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Oil Prices Climb As China Signals An Easing Of Covid Restrictions

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Oil prices rose early on Thursday after China signaled an easing of its strict Covid policy, which has battered market sentiment in recent months.

As of 6:46 a.m. ET on Thursday, WTI Crude prices were rising by 1.67% at $86.98, and the international benchmark, Brent Crude, was up 1.41% to trade at $93.72.

China’s strict Covid measures could be partially eased, which could be supportive of oil prices.

The Chinese city of Xi’an, for example, home to more than 13 million residents, has said it would implement Covid control measures only in risk areas instead of city-wide “static management”, CN Wire reported on Thursday, citing the city’s health authorities.    

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Just this past Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled that the country’s zero-Covid policy would remain in place for the time being.

Yet, officials in China are discussing the idea of reducing the mandatory quarantine for travelers into China to seven from 10 days, Bloomberg News reported today, quoting sources with knowledge of the discussions.

The zero-Covid policy is not only isolating China from the rest of the world, but it weighs on market sentiment in the whole commodity complex, considering the fact that China is the world’s largest consumer of raw materials and the biggest importer of crude oil.

Early on Thursday, oil prices were up despite the announcement of more SPR releases coming, as there are concerns that the strategic reserves for emergencies are estimated to now contain oil for only 22 days of consumption in case of an actual emergency.

Prices were also pushed higher on Thursday by Wednesday’s weekly U.S. oil inventory report by the EIA, which showed a decline of 1.7 million barrels in crude oil, a small draw in gasoline stocks, and a slight increase in distillates.

Commenting on the weekly data, analysts at Saxo Bank noted on Thursday that “Four-week seasonal demand for distillate fuels soared to the highest since 2007 while inventories remained at the lowest point on record for this time of year.”

Despite the small increase of 124,000 barrels in distillate stocks, which include diesel, “there are still concerns going into winter over distillate inventories as they are at their lowest levels in at least 25 years for this time of year,” ING commodity strategists Warren Patterson and Ewa Manthey said on Thursday.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Trudeau, Ford mark opening of Canada's first full-scale electric vehicle plant – CP24

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The Canadian Press


Published Monday, December 5, 2022 5:06AM EST


Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2022 1:17PM EST

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are celebrating the opening today of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant.

Trudeau says electric delivery vans have started rolling off the line today at the General Motors CAMI production plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which has been retooled to build the company’s BrightDrop all-electric vehicle brand.

The prime minister was joined by Ford and the province’s Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli to mark the milestone.

The provincial and federal governments each invested $259 million toward GM’s $2-billion plan to transform its Ingersoll plant and overhaul its Oshawa, Ont., plant to make it EV-ready.

The federal government says the Ingersoll plant is expected to manufacture 50,000 electric vehicles by 2025.

Canada intends to bar the sale of new internal-combustion engines in passenger vehicles by 2035.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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Food prices in Canada: Families to pay $1,065 more in 2023 – CTV News

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HALIFAX –

Canadians won’t escape food inflation any time soon.

Food prices in Canada will continue to escalate in the new year, with grocery costs forecast to rise up to seven per cent in 2023, new research predicts.

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For a family of four, the total annual grocery bill is expected to be $16,288 — $1,065 more than it was this year, the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday said.

A single woman in her 40s — the average age in Canada — will pay about $3,740 for groceries next year while a single man the same age would pay $4,168, according to the report and Statistics Canada.

Food inflation is set to remain stubbornly high in the first half of 2023 before it starts to ease, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report and Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy.

“When you look at the current food inflation cycle we’re in right now, we’re probably in the seventh-inning stretch,” he said in an interview. “The first part of 2023 will remain challenging … but we’re starting to see the end of this.”

Multiple factors could influence food prices next year, including climate change, geopolitical conflicts, rising energy costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the report said.

Currency fluctuations could also play a role in food prices. A weaker Canadian dollar could make importing goods like lettuce more expensive, for example.

Earlier this year the loonie was worth more than 80 cents US, but it then dropped to a low of 72.17 cents US in October amid a strengthening U.S. dollar. It has hovered near the 74 cent mark in recent weeks, ending Friday at 74.25 cents US.

“The produce section is going to be the wild card,” Charlebois said. “Currency is one of the key things that could throw things off early in the winter and that’s why produce is the highest category.”

