Today’s Business News Briefs

News briefs from Friday July 30:

Canadian economy contracted in May

Real gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 0.3% in May, following a 0.5% decline in April, and total economic activity was approximately 2% below February 2020’s pre-pandemic level, according to Statistics Canada. Overall, 12 of 20 industrial sectors were down as both services-producing (-0.2%) and goods-producing industries (-0.4%) contracted. Preliminary information indicates an approximate 0.7% increase in real GDP for June. Growth in retail trade and accommodation and food services were influenced by the easing of public health measures in many provinces in June. There were also gains in manufacturing and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, while construction and wholesale trade contracted. This advance estimate points to an approximate 0.6% increase in real GDP in the second quarter of 2021.

Pandemic hits airport retail hard in Canada

The past year or so has been devastating for the retail sector across Canada as the industry has coped with the uncertainty of the lingering COVID-19 crisis and the resulting plunge in sales. And a key area which was particularly hard hit was the sector’s presence in airports throughout the country. The plunge in travel due to restrictions and public health concerns was dramatically felt by retailers, food and beverage operators and of course duty free shops. But recently there has been a seed of hope planted for the future as restrictions have eased, travel is increasing and news of the Canadian border opening up has fueled some optimism about the future.

Imperial net income reaches $366 million in Q2

Imperial reported estimated net income in the second quarter of $366 million and cash flow from operating activities of $852 million, down from net income of $392 million and cash flow from operating activities of $1,045 million in the first quarter of 2021. Second quarter results reflect continued strong reliability and improved crude prices, while being impacted by the execution of significant planned turnaround activity, weaker realized margins in the Downstream and foreign exchange rates. “The decisive actions Imperial took throughout the pandemic to accelerate structural business improvements have enabled the company to recover strongly and generate over $1.8 billion in cash flow from operating activities year-to-date, while also completing significant turnaround activity in the second quarter,” said Brad Corson, chairman, president and chief executive officer. “Imperial has significant momentum entering the second half of the year and is well positioned to continue delivering on its commitments.” Upstream production for the second quarter averaged 401,000 gross oil-equivalent barrels per day, the highest second quarter production in over 25 years. Kearl quarterly total gross production averaged 255,000 barrels per day, achieving its second highest ever quarterly production while also executing a major planned turnaround. Subsequent to the successful completion of this turnaround, Kearl established a new single-month production record of 311,000 total gross barrels per day in June, surpassing its prior single-month record by 10,000 total gross barrels per day. At Cold Lake, the continued focus on production optimization and reliability improvements supported another strong quarter of production, averaging 142,000 gross barrels per day.

Enbridge adjusted earnings hit $1.4 billion in Q2

Enbridge reports its second quarter financial results: Second quarter GAAP earnings of $1.4 billion or $0.69 per common share, compared with GAAP earnings of $1.6 billion or $0.82 per common share in 2020; 
Adjusted earnings of $1.4 billion or $0.67 per common share, compared with $1.1 billion or $0.56 per common share in 2020;
Adjusted earnings before interest, income taxes and depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $3.3 billion, compared with $3.3 billion in 2020; Cash Provided by Operating Activities of $2.2 billion, compared with $2.4 billion in 2020; and Distributable Cash Flow (DCF) of $2.5 billion or $1.24 per common share, compared with $2.4 billion or $1.21 per common share in 2020.

News briefs from Thursday July 29:

Pro wrestler Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart discusses his retail foray and personal branding

The importance of branding is becoming increasingly more evident in the world of retail as many businesses strive to build a cult following. Some have excelled in building their brands over the years and many can learn from legendary Canadian wrestler Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart on how to create an image and maintain it for years. Hart, who today is a retailer himself as he sells merchandise on his lasting image through his website, has developed a worldwide following of millions of people with his moniker, his trademark attire that includes the shades and the bright pink tights, and his famous calling card – “The Best There Is; The Best There Was; The Best There Ever Will Be.” “Everything’s tied into my wrestling persona – my wrestling character from  years ago,” said Hart. “I was lucky in the sense that I got to be a hero on Saturday afternoons when people turned on their wrestling shows. It’s an incredible thing. There’s so many diverse wrestling fans. You can be a professor at a university, a skateboard kid. There’s real ranges of people that love wrestling, that grew up with it, that love it, that never grew out of it, that are still fans today.”

Payroll employment falls in May across Canada

Payroll employment fell by 257,500 (-1.6%) in May, with much of the decline concentrated in service industries in Ontario. Average weekly earnings increased, as job losses were concentrated in lower-paying industries, according to Statistics Canada. In May, third-wave COVID-19 public health measures continued or were further tightened in several parts of the country. In Ontario, the stay-at-home order implemented on April 8 continued, affecting many non-essential businesses. Remote schooling, which began following the April spring break, also continued across the province. Both Alberta and Manitoba introduced new measures in early May, including the closure of personal care services, recreational facilities and in-person dining, as well as limits on retail store capacity and a transition to remote schooling for all or large parts of each province. In Nova Scotia, where a province-wide shutdown had begun on April 28, provincial border restrictions were tightened on May 10. By contrast, New Brunswick and Quebec eased restrictions in some regions through late April and early May.

Tourism activity in Canada remains well below May 2019 level

In May, overall tourism activity in Canada was 68.9% below the level reached in May 2019, before the pandemic. This was down even more than April (-66.3%) with the continuation of border closures into May and a full month of tighter restrictions in some provinces to combat a third wave of COVID-19, says Statistics Canada. In several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, business closings along with restrictions on the size of gatherings were in effect during the entire month to combat a third wave of the virus. The Canada-US border remained closed for non-essential travel throughout May and, together with additional requirements for international air travellers – testing upon arrival with a hotel stopover – served to further dissuade international travel. In December 2020, overall tourism activity was down by 61.6%, compared with the same month in 2019. In 2021, tourism activity began to drop further as provincial restrictions and closures were enacted to combat regional outbreaks and new variants. A temporary reopening in many provinces during March provided a reprieve of sorts before additional lockdowns took place in April and into May. By May of 2021, overall tourism activity in Canada was 68.9% below the pre-pandemic level reached in May of 2019. Domestic activity (i.e., from the contribution of Canadians) was down 55.8% while inbound activity (i.e., from the contribution of international visitors) was down 93.8%.

ATCO reports higher Q2 adjusted earnings compared to last year

ATCO today announced second quarter 2021 adjusted earnings of $80 million ($0.70 per share), which were $10 million ($0.09 per share) higher compared to $70 million ($0.61 per share) in the second quarter of 2020. Higher adjusted earnings in the second quarter of 2021 were mainly due to contributions from Canadian Utilities’ International Electricity Operations segment related to ongoing transition work and commencement on June 1, 2021 under the Supplemental Agreement to LUMA Energy’s 15-year contract to modernize and operate Puerto Rico’s electricity transmission and distribution system. Higher earnings were also due to a return to more stable levels of inflation in Australia, which positively impacted earnings in Canadian Utilities’ International Natural Gas Distribution segment.

Suncor funds from operations reach $2.4 billion in Q2

Suncor generated $2.4 billion in funds from operations in the quarter while also completing significant turnaround activities in the upstream and downstream businesses,” said Mark Little, president and chief executive officer. “The improved cash generation enabled us to increase shareholder returns to approximately $1.0 billion, representing approximately 40% of our funds from operations and we’re targeting further debt reduction in the latter half of the year in line with our previously announced capital allocation strategy.” Funds from operations increased to $2.362 billion ($1.57 per common share) in the second quarter of 2021, compared to $488 million ($0.32 per common share) in the prior year quarter. Cash flow provided by operating activities, which includes changes in non-cash working capital, was $2.086 billion ($1.39 per common share) in the second quarter of 2021, compared to cash flow used in operating activities of $768 million ($0.50 per common share) in the prior year quarter. The company recorded operating earnings of $722 million ($0.48 per common share) in the second quarter of 2021 compared to an operating loss of $1.345 billion ($0.88 per common share) in the prior year quarter. The company had net earnings of $868 million ($0.58 per common share) in the second quarter of 2021, compared to a net loss of $614 million ($0.40 per common share) in the prior year quarter. Suncor’s total upstream production increased to 699,700 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) in the second quarter of 2021, compared to 655,500 boe/d in the prior year quarter, due to strong Oil Sands operations production including record In Situ volumes, partially offset by the impact of planned turnaround maintenance at Syncrude.

Nearly half of all Canadian private sector industries experienced a major drop in investment from 2015-19

Seven of 15 Canadian industries experienced an overall decline in investment from 2015 to 2019, according to a new analysis by the Fraser Institute, an independent non-partisan Canadian think tank. “In a troubling trend, a wide range of industries in Canada have experienced a decline in investment, which is bad news for the economy,” said Steven Globerman, senior fellow at the Fraser Institute and co-author of Industry-Level Private Sector Capital Expenditures in Canada: 1990-2019. From 2015 to 2019, despite the absence of a major recession (as Canada experienced in the early 1990s and 2008-09), more domestic industries experienced decreases in capital investment than at any time since 1990. While the oil and gas industry experienced the largest (-48 per cent) and most high-profile decline in investment, other industries including agriculture, forestry, and fishing (-19 per cent), utilities (-19 per cent) and retail trade (-11 per cent) also experienced meaningful declines.

Cenovus generates $1.8 billion in adjusted funds flow in Q2 2021

Cenovus Energy Inc. continues to demonstrate the strengths of the company’s integrated portfolio in its second quarter results, generating cash from operating activities of $1.4 billion, adjusted funds flow of $1.8 billion and free funds flow of $1.3 billion, supporting a reduction in net debt of nearly $1 billion since March 31, 2021. Total production of nearly 770,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/d) despite planned turnarounds at several assets, and strong realized commodity prices in the upstream business along with continued recovery of demand for U.S. downstream products drove Cenovus’s strong financial performance, which the company expects will continue through the rest of the year. “Our results underscore the earnings power of the combined company as we further integrate and deliver on our expanded asset base,” said Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus President & Chief Executive Officer. “We posted a strong second quarter and expect to accelerate deleveraging in the second half of this year.”

TC Energy Corporation today announced net income attributable to common shares for second quarter 2021 of $982 million or $1.00 per share compared to net income of $1.3 billion or $1.36 per share for the same period in 2020. Comparable earnings for second quarter 2021 were $1.0 billion or $1.07 per common share compared to $863 million or $0.92 per common share in 2020. TC Energy’s Board of Directors also declared a quarterly dividend of $0.87 per common share for the quarter ending September 30, 2021, equivalent to $3.48 per common share on an annualized basis. “During the first half of 2021, our diversified portfolio of critical energy infrastructure assets continued to safely and reliably meet North America’s growing demand for energy,” said François Poirier, TC Energy’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Comparable earnings of $2.23 per common share and comparable funds generated from operations of $3.8 billion in the first six months of the year reflect the utility-like nature of our business along with the consistently strong performance of our legacy assets and contributions from projects that entered service in 2020.”

Price of beer down, price of internet access up

From a broad perspective, you want some price inflation because it’s a sign of a dynamic and growing economy. From our perspective as consumers, however, we’d prefer prices to stay the same or—even better—go down. With this in mind, today’s Owl publication from ATB Economics compares the prices of specific goods and services in Alberta in June 2021 to the same month two years ago before the distortions brought on by the pandemic. The price of the total basket of goods and services Statistics Canada uses to measure inflation increased in Alberta by 4.3% between June 2019 and June 2021.

News briefs from Wednesday July 28:

Annual inflation rate in Canada 3.1% in June

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 3.1% on a year-over-year basis in June, down from a 3.6% gain in May, says Statistics Canada. As a result of price increases in June 2020, base-year effects had a downward impact on consumer inflation, contributing to the slowdown in June 2021. Excluding gasoline, the CPI rose 2.2% year over year. The monthly CPI rose 0.3% in June 2021, down from a 0.5% increase in May. On a seasonally adjusted monthly basis, the CPI rose 0.1% in June. While shelter (+4.4%) and transportation (+5.6%) prices contributed the most to the all-items increase, prices rose at a slower pace in four of the eight major components on a year-over-year basis in June. The headline CPI grew at a slower pace compared with May due in part to a slowdown in price growth for goods. Growth slowed the most in the clothing and footwear component, mostly due to lower prices for women’s clothing.

Calgary experiences biggest hike in residential construction costs

Nationally, residential construction building prices increased 18.8% year over year in the second quarter—the largest increase since the data series began in 2017—led by higher construction costs for single-detached houses (+23.9%). Construction costs for residential buildings rose at the fastest pace in Calgary (+31.4%), Ottawa (+28.4%), as well as in Toronto and Edmonton (both up 22.4%) in the second quarter, according to Statistics Canada. Non-residential construction building prices rose 5.7% year over year—the largest increase since the fourth quarter of 2008, led by Ottawa (+10.1%), Montréal (+8.4%) and Toronto (+7.7%).

More than one in 10 homeowners in Canada’s three largest urban centres owns multiple properties

According to a recent Royal LePage survey of 1,500 homeowners in Canada’s three largest urban centres – Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Greater Montreal Area (GMA) and Greater Vancouver (GV) – more than ten per cent of Canadians polled currently own more than one property (13% in GTA, 12% in GMA, 14% in GV).  “While some secondary properties are used for recreational purposes, many of these homes are foundational to Canada’s critical supply of rental housing,” said Phil Soper, president and CEO, Royal LePage. “Entrepreneurial landlords supply housing to the thirty per cent of Canadians who rent, be they new immigrants, students, young people entering the labour force, or those who cannot or choose not to own their home.” Twenty-one per cent of secondary property owners in the Greater Montreal Area say they used equity from their primary residence to complete the purchase. That number doubles (42%) in the greater regions of Toronto and Vancouver, where home prices are significantly higher. When asked about the purpose of their secondary properties, more than two thirds of respondents in Greater Vancouver (65%) and the Greater Toronto Area (64%) said they were collecting rental income, if only some of the time. In the Greater Montreal Area, that number decreased to 35 per cent.

Loblaw sees hike in revenue in Q2

Loblaw Companies Limited  announced today its unaudited financial results for the second quarter ended June 19, 2021.  “In the second quarter, Loblaw delivered strong financial performance while lapping the heightened sales and significant COVID-related costs experienced at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Galen G. Weston, President and Chairman, Loblaw Companies Limited. “We maintained our focus on delivering value and quality to Canadians while providing a safe shopping experience, and are well-positioned to meet the evolving needs of customers as the pandemic restrictions begin to lift.” Revenue was $12,491 million. This represented an increase of $534 million, or 4.5% when compared to the second quarter of 2020. Retail segment sales were $12,282 million. This represented an increase of $514 million, or 4.4% when compared to the second quarter of 2020.

Will supply-chain disruptions remain an obstacle to growth?

An RBC Economics report says pandemic-era supply-chain disruptions have kept the good-producing sector from fully meeting rising demand, pushing up prices for firms and households. As the economy reopens, consumer spending is already rotating from goods to services; this will help ease supply-chain pressures over time. Post-pandemic, labour shortages and climate risks will remain challenges to the global supply chain.

Crescent Point Energy reports. net income of $2.1 billion in Q2

Crescent Point Energy Corp.  announces its operating and financial results for the quarter ended June 30, 2021. Adjusted funds flow totaled $387.8 million during second quarter 2021, or $0.66 per share diluted, driven by a strong operating netback of $39.87 per boe. Capital expenditures, which included drilling and development, facilities and seismic costs, totaled $88.4 million. Crescent Point’s net debt as at June 30, 2021 totaled approximately $2.3 billion, including approximately $670 million in cash consideration paid for the acquisition of Kaybob Duvernay assets, which closed on April 1, 2021. Subsequent to the closing of the acquisition, the Company successfully reduced its net debt during the quarter by approximately $360 million, or over half of the cash portion of the purchase price of the Kaybob Duvernay assets. It reported net income of $2.1 billion for the three month period ending June 30, 2021, primarily resulting from a $2.5 billion ($1.9 billion after-tax) reversal of non-cash impairment due to an increase in forward commodity prices and the independent engineers’ price forecast. Crescent Point’s second quarter net income also included a gain on sale of over $70 million related to the previously announced disposition. Adjusted net earnings from operations during second quarter was $117.6 million, or $0.20 per share diluted. “Our second quarter results demonstrate our continued focus on maximizing excess cash flow generation through our strong capital discipline and successful operational execution”, said Craig Bryksa, President and CEO of Crescent Point. “We also closed two strategic transactions during the quarter, further enhancing our asset portfolio and long-term sustainability. The seamless integration of the Kaybob Duvernay assets and the constructive commodity price environment have set us up for a strong second half of the year and into 2022. We expect to generate significant excess cash flow in the current commodity price environment, allowing for further net debt reduction and return of capital to shareholders.”

Global auto sales continue to be economic bellwether at mid-year

Over the course of the pandemic, global auto sales have exemplified—if not amplified—all things unusual about this downturn. The speed of the descent in auto purchases at the onset of the crisis was eclipsed only by airline travel in most countries, while stimulus-fueled rebounds have been equally striking, says a report by Scotiabank Economics. The first economic data out, global auto sales have foretold the consumption-driven rebound that has unfolded in many advanced economies, particularly for durable goods. And even if consumers are driving less, pandemic-factors have spurred demand for vehicle ownership with higher reticence around public transit. By mid-year 2021, global auto sales sat near pre-pandemic levels, driven largely by the US and China where second-quarter annualized sales performed above end-2019 sales levels.

