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Global stocks soar on easing U.S.-China trade fears

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Stocks worldwide hit one-month highs and U.S. Treasury yields surged on Thursday as renewed U.S.-China trade optimism and upbeat U.S. economic data boosted risk appetite and lured investors away from safe-haven assets.

The announcement that top negotiators from the United States and China will meet in early October in Washington raised hopes of a possible resolution to the two countries’ brutal trade war that has shaken markets and wreaked havoc on the global economy.

The news built on Wednesday’s tide of optimism after the British parliament blocked a no-deal exit from the European Union and Hong Kong scrapped the extradition bill that sparked riots.

“Yesterday we had two big geopolitical risks diminish, Hong Kong and Brexit,” said Oliver Pursche, chief market strategist at Bruderman Asset Management in New York. “And today we had trade, the biggest of them all, diminish.

“It’s clear that stock prices are very much correlated and influenced by the political winds surrounding trade,” Pursche added.

In Toronto, the S&P/TSX composite index was unofficially up 125.97 points, or 0.77 per cent, at 16,574.81.

Eight of the index’s 11 major sectors rose, led by the 2.7-per-cent climb in the energy sector.

The financials sector gained 1.4 per cent, while the industrials sector rose 1.6 per cent.

The materials sector, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, lost 2.5 per cent as gold futures fell.

Leading the index were Descartes Systems Group Inc., up 10.0 per cent, Birchcliff Energy Ltd., up 8 per cent, and CannTrust Holdings Inc., higher by 7.4 per cent.

Lagging shares were Centerra Gold Inc., down 9.3 per cent, First Majestic Silver Corp., down 9.1 per cent, and Detour Gold Corp., lower by 8.3 per cent.

U.S. private payrolls increased in August at their fastest pace in four months, accordin to ADP, blowing past analyst estimates ahead of Friday’s more comprehensive jobs report from the Labor Department.

A separate report showed the U.S. services industry rebounded last month to its fastest expansion since February, bouncing back from a three-year low, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI).

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 371.93 points, or 1.41 per cent, to 26,727.4, the S&P 500 gained 38.17 points, or 1.30 per cent, to 2,975.95 and the Nasdaq Composite added 139.95 points, or 1.75 per cent, to 8,116.83.

Euro zone and emerging markets stocks charged higher on the renewed trade hopes.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.72 per cent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 1.11 per cent.

Emerging market stocks rose 1.22 per cent. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 1.09 per cent higher, while Japan’s Nikkei rose 2.12 per cent.

News of the impending trade talks sent U.S. Treasury yields soaring on hopes that a long-elusive deal might remove an impediment to growth.

Benchmark 10-year notes last fell 31/32 in price to yield 1.5636 per cent, from 1.459 per cent late on Wednesday.

The 30-year bond last fell 73/32 in price to yield 2.055 per cent, from 1.957 per cent late on Wednesday.

The dollar held its losses against a basket of world currencies following the upbeat U.S. jobs data. Earlier, the news of renewed trade talks weighed on the dollar and the yen while boosting riskier currencies.

The pound sterling, however, rose to its highest level against the greenback in over a month on hopes that a no-deal Brexit could be avoided.

The dollar index fell 0.04 per cent, with the euro up 0.04 per cent to $1.1037.

The Japanese yen weakened 0.50 per cent versus the greenback at 106.94 per dollar, while Sterling was last trading at $1.2317, up 0.55 per cent on the day.

Gold prices slid as signs of a trade war thaw and stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data sent investors to riskier assets.

Spot gold dropped 2.1 per cent to $1,520.57 an ounce.

Copper rose 1.63 per cent to $5,841.50 a tonne.

Three-month aluminum on the London Metal Exchange rose 0.73 per cent to $1,788.00 a tonne.

Oil prices were little changed on Thursday as support from a sharp drawdown in U.S. crude inventories was countered by fears of slowing global demand growth amid doubts over resolving the U.S.-China trade feud.

Global benchmark Brent crude settled at $60.95 a barrel, rising 25 cents, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 4 cents to end at $56.30.

U.S. crude and product inventories fell last week, with crude drawing down for a third consecutive week despite a jump in imports, the Energy Information Administration said.

Crude stocks dropped 4.8 million barrels, nearly double analysts’ expectations, to 423 million barrels, their lowest since October 2018.

