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Alberta to declare oil sands workers essential as province prepares COVID-19 pandemic response



Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, seen here in Edmonton on June 18, 2019, told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail the oil sands are strategically important to Alberta and Canada, and more information on their continued operation would be released in the coming days. AMBER BRACKEN/The Canadian Press

Oil sands workers will be declared essential in Alberta as the province prepares a list of who will keep working should it need to ratchet up its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario and Quebec shuttered all non-essential businesses Monday in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Essential workplaces in those provinces include supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies, takeout and delivery restaurants, hotels, and hardware, liquor, beer and cannabis stores.

An Alberta government source, not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said their province will soon take similar action. The source said the list is currently being developed by a cross-ministry team with officials from health, labour, energy and municipal affairs under the guidance of the Provincial Operations Centre.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail the oil sands are strategically important to Alberta and Canada, and more information on their continued operation would be released in the coming days.

She said the health and safety of the thousands of workers from across Canada who live in fly-in, fly-out oil sands camps in northern Alberta, typically for several weeks at a stretch, will be a focus for the government.

Workers live communally in the camps, sharing bedrooms, washrooms, and elbow space in lunchrooms – conditions that make them ripe for a COVID-19 outbreak, experts say. But symptoms of the virus may be mild in the sector’s mainly young and physically healthy work force.

The risk is that they may then have contact with other people who are more vulnerable, such as seniors or people with underlying conditions.

Last week, a worker at Borealis Lodge, about 22 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, was taken to hospital with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Civeo Corp., a U.S. company that operates that camp and others in the oil sands, told The Globe and Mail Tuesday the worker’s test came back negative.

Ms. Savage said camp operators are currently working with Alberta Health Services to ensure appropriate operating standards, including changes to food service operations and transportation methods, and ensuring proper social distancing protocols.

In the case of Civeo, the company said that means packaged food and reduced canteen hours, screening new arrivals for symptoms, controlled access to common areas, and banning anyone who has travelled internationally from accessing a facility for 14 days after their return.

Oil sands producers continue to operate despite oil prices battered by reduced demand because of the contagion, and a global oil-price war being waged by Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Those market conditions have led North American oil companies to slash more than US$20 billion from their capital budgets in efforts to protect their bottom lines.

The latest massive dial-down came from Suncor Energy Inc., which on Monday night announced it would trim spending by $1.5 billion this year. It also revised its crude production forecast down by 7 per cent.

A multibillion-dollar government aid package for Canada’s energy industry, expected to come from Ottawa, could be at least week away. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he would like to see federal cash for a program to help clean up abandoned and inactive oil and gas wells, which would create jobs and shrink company liabilities.

As the sector faces its ongoing financial woes, Alberta’s Associate Minister of Natural Gas, Dale Nally, saw his folio expanded Tuesday to include electricity.

The government said in a statement the effective operation of Alberta’s natural gas and electricity systems is critical to the province’s health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to support much-needed economic activity.

Mr. Kenney said the change would allow Ms. Savage to focus on the “unprecedented challenges” faced by Alberta’s largest industry.

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Canada's Big Five banks cut prime rates for third time in a month –



Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal have cut their prime lending rates 50 basis points to 2.45 per cent from 2.95 per cent in a move matching the Bank of Canada’s latest interest rate cut.

It’s the third significant cut to the prime rate in less than three weeks, following a pair of 50 basis point cuts on March 16 and March 5.

The prime rate underpins a slate of variable-rate loans, including mortgages, and thus impact the cost of borrowing for a range of financial products.

BoC emergency rate cut in 90 seconds

The Bank of Canada has made a second unscheduled cut to its benchmark interest rate, lowering it to 0.25 per cent amid the COVID-19 crisis.

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Buy Alert: 2 Bank Stocks on Sale Today – The Motley Fool Canada



Canadian bank stocks have received a lot of attention in recent weeks. The top financial institutions in the country have seen their stocks fall victim to the global selloff. Markets were volatile again on March 27, as investors continue to fear the long-term impacts of the economic shutdown.

The outbreak of COVID-19 is reportedly weeks away from its peak in the United States and Canada, which makes it impossible to predict when the ongoing lockdowns will end.

These conditions are worrisome. The longer the lockdowns go on, the longer it will take for normalcy to return. Investors should not expect a snap back to regularity when these lockdowns do eventually end.

With that in mind, let’s look at two bank stocks that are worth dipping into in April. These equities offer long-term promise, and both boast attractive dividends.

National Bank

National Bank (TSX:NA) stock was down 8% in early afternoon trading on March 27. Its shares have dropped 26% month over month. The bank stock enjoyed an uptick over the past week, but a return to volatility may threaten this return to normal.

When we look at bank stocks right now, investors should consider dollar cost averaging in order to mitigate the risks of higher volatility.