Canadian consumers demand a balanced experience of physical and digital retail offerings

In the last 16 months, we’ve witnessed forward-thinking retailers reinvent their business models and unearth new opportunities in response to the rapidly changing behaviours of Canadian consumers. In November 2020, Canadian findings from PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey (Pulse 1) showed that consumers are continuing to shop online in greater numbers than ever before. They cite price, convenience, and health and safety concerns as the predominant reasons. Of those surveyed in the first Pulse, 52 per cent agree they’re making less frequent but bigger basket shops, putting a pause on the previously popular micro trips. When we shift to Pulse 2 (March 2021), half of the respondents (50 per cent) continue to make less frequent but bigger basket shops, and 42 per cent are shopping more with discount retailers. The data also highlights shopping preferences, 69 per cent of respondents prefer in-store shopping experiences and 56 per cent shop online through a personal computer (PC) at least monthly. Given the varying preferences, combined with the constant changes in social protocols, retailers can benefit from creating a seamless omnichannel customer experience. Retailers will need to consider how they’re building out their e-commerce strategy and platform, while also providing  shoppers with a safe, unified experience across touchpoints. “We’re seeing a lot of reinvestments by organizations in order to further support their e-commerce and digital capabilities. As Canada starts to open-up again and the economy begins to rebound, we’re going to see a subsequent increase in physical foot traffic,” said Myles Gooding, National Consumer Markets Leader & Global Consumer Markets Advisory Leader at PwC Canada. “To meet the demands of this new consumer persona, retailers who want to compete in a post-pandemic world will need to deliver a balance of digital and physical offerings, including tailored communications and ensuring product fulfillment that meets their expectations. The most significant learning from PwC’s Consumer Insights report is that Canadians want great in-store experiences again, and when it is the right time from a health and safety perspective, they will be actively seeking them.”

Canada supports rapid housing projects in Calgary

Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, today announced $16.6 million to create an estimated 60 new affordable homes for individuals and families in Calgary through the Cities Stream under expanded Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI). These housing units will support Canadians who are in uncertain housing situations, experiencing or at risk of homelessness, or living in temporary shelters because of the pandemic. This is in addition to the Government of Canada’s previous investment of $24.6 million through the first phase of the Rapid Housing Initiative to support the creation of 176 housing units in Calgary. In its initial round, with funding of $1 billion announced in October 2020, the RHI exceeded its original target of 3,000 permanent affordable housing units and achieved 4,700 units nationally. Due to this success, an additional $1.5 billion for the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) was recently announced to create 4,500 new units of permanent affordable housing across the country. Thanks to this expansion, this initiative will now create over 9,200 affordable homes for the most vulnerable Canadians across the country.

News briefs from Tuesday July 27:

Mainstreet Equity sees steady increase in rental revenues

Mainstreet continued to see improvement across all key metrics in Q3 2021, achieving its second consecutive quarter of double-digit growth in funds from operations and a steady increase in rental revenues. It also continued to pursue its countercyclical growth strategy in the quarter, acquiring 918 units for a total consideration of $122 million (year-to-date acquisitions totaled $176 million, or 1,373 units). The management team continued to leverage low interest rates in Q3, raising $48 million through the refinancing of 10-year, CMHC-insured mortgages at 2.52% to fund future growth. Bob Dhillon, Founder, President & CEO of Mainstreet, said, “These third quarter results prove the time-tested viability of Mainstreet’s countercyclical growth strategy, which has continually allowed us to take advantage of market downturns to provide value to shareholders.” He added, “While the global pandemic created especially difficult operating circumstances for Mainstreet over the past 18 months, we see immense opportunity for continued growth in coming quarters.”

Pacaso luxury second-home firm expands to Canada

Pacaso, a company that helps people buy and co-own luxury second homes and the fastest U.S. company to receive unicorn ($1 billion) valuation, has expanded into Canada and hired Canadian entrepreneur Razor Suleman to be president of Pacaso International. Suleman will oversee the company’s international expansion into Canada, Europe and Mexico. It currently operates in 20 second-home destinations across the United States. The concept is aimed at helping people buy and co-own high-end vacation homes that may have become inaccessible to most Canadians due to increasing prices.

Active businesses in Alberta remain down from pre-pandemic level

Despite rising COVID-19 cases and the reintroduction of public health restrictions, the seasonally adjusted number of active businesses in Alberta increased by 55 (0.05%) to reach 116,552 in April (the most recent month for which data are available), according to ATB Economics. It wasn’t a lot, but at least the arrow was pointing in the right direction. The number of active businesses in the province was still down by 1,542 (1.3%) compared to February before the pandemic was declared.

Grocers Aldi and Lidl will struggle if entering Canada

Any potential expansion into Canada of giant international grocery chains would be met with many challenges. “To make things happen for distribution really is not easy. It’s a very, very large country with no population density to support growth and to increase any market share in Canada is pretty difficult,” said Sylvain Charlebois, Professor, Director, Agri-Food Analytics Lab and Former Dean of the Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University. Two possible entrants into the Canadian market are Aldi and Lidl, both based in Germany. There has been speculation over recent years that they would expand here. “I know both of them very well. I actually used to buy from both when I was in Europe, in Austria. They’re both very good retailers. They’re very efficient in their ways. They mix things up. Prices are very affordable. They’re very good distributors,” said Charlebois. “But they’re still not overly comfortable with the North American market. Both of them are very, very capable grocers in Europe for sure.” Charlebois said that most grocers that come into Canada would acquire an existing player in the market.

Canadian vehicle registration on the rise

Canadians registered 11.8% more new motor vehicles in the first quarter of 2021 than in the same quarter a year earlier, when dealerships closed in mid-March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the 375,826 new motor vehicles registered in the first quarter were down 6.5% from the number registered in the same quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Canada. Over half (54.2%) of all new motor vehicles registered in the first quarter of 2021 were multipurpose vehicles, up by one-quarter (+24.8%) from the same quarter a year earlier. Registrations also increased for new pickup trucks (+10.4%) and vans (+1.4%), but declined for new passenger cars (-13.3%). Although more new gasoline-powered vehicles were registered in the first quarter of 2021 (326,146) than in the same quarter a year earlier (303,035), the share of gasoline-powered vehicles among total new vehicle registrations fell from 90.1% to 86.8%. Nearly twice as many new hybrid electric vehicles were registered in the first quarter of 2021 (14,278) than in the same quarter of 2020 (7,680). New registrations of new diesel-powered vehicles increased from 13,567 to 18,112.

News briefs from Monday July 26:

New Owner of ‘Frank And Oak’ to expand brand with stores in Canada and globally after restructuring

Months after acquiring the retail brand Frank And Oak, the new owner, Unified Commerce Group, has big plans for the retailer which went through the bankruptcy protection process last year. The retailer was acquired by the new owner in October 2020. Dustin Jones, President of UCG Canada Holdings and founder and CEO of Unified Commerce Group, said UCG will provide Frank And Oak with the necessary resources to continue to nurture the brand’s strong following within Canada as well as fuel its expansion into the United States and its growth into new markets, including Asia. “There’s so many things we loved about the brand but ultimately it’s about nine and a half years old as a brand and we found it to be one of the most well-recognized Canadian brands that had the strongest potential for global scale,” said Jones. “The brand itself, its purpose is material science and solving the pollution and the areas of the fashion industry that a lot of people don’t like to talk about. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in terms of effect towards the climate crisis that we’re facing. Frank And Oak has always been based in this terrific material science that really looks at how we can take the things that we consume today and how we can be kinder to our product and our people and our planet as a function of those things.”

Youth unemployment rate rises during the pandemic

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment rates for young Canadians increased by about 6 percentage points from 2019 to 2020, roughly twice the increase observed among older Canadians, according to Statistics Canada. By 2020, the unemployment rates of young men and young women aged 15 to 30 and not in school full-time stood at 15.5% and 13.7% respectively. These relatively high unemployment rates suggest that young high school and postsecondary graduates who entered the labour market in 2020 or who will do so in 2021 might see lower earnings in the years following graduation than they would have in a more dynamic labour market.

Canadian corporations see shift in debt financing

The outstanding credit debt of private non-financial corporations doubled from the height of the financial crisis in 2008 to early 2020. At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, businesses added a record $52.1 billion in credit debt to their balance sheets, says Statistics Canada. However, according to a new study, as other sources of financing became available and businesses adapted to the pandemic, outstanding loan balances with banks declined for eight consecutive months. The spike in non-mortgage borrowing from chartered banks of $50.1 billion in March 2020 shattered the previous record of $15.0 billion set the previous year. At the same time, currency and deposit assets rose $49.1 billion to $600.9 billion at the end of the first quarter, indicating that much of this cash may not have been spent immediately, and instead accumulated as a buffer in response to the emerging crisis. However, as other sources of financing became available, outstanding non-mortgage loan balances with banks began eight consecutive months of decline, including record paybacks in May ($15.5 billion) and June ($20.2 billion). Government programs and other borrowing facilities filled the need for financing in the months following the initial stay-at-home orders, and in many cases, did so with attractive terms, including zero-interest rates and future loan forgiveness. On a cumulative basis, from the start of the pandemic up to December 2020, business’s non-mortgage loan liabilities with banks decreased $14.3 billion overall, despite the strong March borrowing, while total debt financing rose $89.3 billion over the same period. This was the result of increasing non-mortgage loan balances with government and the net issuance of debt securities.

Small percentage of business closures in third wave

In late March and early April 2021, a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases—considered to be the third wave of the pandemic—was noted in several provinces. As public health restrictions were tightened in many jurisdictions, the number of business closures increased by 1.9% in April, according to Statistics Canada. This was the smallest percentage increase in monthly closures since January 2020 despite the lockdown in many provinces, suggesting that recent restrictions had little impact on closures. The number of business openings fell 8.2% in April after two consecutive months of positive growth. However, the April level is comparable to pre-pandemic levels (41,600 on average). The number of active businesses grew 0.9% in April, as openings remained above closures. Despite the decline in business openings, the number of entrants grew 3.7% in April, the fourth consecutive month with positive growth. Since December 2020, the share of entrants in all openings has been increasing to total at 41.5% in April. Re-openings accounted for the remaining 58.5% of openings. In April 2021, the number of business closures increased in all provinces and territories following the widespread decline in March. Quebec (+0.8%;+57) showed the lowest growth in closures, followed by Alberta (+0.9%; +51), while Nova Scotia (+12.8%; +97) and Prince Edward Island (+8.9%; +18) posted the highest percentage change across provinces. In terms of business openings, in April 2021, Quebec was the only province or territory to post more openings than the previous month (+2.6%; +219). The Atlantic provinces, Ontario and Saskatchewan showed their first decline in openings since January.

New downtown community association gives voice to 8,500 residents and counting

The creation of a new downtown community association, the first from the city’s core in a decade, is a sign of the growth of a healthy city as it emerges from the pandemic, says the executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities. “A lot of people have said the community association model is dead,” said Leslie Evans. “And while there have been funding cuts on buildings, enriching our lives is not dead. As we focus on local and come out of the pandemic, the model is more relevant than ever.” The Downtown Core Community Association, representing 8,500 current residents in an area whose population is expected to double under Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan, will be the newest of the 150-plus members of the 60-year-old federation. The Downtown Commercial Core is bounded by four other neighbourhoods already represented by community associations in Eau Claire, East Village, Downtown West End and the Beltline.

News briefs from Friday July 23:

Air Canada operating loss hits $1.1 billion in Q2

Air Canada today reported financial results for the second quarter 2021; Operating revenues of $837 million, an increase of $310 million or 59 per cent from the second quarter of 2020; Negative EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), excluding special items, of $656 million compared to negative EBITDA (excluding special items) of $832 million in the same quarter of 2020; Operating loss of $1.133 billion compared to an operating loss of $1.555 billion in the second quarter of 2020; Net cash burn of $745 million, or about $8 million per day, on average; and Unrestricted liquidity of nearly $9.8 billion at June 30, 2021. “The COVID-19 pandemic continued to weigh on Air Canada and the Canadian airline industry in the second quarter, with its impact on travel reflected in our results. Our employees, as they always have, focused on taking care of our customers while carrying them safely to their destinations, and continued to ensure the prudent management of our company. I thank them for their ongoing care, creativity and hard work in this very challenging and complex environment,” said Michael Rousseau, President and Chief Executive Officer of Air Canada.

Canadian retail sales decline in May

Retail sales declined 2.1% to $53.8 billion in May, according to Statistics Canada. The largest declines occurred at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (-11.3%) and motor vehicle and parts dealers (-2.4%). During the month of May, many retailers continued to face closures due to the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales decreased in 8 of 11 subsectors, representing 65.6% of retail trade. Core retail sales—which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers—decreased 2.4%. In volume terms, retail sales decreased 2.7% in May.

Third wave of COVID continues to impact restaurants and bars

On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales in the food services and drinking places subsector fell slightly (-0.6%) to $4.4 billion in May 2021 compared with the previous month, as the industry continued to deal with the effects of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Statistics Canada. The increase in sales at limited-service restaurants (+0.6%), special food services (+1.5%) and drinking places (+1.6%) were not enough to offset the decline at full-service restaurants (-3.2%). Eight provinces reported lower sales, with the largest decrease in dollar terms in Alberta (-5.5%), as that province closed both indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants on May 10. Nova Scotia had the highest decline in percentage terms (-22.3%), as the province stopped allowing dining in restaurants on April 28. British Columbia had the largest increase (+7.7%), as restaurants were able to open indoor dining with restrictions by the end of the month.

Couche-Tard likely to become a grocery retailer in Canada and it would disrupt Loblaw and other big players

Canadian convenience store giant Couche-Tard was not successful earlier this year in acquiring international food retailer Carrefour SA but one expert believes it will eventually enter in some way into the growing food retail market. Sylvain Charlebois, Professor, Director, Agri-Food Analytics Lab and Former Dean of the Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University, said it was no coincidence that Couche-Tard was trying to buy Carrefour earlier in the year. “In fact, Carrefour is the seventh largest grocer in the world. It’s actually larger than Loblaw. I think it took a lot of people by surprise to see Couche-Tard’s appetite to become a grocer essentially. I certainly wasn’t surprised because you have to look at the writing on the wall for Couche-Tard. They’ve been masterful in converting gas dollars into food dollars by getting people into their stores and buying some premium products,” said Charlebois. “But if people don’t gas anymore, in a decade or two how do you actually generate more growth? And they are very good at food retailing. A lot of food products that you find at a Couche-Tard or a Couche-Tard owned and operated store some of these products are of high quality. So it’s not just necessarily a convenience store chain. I have to say that Couche-Tard is a very good food distributor as well. As much as anybody else in the game in Canada.”

News briefs from Thursday July 22:

Skyline adds 499K-sq.-ft. warehouse to its Calgary portfolio

Skyline Commercial REIT continues to expand its industrial real estate portfolio in Calgary and has its eye on further acquisitions in the market. The Guelph-based REIT has purchased a 498,618-square-foot distribution centre on 23.948 acres, with Canadian Tire as the sole tenant. The purchase price was $67 million for the property located at 6600 72nd Ave. S.E. “We know the area. We’ve been looking a lot in this area. This particular facility was a pretty easy decision, though. It’s state of the art. It’s brand new,” said Michael Mackenzie, the president of Skyline Commercial REIT, adding it had purchased another nearby industrial property a few years ago.

‘Quesada Burritos & Tacos’ sees spectacular growth in Canada with ongoing aggressive expansion

The Quesada Burritos & Tacos brand has seen spectacular growth in Canada in recent years with many more new restaurant openings planned for 2021 as the company continues on its aggressive expansion plans in the market. It recently surpassed 150 locations in Canada and is on target to be at about 170 by the end of the year. And the brand is expected to continue to grow through a national partnership with a ghost kitchen. Steve Gill, Founder & CEO, Quesada Burritos & Tacos, said there has been a pent up demand for opening new locations as early this year it went three months without opening a new location. “In January to March, I think that was the first time in several years that we didn’t open a restaurant in three months. There’s some pent up demand and some backlog just in the building and the construction. So now we have a lot going on. It’s pretty wild,” he said.

Despite continued pandemic hardships, close to 70 per cent of business owners in Canada feel optimistic about the long-term

Coming out of the 18 month-long pandemic, a new CIBC study suggests business owners in Canada feel brighter days may be ahead: 69 per cent (+10 percentage pointsfrom November and +19 percentage pointsfrom last April) say they feel optimistic about the long-term future of their business. Findings also show there is a downward trend in how business owners feel they have been negatively impacted by COVID-19: 58 per cent, down from 68 per cent reported in November 2020 and 81 per cent in April 2020. “Canadian business owners continue to show extraordinary resilience during these difficult times,” said David Leuty, Senior Vice-President, Business Banking, CIBC. “As the economy moves toward opening up, I encourage owners to seek advice about any additional relief they may need, including help with cash-flow management or additional future-proofing to meet their long-term ambitions.”

Small business petition campaign urges federal government to halt phase out of wage and rent subsidies

The window is starting to close on the federal government’s crucial small business support programs, despite only 35 per cent of businesses being back to normal sales, warns the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). In addition to closing the critical Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan program last month, the government has already started the phasing out of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). CFIB has launched a petition to halt these reductions. “Small business owners are keen to replace subsidies with sales, but with only a third of business owners back to normal levels of sales, it is just way too soon to phase out the wage and rent subsidies. The government has already started to aggressively cut these important supports just as many are in the process of reopening their doors or facing ongoing capacity restrictions,” said CFIB President Dan Kelly.