Vegetables could see the biggest price spikes, with estimates pegging cost increases will rise as high as eight per cent, the report said.

In addition to currency risks, much of the produce sold in Canada comes from the United States, which has been struggling with extremely dry conditions.

“The western U.S., particularly California, has seen strong El Nino weather patterns and droughts and bacterial contaminations, and that’s impacted our fruit and vegetable suppliers and prices,” said Simon Somogyi, campus lead at the University of Guelph and professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

“The drought is making the production of lettuce more expensive,” he said. “It’s reducing the crop size but it’s also causing bacterial contamination, which is lessening the supply in the marketplace.”

Prices in other key food categories like meat, dairy and bakery are predicted to soar up to seven per cent, the researchers found.

The Canadian Dairy Commission has approved a farm gate milk price increase of about 2.2 per cent, or just under two cents per litre, for Feb. 1, 2023.

“The increase for February is reasonable but it comes after the unprecedented increases in 2022, which are continuing to work their way through the supply chain,” Charlebois said of the two price hikes of nearly 11 per cent combined in 2022.

Meanwhile, seafood is expected to increase up to six per cent, while fruit could increase up to five per cent, the report said.

Restaurant costs are expected to increase four to six per cent, less than supermarket prices, the report said.

Rising prices will push food security and affordability even further out of reach of Canadians a year after food bank use reached a record high, the report said.

The increasing reliance on food banks is expected to continue, with 20 per cent of Canadians reporting they will likely turn to community organizations in 2023 for help feeding their families, a survey included in the report found.

Use of weekly flyers, coupons, bulk buying and food rescuing apps also ticked up this year and is expected to continue growing in 2023, the report said.

“We’re in the era now of the smart shopper,” said Somogyi, also the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food.

“For certain generations, it’s the first time that they’ve had to make a list, not impulse buy, read the weekly flyers, use coupons, buy in volume and freeze what they don’t use.”

Last year’s report predicted food prices would increase five to seven per cent in 2022 — the biggest jump ever predicted by the annual food price report.

Food costs actually far exceeded that forecast. Grocery prices were up 11 per cent in October compared with a year before while overall food costs were up 10.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

“We were called alarmists,” Charlebois said of the prediction that food prices could rise seven per cent in 2022. Critics called the report an “exaggeration,” he said.

“You’re always one crisis away from throwing everything out the window,” Charlebois said. “We didn’t predict the war in Ukraine, and that really affected markets.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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Family says Amazon shipped fake product, refuses refund until 'correct' item returned – CBC News

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When Matthew Legault graduated from high school in June, his parents figured they’d recognize his hard work by buying the parts he needed to build his own personal computer.

They placed an order with Amazon and it arrived at their Calgary home quickly.

But when Matthew opened the graphics card — a $690 part — he discovered the plastic casing had been hollowed out and filled with a putty-like substance to give it weight.

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“It was actually a bit of a shock,” he said. “Everything looked pretty official up to the point where I pulled it out and took a second look.”

The real shock came, though, when Matthew’s father tried to get a refund. 

François Legault followed Amazon’s return instructions and sent the item back, expecting a refund. 

Instead, Amazon said in an email there would be no refund until the “correct” item was shipped back.

On top of that, the Amazon rep said the returned, fake item had been thrown out, to protect other employees.

“It was absurd,” said François. “It’s just a piece of plastic so I doubt there’s any danger to their employees. And secondly … now they’ve destroyed the piece of evidence.”

Amazon repeatedly claimed it had shipped the correct item. 

Legault repeatedly explained he had received and returned “a complete fake” and attached photos to prove it. 

Telling customers the item they’ve returned has been disposed of is a great way for Amazon to “end the conversation,” said marketing specialist Marc Gordon, who coaches both small companies and big-name multinationals on interacting with customers. 

The fake graphic card, filled with a putty-like substance to provide weight, that Matthew says arrived from Amazon. (Submitted by François Legault)

But “that’s impacting the quality of service they provide.”

Service, Gordon says, may be affected as customers who flocked to the online retailer during the pandemic return to brick-and-mortar stores, forcing Amazon to re-organize.

“They don’t have the time or the resources to deal with every customer complaint, every inquiry, every problem,” said Gordon. “They want this done and they want to move on to something else.”

In an email, Amazon’s Canada spokesperson Ryma Boussoufa said: “Not every returned product can or may legally be resold or donated for hygienic or product safety reasons. In those cases, we will recycle products where possible.”

