When you see sales down in three-quarters of the market, that means it’s pretty widespread[np_storybar title=”Toronto new home sales fall to record low for August” link=”https://business.financialpost.com/2012/09/24/toronto-new-home-sales-fall-to-record-low-in-august/”%5D In yet another sign the housing sector in Canada is slowing down, Toronto new home sales in August were the worst ever for that particular month.Read more. [/np_storybar]OTTAWA — Canada’s housing market appears to be cooling across the board in the face of tighter mortgage rules that affect many first-time buyers of modest means, a new analysis from the Conference Board shows.The think-tank’s snapshot of resales for August shows a widespread decline in sales of existing homes, with 21 of 28 metropolitan markets registering a drop from July, and 16 of the markets showing a falloff of five per cent or more.As well, listings fell in 17 of the 28 markets, an indication that owners were reluctant to place their homes for sale due to soft conditions.Senior economist Robin Wiebe of the Conference Board said there was evidence of cooling in some markets — particularly Vancouver and Victoria — before the new rules went into effect July 9. But the new data shows the slowdown has spread to most markets and from coast to coast.“When you see sales down in three-quarters of the market, that means it’s pretty widespread,” he said. “It’s knocked down previously high-flying markets like Regina and Saskatoon down a peg. Vancouver had been showing signs of cooling, now it’s spread out into the Fraser Valley.”[np-related]At the time Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced maximum amortization period for mortgage would be reduced to 25 years from 30 years, the government estimated it would increase monthly payments by $184 on a $350,000 mortgage.It had been the fourth time Flaherty tightened mortgage requirements in four years, but the July measure was regarded as the one likely to be the most effective.While sales and prices were only temporarily sidetracked by the previous announcements, only to recover a few months later, this might “be the one that broke the camel’s back,” said Wiebe.Last week, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported that sales of existing homes fell 5.8% in August from July, and were down 8.9 per cent from August 2011.Still, the latest data shows that while sales and listings are down, prices appear to be holding steady.The report found prices fell in only nine of the 28 markets in August from the previous month. Compared to last August, prices were up in 25 markets.Andrew Barr/National Post Economists have generally been forecasting a correction of between 10 and 25% in prices over the next two or three years. Vancouver, which had for years been Canada’s hottest market, has seen a tumble of about 30% in resale homes.But Wiebe is not so sure the correction will be as severe as many predict, or that Vancouver’s market is as cold as the numbers suggest.He notes that Vancouver’s average home prices are skewed by the number of high-end property sold — many to investors from China. Both the meteoric rise and current decline are “overstated,” he said.Homes in the Toronto area, Canada’s largest market, are also likely to retain their value, he said, because the economy in the city remains healthy and the greater metropolitan area continues to experience strong population growth.The Canadian Press read more