Cenovus to buy renewable power from Cold Lake First Nations, Elemental Energy partnership

Cenovus Energy Inc. has entered into a power purchase agreement (PPA) to buy solar-power produced electricity and the associated emissions offsets from a partnership between Cold Lake First Nations (CLFN) and Elemental Energy Inc., helping Cenovus advance two of its environmental, social & governance (ESG) focus areas by addressing climate & greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as further supporting Indigenous reconciliation through economic engagement. The southern Alberta project will add 150 megawatts of renewable energy to the province’s electricity grid once completed and is expected to begin producing electricity in 2023. Cenovus has signed a 15-year PPA for the full output of the facility, providing the offtake contract necessary for the construction of the project and ultimately helping Cenovus mitigate its scope 2 emissions. Scope 2 emissions are those represented by purchased or acquired electricity, steam, heat and/or cooling. In Cenovus’s case, these emissions primarily result from purchased electricity. “Through this agreement we’re reinforcing our commitment to using multiple levers and innovative approaches to help us in our long-term ambition of achieving net zero emissions by 2050,” said Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus President & Chief Executive Officer. “This is also an excellent opportunity to further build on our long-standing relationship with Cold Lake First Nations in its partnership with Elemental.”

Precision Drilling Corporation announces 2021 Second Quarter unaudited financial results

Precision Drilling announces 2021 second quarter financial results: Revenue of $201 million was an increase of 6% compared with the second quarter of 2020; Net loss of $76 million or $5.71 per share compared with a net loss of $49 million or $3.56 per share in the second quarter of 2020; Earnings before income taxes, loss (gain) on repurchase of unsecured senior notes, finance charges, foreign exchange, gain on asset disposals and depreciation and amortization of $29 million was 50% lower than the second quarter of 2020. Excluding the impact of $26 million of share-based compensation charges, our second quarter Adjusted EBITDA was $55 million; and Generated cash and funds provided by operations of $42 million and $13 million, respectively.

25 per cent of Canadian workforce could be working from home after COVID, but labour laws are outdated for remote work and telecommuting

As more and more Canadians embrace working from home—a trend that is forecasted to continue even after COVID—labour laws and regulations across Canada no longer fit the needs of modern work models such as telecommuting, according to a new analysis by the Fraser Institute, an independent non-partisan Canadian think tank. “Just as technological change has made many production procedures and skills obsolete, it is not surprising that many of the labour policies are, too,” said Jason Clemens, executive vice president of the Fraser Institute. The study, Are Our Labour Laws Still Relevant for Teleworkers? authored by Professor Morley Gunderson of the University of Toronto, finds that about 40 per cent of the Canadian workforce has the potential to work entirely from home, which corresponds to the proportion of Canadians that were working from home during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the study also finds that an additional 10 per cent of the Canadian workforce could partially work from home, and while rates of remote working are forecasted to reduce after the pandemic, up to 25 per cent of the Canadian workforce is expected to continue working remotely.

News briefs from Wednesday July 21:

RBC launches Calgary Innovation Hub with plans to expand technology roles in high-demand areas

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) today announced plans to create 300 technology roles at a new Calgary Innovation Hub scheduled to launch this September. The Hub will help grow the city’s tech ecosystem with meaningful tech jobs in high-demand areas such as artificial intelligence, data engineering, full stack agile software delivery, site reliability engineering, machine learning and data analytics, among other skills. “We see tremendous opportunities ahead in Alberta, as we expand our technology capabilities and presence in this space,” says Jeff Boyd, Regional President, Alberta and Territories, RBC. “We look forward to actively supporting all parts of our diversified economy as the Province prepares for and navigates the economic and industry transitions that have already begun.” “Diversifying our economy through technology and innovation is a key part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan. I’m delighted to see RBC expand their footprint in Alberta with this investment in our booming technology sector,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. “With a vibrant innovation ecosystem, access to top talent and a low cost of living, Alberta is poised to be a leader in this job-creating sector for years to come.”

Calgary sees biggest hike in new home prices in Canada in June

The growth in new home prices slowed for a second month in a row, rising by 0.6% in June, the smallest increase in six months, says Statistics Canada. Calgary (+3.5%) reported the largest monthly increase in new home prices in June. Employment gains may have driven up the demand for housing, by allowing more people to enter the market. There were 59,100 more people working in Calgary in June compared with the same month a year earlier. Although employment in Alberta has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, there is evidence of recovery as most industries, including mining, quarrying, and oil and gas, employed more people in June 2021 than in June of last year.

Canada’s oil and natural gas industry demonstrates transparency and performance with report on emissions 

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) released a new report titled, Canada’s Natural Gas and Oil Emissions: Ongoing Reductions, Demonstrable Improvement. The report, which lays out the means to a lower-carbon future through innovation and new technology and illustrates the industry’s proven track record of lowering emissions-intensity, is the first in a series of planned Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosures. Highlights of the report: From 2011 to 2019 combined natural gas, condensate and natural gas liquids production increased 32 per cent while emissions intensity in this sector decreased by 33 per cent; As a result of Canada’s flaring conservation practices, this country ranks among the lowest-emission natural gas producers globally; While production from Oil Sands In Situ facilities grew by 66 per cent from 2013 to 2019, emissions intensity dropped by 8 per cent; From 2013 to 2019 oil sands mining production increased 59 per cent as emissions intensity decreased by 14 per cent. Canada’s offshore industry produces some of the world’s lowest emission oil.

2020 State of Downtown Calgary report launched

Calgary’s Downtown took many steps this past year along the road to reinvention, despite the challenges of 2020. The transformation of beloved public spaces in Eau Claire, Chinatown and the East Village, along with the continued growth of Calgary’s tech sector, are just the start of the transformation. The State of the Downtown Calgary Report – the annual evaluation of Calgary’s downtown – highlights the successes and challenges of the past year, the impacts of COVID-19, and exciting developments downtown from The City of Calgary and our partners. It also looks ahead at the roadmap for reinvention for the next decade of downtown Calgary’s future. “The report highlights the unprecedented level of collaboration between downtown Calgary’s partners, as we tackled a challenging year for our city, our citizens, and our downtown,” said Thom Mahler, Downtown Strategy program lead for The City of Calgary. “Even with these challenges and the limitations the COVID-19 pandemic placed on our downtown, a lot of exciting things happened in 2020 and we’ve begun to build a foundation for an exciting future.” 

Travellers from overseas countries increase in Canada

May marked more than a full year of border restrictions in effect to contain the spread of COVID-19. Although historically low, the number of international arrivals to Canada during May increased from the same month last year. Travellers from overseas countries made 26,800 trips to Canada in May, almost twice the number of May 2020, but still down 96.0% from May 2019, before the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada. In May, there were over 40,000 more Americans travelling to Canada than in May 2020, yet this was down 94.7% from the same month in 2019. Canadians took 363,200 return trips home from abroad in May. While up by 167,600 from May 2020, the month after the nationwide lockdown came into force, this number was down 92.3% from May 2019.

Small format grocery stores are the future in Canada

The grocery store is in the midst of a great transformation, powered by Canadians’ changing food consumption patterns and preferences and accelerated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The speed at which Canadians’ lifestyles and behaviours have changed—and continue to change—is forcing food retailers to accelerate change. The impact can be seen across the grocery store through: Changing formats; Updating product assortments; Embracing online shopping; and Reimagining interiors, says a new report by Deloitte called The future of food: a Canadian perspective. Sangeetha Chandru, National Operations Transformation and Retail Practice Leader, Deloitte Canada, said there were certain trends existing pre-pandemic that started to accelerate during the pandemic. “The shift to omnichannel for example and how we use our brick and mortar stores as well as the ecommerce experience to be an extension of each other. That started to accelerate once the pandemic set. And that’s actually been the primary driver of the findings that we have in the study,” she said.

Amazon cancels 2021 Prime Day in Canada due to the pandemic

Seattle-based e-commerce retailer Amazon confirmed with Retail Insider this week that the popular Amazon Prime Day is formally cancelled in Canada this year. It follows Amazon’s having already delayed the event due to the pandemic. Prime Day is expected to return to Canada in 2022 as more Canadians are vaccinated and things return to a degree of normalcy.  Amazon provided a statement to Retail Insider on Tuesday: “Due to the impact of COVID-19, we have decided to not move forward with Prime Day in Canada this year while we focus on the health and safety of our employees, customers and selling partners. Many had anticipated Prime Day to take place in the fall of 2021 after being delayed from the summer. In the United States, Amazon Prime Day took place over the course of June 21-22nd of this year.  On Amazon’s Canadian website, the Prime Day page states that it will return with no date given.

JLL partners with Canadian AI product search company to address hybrid future of retail

Commercial real estate firm JLL has partnered with Adeptmind, an AI-based search product company, to provide Canadian landlords with a new omnichannel digital retail solution. The platform allows consumers to shop and purchase products from multiple retailers, anytime, anywhere. Shoppers can search for specific products, browse by category or by store. Adeptmind powers more than 400 partner websites and applications. Shopping centre operators such as Cadillac Fairview, Centennial REIT, Oxford Properties, Radiant Partners, and Bayer Properties are using Adeptmind’s innovative solution to deliver real time discovery experiences to shoppers. Lee Jackson, Vice President, Retail Business Development, JLL Canada, said the consumer appetite for the brick and mortar environment has not been suppressed, simply the appetite for convenience has increased.

News briefs from Tuesday July 20:

Alberta can regain tax advantage by reinstating 10% flat tax: Fraser Institute

The Alberta government can reinstate a 10 per cent single-rate personal income tax and restore the “Alberta Tax Advantage” while incurring only a modest loss in revenue, finds a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank. “If the Alberta government resurrected the 10 per cent flat tax, the subsequent increase in economic activity, including increased entrepreneurship, more business startups and higher levels of investment, would help mitigate the relatively modest loss in tax revenue,” said Ergete Ferede, professor of economics at MacEwan University, senior fellow at the Fraser Institute and author of What Happens If Alberta Returns to the Flat Tax System? The Alberta government in 2015 replaced the province’s 10 per cent single-rate personal income tax—also known as the flat tax—with a “progressive” tax system, which now includes five different rates and a 15 per cent top rate.

One in three Canadians considering “workarounds” to buy a home amidst rising prices, supply shortages: RE/MAX

According to the RE/MAX 2021 Housing Affordability Report, one in three (33 per cent) Canadian homebuyers are exploring alternative options to help them get a foot into the housing market. These include renting out a portion of a primary residence (21 per cent), pooling finances with friends or family to purchase a home (13 per cent) or living with like-minded neighbours in a co-op/shared living arrangement (seven per cent). According to a Leger survey commissioned by RE/MAX, 42 per cent of Canadians said the high price of real estate was a barrier to entry into the market. This is up four per cent from last year – surprising, given the consistent price growth experienced by housing markets from coast to coast over the past year. Among prospective homebuyers, millennials and Gen Z are most likely to consider alternative regions and communities, and/or financing options to keep affordability in play. “It’s promising to see Canadian buyers deploying their ingenuity to be able to buy a home, but we must address the urgency of the underlying affordability problems, which are predominantly systemic,” says Elton Ash, Regional Executive Vice President, RE/MAX of Western Canada. “While we wait for a nationally and municipally supported housing strategy based on an aggressive goal to boost our national inventory of affordable housing, there are regions across the country, especially in Western Canada, that remain accessible to first-time buyers looking to break into the market.” Key barriers to affordability for many would-be buyers, according to the Canadian consumer survey, include a shortfall in salary (26 per cent); the fear of rising interest rates (18 per cent); the fear of being “house poor” (18 per cent); lack of steady full-time employment (16 per cent); current levels of household debt (11 per cent); and the mortgage stress test (11 per cent).

Winnipeg retail vacancies drop to lowest in decade despite pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic of the past year or so has put a lot of pressure on many retailers in Winnipeg, but overall small business owners have survived in such a challenging environment. “I think in Winnipeg no different than across the country, full service restaurants, the fitness industry, those have been absolutely decimated and I believe that many of those won’t be back or won’t recover,” said Kris Mutcher, VP Retail for Colliers International in Winnipeg. “But I’ve been shocked that we haven’t had more failures and more vacancy come up. Our vacancy numbers continue to drop in the market and largely that’s due to the federal supports that have been put in place to help keep tenants afloat where in many scenarios 90 per cent of your rent is covered – that helps a lot.” Mutcher said that a year ago he would have predicted that there would be an increase in retail vacancy of five to 10 per cent instead of it continuing to drop.

Toronto-based Nick Iozzo launches real estate consultancy agency ‘The Ancillary Agency’

After more than 20 years in the business, handling commercial real estate for some of Canada’s biggest retail landlords, Toronto-based Nick Iozzo, in the past year, set out on his own. He formed a new consultancy agency to help North American clients discover new creative sources of revenue from existing real estate. The focus has been on pop-up and automated retail, brand activations, experiential entertainment, sponsorship, digital & static out-of-home advertising, location filming management, event planning and business development. “The real estate industry has been evolving, and over the last year, that change has accelerated. The shopping centre is no longer just a place for commerce, but also a place to build a brand, elicit meaningful and memorable sensory responses in a world of digital engagement, and evolve the omni-channel world of learn, purchase, and play,” said Iozzo of the launch of The Ancillary Agency.

Stock markets fall, oil prices plummet as COVID-19 fears rise again

The Toronto Stock Exchange had its worst day in months on Monday as rising COVID-19 infections around the world gave investors a sobering reminder that the pandemic is still far from over. The S&P/TSX composite index lost more than 350 points, or almost two per cent, to 19,655 nearing the end of the trading day. Less than a month ago, Canada’s benchmark stock index was hitting all-time highs as optimism over the looming end of COVID-19 had investors pouring money into stocks poised to benefit from the reopening of the global economy. Even as recently as last week, the TSX was nearly 1,000 points higher than it is right now. But the pandemic numbers have become a lot gloomier since then, as the delta variant has caused cases to rise again in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. “Risk aversion is firmly in place as the delta variant spread is triggering a flight to safety as global economic concerns intensify,” said Edward Moya, a strategist with the investment firm Oanda.

Has the Canadian dollar already reached its peak for the year?: RBC Economics report

Recent developments suggest the six-year high of 83 US cents the loonie hit in early June was a high-water mark for 2021. The Bank of Canada was looking more hawkish than other central banks earlier this year. With the Federal Reserve now signalling it may raise rates sooner than previously expected, sentiment has shifted in favour of the US dollar and away from the loonie. The lift that the Canadian dollar got from rising prices from oil and other commodities may be running out of steam along with investor appetite for riskier assets.

June has strongest 12-month gain on record for Canadian house prices

In June the Teranet–National Bank National Composite House Price Index was up 2.7% from the previous month. This was close to a record but was the first time since January in which the monthly gain decelerated from the month before (May +2.8%). The June index was led by five of the 11 constituent markets: Ottawa-Gatineau (4.0%), Hamilton (3.8%), Victoria (3.6%), Halifax (3.5%) and Montreal (3.4%). Rises for Vancouver and Toronto matched the countrywide average. Rises were more moderate for Calgary (1.4%), Winnipeg (1.3%), Quebec City (1.3%) and Edmonton (1.1%). It was the fourth consecutive month in which all 11 markets of the composite index were up from the month before. The June composite index was up 16.0% from a year earlier, an 11th consecutive acceleration and the strongest 12-month gain on record. The 12-month rise was led by five markets – Halifax (30.8%), Hamilton (28.0%), Ottawa-Gatineau (25.8%), Montreal (19.4%) and Victoria (18.5%). Lagging the countrywide average were Toronto (15.9 %), Vancouver (14.7%), Quebec City (10.8%), Winnipeg (9.9%), Calgary (6.0%) and Edmonton (5.5%). The Teranet–National Bank House Price Index is based on the repeat-sales method, i.e. on the change in price between the two most recent sales of properties that have been sold at least twice.

Alberta has the most large corporations per resident

Identifying where Canada’s largest corporations are headquartered is a pretty blunt economic measure, but it does give us a rough sense of the corporate heft of different places. Alberta was home to 128 of Canada’s 800 largest corporations (as measured by annual revenue) last year, according to ATB Economics. This works out to about 16% of the total and is comfortably above our 12% share of the national population. Expressed as the number of large corporations per 100,000 residents, Alberta leads all provinces at 2.9. The next highest is Ontario at 2.4 large corporations per 100,000 residents. It’s just 1.3 in Quebec and 0.9 in Atlantic Canada. The Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Calgary was home to 102 of the 800 largest corporations in the country last year for a ratio of 6.6 per 100,000 Calgarians. The Edmonton CMA was home to 22 (1.5 per 100,000). The Toronto CMA had the most at 280 (4.2 per 100,000). The combined revenue of the 128 corporations headquartered in Alberta was $291 billion and represented about 13% of the $2.3 trillion generated by all 800 corporations last year.

Seven unstoppable Prairies entrepreneurs take top EY award

Global leaders, national players and local changemakers: seven businesses have taken the top regional title in the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2021 Prairies program. “These entrepreneurs are capitalizing on opportunities in a way that others haven’t — using new breakthroughs and business models, while putting the customer at the heart to drive with purpose,” says Shane Dunn, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Prairies Program Co-Director. “This year’s winners are trailblazers, putting obstacles behind them to chart new paths forward.” Prairies regional winners will move forward to compete against peers from the Pacific, Ontario, Québec and Atlantic regions at the national awards celebration in November 2021, where 10 national winners will be named, including Canada’s EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021 Award winner. The overall Canadian winner will go on to compete with national winners from across the globe for the title of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year in June 2022. The seven Prairies winners vying for the title can be found here:

News briefs from Monday July 19:

Nearly half of Canadians doubtful they can cover living expenses this year without going into further debt, highest level in three years

The latest MNP Consumer Debt Index finds that the number of Canadians concerned they cannot make ends meet without going into further debt has reached the highest level in three years. The quarterly poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of MNP LTD finds that almost half (45%, +6pts since March) are not confident they’ll be able to cover all living and family expenses in the next 12 months without spending on credit. In fact, the proportion of Canadians who report being insolvent, or unable to pay their monthly bills and debt repayments, sits at the highest level recorded since the Index was created in 2017 (30%, unchanged). Half (51%, unchanged) say they are more concerned about their ability to repay their debts than they used to be. Despite the concern, one-third (32%) say they plan to spend more than they normally would as they re-engage with the economy on things such as travel, dining, and entertainment. “A significant proportion of Canadians appear to be ready to emerge from their bubbles and go straight into shopping malls, restaurants and airplanes to celebrate the pandemic wind down,” says Grant Bazian, president of MNP LTD. “For many, the financial damage will likely linger for years even as they regain employment and try to cope with new debts they may have accumulated.”

