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Hundreds of Alberta infections linked to meat-processing plant – The Globe and Mail

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A parade float encourages residents to stay strong in High River, Alta., March 27, 2020, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials said that as of Friday, 358 cases in High River and elsewhere in the region were linked to the nearby Cargill facility.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

High River has become a hot spot for COVID-19 in Alberta, with hundreds of infections, including staff at a long-term care home, tied to one of Canada’s largest slaughterhouses.

Health officials said that as of Friday, 358 cases in High River and elsewhere in the region were linked to the Cargill facility. Many of the workers at the Cargill Ltd. plant are new immigrants or temporary foreign workers, whose jobs and shared living spaces make them especially vulnerable to infection. At least one worker is on a ventilator, the union for the plant says, and others are struggling with serious illnesses.

Cargill is a major employer in High River, a bedroom community of roughly 13,000 people located a half-hour drive south of the Calgary city limits. About 2,000 people work there and the facility supplies about 40 per cent of the beef processed in Western Canada.

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Foothills County now has more cases than Edmonton, a city with more than 10 times the population. The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said that infections quickly spread among large households, and a local settlement agency said that temporary foreign workers often live together in large groups.

Alberta plans to dramatically expand a COVID-19 testing system that already leads the country

Officials in B.C. and Saskatchewan advise travellers returning from Alberta oil sands site to self-isolate

The Seasons High River retirement home, which includes nursing care, said five staff members tested positive but no residents have been infected. Four of the infected staff live with Cargill workers.

Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said many of the plant’s employees are either temporary foreign workers or new Canadians, for whom English is a second language, though he didn’t know how many would fit into those categories. He said some workers who have contracted COVID-19 are in serious condition, including one who is in an induced coma and on a ventilator in a Calgary hospital.

Mr. Hesse said North American meat-packing facilities “are designed around efficiency and social proximity, not social distancing.”

“The lines are arranged in highly efficient ways and workers stand shoulder to shoulder, wielding knives. It’s loud, it’s slippery, it’s wet and there’s blood everywhere, especially on the slaughter side [of the operation],” he said, adding, “The plant hallways and lunch rooms and bathrooms are a certain size and they’re not rebuilding the plants to confront COVID.”

The union and Alberta’s Opposition New Democrats have called for the plant to be temporarily shut down to get a handle on the outbreak, but so far that hasn’t happened.

A Cargill worker, who has been recovering at home since he and his spouse became sick and tested positive for COVID-19, said he is afraid to return without assurances from the company that the plant is safe. The Globe and Mail agreed not to identify the worker, who is worried that speaking publicly would jeopardize his job.

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Employees at the plant work in close quarters as they slaughter 4,500 head of cattle a day.

“How can they change the process? For us, we are doing sometimes 330 [heads of cattle] an hour – you can imagine that,” he said.

“There are some work stations that [are] too close.”

Jon Nash, president of Cargill Protein, a division of Cargill Inc., said in a statement that the company has scaled back operations and put in several measures to curb the outbreak, including staggering shifts, increasing distance between workers, checking employees’ temperature, providing face masks, prohibiting visitors and increasing cleaning. The company said some workers have taken unpaid leave.

Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. – which also makes and trades grain, processes other types of meat and operates other agriculture-related businesses – is one of the largest privately held companies in the world and employs 160,000 people in 70 countries, according to its website. It has 8,000 workers in Canada, where it has operations in six provinces.

The High River facility is one of several suppliers of ground beef for McDonald’s Canada.

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“At this time, Cargill has assured us that they are confident in the resilience of their supply chain and will continue to meet our current demand for beef,” McDonald’s Canada said in an e-mailed statement Sunday.

Fariborz Birjandian, chief executive officer of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which operates Foothills Immigrant Community Services in High River, said his agency is working with Cargill staff who have become infected or are required to self-isolate. He said it’s common for temporary foreign workers to live with half a dozen or more people in a single unit.

“Temporary foreign workers come here to make money and send it back home, so they are trying to minimize their costs by sharing rooms,” he said.

“That makes them very vulnerable. … If one of them is infected, then the rest will be infected.”

Mr. Birjandian said he hopes the Cargill outbreak serves as a wake-up call to other such facilities in an industry that relies heavily on temporary foreign workers or new immigrants, including resettled refugees.