OTTAWA — Just as one federal cabinet minister is urging a more sophisticated tone to the climate-change debate, a second cabinet minister has found himself trying to prove he is not a climate-change denier.Environment Minister Peter Kent this week said the federal government would never opt for a carbon pricing scheme itself, but would be open minded about pricing arrangements set up by the provinces.“We need to add a bit of subtle differentiation when we talk about carbon pricing,” Kent said in an interview on Wednesday, adding that he and Alberta were on the same wavelength in taking action to significantly cut emissions.But a day later, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver appeared to play down the urgency of fighting climate change.In an editorial board meeting with La Presse in Montreal, Oliver cited scientists who say that fear of climate change has been exaggerated. His comments were confirmed through a transcription of that part of the meeting, provided to The Canadian Press on Friday by Oliver’s spokesman.“I did not say that there is no problem, and I do not say that others (scientists) have said that there is no problem. Instead, they say there is a big problem. But now they say that the problem is not so urgent that they previously thought. Maybe it will take more time,” Oliver said, according to his spokesman.“But … I do not deny the problem, which is a fundamental problem.”Oliver was not able to cite any scientists at the time, but the minister’s staff pointed to an article by climate-change skeptic Lawrence Solomon as well as quotes in The Economist and other publications from academics questioning whether the pace of global warming was slowing.Oliver’s comments took on a life of their own amongst environmentalists, who bombarded social media with comments questioning the Harper government’s dedication to slowing global warming.The minister is getting briefed by distorted media reports about climate change, said Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada. He called Oliver’s views “appalling” and “shocking.”They are a contrast in tone to that of Kent and Alberta Premier Alison Redford in Washington earlier this week. In separate appearances and meetings, Kent and Redford both stressed that Canada was taking climate change very seriously and that strong measures were in the works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.They need to persuade the American public that Canada is serious about emissions, in the hopes of winning U.S. regulatory approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would carry Alberta bitumen through the United States down to the Gulf coast.Gone was the federal talk about any form of carbon pricing being akin to a carbon tax that would raise the price of everything. Indeed, Kent took pains to stress that while Ottawa likes its regulatory approach to emissions, he was open to provinces setting up their own plans — as long as such arrangements lead to actual reductions in emissions.“There hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing. There are those carbon taxes where the revenues go into general revenue and do not guarantee the reduction of a single ton of greenhouse gases. (But) Alberta has a tech fund wherein their revenues are focused only, and in isolation, on technology to achieve further ghg reductions than the emitters in that province are already able to achieve.”Over the past six months, Conservative MPs have been relentless in their attack on any kind of carbon pricing regime, equating all such efforts to a “tax on everything.”But the pending new regulations on oil and gas emissions are pushing the federal government to recognize that provincial carbon pricing schemes are legitimate ways of fighting climate change, said Alex Wood, a senior director at the Sustainable Prosperity think tank in Ottawa.“There’s a certain theatre being played out in the House of Commons around these kinds of issues, and then there’s the reality across the country. What you’re getting is the (environment) minister saying carbon pricing is actually a reality in large parts of the country, and therefore as a national government we’re not going to say it’s a bad thing,” Wood said.“That’s a welcome development, that the government is creating the space for that kind of policy to be developed at the provincial level.”He did not comment on Oliver’s interview, but tweeted earlier: “Min. Kent throws US consideration of #kxl (Keystone) a bone yesterday (not against carbon pricing). Min.Oliver takes it back today (no #climate change).”Later Friday, Oliver issued a release clarifying his earlier remarks: “As I said yesterday to La Presse, climate change is a severe problem. That is why our government is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, and we are already halfway towards achieving that goal.”As the Harper government heads into the latter half of its mandate, there is growing recognition among Conservatives that their rhetoric on the environment may need to shift.Canada has committed to cutting its emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, but so far only has measures to take the country half way there. Most of those measures are provincial. In order to make up the other half, oil and gas regulations due to be published in coming months need to be quite stringent.Federal officials have been negotiating with industry and Alberta officials for months, and have a general agreement on the framework but are still haggling over numbers. Provinces will have the leeway to design their own emissions regimes as long they meet the targets. And the federal government will not take any of the revenue collected by provinces through carbon pricing regimes. read more

TORONTO — Falling energy stocks led the Toronto stock market lower for a second consecutive day Friday.The S&P/TSX composite index lost 11.97 points to 14,534.06 amid weak jobs data.The Canadian dollar tumbled 0.62 of a cent to cents US as Statistics Canada reported that the economy cut 28,900 jobs in April against expectations of a gain of about 12,000. It was also a huge turnaround from the previous month when the economy cranked out 43,000 jobs, which means just 14,000 jobs were added over the two-month period.The unemployment rate held steady at 6.9%.U.S. indexes registered modest gains as the Dow Jones industrials rose 32.37 points to 16,583.34, the Nasdaq climbed 20.37 points to 4,071.87 and the S&P 500 index added 2.84 points to 1,878.47.The TSX was negative this week after three weeks of advances, down 1.57% after traders digested a heavy slate of earnings news and took some profits from sectors that have run up sharply this year, including gold and energy stocks. But it is still one of the best performing stock indexes, up almost 7% year to date, a gain that many analysts believe the TSX would register for the whole year.“It’s been a good start to the year,” said Chris King, portfolio manager at Morgan, Meighen and Associates.“We’re up 6.5% or so, I mean, that’s your annual return and we’re already there in May.”It was a quiet day for earnings news as shares in The Second Cup Ltd. (TSX:SCU) lost 22 cents or 4.54% to $4.63 as the coffee chain reported a drop in its first-quarter net income to $56,000, or one cent per share, compared with $688,000, or seven cents per share, in the same quarter of 2013.Revenue was up at $7.6 million, compared with $6.2 million year-over-year.On Thursday, after markets closed, energy producer Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) said that quarterly net income totalled $622 million or 57 cents per share compared with $213 million or 19 cents in the prior-year period. Revenue for the three months ended March 31 rose to almost $4.4 billion from $3.76 billion in the prior-year period and its shares gave back 10 cents to $42.90.In other corporate developments, The Financial Times reported that Apple is orchestrating a $3.2-billion acquisition of Beats Electronics, the headphone maker and music streaming distributor founded by hip-hop star Dr. Dre and record producer Jimmy Iovine. Apple could announce a deal as early as next week and its shares were off 0.4% in New York.The TSX energy sector led decliners, down 0.56% as June oil gave up early gains to move 27 cents lower to US$99.99 a barrel.The gold sector gained about 0.2% while June bullion faded a dime to US$1,287.60 an ounce. The base metals group was ahead 0.42% as July copper was up two cents to US$3.08 a pound amid some positive inflation news from China.Consumer prices in the world’s second-largest economy rose 1.8% over a year earlier, down from March’s 2.4% increase, giving the government more leeway if needed to stimulate the slowing economy. read more