Ren’s Pets expanding in Canada with multiple store openings

Ren’s Pets, a leading Canadian specialty retailer of pet food and supplies, is expanding its footprint with a new urban concept store at Toronto’s Liberty Village with plans to open more stores as part of an aggressive expansion. Scott Arsenault, President at Ren’s Pets, said the new urban concept store in Toronto will have a 5,500-square-foot footprint, and feature Ren’s best selection of dog and cat products. Several more urban format stores will be opening in the inner city. “This is just the beginning of our network of stores in Toronto. Pet parents are looking for a strong pet bricks and mortar offering, a place they can come in with their pets and truly be serviced along with doing things like weighing their pet, trying samples, asking for advice from the knowledgeable staff, having fittings for harnesses, collars or clothing, and socializing with other passionate pet folks and their pups. We think the Toronto market is an excellent fit for the premium products we carry, like top food brands Acana, Open Farm, Stella & Chewy’s, GO SOLUTIONS, and NOW FRESH. We will also have the largest raw and frozen pet food assortment in Toronto in our Liberty Village store, with a premier selection from brands like Big Country Raw and Iron Will. The Liberty Village store is planning to open September 11th, 2021.

Locals hope ambitious new development will mark beginning of Bragg Creek resurgence

A recently approved mixed-use development is set to expand the pool of rental and ownership housing in Bragg Creek. Gateway Village will be built in the heart of the hamlet on a 12.6-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Elbow River, with the Rocky Mountains serving as a scenic backdrop. “The first phase will be a mixed-used commercial area integrating the existing Old West Mall and the proposed Steak Pit restaurant,” said Dick Koetsier, owner of Gateway Developments, the developer behind the project. “From there, we will add a residential component, hotel and open-space amenity that includes a series of gathering spaces, water features, the river square and amphitheatre.” The development will offer about 140 condominiums for sale and another 30 as rental units. Suites will be around 1,000 square feet, with two-bedroom and one-bedroom-plus-den floor plans available, and all residents will have access to underground parking.

Canada’s Manufacturing Sector:  One Step Forward, Two Steps Back 

The recovery in Canada’s manufacturing sector has hit a standstill since the fourth quarter of 2020. Output has been moving sideways after staging an impressive rebound from the depths of the pandemic, according to a new TD Economics report. A wedge has emerged between sentiment, which remains solid, and sales and new orders, which have been choppy. The increase in infections and restrictions during the fall and winter months may have dealt a blow to a number of manufacturing industries, reinforcing the K-shaped nature of the recovery. Supply disruptions have also been a key obstacle to firms’ ability to keep up with demand. In particular, the global semiconductor chip shortage has weighed heavily on motor vehicle and parts output. Supply constraints have been evidenced across a broader swath of industries in the form of higher prices and lower inventory/sales ratios. Demand should see better days ahead as the reopening of economies spurs activity in previously beleagured manufacturing sub-industries. Restrictions and lagging vaccinations in some economies may continue to weigh on global supply chains, but survey responses suggest that these disruptions will be temporary.

B.C. First Nation and partners propose new $10B LNG megaproject

A British Columbia First Nation is proposing a new liquified natural gas (LNG) export facility to be built on the community’s treaty land and is making an environmental pledge to reach net-zero emissions within three years of commencing operations. The Nisga’a Nation, whose territory is north of Prince Rupert near the Alaska border, is partnering with a group of Western Canadian natural gas producers called Rockies LNG Partners and a Texas-based energy company called Western LNG. The project is called Ksi Lisims LNG and would include a pipeline to transport natural gas from the northeast corner of the province to the coast. The facility itself is estimated to cost $10-billion. The chilled natural gas would be loaded on to ships and exported to Asia.

Oil plunges in broader market selloff as OPEC+ adds new supply

Oil led losses in a broad market selloff while a resurgent virus threatened the global economic recovery just as OPEC+ agreed to boost crude supply. Futures in New York lost as much as 7% on Monday, the biggest decline since March. OPEC and its allies agreed to monthly supply hikes of 400,000 barrels a day, an increase that the International Energy Agency said “may go a long way” toward closing the supply deficit in the market. At the same time, the spread of The Delta variant is stoking a risk-off mood in broader markets and threatening oil’s rally with fresh mobility restrictions around the world. The dollar also rose, reducing the appeal of commodities priced in the currency. “Oil will probably dance to the tune of supply-side developments in the foreseeable future,” said Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd. in London. The Delta variant’s spread is raising economic growth concerns, and “fears of inflation and therefore of interest-rates rise have resurfaced.”

Canada opening borders to fully vaccinated visitors

On September 7, 2021, provided that Canada’s COVID-19 epidemiology remains favourable, the Government intends to open Canada’s borders for discretionary travel by travellers from any country who have been fully vaccinated with Government of Canada-accepted vaccines at least 14 days prior to entering Canada and who meet specific entry requirements. With the advent of increased vaccination rates in Canada, declining COVID-19 cases and reduced pressure on health care capacity, the government intends to bring a number of changes into effect, provided that Canada’s COVID-19 epidemiology remains favourable. On August 9, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. EDT, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of the United States (U.S.), currently residing in the U.S., will be permitted to enter Canada for discretionary (non-essential) travel. Entry to Canada will continue to be prohibited for U.S. travellers who are not fully vaccinated and for all other foreign nationals, unless they already meet an exemption set out in the Orders made under the Quarantine Act.

News briefs from Friday July 16:

Calgary-Banff rail passenger project enters development phase

Invest Alberta Corporation, the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation and the Canada Infrastructure Bank are pleased to announce a detailed MOU to continue to advance the project. The CIB has reaffirmed support for the project and will continue to consider a long-term investment.   Invest Alberta, on behalf of Alberta Transportation, will engage with the market place over the summer. The Government of Alberta will continue to assess the project, including seeking input from municipalities and Indigenous communities, and the potential to advance the project under a long term P3 model that would attract investment, and ensure the project can be supported for many years in the future. Project feasibility studies have been completed since a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was established in June 2020 between Alberta Transportation and CIB. There has also been strong private sector interest demonstrated through an unsolicited proposal by Liricon Capital Ltd. (Liricon) to act as the project developer. The project would support Alberta’s economy by creating a critical airport rail link to downtown Calgary and Banff National Park, increasing tourism opportunities and labour mobility, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing congestion in the travel corridor. The project would also support the Banff National Park Net Zero 2035 initiative.

Canadian housing starts continued to trend higher in June

The trend in housing starts was 293,567 units in June 2021, up from 284,837 units in May 2021, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). This trend measure is a six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rates (SAAR) of housing starts. “The six-month trend in housing starts remained elevated in June, despite recent moderation in single-detached starts from the highs recorded in the first quarter of 2021,” said Bob Dugan, CMHC’s chief economist. “In June, lower single-detached SAAR starts offset a slight increase in multi-family SAAR starts in Canada’s urban areas, leading to a decline in overall SAAR starts for the month. However, the level of activity remains elevated by historical standards, both on a trend and monthly SAAR basis. The markets of VancouverToronto and Montreal registered particularly strong growth in total SAAR starts in June, driven by the multi-family segment.”

Third consecutive monthly increase for wholesale sector

Sales of wholesale goods rose 0.5% in May to $72.2 billion, the third consecutive monthly increase, according to Statistics Canada. More than 95% of the gain came from the food, beverage and tobacco subsector, which reported growth of 2.7%. Sales were higher in four of the seven subsectors, representing 72% of total wholesale sales. Wholesale volumes fell 0.3% in May. Since reaching a low of $49.0 billion in April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, sales have risen in 11 of the 13 months. In May 2021, they were 11.0% higher than the pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The 10 months with the highest sales of all time in the sector were the 10 months from August 2020 to May 2021, with May 2021 being the highest month on record.

Government debt securities popular for foreign investors

Foreign investors acquired $20.8 billion in Canadian securities in May, mainly in the form of government debt securities, says Statistics Canada. At the same time, Canadian investors increased their holdings of foreign securities by $10.7 billion, led by acquisitions of US shares. As a result, international transactions in securities generated a net inflow of funds of $10.1 billion in the Canadian economy in May. This activity followed five consecutive months marked by net outflows of funds, where Canadian acquisitions of foreign securities exceeded foreign acquisitions of Canadian securities.

Best Buy Canada pivots over the course of the pandemic

The past year or so has been a very interesting one for everyone involved in the retail industry from top level executives to the front line staff. When Chris Sallans, Vice President – Retail & Services Operations and Fulfillment at Best Buy Canada, reflects on what has happened in that time frame he says “it has been one of the most challenging yet exhilarating, exhausting yet invigorating and frustrating yet inspiring times of my career.” Sallans feels that while our return to normal is exciting and should be celebrated, it is equally important to remember and reflect on the hard work and sacrifice made by many to support their families and communities. And the retailer could not have successfully navigated the stormy waters of the past year without the willingness of its staff to adapt to the changing environment. It’s a story that really resonates with most of the retailers in Canada. “I am not sure if there will ever be a way for me to convey my absolute gratitude for the thousands of people in the Best Buy family for all that they have done,” he says.

Mortgage payments maintained, bidding wars prevalent during pandemic

Of homeowners surveyed, 85% indicated no difficulties in maintaining their mortgage payments during the Covid-19 pandemic, although 31% of homebuyers experienced a bidding war during their home purchase. These are some of the key findings from the 2021 Mortgage Consumer Survey, released today by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The 2021 Mortgage Consumer Survey gathered responses from over 3,500 Canadians from across the country and offers key insights into the current state of home buying, homeownership, and mortgage lending. “The mortgage consumer survey’s goal is to help put Canadians and the mortgage professionals who serve them in the best position to succeed when shopping for a mortgage,” said Sam Carnavole, CMHC`s Director of Client Relationship Management. “This year’s survey includes important takeaways on affordability and how the market has reacted to the pandemic and current economic conditions. We hope the survey helps Canadians get the most of what can be an overwhelming process.” Although 85% of homeowners indicated no difficulties in maintaining a mortgage payment schedule during the pandemic, younger homeowners are indicating greater difficulty in this respect.

Third straight monthly slowdown for Canadian MLS sales

Home sales recorded over Canadian MLS Systems fell by 8.4% month-over month in June 2021, marking the third straight monthly slowdown since activity hit an all-time record back in March, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. While sales are now down a cumulative 25% from their peak, and below every other month in the last year, June transactions still managed to set a record for that month. Month-over-month declines in sales activity were once again quite broad-based, with sales moderating in around 80% of all local markets, including almost all large markets across Canada. The actual (not seasonally adjusted) number of transactions in June 2021 was up 13.6% on a year-over-year basis and marked a new record for that month.

News briefs from Wednesday July 14:

Shopping centres in Canada to see changes amid pandemic and shifting retail industry

Shopping centres across Canada were reinventing themselves prior to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago.  But the health crisis, which turned into an economic crisis as well, has accelerated the pace of change for the malls of the future. Corrado Russo, Senior Managing Director and Head of Public Real Estate Investments at Hazelview Investments, said malls were already having a pretty tough time pre-COVID. “They were losing market share in terms of sales to online shopping and e-commerce. So this was a trend that was already going on and they were sort of suffering from death of a thousand cuts and what COVID did, and the pandemic, is accelerated all of that. The estimate is they probably lost about five to seven years of market share in about 12 months because of the pandemic because everybody was forced to buy online and many of those that were not typical online shoppers became online shoppers and because of the convenience may not go back,” he said. “We do think the mall is going to be in a tough spot. But it doesn’t mean they all have to disappear. Those that do a good job reinventing themselves will survive and can thrive especially if they see less competition.” Over the last 10 years, Russo said malls have been changing from material goods to experiential shopping by creating locations such as movie theatres, bars, restaurants, gyms – all social gathering places.

Saskatchewan retail takes pandemic hit and is seeing recovery

Considering the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the retail industry across the country, retailers in Saskatchewan feel fairly fortunate to have survived the economic downturn. Melissa Newton, Client Advisor of The Commercial Group and based in Saskatoon, said the province had the first lockdown which was nationwide at the beginning of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020. “And from there we’ve really been open for business on a retail basis since June or July of last year,” she said. “We had a pretty free summer. Our case load was quite low. People were hesitant. There was not a lot of movement in 2020. But businesses were continuing to stay open. “We did lose some restaurants right at the first lockdown. Not as many as we thought we were going to. And then 2020 kind of moved along. In terms of activity, it was very low but the stores were doing well. People were supporting local. I know last year sporting goods and bikes were through the roof. People could not find anything to buy. That was really good for those sectors. “Home improvement, renovations, all of those areas did really, really well. The fashion retailers definitely struggled. But people were still buying little gifts. They were spending more time in their homes. Fashion did take a hit which was unfortunate but that we saw affect the enclosed mall business more than just private businesses here.”

Canadian manufacturing sales decline for second straight month

Manufacturing sales fell 0.6% to $57.9 billion in May, the second consecutive monthly decline, according to Statistics Canada. The machinery, chemical and fabricated metal industries were mainly responsible for the decline. Sales of wood product manufacturing increased the most, followed by primary metal. Year over year, total sales were up 42.6%. Sales in constant dollars decreased 2.5% to $48.2 billion in May, the second consecutive decline indicating a lower volume of goods sold as manufacturers continued to deal with supply chain issues. Sales of machinery products declined the most (-16.2%) by volume. The Industrial Product Price Index increased 2.7% in May, on higher prices for lumber and other wood products (+17.9%). Prices of raw materials purchased by manufacturers rose 3.2%.

Canadian home price forecast revised upward to 16% as roaring spring market eases into summer

According to the Royal LePage House Price Survey released today, the aggregate price of a home in Canada increased 25.3 per cent year-over-year to $727,000 in the second quarter of 2021, as inventory shortages continue across the country. Eighty-nine per cent of the regions surveyed saw year-over-year double-digit aggregate price gains, driven largely by increases in the single-family detached property segment. However, the level of competition seen in recent months is beginning to slow. The Royal LePage National House Price Composite is compiled from proprietary property data, nationally and in 62 of the nation’s largest real estate markets. When broken out by housing type, the median price of a single-family detached home rose 27.1 per cent year-over-year to $765,000, while the median price of a condominium increased 11.7 per cent year-over-year to $525,000. Price data, which includes both resale and new build, is provided by Royal LePage’s sister company RPS Real Property Solutions, a leading Canadian real estate valuation company.

New poll shows Canadians support their oil and gas sector 

Three in four Canadians polled agree Canada should be a preferred global supplier of energy because of its climate and environmental record, according to a July 2021 public opinion survey conducted by Research Co. And almost seven in ten (69 percent) say they have personally benefited from the oil and gas sector, the poll showed. “It’s a strong and very welcome result, and one that shows most Canadians feel proud of the work their energy sector is doing to enhance its record on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria,” said Cody Battershill, Canada Action founder and spokesperson. Among other findings, 70 percent of respondents agree that resource development could help alleviate systemic poverty within Indigenous communities and two thirds of Canadians (66 percent) support Canada’s role as a global oil and gas supplier. Further, almost three in four Canadians (73 percent) acknowledge Canada’s prosperity is supported by the oil and gas sector and that Canadian oil and gas production helps fund important social programs like health and education for Canadians.

Alberta’s Commerce South Office Park earns ENERGY STAR award

The Commerce South Office Park – Building B in Edmonton, which has implemented numerous energy-efficient initiatives over the years, is the winner of the Commercial Building of the Year of the 2021 ENERGY STAR Canada Awards. The awards are given for advancing energy efficiency, and recognize organizations that have demonstrated excellence in offering Canadians the most energy-efficient products and technology available on the market. The 91,891-square-foot, three-storey building at 8657 – 51st Avenue, was built in 1982, owned by Sun Life and managed by BentallGreenOak. It is part of an office park with five buildings.

News briefs from Tuesday July 13:

Canadians to continue shopping online post-pandemic amid ecomm growth: Survey

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated online shopping trends in Canada and a new survey by PayPal Canada indicates just how much consumers shifted their spending patterns. The survey, titled Trends & Spends: PayPal Canada’s 2021 Consumer Shopping Study, found that Canadians overall increased their monthly online shopping spend by more than $2 billion compared to pre-pandemic. Survey respondents said they are spending $178 per month shopping online, an increase of $69 compared to pre-pandemic. Across the country, this translates to almost $5.5B in current monthly online spending, said PayPal. The survey found that 59 per cent of Canadians have boosted their online shopping habits compared to before the pandemic and the grocery sector in particular has seen a significant increase. “An initial survey of Canadian consumers in March 2020 found that only 19 per cent engaged in online grocery shopping. In a second survey conducted in April 2020, only 30 per cent of Canadians purchased groceries online. Today, our most recent survey shows that number has jumped to 49 per cent,” said PayPal.

International arrivals to Canada increase in June

In June, the number of international arrivals to Canada by land and air increased from last year, but remained well below pre-pandemic levels, according to Statistics Canada. The number of non-residents arriving from abroad in Canadian airports equipped with electronic kiosks in June was almost one and a half times more compared with last year, yet still down 97.6% from June 2019. US residents made 78,500 trips to Canada through land ports with electronic sensors in June. Although there were almost 15,000 more arrivals than in June 2020, trips were down 95.1% from June 2019. Likewise, the number of Canadians who returned from the United States (194,600) through these same ports was almost 60,000 more than in June 2020, yet down 90.8% from the same month in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of Canadian residents returning from abroad via these same airports was almost one and a half times more than in June 2020, but 94.3% below the same month in 2019.