‘Slap in the face’

François says his history with Amazon should have stood for something — he’s been a loyal customer for years, and rarely returned anything.

“The box had obviously been tampered with,” he said. “We kind of expected that Amazon would have better quality controls, better procedures to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen.” 

Amazon’s global profit growth slowed between 2020 and 2021. Industry experts estimate this trend will continue. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“They’re basically saying that we’re trying to defraud them,” said François. “We’ve never had a pattern of returning things, or anything of that nature.”

An Amazon rep had, at one point, said the decision was final.

“That’s a little bit of a slap in the face,” said François. “They’re basically shutting this down and saying that there’s nothing else to discuss. And unfortunately, I beg to differ.”

After Go Public made inquiries, the company refunded François and apologized for taking almost five months to resolve the “unfortunate incident.” 

Amazon reported global profits in 2020 of over $386 billion US, a 38 per cent increase over the previous year. It doubled its workforce between 2020 and 2021 and rapidly expanded. 

But last year, growth was slower — a 22 per cent increase over 2020 — and growth for the current year is expected to be slower again, according to industry experts.

Matthew games on the personal computer he built with parts ordered from Amazon. The Legaults eventually bought its graphics card from a local store. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Last month, Amazon confirmed it would be laying off some 10,000 employees worldwide.

The returns customers make every day are a major expense for Amazon, Gordon says. 

Online retailers in general lose an average of 21 per cent of a returned item’s original value — once costs for shipping, processing and restocking are factored in — according to a U.S.-based study by Pitney Bowes earlier this year. 

Go Public asked what percentage of orders were returned last year, but Boussoufa wrote that the company doesn’t release that data “for reasons of commercial sensitivity.”

More returned products ‘disposed’

Go Public heard from more than half a dozen others who said they, too, were frustrated by Amazon’s policy of disposing returned items before a dispute was resolved. 

Allan Papernick of St. Davids, Ont., ordered a $280 Citizen watch last April. But it was difficult to read the black hands on its black face, so he sent it back. 

Amazon repeatedly told Papernick he had sent back an “older model” watch, which it had then discarded. It asked him to return the correct item. 

“If I was scamming them, then let them send that item back to me,” he said. “Getting rid of it is a weird business practice, to say the least.”

He threatened to sue for $10,000 and received a full refund the next day. 

Amazon did not answer when Go Public asked whether all outgoing packages are individually inspected to confirm the contents. But every returned item is carefully inspected “to accurately determine its condition,” according to Boussoufa, the spokesperson. 

Other customers, like Justin Tabbert of Ottawa, say they will never again order from Amazon after similar, frustrating experiences.

WATCH | What to do when your Amazon package arrives:

Advice from a customer experience expert

5 days ago

Duration 0:28

Marc Gordon shares a tip to give consumers the upper hand when opening an Amazon package. 

He spent about $700 ordering RAM for his computer last April, but says his package had been opened and was missing half the order.

When he sent it back, Amazon complained it was “missing components.” It ended up resending the full order, but the issue’s still not resolved.

“Now they are saying they will charge me for another [order], because in their view, they’ve sent two,” said Tabbert.

Make an unboxing video

Gordon says Amazon’s tactic of insisting a customer return an item they say they don’t have is designed to put the onus back on the customer to fix the issue.

“The problem is, it doesn’t work,” said Gordon. “You just end up with a really irate customer who feels that they’ve been taken advantage of, or misled or screwed over.”

He says anyone worried about not being able to get a refund if an online order has problems, should make an unboxing video. Have someone grab their phone and film when a package is opened.

“If it’s exactly what they ordered, great, they can delete the video,” said Gordon. “If it is, in fact, something that’s been substituted or fake or fraudulent, well, it’s right there in the video. There’s no denying it.”

As for Matthew Legault, the high school grad is happy his computer is up and running — he uses it to play games with friends and is learning how to write computer code. 

His father says the Amazon dispute has taught him something, too.

“This whole experience has really motivated me to shop local again,” said  François. 

Amazon has “lost a lot of business from us.”

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories, shed light on wrongdoing and hold the powers that be accountable.

If you have a story in the public interest, or if you’re an insider with information, contact GoPublic@cbc.ca with your name, contact information and a brief summary. All emails are confidential until you decide to Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

Read more stories by Go Public.

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