Ontario-based Seasons Retirement Communities, which operates long-term care homes across the country, including in High River, said of the five staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, four live with someone who works at the plant. CEO Mike Lavallée said in a statement that no residents have tested positive.

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Mr. Lavallée’s statement said the High River facility has implemented a series of measures including daily health screenings for all residents, staff and visitors.

Alberta recorded 2,803 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday and 55 deaths. One of those deaths was in High River: a man in his 70s at a long-term care home attached to the local hospital.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

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Canadian Dollar Price Outlook: USD/CAD Grinds Around Big Fig Support – DailyFX

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Canadian Dollar, CAD, USD/CAD Price Analysis

  • This morning brought a Bank of Canada rate decision, this Friday’s economic calendar brings Canadian jobs numbers to be released at the same time as US Non-Farm Payrolls.
  • The bank held rates, and given the change in leadership the big question is forward-looking strategy at the bank.
  • USD/CAD broke down from a descending triangle formation, and is now finding support around the 1.3500 big figure. But sellers haven’t yet been able to establish any significant trends around that support, leading to the prospect of short-term pullback.

BoC Leaves Rates Flat, USD/CAD Remains Around 1.3500

Earlier this morning we heard from the Bank of Canada as the BoC left rates flat; but the prospect of change in leadership atop the BoC does highlight potential changes in the future after outgoing Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz had previously stated that rates were as low as they could go. Taking over at the bank this week is Tiff Macklem, and as noted by our own Thomas Westwater earlier today, this morning’s statement likely had little input from the newly-installed BoC Governor. This does, however, point to the possibility of change on the horizon given how aggressively the coronavirus slowdown has hit global economies.

In USD/CAD, the pair has largely clung on to support around this rate decision, temporarily testing below the big figure of 1.3500 but, so far, failing to establish any continued bearish trends below that level. And this comes on the heels of an earlier-week breakdown, as USD/CAD had built into a descending triangle formation, with a series of lower-highs from late-March into mid-May, combined with horizontal support around the 1.3850 area on the chart.

USD/CAD Four-Hour Price Chart

USDCAD Four Hour Price Chart

Chart prepared by James Stanley; USDCAD on Tradingview

Can USD/CAD Bears Drive Through Psychological Support?

Of recent, commodity currencies have been on a tear against the US Dollar, USD/CAD included. AUD/USD has been on a similar display of recent and the same can be said for NZD/USD.

The trouble at this point for USD/CAD bears is the fact that the short-side move is already fairly well-developed; and prices are showing continued support around the 1.3500 big figure. Can USD/CAD bring sellers in at sub-1.3500 prices to continue pushing lower? Or, will the pair need a retracement first before continuing that bearish trend?

Change in Longs Shorts OI
Daily-2%-5%-3%
Weekly-9%-13%-10%

On the chart is a nearby area of interest for resistance potential. As looked at in yesterday’s webinar, the space around the 1.3600 area seems especially interesting, as there are two very recent Fibonacci levels within close proximity of each other. This is the 61.8% retracement of the 2020 major move, and the 78.6% retracement of the March major move. At this point, that zone hasn’t yet been tested for resistance and a show of sellers here could re-open the door for bearish continuation strategies in the pair.

USD/CAD Hourly Price Chart

USDCAD Hourly Price Chart

Chart prepared by James Stanley; USDCAD on Tradingview

— Written by James Stanley, Strategist for DailyFX.com

Contact and follow James on Twitter: @JStanleyFX

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Canadian trade plummets amid global shutdowns – BNNBloomberg.ca

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Canadian exports and imports plunged by the most ever in April amid a shutdown of global trade.

Exports plunged 30 per cent during the month, more than offsetting a 25 per cent drop in imports. The nation’s trade deficit widened to $3.3 billion ($2.4 billion), from $1.5 billion in March. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg had called for a $3 billion shortfall.

The report illustrates the extent to which global trade has collapsed amid pandemic-related lockdowns and travel restrictions. In Canada’s case, the economy is facing a double whammy from the pandemic and tanking oil prices. Combined imports and exports at $68.6 billion were the lowest since 2010.

Energy exports dropped 44 per cent in April, as the value of crude oil shipments fell 55 per cent on lower prices and lower volumes due to weaker global demand.

In volume terms, total exports were down 20 per cent in April, with imports falling 25 per cent.

-With assistance from Erik Hertzberg.

