Markets dive amid global economic pessimism

ROME— Globe and Mail Update

In Asia, the Nikkei 225 lost 2 per cent and the Shanghai Composite was down 2.8 per cent. Most commodities, gold included, were down significantly. Copper prices, which are often viewed as a proxy for global economic growth, lost 4.6 per cent, taking them to a year low.

The market was gyrating so furiously that it produced some extraordinary spectacles. For instance, Germany’s 5-year credit default swaps, a measure of the cost of insuring sovereign bonds against default, hit a record high even as German bonds, considered Europe’s safest debt, dropped to a record low yield of 1.7 per cent.

In Europe, the banks and mining companies bore the brunt of the selloff. Every bank and miner of any size opening lower on Thursday. French banking giant BNP Paribas lost more than 5 per cent, taking the one-week loss to 24 per cent and the 6-month loss to 56 per cent. Italy’s UniCredit shed 3 per cent, for a six-month loss of 64 per cent.

Investors fear that the European banks lack the capital to absorb the twin threats of a slowing economy and a Greek default. In an interview with France’s Le Figaro, Michel Barnier, the European Union’s financial services commissioner, that he can’t rule out the possibility that some European banks will need bailouts.

Among the mining companies, Xstrata, the Anglo-Swiss diversified miner that owns Canada’s Falconbridge, lost 8 per cent as investors took the view that global growth will get crunched as the debt and banking crises intensify.

In Europe, the factor that seemed to be propelling the markets downward was particularly bleak data from the newest purchasing managers’ index, or PMI. The index, which is widely followed, declined to 49.2 from 50.7 against a consensus of 49.8, leaving it at the lowest level since mid-2009, when the financial crisis was still in full swing. “The current index level indicates that the euro zone recovery has ground to a complete halt,” ING Bank’s Martin van Vliet said.

The manufacturing and services indexes also fell, adding to the doubts about the sustainability of the global recovery that seemed to be in place early this year.

In a note, RBC Dominion Securities said the PMI slowdown may force the European Central Bank to reconsider its current no-easing policy. RBC said that “with a euro area recession now a distinct possibility, that position will come under renewed pressure.”

The European markets were bound to fall Thursday if only because the Fed’s “Operation Twist” damaged market confidence, even though its immediate goal – flattening the yield curve by pushing down long-term interest rates – worked. In announcing the US$400-billion operation, the Fed signalled “significant downside risks” to the American economy. The warning triggered a retreat from growth-focused investments.

The global market selloff is expected to make companies reconsider financing plans. On Thursday, China’s Sany Heavy Industry, a maker of construction machinery, postponed its $3.3-billion (U.S.) offering on the Hong Kong market, citing weak market conditions. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index has fallen 22 per cent this year.

10 Ways to Turn Your Blog into a Lead-Generation Machine

Here’s a 10-step prescription to increase your visibility and attract more qualified folks to your site. It may not shoot cherry pits, but it will help you convert your traffic into leads.

1. Make your blog an extension of your main website. A visitor’s first experience with your company might be through a blog page. He or she might never land on your main site’s homepage, so link your blog visually (mirroring the navigation and design of your main site) as well as technically. Maintain the blog as a subdomain of your main domain (something like versus putting it on a separate domain entirely. Blogging on the same domain that hosts your company site ensures that all inbound links to blog pages also juice up the search mojo of your main site.

2. Solve or share, don’t shill. Your blog should focus on your customers. It should either solve their problems or share your resources. Don’t shill your stuff. This may sound obvious, but too many business blogs seem to be a repository for press releases, regurgitated marketing-speak and other pablum. News about your company and its products and services might be fascinating to you, but it’s not what will ultimately attract and engage prospects. Write about what they care about.

How can you determine what to write about? Use inquires or “Frequently Asked Questions” as fuel for blog posts. Ask your frontline folks: What problems do our customers ask about? What advice do they need? What problems do our products or services solve? Also, check your search logs: See what keywords people use when they land on your site to get a sense of what problems they have and what words they use to describe them. (Of course, questions your customers don’t ask but you wish they did–or Frequently Unasked Questions–also are great blog post fodder!)

3. Show up. Half of blogging is consistency, or just showing up on a regular basis. (Naturally, the other half is producing great stuff!) You don’t have to blog every day, but you do have to create a schedule that’s sustainable for you. Hiring a freelancer or a staff writer or editor can help keep you on track with regular content, especially if you are a reluctant writer. But if you can’t afford that, use an editorial calendar to plan a posting schedule (and stick to it). An editorial calendar, by the way, is simply that: a calendar on which you plan what post will be published when.

Showing up also applies to the ongoing care and feeding of the community you’re creating through your blog. Encourage conversation and engagement by responding to comments (even negative ones). Be part of the conversation, not above it.

4. Avoid War and Peace posts. The best blog posts are punchy and concise, focusing on a single idea. Think short paragraphs or bullet points. And don’t bury the important information. Open with a declarative sentence that sets up the key idea. Framing blog posts this way not only respects your reader’s busy schedule, but also helps address the anxiety a lot of us feel about writing. A blog post can also be a graphic, image, video or even an embedded PowerPoint presentation.