“It’s definitely a bullish report all around,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.

Oil soared more than 2 per cent after the EIA report, but prices gradually pared those gains as skepticism crept back over the prospect of a nearing trade deal between the world’s two top economies despite another round of talks being scheduled for next month.

“I think the market across the board has built in as much hopefulness as they can about the U.S.-China trade war,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital in New York.

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CN strike could hit country hard

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Thousands of Canadian National Railway workers went on strike Tuesday, threatening a crucial artery for exports of oil, grain, chemicals and minerals and leaving some vulnerable Prairie regions potentially without any mode of commercial transportation.

Talks in Montreal were ongoing Tuesday after 3,200 CN conductors, train and yard personnel stopped work at midnight. The company and union have been unable to bridge an impasse on items ranging from pharmaceutical benefits to time-off provisions.

The strike at Canada’s largest railway comes despite a push for a deal by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who met with union and CN representatives Monday. Union concerns include fatigue, safety and ensuring workers’ breaks aren’t reduced.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservatives, and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage each separately urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter to immediately recall Parliament. Trudeau has said he is not reconvening Parliament until Dec. 5 and the government cannot start the process to force workers back on the job until then.

Neither Via Rail nor commuter trains in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – which run on CN tracks – are affected.

While grain farmers warned of massive economic damage that could result from a service reduction during peak shipping season, mining industry leaders foresaw layoffs and a threat to Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.

A rail stoppage impacts both the ability of companies to deliver fuel and other inputs to their operations and to move mineral products and by-products out to customers.

“This strike will result in a severe reduction or elimination of railway capacity and will trigger the closure of mines with concurrent lay-offs of thousands of employees beginning in a matter of days,” Pierre Gratton, chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada, said in a statement.

He urged the government to impose binding arbitration on current and future labour disruptions involving Class 1 railroads.

Past strikes at CN and Canadian Pacific, the country’s second-largest railway, have tended to be brief, ending in a few days or less after back-to-work legislation was threatened or imposed. But the political calendar in Ottawa could make that solution difficult to implement this time around, said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

“I am concerned this one will be a different animal because Parliament is not sitting,” said Porter, adding the lack of a recent extended rail strike makes estimating the economic impact difficult. “The fact that we are in a minority government situation and we haven’t even had a throne speech really complicates the timing.”

CN will likely be able to fill about 60 per cent of the lost conductor jobs with office managers and other workers that hold those certifications, limiting the impact on the railway, economists at CIBC World Markets said in a note.

“We therefore don’t see a material impact on GDP at this point,” CIBC economist Katherine Judge wrote.

The potential is for massive economic harm

Ward Toma, general manager, Alberta Canola

The strike comes during peak shipping season for wheat and canola farmers. Canada’s two largest commodity exports are typically harvested in September and October and transported via rail to shipping ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C. There, they are transferred onto large vessels and shipped to key markets including China, Japan and Indonesia.

With little storage available at the ports, farmers rely on CN and CP to continuously move grains on most days of the year. Indeed, during the current shipping season, CN alone deploys about 5,600 rail cars a week for this purpose, said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“That’s over half a million tonnes of grain that won’t move if those cars aren’t able to be delivered into the system,” Steve said.

This year’s wheat and canola harvests have been delayed due to heavy snowfall across all three Prairie provinces, he added, leaving a significant amount of the crop under a blanket of snow. Farmers have also been struggling to dry canola and wheat due to unusually wet conditions.

“(Farmers) may not have harvested the crop yet and what they do have, well, if they can’t deliver it, they’re not paid,” Steve said. “So even a one-week interruption of rail service would be extremely concerning to us.”

Some northern Prairie communities that count canola farming and forestry among their most important industries are serviced entirely by CN. Companies in the Peace River region of northern Alberta and British Columbia, for instance, rely on CN to ship farm and forestry products, said Ward Toma, general manager of Alberta Canola.

“There’s a lot of agricultural acreage up there and a good million and a half acres of canola, most of it still under the snow,” he said. “The potential is for massive economic harm.”

Canada will export 21 million tonnes of wheat this year and about nine million tonnes of canola seed.

Any disruption in (oil) shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage

Catching up on shipments of commodities after rail service is disrupted is extremely difficult given the limited capacity in the system, said Neil Townsend, a senior analyst at FarmLink Marketing Solutions.

