OTTAWA – Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s drug Paxlovid as the first take-home treatment for COVID-19.
France’s biggest bank, BNP Paribas SA, is exiting the American market because it couldn’t make acceptable returns on Bank of the West, a 514-branch network it has been building for more than four decades.
Canada’s fourth-largest lender, Bank of Montreal , announced Monday it will buy that business, which spans the Western and Midwestern United States, in a $20.9-billion deal. This will be the largest acquisition ever staged by a domestic bank.
Under the circumstances, it’s logical to wonder: Why is BMO buying when the French are selling?
“That’s a good question,” BMO chief executive Darryl White said in an interview. Then he paused for a moment, but not because he didn’t have an answer. He had admitted, moments before, that he began working on this career-defining takeover almost as soon as he took the top job four years ago.
No, Mr. White paused because he needed to be diplomatic. One can’t say BNP Paribas is in retreat. The French are sensitive on the subject. BMO’s boss also needs to tread cautiously when discussing how U.S. and Canadian regulators will react to this deal.
So Mr. White, a CEO who typically answers questions with disarming directness, offered a nuanced response.
“I don’t want to put words in the mouths of my French colleagues, but there are fundamental differences between us, even though we are both foreign banks in the U.S. market,” Mr. White said. Then he recited a list of BMO’s strengths south of the border: its 150 years of experience in California, where Bank of the West has 70 per cent of its deposits; its track record of successfully integrating U.S. acquisitions; and its efficient “branch-light” approach to client service.
By “branch-light,” BMO means using digital platforms to deliver products to customers who currently have branch-based relationships. These days, that may sound like basic banking. But Mr. White said Bank of the West’s online wealth management platform is at a “nascent stage” compared to what BMO offers through its existing 524-branch Midwestern U.S. network.
What Mr. White hinted at, but cannot say flat out, is that BMO is really good at U.S. commercial and retail banking. BNP Paribas, not so much.
BMO’s overall return on equity last year was 14 per cent, twice the profitability of the French bank. For BMO, bulking up in rapidly growing states such as California will turbocharge U.S. operations. The company expects its earnings per share to increase by 10 per cent, partly as a result of $860-million in cost-saving synergies, once it finishes integrating Bank of the West in 2024.
If this deal closes as scheduled late next year, BMO will become a top-10 player in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. “It takes decades to build these levels of market share,” Mr. White said.
BNP Paribas plans to use proceeds from the sale of its American business for bolt-on acquisitions in its home market, and a massive share buyback.
BMO, along with Canada’s other big banks, is currently sitting on record amounts of excess capital, in part because of regulatory restrictions imposed during the pandemic. Until Monday, there were widespread expectations these institutions would follow conservative game plans, much like BNP Paribas is doing.
“For a while now we have wondered whether Canadian banks might be better served using their historic excess capital levels more boldly, especially in the face of the rising fintech threat,” Scotiabank analyst Meny Grauman said in a report on Monday. “Well, there is no arguing that BMO is being bold choosing a U.S. acquisition over buybacks.”
Back in 1998, Royal Bank of Canada and BMO proposed a merger. John Cleghorn, then RBC’s chief executive, said the two banks had to join forces because BMO was “halfway across the lake” with its U.S. expansion strategy, and needed to bulk up to get to the other side.
The merger never happened – the Canadian government shut it down – but BMO and the rest of the Canadian banks built balance-sheet heft on their own. In bidding for Bank of the West, Mr. White has found an acquisition that gets BMO to the other side of that lake.
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Workers turn to them for support, clients rely on them for answers, companies lean on them in times of crisis.
Yet as the pandemic stretches inexorably on, experts say the never-ending demands on business leaders are pushing some to the brink of burnout.
Stress, uncertainty and long hours are causing malaise among many managers. It’s a condition that — if left unchecked long enough — can manifest as exhaustion, disengagement, depression and burnout, they say.
“Leaders are under tremendous strain,” says Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks.
“When the pandemic first started, we saw the adrenalin kick in, decisions were made fast and work got done,” she says. “But it’s been relentless. Leaders are exhausted.”
It’s not just people in charge hitting a wall 22 months, five waves and multiple variants into the COVID-19 pandemic.
New research has found an extreme level of exhaustion among many Canadian workers from the bottom to the top. Many say they’re more stressed now than during initial lockdowns.
Essential front-line workers from nurses to grocery store clerks have faced innumerable risks of infection. Others face precarious employment without sick days or benefits. Some have lost their jobs altogether and struggle to pay rent and buy food.
In comparison to these hardships, some might be quick to dismiss the challenges of leaders.
Yet many have reported an increase in exhaustion and mental health concerns since the start of the pandemic.
Supervisors, low-level managers, small business owners and senior executives are grappling with increasing demands and surging work volumes.
Many are putting in extra hours to keep things running while also providing support and encouragement to workers.
“Business leaders are supposed to be cheerleaders,” says Mike Johnston, president and CEO of Halifax software company Redspace.
“But we’ve been trying to hustle and pivot and get through this for so long now. I’m out of gas.”
For some managers, the inability to offer more certainty and support to workers is what keeps them up at night.
“When you’re the leader of a group of people you want to have all the answers,” says Barry Taylor, director of operations for The Ballroom, a large entertainment venue in downtown Toronto.
“But you don’t and you just feel helpless and burnt out.”
Experts say late-stage pandemic fatigue is taking a toll on many managers, with some veering towards burnout.
The symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, detachment, loss of motivation and reduced efficiency — all of which can have a ripple effect throughout an entire workplace, they say.
