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Til death, or an economic recovery, us do part

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, April 25. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Divorce on rebound Stay together for the kids? It appears the recession had something to do with it, too, but that's changing now, according to reports from the United States.

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Divorce rates in the U.S. dipped during the recession, The Financial Times reports, as unemployment surged and the housing market collapsed.

The rate - the percentage of the U.S. population aged 15 or up who said they were divorced - dipped in 2009 to 9.7 from 9.9 in 2006.

And, the Financial Times report showed, more than half of the members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers saw their business slow down in 2009.

But breaking up isn't so hard to do any longer as the economy picks up, the newspaper said, quoting lawyers and marriage experts who cite an increase in divorce filings.

As one Las Vegas lawyer told The Financial Times, there's "huge pent-up demand" to split. Another lawyer in South Dakota said her business has picked up by about 25 per cent compared to 2009.

It makes sense, of course. It's more difficult to split up amid high unemployment and a plunge in house prices.

One lawyer told the newspaper that one of her clients wanted to split with his wife in 2008, but had to stay married because the bank wouldn't lend him the money to buy her portion of their property.

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"People no longer argue about who's keeping the house, but about who's stuck with it," one lawyer quipped to the newspaper.

Barrick strikes deal for Equinox Equinox Minerals Ltd. has found its white knight in Barrick Gold Corp. .

Barrick has topped a hostile bid for Equinox by China's Minmetals Resources Ltd. With a friendly, $7.3-billion cash offer. That's $8.15 a share compared to the Minmetals proposal of $7.

"I founded this company 18 years ago, along with the late Dr. Bruce Nisbet, with a vision of creating a world class copper company," said Equinox chief executive officer Craig Williams.

"We have come a long way since that time and I am pleased to say we have exceeded my expectations in creating a leading copper growth company. The offer by Barrick reflects the value created through this success and is an attractive opportunity for Equinox shareholders to realize a significant premium for their shares in an all cash deal at a time of historically strong copper prices."

Markets await economic updates Economists believe Canada's economy stalled in February, while the United States hit a "temporary soft patch" in the first quarter.

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Markets are eyeing the latest data in both Canada and the U.S. this week. Statistics Canada reports Friday on gross domestic product for February, while the U.S. reading will be for the entire first quarter on Thursday.

Economists expect Statistics Canada to report little change in GDP for the month, following a spurt of 0.5 per cent in January. Here are the views of some:

"On an industry-level basis, real GDP is expected to have remained unchanged in the month of February ... While our expectation for February is certainly disappointing, it follows a very robust 0.5-per-cent increase in January. As such, when looking at the quarter as a whole, we remain comfortable with our forecast for expenditure-based annualized real GDP growth in the ballpark of 3.8 per cent." Toronto-Dominion Bank

"Canada's monthly GDP winning streak is about to sputter. The Canadian economy likely paused in February after four straight months of hot growth ... But it's not all doom and gloom. The finance, insurance and real estate sector, which has been booming for months, is likely to see some upside in February, spurred on by rising house prices and increased residential new listings activity. Retail sales were also a bright spot, bouncing back by 0.4 per cent after two months of contraction." CIBC World Markets

"The turn of the year was solid for the Canadian economy with back-to-back months of 0.5-per-cent real GDP growth in December and January. That momentum stopped dead in its tracks in February, with activity expected to remain flat. Manufacturing sales and wholesale trade saw meaningful declines, and the gains in retail sales weren't enough to push overall growth into positive territory. However, due to the strength in the prior months, [the first quarter]is still expected to clock in at above a 4-per-cent annualized growth rate. While a firm [first quarter]is all but guaranteed, [the second quarter]is another story." BMO Nesbitt Burns

"Following strong growth of 0.5 per cent month over month in December and January, we estimate that output declined by 0.1 per cent month over month in February. This decline reflects the drop in manufacturing shipments and wholesale trade and the modest rebound in retail sales." Capital Economics

Where the United States is concerned, economists generally expect first-quarter growth to come in at about 1.8 per cent, what Toronto-Dominion Bank termed a soft patch, though a temporary one.

"This will be almost half the 3.1-per-cent quarter over quarter pace achieved in [the fourth quarter] though the economy is expect to boast a 3-per-cent growth rate during the year," TD said.

Economist Krishen Rangasamy of CIBC World Markets expects a better showing, more in the area of 2.5 per cent, but still far short of the quarterly growth that typically follows a recession. That highlights the "fragility" of the recovery.

"After posting its best performance in three quarters, the U.S. economy likely moderated in [the first quarter]as it met with assorted speed bumps, including higher energy costs and a slowdown in trade," the CIBC economist said.

"The former burnt a hole in consumers' pockets, offsetting in part the benefits received from the extension of tax cuts in the quarter, and restraining growth in consumption spending."

(For the latest Canadian and U.S. statistics, see the accompanying infographic or click here.)

Bernanke meets the press Markets are also awaiting a policy announcement from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, but this time with a twist as Chairman Ben Bernanke also sets a new tradition with a news conference after the decision.