TORONTO — The federal agency tasked with curbing money laundering has been stepping up its efforts to educate real estate agents about their obligations to monitor and report suspicious transactions, documents show.The anti-money laundering watchdog put together a work book and a webinar for real estate agents, and last summer gave a presentation to the Canadian Real Estate Association, according to emails obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request.Despite the federal agency’s educational efforts, there appears to be some uncertainty on the real estate association’s part about some of the regulations.Vancouver and Toronto markets help drive home prices up 16.4% from a year agoFace it, there is nothing ‘free market’ about the Vancouver, Toronto housing boomPrivate email exchanges show CREA officials peppering the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre, known as Fintrac, with questions about how the rules should be interpreted.Under federal law, real estate agents are required to identify their clients, verify where their money is coming from and report suspicious or large cash transactions to Fintrac.However, a representative of the CREA, whose name was redacted, notes in an email to Fintrac that compliance in the real estate sector is low.Meanwhile, the Department of Finance has identified the real estate industry as highly vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing given its “very significant” size and the fact that it often involves large sums of money changing hands.Those looking to hide their identities and the source of their funds can do so by conducting transactions through third parties and using complex corporate structures, the department said in an assessment published last year.Fintrac has dedicated “significant time and effort” to working with the CREA, the agency said in an email, including reviewing the association’s online training, providing feedback on the group’s anti-money laundering manual and helping interpret policies.“What we have found more generally in the real estate sector are issues with compliance regimes, policies and procedures, training, as well as record-keeping and reporting,” Fintrac spokeswoman Renee Bercier said in an email.“The level of compliance knowledge and resources varies across the sector and is often a function of an entity’s size, capacity and access to resources.”Randall McCauley, vice-president of government and public relations for CREA, admits that compliance is a challenge within the industry.One of the reasons is because some of the rules are out of sync with how the industry operates, McCauley says.For example, under the regulations, an individual who conducts two transactions within several years is considered higher risk and should be subject to additional monitoring, McCauley says.However, McCauley notes that it’s very common for a family to sell a home and then purchase a new one within a very short time frame.“I think there’s room for Fintrac to work with us to understand the nature of the business,” McCauley says.McCauley says CREA has been investing significantly in trying to bring realtors up to speed with federal rules, including sending two representatives on a cross-country tour to deliver presentations to its members.He says that despite its recent efforts, Fintrac is not doing its part.“If you were doing nothing and you do something then technically, I guess, yes that’s an improvement,” McCauley says.The federal agency has also not been very clear in its answers to CREA’s policy questions, McCauley says.“Any rule, regulation or law is subject to interpretation,” he says. “We’re asking, ‘How would you interpret this regulation?’ … and they won’t give us a clear answer.” read more

TORONTO — Royal Bank’s decision to close 25 branches over the past year, mainly in city centres across Canada, is having a minimal impact on clients who increasingly favour an array of digital banking options, the company said Wednesday.Neil McLaughlin, head of Canadian personal and commercial banking, says the decision to shutter an overabundance of locations in some areas was aimed at redirecting costs of its operations.“The core focus is thinning out (our) dense urban branch footprint where we’re not really impacting the convenience for customers,” he told analysts during the bank’s third-quarter conference call.“You may go from a two-minute drive to your branch to a three-minute drive.”It’s part of a broader plan by the Toronto-based bank that included announcing 450 job cuts in June, mainly at its headquarters, and reinvesting in areas like data analytics and artificial intelligence.RBC (TSX:RY) has rolled out new technologies designed to make it easier for customers to handle daily banking on their smartphones. It recently launched an option to pay bills using Siri, the voice assistant of Apple’s iPhone.Those efforts helped the bank reach a milestone in the quarter where the total number of mobile banking sessions eclipsed online banking visits. Mobile transactions rose 40 per cent over the past year, it said.The bank boosted its quarterly dividend by five per cent to 91 cents per share, but reported net income of $2.8 billion — a decrease of three per cent from last year when its bottom line was boosted by the sale of an insurance business.Total revenue for the three months ended July 31 was $9.99 billion, down 2.6 per cent from a year ago.Excluding one-time items, net income grew five per cent from the third quarter of fiscal 2016.RBC is the first of Canada’s six biggest banks to report third-quarter financial results this year. CIBC (TSX:CM) reports on Thursday with the others reporting next week.Banking analyst John Aiken of Barclays Capital said in a note to clients that the dividend increase was twice as big as expected.“Although we and the Street had been expecting a drop in (RBC’s) earnings after a strong second quarter, (they) managed to exceed expectations on the back of impressive performances in its retail bank and wealth management platforms,” Aiken wrote.The profit amounted to $1.85 per share of net income under generally accepted reporting, or $1.89 per share on an adjusted cash basis.RBC booked $120 million in severance charges during the period, which CEO David McKay said was essential to reshaping the bank.“We found ourselves a need to accelerate our transformation,” he said. “We moved kind of two years of work into two quarters.”RBC’s wealth management division reported a 25 per cent increase in profits to $486 million, driven by stronger results from Los Angeles-based City National Bank, which it acquired nearly two years ago.Better results from the U.S. operations led the bank to hire more than 450 employees stateside, particularly in New York, Washington and Minneapolis.“New York’s a huge market and we’re just getting a small toe-hold in there,” McKay said.Follow @dfriend on Twitter. read more