Canadian grocery stores adding greenhouses: The Rise of the “Grow”cer

Canadians have started to notice that grocers are starting to sell plants in miniature greenhouses. Gardens on rooftops, vertical farms close to stores, some are even selling gardening equipment to gardeners shopping for food. The farm is essentially merging with the food retail spaces we roam as consumers. Quite interesting. We are slowly witnessing the rise of the “grow”cer if you will. For years, customers just believed in the myth that food just magically shows up at the grocery store. COVID got many to think differently about supply chains. Food is grown, produced, transported, packaged, and retailed. With the addition of new “farmgate” features, for city dwellers, grocery stores are slowly becoming the gateway to an entire world most of us rarely see: farming. Sobeys is just one recent example of what is going on. The no.2 grocer in Canada recently signed a partnership agreement with German-based Infarm to get greenhouses into many outlets across the country. Infarm units were installed last year in BC but can now be found in many locations across the country. Infarm units enable Sobeys to offer fresh herbs and produce which is grown hydroponically which requires 95% less water, 90% less transportation and 75% less fertilizer than industrial agriculture. No pesticides are used either.

Canada’s office market outlook improves, but recovery is slow

Major Canadian cities saw office vacancies either rise or hold steady from Q1 to Q2 in 2021, except Montreal where the vacancy rate dropped 10 basis points. That’s one of the findings from Cushman & Wakefields national Q2 office analysis, which showed the overall Canadian vacancy rate rose by 40 basis points from the first quarter to 13.9 per cent. It was 9.8 per cent a year earlier. “There was some hope that this would be the quarter when everything turned around and things returned to normal, but we’re not quite there yet,” Cushman & Wakefield head of Canada research Adam Jacobs told RENX. “The vacancy rates we’re seeing now are high, but they’re not unprecedented. We’ve been on such a crazy bull run that people forget where we were beforehand.” Downtown vacancies were higher than in the suburbs in Calgary and Vancouver.

Shell proposes large-scale CCS facility in Alberta

Today, Shell announced a proposal to build a large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at its Scotford Complex near Edmonton. This would be a key step in transforming Scotford into one of five energy and chemicals parks for Shell around the world, providing customers with lower-carbon fuels and products into the future, such as hydrogen. The proposed Polaris CCS project, the largest in a series of low-carbon opportunities Shell is exploring at Scotford, would capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Shell-owned Scotford refinery and chemicals plant. The initial phase is expected to start operations around the middle of the decade, subject to a final investment decision by Shell expected in 2023. Polaris would have storage capacity of about 300 million tonnes of CO2 over the life of the project. “Shell is making bold moves to decarbonize our operations, and wider industry, and the Polaris CCS project is the latest example,” said Susannah Pierce, Shell Canada President and Country Chair. “Our plans for Scotford are in line with Shell’s target to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society. We are creating a world-class site that will provide customers with lower-carbon fuels, products and CO2 storage. Polaris would also make a significant contribution to Shell’s aim to have access to an additional 25 million tonnes a year of CCS capacity by 2035.”

Canada shatters luxury records as pandemic redefines Top-Tier market

Renewed confidence in Canada’s post-pandemic return and economic recovery bolstered gains across the country’s major metropolitan luxury real estate markets through the first half of 2021. As the Bank of Canada reported first-quarter GDP growth at a “robust” 5.6%, the Conference Board of Canada projected a 6.1% expansion of real GDP in 2021, with solid economic recovery expected across every province. Resulting confidence, housing demand and eroding luxury real estate inventory were captured in new data compiled by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada that reflect record-breaking levels of activity and prices across the country’s major luxury markets through the first half of the year.

News briefs from Monday July 12:

Building construction investment cools slightly 

Investment in building construction in Canada cooled slightly in May, decreasing 1.9% to $19.4 billion, according to Statistics Canada. This was the first drop in seven months. Residential construction investment (-2.7%) was down for the first time since April 2020, while non-residential construction increased slightly. On a constant dollar basis (2012=100), investment in building construction declined 2.7% to $14.8 billion in May. Residential construction was down 2.7% in May, bringing total investment to $14.8 billion with declines in both single and multi-unit construction. Investment in single-family homes was down 2.7% to $8.3 billion. Quebec and Ontario posted the largest declines. Despite the decrease this month, single-unit investment remained approximately 60.0% above pre-COVID-19 levels. With half of the provinces decreasing, multi-unit construction investment fell 2.6% to $6.5 billion in May. Quebec reported the largest decline (-11.0%), reversing a 13.0% increase in April.

Edmonton’s Kunitz Shoes sees growth by shutting downtown store, moving to the suburbs and expanding ecomm

Edmonton-based Kunitz Shoes is focusing on building its brand at two suburban locations and through e-commerce after the retailer shut down its downtown Jasper Avenue store during the pandemic. The company had a downtown presence in Edmonton for 18 years and this particular store closed at the end of March this year. “We had a lot of great  years downtown but we did start to see a bit of softening in the market and people being pulled toward the Arena District and no further developments on Jasper Avenue,” said Morgan Kunitz, co-owner with brother Everett. “We just weren’t seeing any other soft goods retailers on Jasper Avenue around us. So we weren’t having any kind of a draw to grow and we were softening a bit in fact. We started looking around but we were still on the fence. A profitable store is still a profitable store. The pandemic hit and we never really knew how much of our business is people that live downtown and how much of our business is people that work downtown. We have a lot of both. But when the pandemic happened we know exactly 20 per cent of our customers lived downtown. We went down by 80 per cent. There were no people working downtown but 20 per cent of our customers continued to support us which was amazing but unfortunately not sustainable for the rents we were paying, marquis rents for a store that was certainly not a marquis location anymore.” She said the retailer asked customers where they wanted a store and overwhelmingly they said in the west end of Edmonton with parking. A new store was opened in March in that area.

Realtors turning to TikTok to sell homes

During the pandemic, real estate and social media have become inseparable bedfellows, with many REALTORS® taking to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote their listings. However, another platform with a young and diverse base of users, TikTok, is proving to be a game changer for its adopters in the real estate industry. Brad McCallum, a Realtor with RE/MAX First, turned to TikTok last year. At the time, he already had a large following on other social media channels, such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. Initially, he was dismissive of TikTok, thinking it was mainly for kids, “but I realized that I was wrong, and I waited longer than I should have to join,” he said.

News briefs from Friday July 9:

Canada sees job gains of 231,000 in June 

Employment in Canada rose by 231,000 (+1.2%) in June, following a cumulative decline of 275,000 over the previous two months. The unemployment rate fell 0.4 percentage points to 7.8%, according to Statistics Canada. Employment growth in June was entirely in part-time work and concentrated among youth aged 15 to 24, primarily young women. Increases were greatest in accommodation and food services and retail trade, consistent with the lifting or easing of public health restrictions affecting these industries in late May and early June in many jurisdictions. The number of employed people working less than half their usual hours fell by 276,000 (-19.3%) in June. Total hours worked were little changed and were 4.0% below their pre-pandemic level. All of the employment increase in June was in part-time work, which rose by 264,000 (+8.0%) following combined losses of 132,000 over the previous two months. The overall level of part-time employment was essentially the same as in February 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Increases in the month were driven by accommodation and food services, and retail trade—two industries where part-time workers represent an above-average proportion of employment—and were concentrated among youth. After falling by 143,000 over the previous two months, full-time work was little changed in June, and was 336,000 (-2.2%) lower than its pre-pandemic level.

Many rural businesses see rising cost of inputs as a challenge

Over 40% of rural businesses in Canada cited the rising cost of inputs as a challenge they expect to face over the next three months, maintaining its hold as the most common obstacle from the first quarter of 2021. The next three most common short-term obstacles for rural businesses were the cost of insurance, government regulations and recruiting skilled employees, says a Statistics Canada report. Additionally, rural businesses (18.5%) were more than twice as likely as urban businesses (8.1%) to expect their Internet connection speed to be an obstacle. There was a decrease in the percentage of rural businesses planning to sell, close or transfer, compared with the first quarter of 2021, from 7.3% to 6.3%. On the other hand, 1 in 7 rural businesses (14.1%) had plans to expand, restructure, invest or acquire other businesses in the next 12 months.

BGO buys 3 modern industrial buildings in Edmonton

Three buildings in the Henday Industrial Park in Edmonton, comprising 618,363 square feet of core industrial real estate and 3.5 acres of outdoor storage, have been purchased by BentallGreenOak. The park’s sale was facilitated by the CBRE National Investment Team on behalf of One Properties, CPP Investments and Walton. David Young, executive vice-president, managing director, of CBRE Edmonton, said the buildings can be described as “new-generation industrial product” built over the last few years.

Australian bridal giant ‘Grace Loves Lace’ announces entry into Canada with 1st store

Australia’s leading bridal giant Grace Loves Lace is ramping up its global expansion with the launch of its first store in Canada in Toronto’s Distillery District. Founder and Creative Director, Megan Ziems, said when the company started discussing launching to a new country, it knew Canada was ‘the one’. “Canadians and Aussies have such a similar style. We are no fuss, laid-back and adventurous, who value good quality product and design. We receive around 100 enquiries a month from our Canadian brides-to-be wanting to see, touch and try on their dream Grace gown – so the launch in Toronto was a no brainer for us. With the Canada and US border closed since early 2020, our Canadian brides-to-be haven’t had a chance to experience the full Grace experience. So, we decided to bring it to them,” she said. “We felt drawn to Toronto because of the city’s connection to arts, culture and creativity. Renowned for its new ideas, new experiences and new designs, we knew Toronto was the perfect location for the first Grace Canadian showroom. When it came to finding an official home in Toronto, we couldn’t look past the Distillery District. The one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries and restaurants are filled with creativity and inspiration, just like the Grace showroom experience. Women can enjoy their complimentary appointment with us, followed by a special treat or lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. It’s about making their bridal shopping trip a destination experience and a day to remember.”

Ameresco develops 1st carbon-free school in London, Ont.

A unique carbon-free embedded energy system serving John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in London, Ont., may pave the way for future projects at other schools in Canada. The project was developed by Ameresco for the London District Catholic School Board with financial support from Fiera Capital and the Selkirk Advisory Group. The project consists of a suite of technologies and services including battery energy storage, carport solar photovoltaic, electric vehicle charging and geothermal heating/cooling. Together they comprise a microgrid that reduces JPII’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, creating the first carbon-neutral school in Canada.

News briefs from Thursday July 8:

Key small business support programs being phased out

Last week, the federal government began phasing out of key small business support programs like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and has closed the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) despite more than a quarter of small firms remaining fully or partially locked down and fewer than 40 per cent at normal levels of sales. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) shared these concerns in a new letter to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland urging government to reverse these program cuts until the economy and borders are full open. “We still have tens of thousands of businesses that are partially or entirely shut down by government orders, while others are just barely beginning to generate a trickle of sales revenue,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. “Businesses that are reopening also face major new costs in hiring and training workers, buying supplies and stocking up on PPE. Pulling back support too early will result in more business failures.” More than six in 10 businesses are still not making normal sales. For example, in Ontario, indoor dining and gyms will not be able to restart for a few more weeks. Restaurants, hotels, theatres, and event venues across the country have stood empty for months and still face major hurdles such as reduced capacities, smaller profit margins, finding staff, as well as border closures and travel restrictions.

Calgary resale housing market sees hike in sales, listings and prices

Calgary’s resale housing market showed few signs of letting up as MLS sales in June topped off a wild first half of 2021 with transactions, listings and prices continuing on an upward trend. According to the Calgary Real Estate Board, there were 2,915 sales in June, which was a record high for the month.  At the midpoint of 2021, here are some key numbers for year-to-date and their percentage change from the same period in 2020: MLS sales of 15,050 have increased by 126.83 per cent; Dollar volume of more than $7.527 billion is up by 153.28 per cent; New listings of 22,919 have risen by 58.27 per cent; Months of supply, which measures how long it would take to sell the existing inventory based on current demand, has dropped by 57.16 per cent to 2.24 months; The sales to new listings ratio of 65.67 per cent is up 19.85 per cent; The sales to list price ratio has increased by 2.04 per cent to 98.31 per cent; The benchmark price of $443,250 has risen by 7.20 per cent;  The median price of $450,000 is up by 10.97 per cent; and The average MLS sale price has climbed by 11.66 per cent to $500,183.

Sleep Country Canada opening 2 super hubs amid explosive retail growth

Sleep Country Canada is opening two new super hubs to drive operational efficiencies and unlock the next chapter of the company’s growth story. The new hubs, in Calgary and Belleville, will increase the retailer’s storage capacity by 65 per cent. The storage hubs add 278,000 square feet to the company’’s existing network of 17 strategically located fulfillment centres. The Belleville hub will be located in a former Sears warehouse building. Sleep Country is Canada’s leading omnichannel specialty sleep retailer with a national retail store network and e-commerce platforms. It operates under three retail banners: “Sleep Country Canada” with omnichannel operations in Canada excluding Québec; “Dormez-vous?” with omnichannel operations in Québec and “Endy“, Canada’s leading direct-to-consumer online sleep solutions retailer. It has 287 stores across Canada.

New Horizon Mall near Calgary marks more than 50% occupancy as it opens entertainment concept

A massive family entertainment centre has become a key anchor for the New Horizon Mall, just outside of Calgary city limits in Balzac, and could be a ‘game changer’ for the shopping centre. Sky Castle is now the largest anchor tenant at approximately 34,000 square feet, followed by the Best Shop and Prairie Horizon Fresh Market. These three tenants collectively occupy approximately 74,000 square feet at New Horizon Mall, which is about 320,000 square feet. The mall is about 53 per cent occupied/leased on a square footage basis with more than 100 stores open on a regular basis. Toronto based, Torgan Group, with its partner, MPI Property Group (collectively “NHM Inc.”) developed New Horizon Mall. NHM Inc. retained approximately 30 per cent ownership of the Mall, about 114,000 square feet of space, and owns the larger units and has leased approximately 86 per cent of units owned.

Rising demand for ‘green’ metals renews growth optimism for Canadian mining companies

Rising demand for ‘green’ metals as the world transitions to clean energy is contributing to renewed optimism in the growth prospects for Canada’s mining industry, finds a new KPMG in Canada report, Risk and Opportunities for Canadian miners. Minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel are critical to the green and digital transition now underway to achieve a below 2°C future. The production of minerals needed to deploy wind, solar, and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, is predicted to increase by nearly 500 per cent by 2050, according to the World Bank. Demand for lithium used in batteries, for example, including electric vehicles, is expected to expand by a factor of 30 by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. “The outlook for the mining industry is extremely positive,” says Heather Cheeseman, partner and Toronto mining leader, KPMG in Canada. “The year-long rally in commodity prices, even with the recent volatility sparked by inflationary concerns, is driven not only by pandemic-induced supply chain issues, but also climate-action demand for green metals and the massive spending expected on infrastructure.” But, she warns their growth prospects could be dimmed by many factors, not least of which include how companies respond to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks, and technological transformation.

New American Express survey shows signs of renewed optimism for 2021 as B2B spending rises

American Express today launched the Global Business Spend Indicator (GBSI), a new survey of global businesses conducted with the Centre for Business and Economic Research (CEBR). The survey has revealed signs of renewed confidence in the 2021 economic outlook as business-to-business spending levels have started to rise. While businesses have been forced to adapt to lockdown restrictions and supply chain disruptions, Q1 2021 was a turning point for B2B spending. While still down from Q1 2020, business travel, entertainment and expense spending increased 8.3% between Q4 2020 and Q1 2021. However, according to the Global Business Spend Indicator (GBSI) survey, Canadian businesses predict their Q2 2021 B2B spend will be an average of 0.1% higher compared to the same time last year – signalling only a small recovery in B2B spending that equates to an estimated additional USD $0.30bn in Canada. “Canadian businesses have plans to grow in 2021, and that is going to boost the health of the Canadian and global economies,” said Paul Roman, Vice President & General Manager, Global Commercial Payments at American Express. “While it is important to recognize that the operating landscape has changed dramatically, overall spending levels suggest that recovery is evident for businesses.”

News briefs from Wednesday July 7:

Retailers and restaurants hope for much needed boost with Calgary Stampede launch this week

With Alberta now open for business as public COVID-19 measures are gone, retailers and restaurant owners are hoping the return of the Calgary Stampede will give business the much-needed boost it has desperately hoped for during the pandemic of the past year or so. “The food service and retail sectors of the Calgary economy are locked and loaded for a robust reboot that will be triggered by the 2021 Calgary Stampede,” said Michael Kehoe, broker of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary. “Traditionally the 10-day Stampede period has been a sales bonanza for local stores and restaurants and this year is expected to provide some much-needed momentum after the disaster of the 2020 lockdown. Expectations are being kept in check as the lack of corporate spending and tourist-oriented visitors that will be missed on the bottom line this year. Local and regional Stampeders will be left to drive the footfall and sales numbers. Food service venues are busy ramping up staffing levels and many are booking live entertainment as customers hopefully flock back to their favourite watering holes to socialize and celebrate.  Stampede 2021 is an important milestone in the re-opening process of the Calgary economy and will serve as a vote of confidence for consumers to return to their pre-pandemic shopping and dining patterns.”