Observers expect no change in policy from the U.S. central bank, whose key rate remains at an historic low near zero, The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant reports today.

"The press conference should be more telling, providing the chairman with a great opportunity to discuss his economic outlook," said senior economist Jennifer Lee of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"He will likely pepper his comments with familiar phrases such as 'increased evidence that a self-sustaining recovery may be taking hold' and that the job market has 'improved only slowly' but that it will be 'several years before the unemployment rate has returned to a more normal level.'"

The Fed normally releases its decision at 2:15 p.m. ET, but this time it's moving that up to 12:30, to be followed by Mr. Bernanke's press conference at 2: 15 p.m.

West on the rise Canada's western provinces not only have the best economic prospects, but the strongest fiscal outlook as well, as long as commodity prices remain firm, a study by BMO Nesbitt Burns indicates.

"The provincial budget season has wrapped up for 2011, and a few major themes stand out," economists Michael Gregory and Robert Kavcic wrote in their recap.

"First, revenues continue to rebound thanks to strong commodity prices, improving economic activity and, to a lesser extent, tax increases. Program spending growth has also slowed as fiscal restraint kicks in, though a number of elections looming this fall have kept the taps from closing further. Finally, the distinct divide between commodity and non-commodity provinces continues to assert itself, not only in terms of economic growth, but fiscal health as well."

Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador will alone boast a budget surplus in the current fiscal year, while nine of the 10 other provinces project a balanced budget within four years. Ontario, the poor man out, will take longer.

"This East-West fiscal divide mirrors the economic growth divide we're expecting in the years ahead, where the commodity-fuelled Western provinces should handily outperform those in the East," Mr. Gregory and Mr. Kavcic said.

They noted:

  • Raw bitumen production is projected to grow by about 10 per cent a year in the next two years.
  • Potash and oil production is forecast to grow about 6 per cent this year.
  • Some 40 per cent of B.C. exports now head to faster-growing Asian markets, and a third of those to Japan, where reconstruction could give an added boost.
  • Central and eastern Canada will be "challenged" by the strong Canadian dollar and harsher fiscal restraint, though Newfoundland and Labrador is the exception.

"Assuming economic growth continues to play out as we're expecting over the next two years, the provinces look to be in good shape to meet or exceed their budgeted revenue targets," the BMO economists said.

(For a look at provincial budgets and growth projections, see the accompanying infographic or click here.)

European math There's something about Europe's basket cases and mathematics. As Greece has revised its numbers, so too did Portugal on the weekend.

Statistics Portugal said Saturday it revised its official budget numbers for last year, and found that the deficit was actually 9.1 per cent, rather than the 8.6 per cent originally reported.

It all has to do with how the government accounted for public-private partnerships, or PPP, involving three highways, two of which used to be free until tolls were brought in.

Statistics Portugal outlined this in a revision to what it called an "Excessive Deficit Procedure." No kidding.

Love and money They 're doing it for love, but Prince William and Kate Middleton look set to give Britain's economy a small, though badly needed, boost.

A new survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers pegs the economic benefits of Friday's marriage at £107-million, or almost $180-million U.S. (PwC doesn't say this, but it also appears there could be something of a hit to productivity on Friday.)

Here's what the survey found:

  • "Some 550,000 people will experience the event in person in the Westminster environs, nearly a million plan to watch it in on big screen and over 20 million will favour the convivial experience of huddling round a television. Half a million will watch it on the internet and 51,000 will watch it on a mobile phone."
  • More than 6 million adults will take extra holidays to "make the most" of the confluence of Easter, bank holidays and the wedding.
  • 560,000 adults will travel to London from around the country.
  • 185,000 people will frequent hotels and 50,000 bed and breakfast offerings.
  • More than two-thirds of visitors will go shopping, and 58 per cent will see the tourist spots.
  • Some 60 per cent plan to go to a pub, 40 per cent to restaurants, 26 per cent to the theatre and 7 per cent to a casino.

"Our survey suggests that the wedding will be a great economic boost for London's economy and a good indicator of the potential economic benefits of the Olympic games when more than 10 times this number of visitors is expected," PwC economist Mark Ambler said of the study of more than 2,800 British adults.

In Economy Lab today

How sensible tax policy gets mired in politics

Stephen Gordon asks why the opposition parties have failed to hammer Stephen Harper over his cut to the GST, which was almost certainly a major fiscal error. "If they do not understand that higher CIT rates reduce wages, then their competence as a government-in-waiting leaves something to be desired. If they do understand, then they are being less than honest about what the effects of their proposals will be."

In Personal Finance today

How to minimize the tax hit when you face the final curtain

Some judicious tax planning now could save your estate a bundle in the long run, Dianne Nice writes.

Bulls, bears and baseball: tax strategies for investors

To become a millionaire, start with $10-million then invest in a hot tip, writes Tim Cestnick in this excerpt from 101 Tax Secrets for Canadians.

Feeling the heat of summer camp fees

Home Cents blogger Sonali Verma offers eight tips for taking 'I'm bored!' out of summer for less money.

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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