5. Pen a killer headline. I sometimes spend more time writing a headline for a blog post than I do writing the entire post. Why? Because every blog post creates a new page on your site, and every new page creates another opportunity to boost your ranking for one of your targeted keyword phrases in Google or Bing or other search engines. Your blog post title becomes your web page title, so titles matter!

An intriguing headline, or title, is also critical to attracting actual humans to read your post. The title of an article is not merely a promise to the reader (an idea of what’s in store), it’s also the pitchman for the entire post: It entices people to either click or … not.

6. Link to other resources. Throughout a post, link specific words or phrases to other resources on your site. You can link keywords to resource pages you’ve built around those words, or you can link to specific landing pages where you’ve posted related offers, like the ability for visitors to sign up for a companion webinar, request a white paper or get a free trial.

7. Embed companion calls to action. In addition to linking within the post itself, remember the real estate around the post. There are a few areas prime for calls to action on any blog page, including the “leaderboard” spot at the top of your blog, the sidebar on either side of the post and the often-ignored space immediately following a blog post.

The first two spots are great for banners or buttons. But the space under the post is key: Assuming readers get through the entire post, they should always be given an opportunity to learn more with either a companion offer or related piece of content. (Hint: This is also a good place from which to link to landing pages that require e-mail registration.)

8. Offer subscription services. Allow your visitors to subscribe to get regular updates to your blog via e-mail and RSS. Essentially, every time you publish a post, a subscriber is notified to check it out. Plug-ins to allow subscription options are likely available for your blogging platform of choice (most e-mail marketing providers offer plug-ins that can be integrated into WordPress and other blogging platforms to turn your blog into a comprehensive list-building system). There are also a number of third-party services that can collect names and contact info for you. FeedBlitz and Google FeedBurner are both free services.

9. Trick out with social bling. The more traffic you attract, the more opportunities you’ll have for generating leads. So be sure to outfit your blog with social-sharing icons, particularly the big three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Doing so subtly encourages your visitors to share your content and allows you to reach your network’s network, which is a key attribute of social media. Of course, this assumes that you are actively participating in social media, i.e., engaging in conversation, and not just broadcasting headlines.

10. Remember one final thing. Fundamentally, a blog is an opportunity: It’s a way to connect with customers in a real-time, accessible way. But your blog needs to be part of your business, and part of your lead-gen efforts. Talk it up in e-mail newsletters, in print collateral and on packaging materials. A blog won’t magically drive business without active and ongoing promotion and participation–no matter how much inspiration Dr. Seuss imparts.


Why do U.S. retailers charge us more, Flaherty asks–why-do-u-s-retailers-charge-us-more-flaherty-asks

After weeks of hearing Canadian consumers complain they pay higher prices in Canada for identical goods sold in the U.S., federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he shares their “irritation” and wants a committee to look into it.

In a letter obtained by The Star, Flaherty says he wants the standing senate committee on national finance to study why some prices remain higher here five years after the Canadian dollar soared above parity with the U.S. greenback.

“Canadians are rightly irritated when they see large price discrepancies on the exact same products being sold on different sides of the border,” Flaherty says in the letter.

Canadian consumers began complaining about the price gap in 2007 after the Canadian dollar soared above parity with the U.S. greenback for the first time in 30 years.

At the time, Flaherty responded by urging retailers to lower their prices and be more open about their pricing practices. He also suggested consumers shop around to ensure they got the best deal.

Canadian retailers said they felt unfairly blamed. They also said prices in Canada are higher because they face higher costs here for rent, labour, duties, transportation and marketing. As well, some multinational suppliers charge Canadian retailers higher prices, they said.

However, no-one has provided a detailed explanation of how much these factors affect prices. And in some cases, retailers have acknowledged they are charging whatever the market will bear.

In his letter, Flaherty calls on the senate committee to examine how these factors might affect pricing.

The committee, which should consult widely with retailers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, economists, analysts and consumers, could begin meeting this fall, the letter says.

Many prices have fallen since he last met with Canadian retailers five years ago to discuss this issue, Flaherty says in the letter. But many Canadians still have concerns with a persistent gap between some goods, the letter also says.

“We all want Canadians to shop at and support local businesses, especially with the start of the Christmas shopping season only months away. But we live in a market economy and Canadians know the value and power of shopping around. If we want our consumers to shop here, we need competitive prices,” his letter says.

“A strong dollar should benefit Canadian consumers,” the letter says.

The price-gap problem resurfaced last month after popular U.S. fashion retailer J. Crew opened its first store in Canada and also its first Canadian web site.

Fans of the clothing retailer were quick to point out J. Crew had not only raised its prices for Canada but by adding duties and taxes to its online prices, the final bill was in some cases 40 to 50 per cent higher than on its U.S. website.