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The biggest banks in Canada are seeing a surge in energy loans – BNNBloomberg.ca

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Canadian banks’ exposure to oil-and-gas loans has surged to a record as energy firms tapped credit lines to combat plunging oil prices.

Energy loans at the country’s six largest lenders jumped 23 per cent to $71.6 billion (US$52.9 billion) in their fiscal second quarter from the prior period, disclosures show. Toronto-Dominion Bank had the largest increase at 29 per cent, while Bank of Nova Scotia remained the biggest lender with $21.6 billion in loans.

The banks’ rising exposure comes as impaired energy loans almost doubled, topping $2 billion. Energy firms have been hard hit this year as global oil prices plummeted, with some grades even briefly turning negative in April as measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus hammered worldwide demand.

“We’re clearly seeing the impact of price wars and supply-demand considerations, storage considerations beginning to play havoc on some producers,” Toronto-Dominion Chief Financial Officer Riaz Ahmed said in a May 28 interview. “In the last few weeks we’re watching prices recover with some degree of hope that things will continue to get better here.”

Royal Bank of Canada$9.4 billion1.30%
Toronto-Dominion Bank$12.2 billion1.60%
Bank of Nova Scotia$21.6 billion3.30%
Bank of Montreal$15.0 billion3.00%
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce$10.5 billion2.50%
National Bank of Canada$2.9 billion1.80%

With the price plunge making much of their output unprofitable, Canadian oil and gas producers have taken steps to conserve cash. They’ve reduced production, cut operating costs, slashed at least $8.5 billion in planned capital spending and tapped credit lines to help them weather the downturn.

Those drawdowns were the main reason for the 22 per cent increase in energy lending at Royal Bank of Canada, according to CFO Rod Bolger.

“The growth was driven by higher draws on existing facilities and we did make select new lending facilities to existing investment-grade clients where the risk-return was appropriate given the low oil prices,” Bolger said in a May 27 interview.

Signs of Stress

Most of Royal Bank’s exposure is to exploration and production companies and loans are secured by the value of proven and producing reserves, Bolger said. Still, the Toronto-based lender had the highest gross impaired loans among the Canadian banks, at $664 million.

Bank of Montreal posted the second-highest total for impaired energy loans, at $616 million.

“In our oil and gas portfolio we do have some signs of stress just given the weaker price of oil that we’ve seen over the last few months — it’s not totally new and we’re managing through it,” CFO Tom Flynn said in an interview. “We’ve done this before as a bank and we’re confident in our ability to manage through this stress that the industry is in.”

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CFO Hratch Panossian said he is seeing more downgrades and impairments in the oil-and-gas sector, reflecting price weakness, but called the bank’s energy portfolio “relatively stable”.

“Only about half of it is in the exploration and production space and our clients do have some hedging as well that protects them in the short term,” Panossian said in a May 28 interview. “We remain comfortable with the space. Our clients are strong and managing through this and we’re committed to continuing to support them.”

Scotiabank’s Chief Risk Officer Daniel Moore said on a May 26 earnings call that exploration and production and oilfield services — which are most sensitive to weakness in oil prices — account for 1.7 per cent of total loans. More than 40 per cent of those energy loans are investment grade and the majority of non-investment grade exposure is to secure reserve-based loans or sovereign-controlled entities, he said.

While bank figures show increased borrowing, many producers are seeing the total amount of credit available reduced. That’s particularly true of producers’ reserve-based credit lines, which are tied to the value of their oil-and-gas reserves and are adjusted regularly to account for current prices.

This year’s first adjustment period, known as redetermination, is going on now, and early results show banks have been shrinking those credit lines in response to falling prices.

At least five Canadian oil-and-gas producers have announced results of their redeterminations, and all have had their credit lines cut. Notably, oil-sands producer Athabasca Oil Corp. had its credit facility reduced by 65 per cent to $42 million, while natural gas driller NuVista Energy Ltd. saw its line cut by 14 per cent to $475 million.

At least seven producers have extended the date on their redetermination processes to June 30 because of volatile prices. Five of those have had their available credit reduced on an interim basis before the final evaluation is competed.

“The best-case scenario for our junior E&P companies this year is likely a small reduction in credit capacity, a slightly higher cost to borrow, and the ability to continue to act autonomously from the influence of its banks,” Stifel FirstEnergy analyst Cody Kwong said in a note.

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