During the meeting with the TNA today Jaishankar was briefed on moves to create a new constitution, the military presence in the North and the need for a political solution for the Tamils. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to be briefed on the concerns of the Tamils in the North.Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar gave this assurance when he met the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Colombo today. Jaishankar had told the TNA, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be briefed on the concerns of the Tamils. (Colombo Gazette) Jaishankar is in the country for brief talks with the Sri Lankan Government and also to set the groundwork for a visit to Sri Lanka next month by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. read more

Sri Lanka and the Philippines have agreed to strengthen defence cooperation through training, education and sharing experience in the area of defense and maritime security.This follows talks State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Vasantha Senanayake, had with Undersecretary (Deputy Minister) of National Defense of Philippines, Cardozo M. Luna. Associated with the Ministers at the talks were Raymond Jose Quilop, Assistant Secretary for Assessments and International Affairs, Department of National Defense of Philippines, Brig. Gen. Roseller Murillo of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Mrs. Aruni Ranaraja, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Philippines, O.L. Ameerajwad, Director General of East Asia and Pacific, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka and other senior officials of the two countries. (Colombo Gazette) read more

“I met him more often than any other foreigner did in the world because basically he just met Tamils, only once met a Muslim delegation in Sri Lanka, met with a few Sinhalese but nearly always just met with Tamils. If we had spent more time with him, we would probably be able to influence him more. We did try to establish a more personal relationship with him by speaking about issues he really cared about, he was interested in films for sure, in food, he was known to be a good cook himself, he took some interest in nature. But it was hard to build a personal relationship because we had limited time and were not allowed to go up to the warring North by the Sri Lankan Government too often,” he said. Solheim says the intention of the LTTE leaders to surrender was communicated by the Norwegians to Basil Rajapaksa, the advisor to then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.“We were not alone, the Tigers did the same through some key Tamil and also, I think with some Indian interlocutors to send a message to the Sri Lankan leadership. The day after, we were informed that Nadesan and Puleedevan were killed. The exact circumstances of the killing are still not known. I don’t think they were with Prabhakaran at the time but I don’t know this exactly. How Prabhakaran himself was killed, I do not know either. But we have a very very strong suspicion that the 12-year-old son of Prabhakaran was captured by the Sri Lankan army and later executed by them, a completely irresponsible and evil act. And unfortunately for the Sri Lankan armed forces and to put it very, very nicely, there’s a big question mark on these killings, why they did not accept surrender and bring these people into court, rather than killing them,” he said. (Colombo Gazette) Solheim also spoke on the “white flag” incident. “I received a call from Puleedevan, he was one of the nicest members of the Tigers. He was the chief of the LTTE’s political wing. He told us they wanted to surrender to the Sri Lankan army and whether we could assist him. I did not speak to him directly but a Norwegian colleague told him that it was too late for us to intervene because the end of the war was very close. We pointed out that we had offered them opportunities in the past to give up the struggle at a time when it was still possible for us to intervene. But that it was too late now. But what we can ask you, we told him, is to hoist a big white flag, that ‘s why it’s called the White Flag incident, and through loudspeakers and whatever means you have, make your intentions known to the Sri Lankan armed forces. We, on our part, will inform Sri Lankan leaders of your intention to surrender.” Former Norwegian peace mediator Erik Solheim says he cannot understand how LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran got an enormous standing among Tamils and how he could be seen as their god, creator, and saviour at the time.Solheim told WION he regrets that the he could not spend more time with Prabhakaran to influence him. read more