Lafarge and Carbon Upcycling Technologies sign MOU to reduce carbon

LAFARGE Canada Inc. has signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Calgary-based carbon utilization company, Carbon Upcycling Technologies. The MOU allows for the potential integration of Carbon Upcycling’s CO2-embedded concrete additive into Lafarge operations, while exploring opportunities to expand Carbon Upcycling’s operating capacity by developing larger processing facilities. Carbon Upcycling produces a unique additive that makes concrete both stronger and more sustainable with the ability to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete by up to 25% on a lifecycle basis. Carbon Upcycling’s foray into construction materials began in 2018 through its participation in the LafargeHolcim Accelerator program, which aimed to accelerate the growth of innovations in the building materials industry. “The results we’ve seen with Carbon Upcycling are really promising,” says Brad Kohl, President, and CEO of Lafarge Western Canada. “Across our industry, we are all driven to capture and utilize CO2 wherever we can.”

Canada and Alberta announce supports for 35,500 households across the province

Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. That’s why the Governments of Canada and Alberta will provide rent support to low-income Albertans in need through the Canada – Alberta Housing Benefit. The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), alongside Josephine PonAlberta’s Minister of Seniors and Housing, announced details of an approximately $444 million investment through the Canada–Alberta Housing Benefit (CA-AB HB) to fund rent support for nearly 35,500 households in Alberta. This joint funding is based on investments ranging from 2019 to 2028. Alberta’s government will integrate this funding into its Rent Supplement Program, helping households with low income afford their rent over the lifetime of the agreement. The program features flexibility in housing choice, and includes a long-term benefit for those most in need and a new temporary benefit for working Albertans and those between jobs.

Primary energy production on the rise in Canada

Primary energy production rose 4.7% on a year-over-year basis in April, up from a 1.4% gain in March, according to Statistics Canada. A significant proportion of this increase was attributable to the steep declines in energy production at the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Crude oil, coal, and natural gas were the main contributors to the year-over-year increase in production, while primary electricity generation was down in April. Secondary energy production (+9.8%) was also up year over year, mostly due to higher production of refined petroleum products. Nevertheless, overall energy production in April remained below pre-pandemic levels.

News briefs from Tuesday July 6:

How Lowe’s Canada weathered the pandemic by implementing more than 230 new initiatives

Responding to the changing needs and desires of consumers, retail giant Lowe’s Canada has implemented more than 230 initiatives over the past  year or so aimed at improving customer experience on every channel it operates – in stores, across websites, by phone, by live chat, on social media and through its VIPpro app. Those initiatives were fuelled by the changing landscape in the retail world brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the IT team of about 345 experts enabled Lowe’s to roll out a number of ideas in rapid fashion, which were planned initially for the longer term. The company accelerated its IT transformation, increasing its project volume by more than 50 per cent. Rajat Khanna, Lowe’s Canada’s Vice President Information Technology, said as a home improvement retailer it provides many essential products and services for customers. For the customer, a complete omnichannel experience was required. From a store standpoint, staff had to adapt to the changes required through mandatory public health measures. The supply chain was challenged. All three dynamics came into play. “On top of that we had an added thing to solve: How do we harmonize our experience across all the banners that we have. We have a Lowe’s banner. We have a RONA banner. We have a Reno-Depot banner,” said Khanna.

Boardwalk REIT provides operational update

Calgary-based Boardwalk REIT provided an operational update. Sam Kolias, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Boardwalk REIT commented: “With all public health restrictions lifted in Alberta as of July 1st, and the continued easing of restrictions in the coming weeks in our remaining markets, we would like to take this opportunity to thank our Boardwalk team of heroes for their persistence through the pandemic. This commitment to our Resident Members and to our leading product quality, service and experience has resulted in resilient operating and financial performance through COVID-19. Occupancy has continued to rise in our core Alberta market through the second quarter, offsetting vacancy in a community under-going a re-positioning in Quebec City. Our high occupancy combined with the easing of restrictions in all our markets positions us well to continue to deliver sustainable growth. As we progress toward the post-pandemic environment, economic and rental market indicators continue to reflect an economic rebound in our core Alberta market.  In advance of the easing of pandemic related restrictions, Alberta continues to see steady population growth, increasing employment, stronger energy prices, and a continued diversification of our economy. Grounded on some of the most affordable and desirable housing in Canada, Boardwalk is well-positioned with 70% of our communities located in these self-regulated markets.”

Parkland strengthens its Quebec retail network with the acquisition of Pétroles Crevier Inc.

Parkland Corporation announces it has entered into an agreement to acquire Pétroles Crevier Inc., which is a well-established retail and wholesale business based in Montreal, Canada. This is Parkland’s eighth acquisition announced year-to-date, each of which supports its growth strategy and moves it toward its ambition for $2 billion of run-rate Adjusted EBITDA by the end of 2025. “This acquisition extends our existing retail network in Quebec and expands our presence in key markets,” said Donna Sanker, President of Parkland Canada. “We believe we can add significant value by deploying our proven retail capabilities, proprietary Marche Express (ON the RUN) convenience and Ultramar forecourt brands, and JOURNIE™ Rewards loyalty program. We look forward to continuing to provide Crevier’s customers with essential products and exceptional service.” Crevier’s operations extend across Quebec, serving customers through a portfolio of 36 company-owned retail locations and 138 retail dealer locations. In addition, Crevier’s large wholesale business and significant unbranded volume enhance our supply advantage and import optionality. This transaction is expected to add annual fuel and petroleum product volume of approximately 700 million litres, of which 70 percent is attributable to wholesale, and annual run-rate Adjusted EBITDA of approximately C$12 million, prior to additional growth and synergy upside.

Vancity measures, publicly discloses GHG emissions for first time

Financial cooperative Vancity has publicly disclosed the GHG emissions of its loans and investment portfolios in its first step toward a 2040 net-zero strategy. Christine Bergeron, Vancity president and CEO, said the disclosure enables the organization to have a better understanding of its environmental impact and lays the groundwork for setting interim targets for 2025. “The reason to disclose it publicly first as a member-based organization, as a credit union, we did disclose this in our annual report because it’s important for us for our members to understand what we’re doing. And we think the public broadly, it will help them assess whether a financial institution is truly acting to address the climate crisis,” she said. “I think there’s an opportunity for self-learning so that a financial institution can really identify where in their portfolios they’re most exposed and then ultimately financial institutions need to learn from each other — see what’s working, really avoid dead ends and not reinvent the wheel. There’s a lot of work to be done. The more that we can do to be part of that solution through disclosure, that’s something that’s important to us.”

News briefs from Monday July 5:

Calgary-based Avenue Living doubles Edmonton portfolio in $275-million investment

Calgary-based Avenue Living Asset Management Ltd. has acquired three portfolios in the Edmonton area, comprising more than 1,500 residential rental units, for about $275 million, RENX has learned. The investments more than double the company’s presence in the capital of Alberta. “We’re agnostic to geography. We’re going to go where the fundamentals hold up. We’re across the Prairies right now because the Prairies have some of the most affordable real estate across Canada, and on the flip side, some of the most reasonably-priced rents,” said Jason Jogia, the company’s chief investment officer and chief executive officer of the Avenue Living Opportunity Trust. “We have taken a significant position in properties and plan to continue to double down on the Prairies because there’s a lot of room to run. We’re buying where the people are and where they want to live. The Prairie provinces have robust service and employment sectors. What they lack in population density, they make up with infrastructure. We aim to serve those people.”

CF Chinook Centre hosts reimagined Stampede pancake breakfast with a drive-through pick-up experience

In true Stampede tradition, CF Chinook Centre will host a modified Stampede Breakfast on Saturday, July 10th  from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Over the past six decades, CF Chinook Centre’s Stampede pancake breakfast has become a marquee tradition for the Calgary community, acting as a kick-off event for the 10-day Stampede festivities where it typically accommodates and serves more than 40,000 Calgarians. This year, to ensure the safety of its guests remains its highest priority, CF Chinook Centre is putting a new twist on an old tradition by inviting guests to pick up take-home pancake kits in a drive-through experience. Calgarians are invited to visit the property’s East parking lot to participate in its reimagined drive-through experience where CF Chinook Centre will provide guests with pancake mix and syrup kits – all the fixings needed to enjoy a delicious at-home breakfast. While waiting in their vehicles to receive their take-home pancake kits, guests can relish in the spirit of Stampede through a live country performance by country artist Cole Martin, in addition to dynamic entertainment by traditional square dancers and hoop dancers.

City of Chestermere moves ahead with plans for long-awaited civic rec centre

After years of consultation and research, the City of Chestermere is building a new $39.5-million civic recreation centre. Chestermere Mayor Marshall Chalmers says the project is an important one, as Chestermere has seen significant growth in recent years. The city is the third-fastest-growing community in Canada and second in Alberta to only Airdrie. “With growth comes needs for the community and currently the only indoor recreation facility that our community has is our aging rec centre,” said Chalmers. “While that aging rec centre has been an important part of our community, and it still is, there are many features that it doesn’t currently offer to our citizens.”

Continued improvement in business sentiment in Canada 

Results from the summer Business Outlook Survey by the Bank of Canada point to continued improvement in business sentiment. Firms tied to high-contact services still face challenges but are becoming more confident that sales will pick up as vaccination rates rise. This suggests an important broadening in the recovery ahead. Most firms reported an improvement in their sales prospects from a year ago. Businesses tied to high-contact services are increasingly confident that restrictions will soon be lifted and that sales will rebound from weak levels. Firms that have been leading the recovery continue to anticipate sales growth but at a slower pace. Indicators of capacity pressures and labour shortage intensity have increased, reflecting stronger demand and tightening labour markets, sometimes from low levels. Supply chain frictions, a key bottleneck for some, are expected to be temporary. At the same time, substantial excess capacity remains among firms hit hard by the pandemic. Plans to invest and hire staff are widespread as firms prepare to meet expected sales increases. Businesses expect wages, input prices and output prices to grow at a faster pace than a year ago, often linking the more rapid growth to healthy or improving demand. Firms’ inflation expectations increased, but most drivers of inflationary pressures are viewed as temporary.

Ottawa retail leasing seeing rebound after substantial pandemic drop: Report

Although Ottawa’s retail leasing activity was down 30 per cent for 2020 as a whole, the second half of the year showed strong signs of recovery as leasing volumes rebounded quickly, reaching the same levels as the second half of 2019, says a new report by commercial real estate firm JLL. The market achieved a new equilibrium as available space remained flat in Q3 and Q4 ‒ the trend to move out remained only slightly stronger than the trend to move in. While the trend to move into streetfront locations was strong, the trend to move out of malls and neighbourhood centres was stronger, it said. “Ottawa asking rents for available space have stabilized, only moving sideways. However, effective rents for the province decreased nine per cent due to base rent concessions and growing adoption of per cent sales agreements,” said the report. “The 2021 outlook remains positive, as leasing remains as active as pre- pandemic. With new supply under control, asking rents and available space should remain stable.” Paul Ferreira, Senior Vice President of Retail with JLL, said the suburban outdoor retail for the most part fared okay because many of the essential retailers were open during the pandemic. And retailers also responded with curbside pickup and delivery. From a retailer’s perspective it was very similar dynamics to what we saw in the other major markets. And then you had the difficulty for the malls in being closed down for so long. Obviously Ottawa was closed down less with a little bit lighter restrictions through 2020 and the early part of 2021 than Toronto did. So they had a little bit more opportunity to be open.”

Balance of physical and digital retail offering required to deliver experiences consumers demand: PwC Report

The recent tenor of the retail industry in Canada has been turbulent, to say the least. Challenge upon challenge brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic have in large part impeded normal operations, stunting growth and progress for many. The past 16 months, highlighted by the social restrictions and public health protocols that we’ve all been subject to, have also ushered in transformations, most notable of which are reflected in a changed consumer whose adoption of ecommerce and alternate modes of product delivery and pickup have dramatically altered the retail landscape. The quick shift in consumer behaviour has precipitated a digital acceleration within the industry. And, according to Myles Gooding, National Consumer Markets Leader & Global Consumer Markets Advisory Leader at PwC Canada, it’s a shift that retailers need to align their offering with in order to meet an anticipated boom in consumer spending and to meet their increasing demand for experiences in a post-pandemic world. “We’ve obviously seen a massive adoption of online shopping,” he says. “This has been especially true with respect to fast-moving consumable goods like grocery, pharmacy and general merchandise. Consumers have adjusted to the online environment really well and are regularly leveraging a number of ways by which to receive product, including shopping online to have product delivered to their home or buying online and picking up in-store or by curbside. And their adjustment has been very quick. Grocery, for instance, basically jumped from 2 or 3 percent total revenue online to almost 11 percent. It’s a trend that’s represented fairly consistently across categories and verticals. The increase was so intense that it probably broke the system for some retailers. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of reinvestments by organizations in order to shore up their ecommerce and digital capabilities. Having said that, however, as the economy really starts to open up, we’re going to see a subsequent increase in physical foot traffic. While pessimistic during the lockdown period, consumers are starting to show a lot of optimism as we move closer toward a post-pandemic environment. Canadians want to get back out, touch and feel things, be more social and enjoy experiences again.”

News briefs from Friday July 2:

Record MLS sales for the month of June in Calgary

Calgary’s housing market is showing few signs of letting up, as sales reached 2,915 units in June – a record high for the month. “It is taking time for supply to catch up with the demand in the market,” said CREB chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie. “Through the early spring market, many buyers did not have a lot of choice, but the recent improvements in supply are providing more options for those purchasers and supporting the strong sales we continue to see in June. At the same time, gains in inventory are taking some pressure off the market as it starts to trend towards more balanced conditions.” New listings in June totalled 4,135, the second-highest level ever recorded for the month. This caused inventories to trend up to 6,918 units. While this is higher than longer-term averages, it was balanced by strong sales and the months of supply remained relatively tight at 2.4 months. However, this is still an improvement from earlier in the year when the months of supply was below two.

Mullen Group expands with acquisition of R.S. Harris Transport

Mullen Group Ltd. announces that it has acquired Winnipeg, Manitoba, based R.S. Harris Transport Ltd. A definitive share purchase agreement was signed, and the acquisition closed on July 1, 2021. “This acquisition reinforces what we have articulated to shareholders for some time – we will always invest in opportunities that strengthen our existing Business Units.  Harris has an established name in the Canadian trucking industry with a solid reputation for customer service as well as being a formidable competitor.  Today I am pleased to announce that we have acquired another good Canadian company.  Over the next few months, we will work with the customers and employees to transition the business of Harris into the Gardewine Group of Companies, the best way to realize synergies,” commented Murray K. Mullen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Harris is an industry leading trucking and brokerage company specializing in open deck transportation, with more than 35 years of experience serving customers throughout North America in the steel, agriculture equipment, industrial, construction, rail products, and energy industries. Harris operates a fleet of 50 company tractors, approximately 165 trailers and generates in excess of $25.0 million in annualized revenue.

Shaw Communications sees growth in revenue in Q3

Shaw Communications Inc. announces consolidated financial and operating results for the quarter ended May 31, 2021. Consolidated revenue increased by 4.8% to $1.38 billion, adjusted EBITDA increased 5.4% year-over-year to $642 million and net income increased 92.4% to $354 million. Third quarter results include incremental Wireline Consumer revenue of approximately $20 million related to the release of a provision following the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decision on final aggregated Third Party Internet Access (TPIA) rates, substantially offset by approximately $25 million higher employee related costs primarily driven by equity-based compensation due to the significant increase in Shaw’s share price and adjustments to employee benefit provisions. Excluding the aforementioned items, consolidated revenue and adjusted EBITDA increased approximately 3.3% and 6.2%, respectively. “Following nearly two years of regulatory uncertainty impacting our industry, the recent decisions by the CRTC have restored confidence in the regulatory framework and provided the necessary certainty to make the generational facilities–based investments that are required and critical in support of the latest technologies, strong competition and choice for more Canadians. By Shaw and Rogers coming together, the combined entity will have the scale, assets and capabilities to confidently invest billions of dollars that will serve future generations, help to close the digital divide and deliver coast-to-coast 5G service throughout Canada,” said Brad Shaw, Executive Chair & Chief Executive Officer. On March 15, 2021, Shaw announced that it entered into an arrangement agreement with Rogers Communications Inc., under which Rogers will acquire all of Shaw’s issued and outstanding Class A Participating Shares and Class B Non-Voting Participating Shares  in a transaction valued at approximately $26 billion, inclusive of approximately $6 billion of Shaw debt.

Canadian merchandise trade balance moves to a deficit

In May, Canada’s merchandise imports increased 2.1%, while exports fell 1.6%, according to Statistics Canada. As a result, Canada’s merchandise trade balance moved from a surplus of $462 million in April to a deficit of $1.4 billion in May. A large proportion of import and export transactions are completed in US dollars and must be converted to Canadian dollars to compile monthly trade statistics. When the Canadian dollar appreciates against the US dollar, converted monthly trade values in Canadian dollars are lower. In May, the average value of the Canadian dollar increased 2.4 cents US compared with the average value in April to 82.5 cents US. This was the largest monthly increase since July 2017. When expressed in US dollars, Canadian imports were up 5.2% in May, and exports rose 1.4%.

Building permit value in Canada falls by record $1.6 billion in May

Following four consecutive months of reaching new highs, the total value of building permits dropped a record $1.6 billion (-14.8%) to $9.5 billion in May, says Statistics Canada. Every component was down, with multi-family dwellings in Ontario accounting for nearly three fifths of the overall national decline. On a constant dollar basis (2012=100), building permits decreased 14.5% to $7.1 billion.

Tourism activity in Canada sees a huge decline in April

In April, overall tourism activity in Canada was 66.3% below the level reached in April 2019, before the pandemic. With border closures and other restrictions to combat COVID-19, inbound or internationally generated tourism activity was even further below (-92.2%) its pre-pandemic level, says a Statistics Canada report. Those provinces with lower reliance on inbound tourism activity, such as Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan, fared somewhat better than other jurisdictions in April, with tourism activity down by 50.5% and 51.6%, respectively, from the same month in 2019.

