipped a record 69.4 million smartphones to grab 33 per cent of the global market in the first quarter of the year.
That marked a 56-per-cent increase in shipments from a year earlier, the research firm noted, meaning the South Korean company doubled Apple's shipments and grew nine times faster than its American competitor.
Apple shipments, in turn, increased by 7 per cent from a year earlier, its slowest pace ever. It now holds about 18 per cent of the market.
"Apple's premium-only strategy for the iPhone is approaching a natural ceiling and it will need to expand deeper into markets like China or launch a lower-priced iPhone model for mass-market users," said executive director Neil Mawston.
Samsung's domestic rival, LG Electronics, also came on strong, doubling its shipments to 10.3 million to grab the No. 3 spot globally with a market share of almost 5 per cent.
In terms of the broader mobile phone market, Samsung is No. 1 with a market share of almost 29 per cent, following by Nokia Corp. at almost 17 per cent, Apple at 10 per cent and LG at 4.3 per cent.
This is, of course, an exceptionally fast-moving sector where fortunes can turn rapidly and dramatically.
Just this week, Apple Inc. posted its first year-over-year decline in profit in a decade, and its stock price has fallen sharply over the past several months.
Today, as it also launched its new Galaxy S4, Samsung posted a first-quarter profit of more than seven-trillion won, or some $6.5-billion (U.S.), a record.
Investor relations chief Robert Yi said, however, that "we may experience stiffer competition in the mobile business due to expansion of the mid- to low-end smartphone market."
- Samsung takes more smartphone market share from Apple
- Samsung Electronics Q1 profit jumps ahead of Galaxy S4 debut
- As investors focus on Apple woes, RIM makes quiet gains
- Apple rolls out cash as profit sags, analysts cut targets
- Omar El Akkad's review: With near-perfect keyboard, Q10 a better BlackBerry than Z10
- Scott Barlow in ROB Insight (for subscribers): Four tech stocks without Apple's declining margin problem
Bank of Japan sees better times
The Bank of Japan left its policy unchanged today as it projected a turn in the economy within the next few months.
Notably, the central bank also forecast hitting its 2-per-cent inflation target over time as it struggles to end a deflationary period.
"Japan's economy has stopped weakening and has shown some signs of picking up," the central bank said.
"Looking ahead, it is expected to return to a moderate recovery path around mid-2013, mainly against the background that domestic demand remains resilient due to the effects of monetary easing as well as various economic measures, and that growth rates of overseas economies gradually pick up."
Streetwise (for subscribers)
ROB Insight (for subscribers)