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Air Canada shares close marginally lower after government takes equity stake

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By Allison Lampert and Maiya Keidan

MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada stock ended marginally lower in volatile trading on Tuesday on concerns that existing shareholdings would be diluted after the federal government took an equity stake in the carrier as part of C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) in aid.

Analysts and investors said Air Canada‘s decision to accept the bigger-than-expected aid package was the right decision for Canada‘s largest carrier as it tries to cope with the crippling downturn in air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Definitely a positive development because it’s giving them access to a very attractively priced backstop credit facility at very reasonable terms,” said Catharine Sterritt, portfolio manager at CIBC Asset Management, a top shareholder.

The deal announced on Monday gives Ottawa a roughly 6% stake in the airline at a discount of 14%, which prompted several analysts to cut their price targets.

“We believe some investors could be negatively surprised by equity dilution and a repayable loan for refunds,” Scotiabank’s Konark Gupta wrote in a note, while reiterating a “sector perform” rating on the stock.

Air Canada shares opened more than 4% higher before sinking about 6.7% and closed down 0.44% at C$26.88 in Toronto.

“In spite of the dilution we see, we still see a path for this company to be worth in excess of at least C$40 when the COVID situation and the airline situation normalizes all a bit more,” Paul Younes, an investment analyst at Letko Brosseau and Associates, which holds the stock, told Bloomberg TV.

Canada is wrestling with soaring COVID-19 cases driven by coronavirus variants and a comparatively slower vaccination rollout than in the United States, raising questions about the reopening of air travel.

“The bigger issue for AC and its investors is the timing around the vaccine rollout and eventual lifting of travel restrictions, as most markets that have reopened show strong pent-up demand,” Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth said in a note.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday praised the deal with Air Canada as “good and fair.”

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – came after the airline industry criticized Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling.

TD Securities analyst Tim James said the access to capital would prove to be insurance as opposed to necessary liquidity required to finance operations or capital expenditures in 2021 and beyond. He cut his target price on Air Canada to C$29 from C$31, while reaffirming a “hold” rating.

Air Canada would ease restrictions on future refunds for passengers, a key part of the government talks.

Canada‘s government also is engaged in aid talks with WestJet Airlines Ltd and Transat AT Inc.

($1 = 1.2589 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)

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Calgary Stampede to proceed with limited events

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The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada‘s biggest and booziest party, will go ahead this year after being pulled in 2020 due to the pandemic, though it will not look and feel the same, an event organizer told CBC Radio.

“It won’t be your typical Stampede … it’s not the experience that you had in years past,” Kristina Barnes, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, told a CBC Radio programme on Friday.

She said organizers were still deciding whether to include rodeo or the grandstand show in this year’s version.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“The Safest and Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what we’re going to call it this year,” Barnes said, adding the organizers are working directly with Alberta Health to ensure Stampede experiences stay “within the guidelines” that may be in effect in July.

The event is scheduled to take place between July 9-18, according to the Calgary Stampede website.

Last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the Calgary Stampede can probably go ahead this year as Alberta’s coronavirus vaccination campaign accelerates.

Barnes and the office of the Alberta premier were not available for immediate comment.

The cancellation of the event last year was a crushing disappointment for Canada‘s oil capital.

The news comes as Alberta has been dealing with a punishing third wave of the pandemic, with the province having among the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 cases in the country. Data released on Friday showed the province had 1,433 new cases, compared with the seven-day average of 1,644.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chris Reese)

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U.S. trade chief pressured to lift duties on Canadian lumber

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 As U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai prepares to meet her Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Monday to review progress in the new North American trade agreement, she is under pressure from home builders and lawmakers to cut U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Shortages of softwood lumber amid soaring U.S. housing demand and mill production curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused prices to triple in the past year, adding $36,000 to the average cost of a new single-family home, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Republican lawmakers have taken up the builders’ cause, asking Tai during hearings in Congress last week to eliminate the 9% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Senator John Thune told Tai that high lumber costs were “having a tremendous impact on the ground” in his home state of South Dakota and putting homes out of reach for some working families.

The Trump administration initially imposed 20% duties in 2018 after the collapse of talks on a new quota arrangement, but reduced the level in December 2020.

“The Biden administration must address these unprecedented lumber and steel costs and broader supply-chain woes or risk undermining the economic recovery,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Without tariff relief and other measures, vital construction projects will fall behind schedule or be canceled.”

On Friday, White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse said the Biden administration was weighing concerns about commodity shortages and inflation as it reviews trade policy.

The tariffs are allowed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which permits duties to combat price dumping and unfair subsidies.

The U.S. Commerce Department has ruled that lumber from most Canadian provinces is unfairly subsidized because it is largely grown on public lands with cheap harvesting fees set by Ottawa. U.S. timber is mainly harvested from privately-owned land.

Tai said she would bring up the lumber issue with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng at the first meeting of the USMCA Free Trade Council, a minister-level body that oversees the trade deal.

WILLING PARTNER

But Tai told U.S. senators that despite higher prices, the fundamental dispute remains and there have been no talks on a new lumber quota arrangement.

“In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging,” Tai said.

Youmy Han, a spokeswoman for Canada‘s trade ministry, said the U.S. duties were “unjustified,” and that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Our government believes a negotiated agreement is possible and in the best interests of both countries,” Han said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

But builders are growing frustrated with a lack of high-level engagement with high-level Biden administration officials on the issue as they watch lumber prices rise.

“They are clearly still gathering facts, which is even more frustrating given that this issue has been going on since before the election, before the inaugural,” said James Tobin, a vice president and top lobbyist at the NAHB.

 

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Centerra to fight Kyrgyzstan takeover of its gold mine

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Centerra Gold said on Sunday it has initiated binding arbitration against Kyrgyzstan government, after the parliament passed a law allowing the state to temporarily take over the country’s biggest industrial enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine operated by Centerra.

Recently, a Kyrgyzstan court also imposed $3.1 billion fine on Kumtor Gold Company (KGC), which operates the gold mine, after ruling that the firm had violated environmental laws.

The gold miner said that it intends to hold the government accountable in the arbitration for “any and all losses and damage” due to its recent actions against KGC and the Kumtor mine if no resolution is reached.

“The Government’s actions have left Centerra no choice but to exercise our legal rights, through the pursuit of arbitration and otherwise, to protect the interests of KGC, Centerra and our shareholders,” Centerra’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Perry said in a press release.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of disputes with Centerra Gold over how to share profits from the former Soviet republic’s biggest industrial enterprise.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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