News briefs from Wednesday June 30:

Canadian economy contracts in April after 11 consecutive monthly increases

Real gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 0.3% in April after 11 consecutive monthly increases, reports Statistics Canada. With the first decline in 12 months, total economic activity remained at about 1% below its level before the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020. Overall, 12 of 20 industrial sectors were down as gains in goods-producing industries (+0.5%) were more than offset by contractions in services-producing industries (-0.6%). Preliminary information indicates a decrease in real GDP of approximately 0.3% in May. The retail trade, construction and real estate rental and leasing sectors contributed the most to the declines, while the finance and insurance, and wholesale trade sectors posted gains. Because of its preliminary nature, this estimate will be revised on July 30 with the release of official GDP data for May.

Canadian retailer ‘Showcase’ launches live shopping shows hosted by TV personality

Canadian retailer Showcase, known to be ‘Home of the Hottest Trends’ and the world’s largest retailer of its kind, has launched live shopping shows on its social media platforms hosted by well-known TV personality Danny Boome. Samir Kulkarni, Showcase’s CEO, said that because Showcase has always been about entertainment and discovery of new and trending products, and the instant gratification of trying something you buy, obviously live stream shopping and everything it presents is very interesting to the retailer. “It fits very well into our business model of entertaining and discovery of new products. So we launched our live shopping strategy at the start of May. What we do is broadcast a live show every 48 hours on social platforms and to our two million insiders and our website. These live broadcasts are very relevant, newsworthy trend stories about new product launches, about community events, about seasonally-relevant product categories and they’re combined with time sensitive promotions, flash discounts and so on that you can partake in store as well as online. The concept is that we’re bringing our trend store to life on your phone or on your computer – wherever you may be so that you can discover the latest, newest, hottest, greatest thing. You can see a demonstration, understand more about how it works. You can engage with our live chat team to ask questions and interact and then you have the instant gratification of purchasing that product either online, running into a store or even getting same day delivery.”

3.2 million boomers in Canada considering buying a home within the next five years

According to a recent Royal LePage survey of boomers in Canada, defined by StatsCan as having been born between 1946 and 1965, 35 per cent of the cohort – or approximately 3.2 million boomers – said they are considering a home purchase within the next five years. Nationally, 45 per cent of respondents believe now is a good time to sell their home. “The boomer generation appears to have no intention of slowing down,” said Phil Soper, President and CEO, Royal LePage. “Fully vaccinated, and turning a cold shoulder to retirement, the typical member of this huge demographic is enjoying an empty nest and believes real estate is a good investment. Millions of boomers are expected to wade into the market over the next five years.” Forty-one per cent of boomers in Alberta are considering purchasing a home within the next five years. At 84 per cent, Alberta has one of the highest rates of home ownership among boomers, the majority of whom do not currently have a mortgage (67%). Thirty-six per cent have at least 50 per cent of their net wealth in real estate. Twenty-four per cent of boomer homeowners in the province own more than one property.

Mullen Group acquiring US-based non-asset third party logistics provider

Mullen Group Ltd. announces that it has signed a definitive agreement and closed the acquisition of QuadExpress, the non asset based third party logistics provider business of Quad/Graphics, Inc. for $40.0 million USD on a cash free, debt free basis before working capital adjustments.  “Today’s announcement is significant to our organization for several reasons with the most important being that we just opened the door to future opportunities.  We already have an extensive network in Canada and will continue to invest where we find great companies to add to our service offerings. However, there are limits to just how much we can grow in the Canadian market.  The U.S. market, on the other hand, is a new market for our company, offering tremendous opportunity.  There is no doubt the U.S. market is key to the North American supply chain and we need to be there.  With this acquisition we gain immediate access to one of the largest markets in the world,” commented Mr. Murray K. Mullen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

News briefs from Tuesday June 29:

Huge hit for Canadian tourism due to the pandemic

After a 48.8% drop year over year in 2020, tourism spending in Canada dropped a further 2.6% in the first quarter of 2021, according to Statistics Canada. Tourism gross domestic product (-1.3%) and jobs attributable to tourism (-5.1%) also declined in the quarter. The decline in tourism spending in the first quarter of 2021 was mostly driven by lower spending on passenger air transport (-22.9%), reversing the 20.5% gain in the fourth quarter of 2020. Spending on recreation and entertainment (-9.7%) and vehicle fuel (-4.5%) also contributed to the decline. The drop was partially offset by a 5.8% increase in pre-trip expenses, such as recreational vehicles, pleasure crafts and camping equipment. Tourism spending in Canada in the first quarter was 57.3% lower than the pre-pandemic levels of the fourth quarter of 2019. Tourism GDP decreased 1.3% in the first quarter, following a 3.8% decline in the previous quarter. Economy-wide, GDP increased 1.4% in the first quarter of 2021 and 2.2% in the fourth quarter of 2020. As a result, tourism’s share of GDP continued to decline from 0.9% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 0.8% in the first quarter of 2021.

More Canadians active members in a registered pension plan

Over 125,000 more Canadians became active members in a registered pension plan (RPP) in 2019, and the number of active members was up 2% from 2018 to just over 6.5 million. Membership increased the most among those working in Ontario (+54,400), followed by Quebec (+42,800) and British Columbia (+19,200). Membership decreased the most among those working outside Canada (-1,400) and in Alberta (-780), says Statistics Canada. Women accounted for over three-quarters of the increase in new memberships in an RPP, up 97,500 from 2018 to 3.3 million. Approximately 28,000 more men were members in an RPP in 2019, bringing their total to nearly 3.2 million. Women’s share of active membership had surpassed men’s in 2016, and it increased by 0.5 percentage points to 51.1% in 2019.

Cenovus releases environmental, social & governance report

Cenovus Energy Inc. has published its 2020 environmental, social & governance (ESG) data report, the first for the company following its combination with Husky Energy Inc. on January 1, 2021. This report is one of several important sustainability milestones for Cenovus this year and highlights the ESG metrics for each legacy company enabling investors, the financial community and rating agencies to assess our ongoing performance. Following the Husky transaction, Cenovus conducted a robust materiality assessment to establish its ESG focus areas for the combined company. Working with global advisors and engaging internal and external stakeholders, the company reaffirmed that safety and asset integrity, and corporate governance remain foundational to its business. Cenovus also identified the five most significant ESG focus areas for the company: climate & greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water stewardship, biodiversity, Indigenous reconciliation and inclusion & diversity. Our reporting structure, underpinned by these focus areas, aligns with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and IPIECA frameworks.

Concerns about returning to the office post pandemic

As more and more Canadian companies consider the future of work, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, compliments of Canada Life, is releasing new research that shows despite the increase in vaccinations, 46% of Canadians working from home are anxious about the threat of the virus if and when they return to the office. “Many Canadians are no doubt looking forward to getting back to a “new normal” as vaccines roll out and the pandemic subsides,” says Mary Ann Baynton, Director of Collaboration and Strategy, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health. “But for those working from home, this transition presents new and unique concerns, because they’ve been more isolated and have been able to limit their exposure to the virus for a long time. Employers need to understand what their teams are concerned about so they can effectively support them during this significant adjustment.”

News briefs from Monday June 28:

Amazon creating 1,000 jobs in Alberta with new fulfillment centre

Amazon today announced plans to open its first Amazon robotics fulfillment center in Parkland County, Alberta creating more than 1,000 full- and part-time jobs starting at $16 an hour with comprehensive benefits and opportunities to work alongside Amazon Robotics in an industry-leading workplace. The new robotics fulfillment center, set to launch in 2022, is more than 600,000 square feet and will be used to pick, pack and ship small items to customers such as books, electronics, and toys. To celebrate, Amazon will be donating more than 200 build-your-own robot kits to community groups in the Parkland County area with the goal of providing the resources necessary to introduce local youth to the world of robotics, unlock their imagination and explore a new challenge. “We’re excited to expand our operations and create great, safe careers of the future for talented Albertans starting on Day One,” said Vibhore Arora, Regional Director, Amazon Canada. “Robotics and advanced technologies make our fulfillment centres safer and more collaborative, which is a big part of our mission to become Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Canadians spending less at small business and more at big stores

COVID-19 has made it difficult to shop small—a majority of consumers (60 per cent) say they have been spending less at small businesses during the pandemic, and more at big box stores and online giants (59 per cent), according to a new public opinion poll conducted by Maru/Matchbox on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). Despite this, almost nine in 10 Canadians (87 per cent) say they wish they could do more to support small businesses in their community. “With reopening finally a reality in most parts of the country, we now have a big opportunity to show small business the love and support they desperately need,” said Laura Jones, Executive Vice-President at CFIB. The latest data on CFIB’s Small Business Recovery Dashboard shows that: 73 per cent are fully open (compared to 58 per cent two weeks ago);  50 per cent are fully staffed (compared to 42 per cent two weeks ago); and 38 per cent are making normal sales (compared to 34 per cent two weeks ago).

West Edmonton Mall to launch North America’s largest virtual reality attraction

This summer, West Edmonton Mall will unveil North America’s largest virtual reality attraction called ‘Virtual Land’. The announcement was first made Friday evening on the Youtube channel of mall super-fan Matthew Dutczak of Best Edmonton Mall.  Virtual Land will move into part of the retail space formerly occupied by The Brick furniture store in the mall’s Phase 3 — The Brick relocated to the second level of the former Sears store in Phase 1 in the fall of 2019.  More than a dozen themed virtual reality experiences will be featured at Virtual Land, including a military-themed experience, one featuring zombies, and another that will be viking-themed. Virtual Land has gone to great lengths to create these experiences including retrofitting a former Canadian military vehicle as part of the attraction. More details will be unveiled closer to the opening date which is expected to be in August, according to Best Edmonton Mall.

Business openings increase with easing of public health restrictions

In March 2021, the number of business openings in Canada increased by 1.6%, as public health restrictions were less restrictive in many provinces compared with earlier in the year, according to Statistics Canada. After rising steadily over the previous three months, the number of business closures edged down 0.7% in March. The number of active businesses in March was 1.3% below the level observed before the COVID-19 pandemic. The decrease in business closures from February to March 2021 was relatively widespread across provinces and territories, with the exception of Yukon, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, where closures increased slightly. The largest decrease in business closures was observed in Alberta, where there were 11.7% (-740) fewer closures than in the previous month. In Canada, the number of business closures in the first months of 2021 was close to the 2015-to-2019 monthly average, with most provinces and territories having fewer business closures than average. However, they were higher in Ontario and Quebec compared with the 2015-to-2019 monthly average; in March 2021, there were 8.5% more business closures than average in Ontario and 4.5% more than average in Quebec.

GDP for culture and sports on the rise in Canada

Real gross domestic product (GDP) for the culture and sport sectors in Canada increased 1.3% to $13.1 billion in the first quarter of 2021, compared with 1.4% for the total economy, marking three consecutive quarters of growth, says Statistics Canada. On a nominal basis, GDP for culture and sport sectors increased 1.3% to $14.6 billion. Total number of jobs supporting these sectors contracted 0.6% to just over 675,600. Culture GDP increased 0.6% (or $73.3 million) to $13.3 billion, driven by increases in the domains of visual and applied arts, and governance, funding and professional support. Partially offsetting those increases were notable declines in the domains of written and published works, and audio visual and interactive media. Sports GDP increased 9.2% (or +$111.1 million) to $1.3 billion, with most of the increase observed in the organized sport subdomain, where a three-month delay in the start of the NHL season caused a significant decline in the fourth quarter of 2020, followed by a rebound in the first quarter 2021.

Non-profit institutions see a hike in GDP in Q1

Real gross domestic product (GDP) of non-profit institutions edged up 0.2% in the first quarter of 2021, after rising 2.4% in the third quarter of 2020 and 1.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to Statistics Canada. With this increase, the sector recorded its’ highest level of GDP ever recorded since the quarterly series began in the first quarter of 2009, as non-profit institutions serving governments continued to increase throughout the pandemic. The growth of the economy-wide GDP (+1.4%) outpaced that of non-profit institutions. Excluding non-profit institutions serving governments, GDP declined 1.3% in the first quarter of 2021, following a 7.1% increase in the third quarter of 2020 and a 2.5% increase in the fourth quarter of 2020. Year over year, GDP was down 3.8% compared with the first quarter of 2020, as non-profit institutions serving households and businesses continued to be impacted by in-person restrictions and lockdowns.

News briefs from Friday June 25:

Edmonton retail and commercial leasing picks up following pandemic slump

Like all other markets in Canada last year, Edmonton’s retail sector faced many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic but lately activity in the commercial real estate scene is on fire. Paul Raimundo, Vice President, Retail Leasing & Sales for JLL, said Edmonton and Alberta in general started 2020 strong with a number of transactions but when COVID hit “essentially the deal flow part of the process shut down for four months.”

Top priorities for retailers following the COVID-19 pandemic: Q&A

Retail Insider interviewed Antony Karabus, CEO and Farla Efros, President respectively of HRC Retail Advisory on the top priorities for Retailers following the COVID pandemic.

Prime downtown Edmonton development block for sale

CBRE has listed a city block with significant development potential for sale in Edmonton’s downtown warehouse district. The 74,884-square-foot Massey Harris Ferguson Block is close to MacEwan University and the Ice District. “This site is going to be a significant opportunity for a developer to capitalize on the growth of downtown and really become a cornerstone of the warehouse district,” Cody Nelson, associate vice-president, CBRE Limited, told RENX in an interview. A 74-year old building on the south end of the block has been vacant for a decade. The north half of the property is a surface parking lot. The asking price for the Massey Block, which is on 106th Street between 103rd and 104th Avenue, is $14.5 million, or $193 per square foot.

New industrial development flocks to Manitoba’s CentrePort

Like many Canadian industrial markets, the sector in the Winnipeg area has remained strong through the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique CentrePort Canada project, North America’s largest trimodal inland port, continues to grow with speculative development. The 20,000-acre inland port is located in Winnipeg and in the adjacent rural municipality of Rosser. Sandy Shindleman, president of Shindico Realty Inc., which is marketing a new state-of-the-art multi-tenant industrial building with build-to-suit options available in AVAAL Business Park in CentrePort, said the massive Rosser project has several things going for it. Among them are the availability of land, proximity to the city and how difficult the city has been on entitlements, building permits and business taxes.

Gym Harassment: 56.37% women harassed while working out

A survey by RunRepeat found that 56.37% of female gym members have experienced harassment at the gym – 2.68x more than male gym members (21.00%); 92.31% of cases of harassment against females go unreported. Of the female gym members who experienced being harassed: 25.65% stopped using gyms completely or switched gyms; 28.69% felt unsafe or uncomfortable at their gym; 30.13% changed their gym routine, schedule, or avoided certain areas at the gym; and 20.19% changed their clothes or appearance when going to the gym.

News briefs from Thursday June 24:

Optimism improving for Canadian small business owners

Small business confidence over the short and long-term gained momentum in June. With many provinces announcing easing of restrictions, due to solid vaccine rollout plans and lower hospitalization rates, business optimism improved without a doubt, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.  CFIB’s Business Barometer® index, which is based on 12-month forward expectations for business performance, reached 70.1—an almost four-point gain since May. The more immediate optimism index based on the 3-month outlook improved by five points and reached 56.8. National employment plans trend upwards with 24 per cent of entrepreneurs planning on hiring while 15 per cent are forecasting layoffs. More entrepreneurs are indicating that their business health is good compared to firms stating that their business health is poor. Future pricing plans are still skyrocketing with an average price increase estimated at 4.7 per cent; while future wage plans (2.4) are strong but below that level.

Ensign acquiring Nabors’ Canadian drilling assets

Ensign Energy Services Inc. and Nabors Industries Ltd. announce that they, through their subsidiaries, have entered into an agreement for Ensign to acquire, subject to certain closing conditions and receipt of required regulatory approvals, Nabors’ fleet of 35 land-based drilling rigs located in Canada, as well as related equipment and certain real property. Ensign will be funding the purchase price with cash on hand and available Credit Facilities. Robert Geddes, Ensign’s President and Chief Operating Officer, commented on the Transaction: “The acquisition of Nabors’ assets in Canada provides Ensign an expanded fleet of high-spec drilling rigs along with highly technically trained crews, while expanding Ensign’s client base and providing cost synergies. Additionally, Nabors’ deeper high-spec fleet in Canada is equipped similarly to Ensign’s high-spec fleet, with automated drilling controls systems. This technical alignment, right at the drilling rig level, will help Ensign to accelerate the adaptation of more sophisticated drilling control systems that continue to drive innovation, creating value to our clients, all while reducing net emissions. Ensign looks forward to the Nabors’ employees becoming part of the Ensign team.”

Pandemic pummels downtown Montreal retail as many look to a brighter future when students and workers return

The combination of more office people and students working from home, store closures and a decline in tourism took its toll last year on the downtown Montreal retail market as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the province. But there were some positive signs in the sector and now with vaccinations rising and COVID cases falling there is hope a buzz of activity will return to the core of the city. Manon Larose, Senior Vice President, Retail with JLL, said an important element of the retail industry in the Quebec city during the pandemic was the collaboration that took place between the landlords and their retailers.

Pandemic-Induced Digitalization: Implications for Canada’s Labour Market 

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, the Canadian economy has staged an impressive recovery over this past year. This would not have been possible without the increasing use of technology by households and businesses, says a TD Economics report. While the digital transformation has built up the economy’s resilience to the impacts of the health crisis, workers displaced by new technologies may have challenges finding employment in the post-pandemic economy.  The industries hardest hit by the pandemic face the greatest risk of transformation due to automation and digitalization. Some of the jobs lost in last 12 months will never come back. Affected workers will need time to find new jobs and develop new skills. Fiscal and monetary policy will need to remain supportive in order to ease the transition and return the economy to its full potential.

