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Federal support for airlines contingent on refunding customers

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New federal support for Canada’s pandemic-battered airline industry will be contingent on carriers providing refunds to passengers whose flights were cancelled, the government announced on Sunday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau laid out the requirement as he announced that Ottawa is ready to respond to the sector’s desperate pleas for federal assistance by launching talks later this week.

Canada’s commercial airlines have been hit hard by COVID-19, with passenger levels down as much as 90 per cent thanks to a combination of travel restrictions and fear of catching the illness.

That has prompted airlines to furlough hundreds of pilots and technicians and discontinue dozens of regional routes since March. They have also cancelled numerous pre-booked trips, offering passengers credits or vouchers instead of refunds.

Many Canadians have since expressed anger over not getting their money back. The Canadian Transportation Agency received 8,000 complaints between mid-March and the end of August, most of which are believed to be related to refunds.

Passengers have also filed a handful of proposed class-action lawsuits and three petitions garnering more than 100,000 signatures that call for customer reimbursement.

Garneau acknowledged the challenges facing the sector as he revealed the pending talks.

“The air sector cannot respond to these challenges on its own, given the unprecedented impacts on its operations,” Garneau said in a statement.

“We are ready to establish a process with major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and potentially other support to secure important results for Canadians,” he added. “We anticipate beginning discussions with them this week.”

Yet Garneau also made clear what the government would be demanding from airlines, starting with refunds of what is believed to be millions of dollars in prepaid flight tickets and a curb on cancelled routes.

“Before we spend one penny of taxpayer money on airlines, we will ensure Canadians get their refunds,” he said. “We will ensure Canadians and regional communities retain air connections to the rest of Canada.”

It was not immediately clear whether that would include pushing Air Canada and others to resume dozens of routes that are currently suspended.

The tough words around refunds were cautiously welcomed Sunday as a good first step by Canadian Automobile Association vice-president Ian Jack, whose organization is one of the largest retailers of vacations and leisure travel in Canada.

“It’s the starter pistol, but it’s by no means a fait accompli,” Jack said. “We’ll be watching these negotiations closely. There is now a concrete, on-the-record commitment from the government that we expect them to honour.”

In contrast to Canadian authorities, the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation have required airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights.

The U.S. and European countries including France and Germany have also offered billions in financial relief to struggling carriers. Ottawa has provided no industry-specific bailout to airlines.

The pandemic has devastated the airline industry, with billions of dollars in losses for Canadian carriers amid grounded flights and tight international borders.

Canadian airline revenues in 2020 will fall by $14.6 billion or 43 per cent from last year, according to estimates in May from the International Air Transport Association.

Conservative transport critic Stephanie Kusie attacked the government for not doing more sooner while noting that Garneau did not provide a timeline for when an aid package would be ready for the aviation industry.

“The Trudeau government has already kept Canadians who depend on the aviation sector waiting for months,” Kusie wrote on Twitter.

“Conservatives will work to ensure that the Liberal government’s plan puts the interests of workers and passengers first, and allows our aviation sector to recover.”

Source: – Canada News

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Gold price ignores better-than-expected U.S. weekly jobless claims data – Kitco NEWS

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(Kitco News) –    The gold market is holding on to strong gains for the third straight session even as fewer American workers apply for first time weekly unemployment benefits.

Thursday the U.S. Labor Department said that weekly jobless claims fell by 75,000 to 712,000, down from the previous week’s revised estimate of 787,000 claims.

The latest labor market data beat economists’ estimates as consensus forecasts called for initial claims to be round 775,000.

The gold market is seeing little reaction to the latest economic report as it continues to see strong technical buying after November’s dismal performance. February gold futures last traded at $1,841.50 an ounce, up 0.62% on the day.

After bouncing off critical support below $1,800, gold prices have rallied 3.5% in the first three days of December.

The four-week moving average for new claims – often viewed as a more reliable measure of the labor market since it flattens week-to-week volatility – fell to 739,500, down by 11,250 claims from the previous week.

Continuing jobless claims, which represent the number of people already receiving benefits, were at 5.52 million during the week ending Nov. 21, down by 569,000 from the previous week.

According to some economists, markets are taking the latest labor market data with a grain of salt as they wait for Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report for October. According to consensus forecasts, economists are expecting that 500,000 jobs were created in November.

However, downside risks for the labor market are growing after private payrolls processing company ADP reported, Wednesday, weaker than expected job growth last month.

ADP said that 307,000 jobs were created, well below consensus forecasts calling for gains of around 433,000 jobs.

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Stock market news live updates: Stocks hold near record levels after jobless claims top estimates – Yahoo Canada Finance