In the first quarter of 2020, National Bank posted net income growth in each of its major segments. As it stands today, we may as well throw these results out the window. Economists are predicting a sharp and brutal contraction, and bank stocks will likely be hard hit.

As it stands today, National Bank possesses a favourable price-to-earnings ratio of 7.6 and a price-to-book value of 1.4. Moreover, the bank boasts an immaculate balance sheet. The stock last paid out a quarterly dividend of $0.71 per share, representing a strong 5.2% yield.


Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) shares were down 5.6% in early afternoon trading on March 27. The stock has dropped 19% over the past month. Earlier this month, I’d discussed why Scotiabank’s Latin American exposure was reason for optimism in this uncertain environment.

The bank’s Global Wealth Management and Global Banking and Markets segments put together a strong first quarter. Adjusted net income rose 12% year over year to $306 million in Global Wealth Management and it increased 35% to $451 million in Global Banking and Markets.

Unfortunately, Latin America is just beginning to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. While Brazil’s government has sought to press on with business as usual, it’s receiving considerable pushback from the populace.

Shares of Scotiabank last possessed a favourable P/E ratio of 8 and a P/B value of 1.1. Scotia also has a flawless balance sheet, which makes it a stable choice going forward even in the face of this unprecedented economic shutdown. Banks can also take solace in government action that has allowed clients to defer payments and avoid mass defaults.

Scotia last paid out a quarterly dividend of $0.90 per share, which represents a tasty 6.2% yield.

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Fool contributor Ambrose O’Callaghan has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA.

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Saudis not bowing to Trump admin pressure to end oil price war –



Saudi Arabia said on Friday that it was not in talks with Russia to stablise crude prices despite overtures from Moscow and rising pressure from Washington to call a truce in an oil price war.

A three-year supply pact between the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies led by Russia fell apart earlier this month after Moscow refused to support Riyadh’s plan for deeper production cuts to offset dwindling demand resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Saudi Arabia responded to the breakdown in relations by lowering the prices it charges for crude and pledging to pump oil next month at record levels. 


The resulting supply boost has coincided with plummeting demand as governments around the world implement national lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The twin-pronged assault on prices has sent Brent crude to a 17-year low below $25 a barrel and hammered the income of oil producers.

“There have been no contacts between Saudi Arabia and Russia energy ministers over any increase in the number of OPEC countries, nor any discussion of a joint agreement to balance oil markets,” an official from Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said, referring to the wider grouping of oil producers.

The comment came after a senior Russian official said on Friday that a larger number of oil producers could cooperate with OPEC and Russia, in an indirect reference to the United States, the world’s biggest producer, which has never cut production.

“Joint actions by countries are needed to restore the [global] economy … They [joint actions] are also possible in the OPEC deal’s framework,” said Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Dmitriev and Energy Minister Alexander Novak were Russia’s top negotiators for the previous pact between OPEC and its allies – a grouping known as OPEC+.  That deal officially expires on March 31. Dmitriev declined to say which nations could be included in a new one. 

The alliance between OPEC and Russia broke down after Moscow declined to support bigger output curbs, arguing that it was too early to estimate the pandemic’s impact.

Officials and oil executives in Russia have been split on the need for cuts, with Dmitriev and Novak supporting cooperation while Igor Sechin, the head of Kremlin oil major Rosneft, has criticised supply cuts for providing a lifeline to the less competitive US shale industry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said little since the OPEC deal collapsed.

‘Economic warfare’

The idea of Washington cooperating with OPEC has long been seen as impossible, not least because of US antitrust laws. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed anger with the cartel because its actions lead to higher prices at the pump.

However, Saudi Arabia’s latest move has put Washington in a difficult position. Its battle for market share has led to very low prices, but also undermined the US shale industry, which has much higher costs than Saudi or Russian production.

The US administration is facing multiple calls to save the highly leveraged shale industry, which has borrowed trillions of dollars to allow the country to become a large oil and gas exporter despite often uncompetitive costs.

A group of six US senators wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week saying Saudi Arabia and Russia “have embarked upon economic warfare against the US” and were threatening US “energy dominance”.

They called on Saudi Arabia to quit OPEC, reverse its policy of high output, partner with the US in strategic energy projects or face consequences.

“From tariffs and other trade restrictions to investigations, safeguard actions, sanctions, and much else, the American people are not without recourse,” the senators, including John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said in a letter.

Two other senators from oil-producing states introduced a bill on Friday that would remove US armed forces from the kingdom.

Trump last week said he would get involved in the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia at the appropriate time.

US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, meanwhile, told Bloomberg TV on Monday that forging a US-Saudi oil alliance was one of “many, many ideas” being floated by US policymakers.

The head of the International Energy Agency, an adviser to the US and other industrialised countries, on Thursday also called on Saudi Arabia to help stabilise the market.

Algeria, which holds the OPEC presidency at present, has called for a meeting of the group’s Economic Commission Board to be held no later than April 10 to discuss current oil market conditions.

Reuters news agency

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