Holt Renfrew announces sustainability initiatives

Holt Renfrew today announces a series of ambitious sustainability initiatives that reinforce its commitment to create a better future for people and planet. Holts is proud to be the first and only Canadian retailer to set approved science-based targets for carbon reduction. Underpinning these targets is a commitment to exit all animal fur and exotic skins by the end of the year and to ensure some of the most environmentally impactful materials across the business come from certified sustainable sources. Today’s announcement places sustainability at the heart of Holt Renfrew. While recognizing there is further to go, Holt Renfrew said it is committed to reinventing retail for a better future, alongside the global Selfridges Group of stores.

News briefs from Wednesday June 23:

Canadian local product search engine ‘SokoLocal’ surpasses 1.5 Million products as it supports small businesses

Calgary-based SokoLocal, a new local product search engine, has surpassed one million products in cities across North America. “We started SokoLocal to help better connect shoppers with local businesses,” said Nikhil Sonpal, Founder, MQLabs. “The interest and growth we have seen in the last month, including cataloguing more than one million product listings on SokoLocal, is made possible because of the passion people have for supporting the communities in which they live, solidifying the need for this type of innovation. With SokoLocal, we have managed to streamline that process helping businesses and consumers alike, which is something we are very proud of. “It’s a product search engine. I felt that there was this whole movement afoot for finding local businesses, supporting local businesses. But the challenge, at least for me, I don’t know that these local businesses exist. I personally don’t shop for businesses by name. I shop for products. So that’s where the idea came about – to create an interface like Amazon, to give users an Amazon-like experience but the convenience of what the underlying technology that Google has to catalogue and index content that is on these websites. What Google does for search in general, we’re trying to carve out a niche for searching for shopping for local products.”  SokoLocal, created and developed by MQLabs, a Calgary-based technology company, launched recently and has since grown a strong presence in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto, with additional cities across North America currently in development.

Amazon announces 2nd renewable energy project in Alberta

Amazon’s second renewable energy project in Alberta is a 375 MW solar farm that is also the largest in the country. When it comes online in 2022, it will bring Amazon’s capacity in Canada to more than 1 million megawatt hours (MWh), enough to power more than 100,000 Canadian homes. “This is great news for our province and for all Albertans. Amazon’s investment in our province means jobs for Albertans, and furthers Alberta’s reputation as a diversified energy powerhouse,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. “And, this is all using private sector money without subsidies from Alberta taxpayers. Alberta’s government continues to show that we are one of the most open for business jurisdictions in North America. Thank you to Amazon for this vote of confidence in Alberta’s economy and our diversified energy future.”

Canadian oil sands production exceeds pre-pandemic levels

Canadian oil sands production has fully recovered from last year’s “COVID-19 Shock”—the largest contraction of upstream production in Canadian history—and has exceeded pre-pandemic levels. However, lingering COVID impacts, pipeline constraints and uncertainties related to an accelerating energy transition have reduced the longer-term growth projection for oil sands. The latest forecast by the IHS Markit Oil Sands Dialogue expects Canadian oil sands production to reach 3.6 million barrels per day (MMbd) in 2030, an increase of 650,000 barrels per day compared to 2021 levels (900,000 b/d from 2020). The previous IHS Markit forecast expected production to reach 3.8 MMbd in 2030. “Canadian oil sands production recovered rapidly to exceed pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020 and the outlook for longer-term growth remains substantial,” said Kevin Birn, vice president and head of Canadian oil market, IHS Markit. “Nevertheless, lingering impacts from the “COVID-19 Shock,” delays to critical transportation infrastructure, and rising energy transition pressures have trimmed that growth outlook from previous estimates.”

WestJet launches dedicated cargo service

WestJet today announced that it is launching a new dedicated cargo service, using 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighters (BCF), as dedicated aircraft, to fulfill the larger-scale needs of Canadian businesses, freight forwarders, shippers and individual customers. The first of these dedicated 737-800BCFs are expected to be in service by the second quarter of 2022. “Our new dedicated commercial cargo aircraft are a natural evolution of the competitive guest services WestJet has successfully provided over our 25-year history. It will provide cargo customers with the reliable on-time performance and competitive cost advantage synonymous with WestJet,” said Charles Duncan, WestJet, Executive Vice-President, Cargo and President, Swoop. Throughout 2022, WestJet Cargo will grow its fleet of 737-800BCFs, to work in tandem with the current offering of WestJet’s existing Cargo business. The 737-800 narrow body aircraft is quick to load and fly, enabling WestJet Cargo to offer greater fuel efficiency, flexibility and frequency for its customers. WestJet Cargo routes and scheduled services will accommodate the diverse needs of cargo customers using WestJet’s existing network and highly skilled 737 pilots.

Shift to online shopping dominating consumer trends: PayPal

Even as Canadians emerge from lockdown, the shift to online shopping is dominating consumer trends. A new survey from PayPal Canada shows Canadians have overall increased their monthly online shopping spend by more than $2 billion compared to pre-pandemic. The survey, titled Trends & Spends: PayPal Canada’s 2021 Consumer Shopping Study, found on average Canadians who responded are spending $178 per month shopping online, an increase of $69 compared to pre-pandemic. Across the country, this translates to almost $5.5B in current monthly online spending and an overall increase of over $2B in monthly online spending. When looking at where people were choosing to spend their money online, the survey noted a significant jump in online grocery shopping. An initial survey of Canadian consumers in March 2020 found that only 19 per cent engaged in online grocery shopping. In a second survey conducted in April 2020, only 30 per cent of Canadians purchased groceries online. Today, our most recent survey shows that number has jumped to 49 per cent.

Canadian energy sector GDP on the rise

Real gross domestic product (GDP) of the natural resources sector  in Canada rose 2.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, the third consecutive quarterly increase, according to Statistics Canada.  The rise in the natural resources sector was strong, compared with economy-wide real GDP (+1.4 per cent), reflecting growing demand for natural resource products as the country recovers from the pandemic. The first quarter real natural resource GDP increase was broad-based. Real GDP of the energy subsector increased 2.6 per cent, largely from export-led gains in production due to increased consumption and positive price trends.

Canadian retail sales down again in April from the third COVID wave

Canadian retail sales were down 5.7 per cent to $54.8 billion in April, says a Statistics Canada report. The decline coincided with the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and was the largest decline in retail sales since April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic. The largest declines were observed in clothing and clothing accessories stores (-28.6 per cent) and general merchandise stores (-8.1 per cent). Sales decreased in 9 of 11 subsectors, representing 74.2 per cent of retail trade.Core retail sales—which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers—decreased 7.6 per cent. In volume terms, retail sales decreased 5.6 per cent in April.

News briefs from Tuesday June 22:

Upscale Calgary-based retailer O’Connors looks to future growth post-pandemic

For decades fine clothing and footwear independent retailer O’Connors has weathered all the economic storms Calgary has suffered through including the current one brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The retailer has lived through a number of recessions and economic downturns over those years and has survived, and thrived, while many other retailers had to close their doors. One thing has been consistent over that period of time and a key to the family owned and operated retailer – consistently delivering a quality product with exceptional customer service.

Downtown Calgary office building converted to city’s newest boutique hotel

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic which has gutted Canada’s hospitality sector, the Silver Hotel Group has forged ahead with the conversion of an under-utilized downtown Calgary office space into the city’s newest boutique hotel. Asheet Ruparell, president of the family-run company, said development of The Westley Hotel is a sign of optimism in Calgary’s long-term future. “Calgary already had some economic issues before we did this project and we have other hotels in Calgary,” Ruparell told RENX in an interview. “We saw numbers slowly trailing down, but we also saw an opportunity. There has not been, relatively speaking, very much supply added in the downtown market. Most of the supply was added up by the airport and other areas. We knew there was a market downtown for the right product. A lot of the products were tired, old and the product that we are bringing to the market is unique. It’s based loosely on the boutique hotel with a strong food and beverage focus on the main floor that creates a sense of community where locals can come and hang out.  . . . It creates a very vibrant space that the hotel traveller would go into and not be like a typical hotel.”

Oxford Properties launches outdoor patios at all enclosed shopping mall properties in Canada

Major Canadian shopping centre owner Oxford Properties Group has launched outdoor dining patios in all its enclosed malls across Canada. “Dining is an important part of the shopping centre experience, and we are deeply invested in the success of all restaurants and food tenants,” said L.A. Glassford, VP Restaurant, Entertainment, Urban Retail, Oxford Properties. “A number of the food and beverage establishments in our shopping centres have weathered prolonged mall closures. These outdoor dining areas are designed to provide an opportunity for our customers to enjoy food from these businesses in a pleasant environment that adheres to provincial safety measures. These patios also support our restaurants with much-needed additional seating as consumer demand has exceeded expectations.” Glassford said one thing the company thought about quite early with all the closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic was how it was going to support its food and beverage businesses in general in their enclosed malls.

Parkland announces BC’s largest EV ultra-fast charging network

Parkland Corporation announces plans to launch the largest network (by site count) of Electric Vehicle ultra-fast chargers in British Columbia. Strategically located on major highways and in key cities and towns across Parkland’s extensive retail portfolio, this network of approximately 25 high-quality sites will stretch from Vancouver Island to Calgary and is expected to open to customers in 2022. “Parkland’s purpose is to power journeys and energize communities and for over 50 years we have served our customers’ evolving energy and convenience needs,” said Bob Espey, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Coupled with our track record of renewable fuel manufacturing, our ultra-fast charging network is one of many disciplined, focused investments we are making as part of our approach to energy transition.”

First Nations ownership in smaller-scale energy projects key to success

To increase Indigenous ownership in the oil industry, First Nations should focus on small and medium-sized projects rather than mega-projects that require massive assistance from government, finds a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank. “The energy industry, and particularly the oil sector remains Canada’s leading private-sector source of high-paying jobs and contracts for Indigenous people, so greater cooperation among First Nations and the industry will increase opportunity in communities that need it badly,” said Tom Flanagan, Fraser Institute senior fellow and author of First Nations and the Petroleum Industry—from Conflict to Cooperation. For example, the Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations in 2017 purchased part of the Suncor East Tank Farm in northern Alberta. And in the same region, several First Nations invested in Kineticor’s gas-fired electricity generator.

Canadian job vacancies increase in Q1

There were 553,500 job vacancies in the first quarter of 2021, up by 40,700 (+7.9 per cent) from the same quarter one year earlier and by 47,300 (+9.4 per cent) compared with two years earlier, according to Statistics Canada. The job vacancy rate—which represents vacant positions as a proportion of all positions (vacant and occupied)—increased 0.5 percentage points to 3.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, the highest rate since comparable data became available in 2015. The increase was the result of both an increase in vacancies and a decline (-1,122,300; -6.9 per cent) in payroll employment. While job vacancies increased from the first quarter of 2020 to the same quarter in 2021, unemployment increased dramatically (+427,000, according to Labour Force Survey data) over the same period, a direct result of the COVID-19 public health restrictions. As a result, the ratio of unemployed people per job vacancy increased from 2.6 to 3.2 year over year.

Big increase in online spending in Canada in 2020

The Internet was a lifeline for many Canadians in 2020. It was where we worked and studied, how we stayed in touch with loved ones and increasingly where we shopped. While the share of Canadians (92 per cent) using the Internet increased only slightly since 2018 (91 per cent), how we use it and for how long each day has changed dramatically since the onset of the pandemic, says a Statistics Canada report. During a year when brick and mortar stores were not always an option, many Canadians turned to the Internet for their purchases. More than four in five Canadians (82 per cent) shopped online in 2020, up from 73 per cent in 2018. Online spending rose by approximately one-half over this period, from $57.4 billion to $84.4 billion.

International arrivals in Canada increase from a year ago

April marked more than a full year with border restrictions in effect to contain the spread of COVID-19. Although historically low, the number of international arrivals to Canada during April increased from the same month a year earlier, says Statistics Canada. Travellers from overseas countries made 35,000 trips to Canada in April, more than twice the number of last April, but still down 92.7 per cent from pre-pandemic levels of April 2019. In April, the number of American residents that travelled to Canada increased by almost 45,000 compared with April 2020, yet this is down 94.0 per cent from the same month in 2019. Canadians took 338,400 return trips home from abroad in April. While up by over 150,000 from last April when the nationwide lockdown came into force, it was down 93.2 per cent from April 2019.

Decline in Canadian food services and drinking places sales

On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales in the food services and drinking places subsector in Canada fell 11.7 per cent to $4.4 billion in April 2021 compared with the previous month, as the third wave of COVID-19 and its resulting restrictions swept across the country, says a report by Statistics Canada. Sales declined at full-service restaurants (-21.3 per cent), limited-service restaurants (-4.5 per cent), special food services (-12.4 per cent) and drinking places (-22.0 per cent). Nine of the provinces reported lower sales with the largest decrease in Ontario (-16.1 per cent) as a province-wide stay at home order came into effect on April 8. The next largest decreases were in British Columbia (-14.4 per cent) and Alberta (-12.5 per cent) as indoor dining was restricted in both provinces.

Canadian employers who don’t sustain current flexibility could risk losing half of their workforce

The EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey finds that 93 per cent of respondents are likely to stay with their organization for the next 12 months or more — that is, if they have control on where and when they work. On the contrary, more than half (54 per cent) say they would leave their company if current flexibility in schedule and work location is not extended post-pandemic. “Whether you know — and accept — it or not, your employees have been forever transformed, and walking back this sea of change isn’t an option,” explains Darryl Wright, Partner, People Advisory Services at EY Canada. “Employees have embraced the flexibility that tech-enabled remote working has made possible. And they don’t expect it to stop in the aftermath of the pandemic. This is a critical moment for collaboration among all senior executives – from the CHRO and CTO to the CEO – to reimagine a model that supports both a safe transition and physical transformation to the workplace.”

News briefs from Monday June 21:

CFIB calls on federal government to resolve support program issues

With the House of Commons set to close for the summer in the coming days, the federal government must quickly resolve some of the biggest issues still plaguing its small business support programs and address rising debt levels, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). This includes further expanding the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and freezing the wage and rent subsidies at their current levels until the economy can fully reopen. “On average, small businesses have taken on $163,000 in COVID-related debt, and many don’t have a clear path to repaying it. This will be the next big obstacle small business owners have to face, even as they reopen, and they don’t have the option to take the summer off and deal with it in the fall. They need action from the government now,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. Nearly half (46 per cent) of businesses are worried about their survival given the debt they have taken on.

Alberta sees net loss in people migration in Q1 2021

For the fourth quarter in a row, more people left Alberta for other parts of Canada than arrived from elsewhere in the country, says The Owl, a daily economic update from ATB Economics. According to the latest population data from Statistics Canada, Alberta lost 3,384 people to other provinces and territories over the first three months of 2021. The net loss since the second quarter of 2020 comes to 7,633. People move around the country for a wide range of reasons, but Alberta tends to be a net recipient when our economy is thriving and vice versa. Alberta’s economy was the hardest hit among the provinces last year and the unemployment rate was above the national average, so the net outflow is not a surprise.

CN investing $445 million in Alberta

CN announces plans to invest approximately C$445 million in Alberta in 2021 as part of CN’s C$3 billion capital investment plan across its network. In Alberta, CN’s investment will focus on technology, capacity, and infrastructure maintenance to enhance safety and the fluidity of its network. “Our consistent and proactive infrastructure investment strategy and the essential work of our employees and supply chain partners are what enable CN to keep the economy moving safely and smoothly year after year. Safety is a core value at CN and we will continue to invest in our track and in technology to support our overall network capacity and provide our customers with safe and reliable service. As we look to the future, we are excited about the opportunity to do even more for our customers, employees, communities and shareholders through our end-to-end, pro-competitive combination with Kansas City Southern, which will connect North America and build the premier railway for the 21st Century,” said James Thompson, Vice-President, Western Region at CN.

Planning for the worst to secure continuity for retailers

Circumstances over the past 16 months or so surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, its global spread and the subsequent havoc that it’s wreaked on industries and businesses all over the world have served as a stark example of the possible disasters that can strike and the potentially severe impacts that they can have on operations. In tandem with this, it’s provided a monumental real-life case study, complete with a multitude of success stories as well as unfortunate tales of failure and loss, detailed with the factors that contributed toward each set of contrasting results. And, although retailers throughout the country are currently preparing to fully reopen to the public and welcome consumers into a post-pandemic retail environment, Stephen O’Keefe, industry expert and President of retail consultancy Bottom Line Matters, believes that they should also be preparing for the worst, revisiting their organizations’ business continuity plans to ensure the viability and capability of their operations during times of disruption. “The industry has obviously been hit very hard by impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. “The most obvious consequence has been a loss of sales during the past 16 months or so. However, the far greater and most detrimental result of the pandemic was the shutdown, at least in part, of the industry in cities and provinces across the country and the effect that it has had on people in communities everywhere. Everyone is impacted to some extent by retail. People are employed within the industry, providing them with a means to make a living. And people shop at retailers to purchase the items that they need. We saw when the pandemic hit that there were many retail operations that were not able to continue running anywhere near the levels that they could have been running at if they had been prepared. It’s such an important industry, serving a significant role in propping up the Canadian economy, that there is an obligation on the part of businesses to maintain optimum operation, despite the disturbance or disruption that might occur. And that’s exactly when the importance of a comprehensive and thoughtful business continuity plan comes to light. If developed and maintained properly, they’re hugely important in helping retailers and other businesses prepare for events like a pandemic, and others, ensuring that any negative impacts to the business are limited, or even mitigated altogether.”