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The Canadian Press

Ho, ho – Whoa! Virus keeping most Santas at a distance

MIAMI — Brad Six becomes Santa Claus, pulling his black boots over his red pants in the office of a Miami outdoor supply company. It’s hot, so he forgoes the traditional heavy jacket for a lightweight vest and grabs his Santa hat.But before sliding it on, the gray-bearded 61-year-old dons a plastic face shield and then takes his chair positioned behind a plexiglass sheet.”Getting paid is nice, but to get your battery recharged and to really get something lasting out of it requires interacting with the kids — you don’t get a lot of that this year,” said Six, who first portrayed Santa 35 years ago.This is Santa Claus in the Coronavirus Age, where visits are conducted with layers of protection or online. Putting hundreds of kids daily onto Santa’s lap to talk into his face — that’s not happening for most. The physical attributes that make the perfect Santa align perfectly with those that make COVID-19 especially deadly.“Most of us tick all the boxes: We are old, we are overweight, we have diabetes and if we don’t have diabetes, we have heart disease,” said Stephen Arnold, the president of IBRBS, an association formerly known as the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.That has spurred creativity in Santa’s workshops. Santas conducting in-person visits are using some combination of masks, the outdoors, barriers and distance for safety. Others are doing virtual visits, where children chat with Santa online for prices typically ranging from $20 to $100, depending on the length and extras, such as whether customers want a recording. Some Santas are taking the season off.“Santa safety is our No. 1 concern” and negotiated into every contract, said Mitch Allen, president of HireSanta, one of the nation’s largest agencies. He said the pandemic initially dried up his business, but it bounced back, especially online.The average Santa makes $5,000 to $10,000 during a normal season, Allen said. That’s a welcome bonus for men often retired on a fixed income, but many Santas say revenue is down as corporate parties and other lucrative gigs evaporated.Jac Grimes, a Santa in Greensboro, North Carolina, gave up home visits, about a third of his business. He did it not just for his own health, but to prevent becoming a superspreader, fearing he’d pass the virus from one family to the next.At a farmers market he annually works, Grimes and his wife dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and sit in a parking lot where they to talk to people who remain inside their cars. Some homeowners associations are moving their annual Santa-visitation parties outdoors; Grimes will arrive in his red convertible to greet the crowds from afar.One of the hardest adjustments Santas have made is wearing masks that hide their painstakingly grown beards.“Santa performers are fairly vain people — if they are good,” Grimes said.The virus has many Santas and parents turning to virtual visits, which are booked through each Santa’s personal website or agencies like Allen’s. That often has Santas turning to their children and others for help mastering the computer skills needed.“It has been a challenge,” said Christopher Saunders, a Santa performer in Tool, Texas, a small town near Dallas.But Saunders and others say virtual sessions are a good if imperfect substitute for in-person visits. Parents fill out questionnaires, allowing performers to personalize their patter, and a side benefit is that the sessions aren’t rushed. Many Santa mall visits last no more than two minutes to keep the line moving.“You get a different energy,” Saunders said of the virtual visits. “You can see the child’s expressions, as pure as they are.”Jim Beidel, a Santa performer near Seattle, said knowing the children’s personal stories, such as their friends and school, helps Santas sell their Christmas magic.“It really enhances the engagement, the suspension of disbelief, especially among the older children,” he said.But even Santas with the best gigs are hurting. Howard Graham usually portrays Santa in the grand foyer of New York’s Radio City Music Hall during its Christmas show featuring the Rockettes. That’s gone, so he’s doing virtual visits and five days with a historic railroad in Pennsylvania. Still, he’s taking a financial and emotional hit.“I love what I do … bringing them (children) a little bit of smiles and hope,” said Graham, who has played Santa at Radio City for eight years. “I am going to do what I can not to change that.”That was also Six’s goal as he settled recently into Santa’s throne for a three-hour shift at Miami’s Bass Pro Shops.As families sat in front of the plexiglass for photos, Six tilted his head so his face shield didn’t reflect the camera’s flash. He cheerfully waved children around the plexiglass so they could tell him their wish list, keeping them 6 feet (1.8 metres) back. As he wished them a Merry Christmas, an elf swooped in with disinfectant, wiping the plexiglass and bench before the next group sat.Six said the arrangement is “a little easier physically on Santa’s back because he doesn’t have to pick anybody up, but it’s not as enjoyable because Santa doesn’t get the interaction he normally gets.”But for families, sitting with Santa, even if behind a shield, is a bit of normalcy in abnormal times.Paul and Sarah Morris and their children, 5-year-old Theo and Sophy, 4, were among the first to visit Six that night. An Air Force family visiting from Hawaii, the Morrises cajoled their children into hugging for their photo. “Stop wiggling,” Theo said, scolding his sister before each sibling told Santa their Christmas wish. Sophy wanted candy; Theo, a remote control Ford Mustang.“This is definitely different,” Sarah Morris said of the setup, “but the kids are excited and that’s what matters.”Terry Spencer, The Associated Press

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Royal Bank of Canada warns of headwinds after better-than-expected profit – Financial Post

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“We expect mortgage growth to slow going forward as pent-up housing demand begins to cool,” Royal Bank Chief Executive Dave McKay said on the call.

Royal Bank joined rivals including Bank of Nova Scotia , Bank of Montreal and National Bank of Canada in reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter profits as it set aside less money than analysts had estimated to cover future bad loans.

That came after three straight quarters of adding to provisions for credit losses, including on performing loans, that have built up record reserve levels.

But should the pessimistic scenario materialize, allowances on performing loans would have to increase by about 18 per cent, Royal Bank Chief Risk Officer Graeme Hepworth said.

Amid short-term headwinds like the second coronavirus pandemic wave, and the end of loan deferrals and government support, “we do see a world where delinquencies and … impairments will start to increase through 2021,” Hepworth said.

That would come as trading and underwriting activity, which helped the bank’s capital markets unit generate near-record earnings of $2.8 billion this year, moderates, executives said.

Royal Bank reported fourth-quarter adjusted net income of $2.27 per share, up 5 cents from a year earlier, and better than estimates of $2.05.

National Bank, the smallest of Canada’s six largest lenders, which also reported results on Wednesday, took provisions of $110 million, versus the nearly $160 million that was expected. That helped it post adjusted profit of $1.69 a share, compared with expectations of $1.52.

Royal Bank shares slipped 0.3 per cent to $107.72 in morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, while National Bank’s stock dropped 1.1 per cent to $72.67. The TSE’s stock benchmark fell 0.1 per cent.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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