J. Crew quickly backed down, removing the added duty from its Canadian website, though its prices both in the Yorkdale store and online remain 15 per cent higher on average than in the U.S.

It’s not just consumers who have noticed the price difference.

Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, has made a habit of surveying the cross-border price gap in recent years. His latest survey, last April, found that prices in Canada were on average 20 per cent higher than in the U.S. on a broad range of goods, from DVDs to luxury cars to golf balls.

When Porter first began tracking prices, in 2007, the gap was 24 per cent. Retailers said they needed time to adapt as most merchandise had been ordered 12 to 18 months earlier when the dollar was at 80 cents U.S.

Canada banks face storm clouds after good quarter

TORONTO (Reuters) – Gloomier times are ahead for Canada’s resilient banks, which stayed strong through the financial crisis and beyond and which largely beat analysts’ expectations with their third-quarter results.

The banks impressed investors with strong loan growth and wealth management revenue in their most recent results. But analysts expect narrow lending margins and increased caution by already overstretched borrowers to weigh on earnings growth in the months ahead.

“The next four quarters will not be as powerful as the last four quarters for the sector,” said CIBC World Markets analyst Robert Sedran.

Canada’s banking sector is dominated by a half dozen big banks which are both protected from foreign takeovers and prevented from merging with each other. They generate billions in profits from their domestic branch-bank businesses and required no bailouts during the 2008-09 crisis.

Analysts had expected weaker loan growth to start to bite in the third quarter, which ended on July 31. But it rarely pays to bet against Canada’s banks, and the lenders surprised with strong performances in their Canadian and U.S. retail operations.

Toronto-Dominion Bank — which owns vast branch networks in both Canada and the United States — capped off reporting period for the big banks with a better than expected profit on Thursday.

It earned C$1.72 a share profit, compared with analysts’ estimates of a C$1.62 a share profit, and net profit rose 23 percent to C$1.45 billion ($1.48 billion).


But Canada’s No. 2 lender said earnings growth should moderate in coming quarters due to slower loan volume growth and margin pressure. “Obviously there’s a lot of uncertainly given what’s going on in the world,” said Chief Financial Officer Colleen Johnston.

Europe’s banks are in the grip of a debt crisis, while U.S. banks are selling assets to build up capital.

Even Canada, which has ridden a strong housing sector to a relatively even-keel economic performance over the past two years, experienced an unexpected economic contraction in the second quarter, data this week showed.

Through it all, Canadians have kept borrowing, enticed by rock bottom interest rates that have proven a double-edged sword for the banks.

Profits from strong loan growth is partially offset by the low rates charged. With central banks in Canada and the United States both seen holding rates low for the foreseeable future, margins are expected to continue to narrow.

And with Canadians carrying record debt, observers say mortgage and credit card lending growth will likely stall and business lending may not make up the shortfall.

“Most banks are talking lower levels of loan growth as we go through the rest of the year,” said Juliette John, a portfolio manager at Bissett Investment Management in Calgary.

The results this quarter have helped drive Canadian financial stocks up by more than 7 percent since reporting began, against a 5.8 percent rise for the broader market.

Along with TD, Bank of Montreal , Bank of Nova Scotia , Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and National Bank of Canada all topped analysts’ estimates.

Royal Bank of Canada , the country’s biggest lender, was the only one to miss estimates, as market volatility hit its proportionally large capital markets division.

That’s the weaker trend that many observers had expected to take hold in the current earnings period.

“I hadn’t expected too much (profit) this quarter, so I may have been one quarter too early,” said John Kinsey, a portfolio manager at Caldwell Securities in Toronto.

(Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Janet Guttsman)

The rising cost of back-to-school

September 01, 2011 By Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew 0 Comment(s)

Parents are spending an average of $324 to get their children ready to go back-to-school, according to a recent poll conducted for Scotiabank by Harris/Decima.

That’s up from an average of $293 last year

Stationary is at the top of the list, followed by clothing and books, and electronics.

Through the course of the year, parents also expect to spend another $403 on field trips, pizza lunches and other incidentals, the survey found. That’s $50 more than last year.

About one-in-four parents say they have budgeted for these costs, with half saying they started saving at least three months ago. That’s up from 40 per cent last year.

The Scotiabank survey found that this level of spending seems to be more in line with 2009 than 2010.

So far I’ve spent just over $400 on school uniforms for my two elementary school students.

School supplies from Wal-Mart cost $24.36, about twice as much as they did at the Dollar Store.

A few tips for those still trying to tame their back-to-school shopping bill:

– You don’t need to buy everything before Labour Day. Take a few more days or weeks to see what your kids will actually need, then hit the stores again. You may be able to catch a sale.

– Better yet, check around for what’s still around, and perfectly good, from last year before you buy new items.

– Get the kids involved. This is a great opportunity to introduce, or reinforce, the notion of a budget. Help your kids understand that you have a set amount of money you’re prepared to spend, and that buying a name-brand pair of jeans will mean less money for the knapsack or other supplies. Older children can pitch in and make the buying decisions themselves.