“There’s only so many trains that can go through the mountains in British Columbia,” he said. “You can’t just double them. So that’s our constraint. If we miss a week we never get it back.”

Canadian steelmakers rely on rail to supply iron ore to their mills and to ship finished steel products out. Unlike other industries, steelmakers have the option of using other forms of shipping.

“But will there be supply when so many other industries are trying to do the same thing?” said Catherine Cobden, president of the Canadian Steel Producers’ Association. “That’s how critical the railroad is. If this goes on for any amount of time it could impact our members profoundly.”

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said maintaining rail was particularly important given the shortage of pipeline capacity.

“CN Rail regularly ships in excess of 170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil per day,” Savage said in a statement. “Any disruption in shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks due to cancelled and delayed pipelines. Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product.”

A strike may temporarily constrain CN’s volumes, but will not likely have a meaningful long-term impact on the company’s earnings, Credit Suisse analysts said in a research note on Monday.

Shares of Montreal-based CN fell one per cent Tuesday, while the benchmark Canadian share index was up slightly.

With files from Reuters

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Next phase of transit job action to be announced Wednesday

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The union representing striking Metro Vancouver transit workers is set to announce Wednesday the next phase of job action as dozens of Unifor members from the Coast Mountain Bus company prepare to receive strike training.

The union said in a statement the escalation was caused by “a failure by the employer to make new offers at the bargaining table.”

Meanwhile, transit users in Metro Vancouver had a slightly smoother commute Tuesday with no SeaBus cancellations, as the labour dispute entered its 19th day.

TransLink was reporting delays on some bus routes early Tuesday, however, and advised transit users to look up their route at alerts.translink.ca.

“Ultimately, this job action is difficult to anticipate,” TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy told CBC News Monday.

“That’s sort of how the union has designed this — that’s why they’ve gone with this overtime ban.”

On Monday the network experienced as much as a 10 per cent drop in service due to bus drivers refusing to work extra hours.

Unifor, which represents bus drivers, mechanics and SeaBus operators, says bus drivers will refuse overtime hours again on Wednesday and Friday.

Seeking wage increase

The union said CMBC remains unwilling to discuss wages, a key issue in the dispute, while the company insists its proposal is well above increases offered to other public-sector workers in the province.

Unifor has said they are seeking a wage increase that would bring their workers closer to those in other major regions, like Toronto.

“Currently, the difference is about $2.85 an hour, but Toronto is set to receive another two per cent each in the next two years. So it’s about three dollars an hour,” said Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle.

TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews said it comes down to what the company can afford.

“Money doesn’t come from nowhere, it doesn’t grow on trees and we’ve presented an offer that the region can afford,” she said.

“If we go beyond that, it could mean things like raising fares or raising taxes or cutting service that we’d hoped to roll out through expansion plans.”

Unifor’s overtime ban has so far forced the cancellations of dozens of SeaBus sailings and delayed or cancelled numerous bus routes over the past several week.

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Toronto Star shutting down StarMetro newspapers

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The Toronto Star is shutting down its StarMetro newspapers across Canada.

A Torstar spokesperson tells News media the final print editions in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax will be published Dec. 20, but that digital content will still be available.

“We are going digital-only outside of Ontario as more and more of our commuter readers are using their smartphones, laptops and tablets to access their news on their way to and from work,” Bob Hepburn told CBC News in an email.

“This trend, coupled with a corresponding decline in print advertising volumes, has decreased the need for a free daily commuter newspaper in these cities.”

An internal email sent to staff by Torstar president and CEO John Boynton stated “print advertising volumes have decreased significantly in recent months to levels below those required to make them commercially viable.”

Boynton’s memo, provided to CBC News, suggested 73 employees would be affected by the closures of the papers.

The memo also said there are plans to open new Star bureaus in the coming weeks in Vanouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax that will be staffed by Star journalists. The jobs were going to be posted internally on Tuesday and externally on Wednesday.

CBC News has learned the new digital bureaus will be staffed by five reporters in Vancouver, five reporters in Alberta and one in Halifax.

It was only a year ago the company rebranded its free Metro daily newspapers across Canada. The rebrand included an investment that more than doubled the number of Metro journalists, The Star reported at the time.

By Tuesday afternoon, reporters for the paper were tweeting about the shutdown.

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