“It’s exhausted leaders leading exhausted teams,” says Jennifer Moss, a Waterloo, Ont.-based workplace consultant and author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.
“Managers are trying to be stoic and demonstrate strength and certainty for their employees when many don’t feel that themselves.”
Pandemic burnout isn’t unique to leaders, but she says there are particular stressors facing those in charge.
“It can be more isolating at the top,” Moss says. “Senior leaders and managers can sometimes feel very alone.”
There’s also a perception that because people in management positions “earn the big bucks” they should be prepared to cope with the additional responsibility and stress, she says.
“We sometimes forget there’s a human behind that role and regardless of how much they’re being paid, how much they earn, it doesn’t fix the grief and the pain and the stress that they’re dealing with,” Moss says.
The perception that managers should demonstrate unwavering leadership and steadfast support of their workers can increase fears of seeking help, experts say.
“There’s a definite stigma,” says Chantal Hervieux, associate professor of strategy at Saint Mary’s University’s Sobey School of Business and director of the school’s MBA program and Centre for Leadership Excellence.
“There’s less acceptance for leaders to talk about mental health issues.”
Leaders are expected to be in control, have the answers and be supportive of their team members, she says.
Despite the near constant uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic, those expectations have remained the same — or increased, Hervieux says.
“Canadian business leaders are working hard to keep things going but some are suffering,” she says. “They’re paying a mental health price and we need to talk about it.”
The challenge of trying to lead during the pandemic is backed up by research.
A survey by LifeWorks and Deloitte Canada released last summer found 82 per cent of senior leaders reported feeling exhausted.
The poll found the top two stressors were an increase in work volume compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the desire to provide adequate support for the well-being of staff.
More than half of those polled said they were considering leaving their roles.
“I’ve been chatting with other CEOs and there seems to be a shift,” Johnston with Redspace says. “There’s a number of founders looking to get out, to exit. The fun of the chase isn’t balanced against the stress of it.”
Still, despite some of the unique pressures facing leaders, burnout appears to be impacting all workers.
A new Bromwich+Smith poll conducted by Angus Reid found more than 70 per cent of people surveyed are worried about their physical and mental health, including sleep issues, fear of COVID-19 and burnout.
Another study by Canada Life found a high level of burnout among Canadian workers. The survey conducted by Mental Health Research Canada found more than a third of all working Canadians are feeling burned out.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.
OTTAWA – Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s drug Paxlovid as the first take-home treatment for COVID-19.
The drug, which is a treatment involving a total of six pills taken daily for five days, has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by almost 90 per cent. The course of treatment includes two pills of nirmatrelvir taken twice a day and one pill of ritonavir taken twice a day.
The drug prevents the virus from replicating, which helps people recover faster. It can’t be taken by people under 18 years of age. There are also several drugs that can’t be taken alongside Paxlovid, including drugs for cancer, high blood pressure and some anti-anxiety and depression medications.
To be effective, the drug requires people to start treatment within five days of having symptoms and while they can take it at home, it must be prescribed to them and they must have a positive COVID-19 test to begin treatment.
As the Omicron wave has driven cases skyrocketing, testing centres have been overwhelmed and most provinces now limit who can get a PCR test. Even people who can receive tests are often waiting several days for results.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in the interim, physicians can use rapid antigen tests to prescribe the pills.
She admitted in the short term it will have a limited benefit, but said it will help some people and could be an important tool in the future.
“For the Omicron wave itself, it may contribute, but it won’t be a key contributor to the current wave,” she said. “We think everybody really just needs to give it a good try because it will be, I think, an important tool going forward.”
Provinces will receive shipments on a per-capita basis and will be the ultimate arbitrators of who gets the medication while it is in short supply.
The public health agency is recommending immunocompromised people are the top priority for the medication, followed by unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people over 80 years old, people in their 60s and people in rural and remote communities where access to hospital care could be difficult.
Tam said the unvaccinated are high on the priority list, because they are more likely to end up in hospital with severe illness.
“As health-care providers, you don’t pick and choose which patients you have coming into the hospital and getting treated. And so I think this approach ensures that we are prioritizing treatments to those most in need,” she said.
She stressed however the treatments are no substitute for vaccination.
“This is another tool in the toolkit to fight the pandemic. It is important that everyone gets fully vaccinated and receive a booster, as soon as they are eligible.”
Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the province is expecting it will get 10,000 courses of the drugs in January and has worked out plans to distribute them.
“We have worked with our hospital partners and are prepared for distribution of antivirals at 15 sites across the province as soon we receive them. Courses will initially be prioritized for adults with the highest risk of severe outcomes including immunocompromised patients, and could help keep thousands of people out of our hospitals,” she said in an email.
Hilkene said the pills could help the province return to normal and ease restrictions.
“The arrival of these pills gives us increased confidence as we continue to review key indicators and data to determine when we can begin safely and gradually lifting public health measures.”
A first shipment of the pills arrived in Canada over the weekend, with just over 30,000 courses of treatment arriving.
Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, said Canada expects another 120,000 courses to arrive before the end of February as part of the initial order for a million treatments, with more to come after that.
The government also has an option for 500,000 more courses of treatment after that. The U.S. government bought 10 million courses for US$5.29 billion, a cost of roughly US$529 per course of treatment.
Tassi would not say what Canada paid for the pills, but said the government was committed to doing whatever is necessary to help Canadians dealing with the virus.
“In order to protect the commercially sensitive pricing information, we can’t disclose those details,” she said. “The health and safety of Canadians has been our top priority from a procurement perspective whether it’s vaccines, PPE, medical supplies. We’ve done everything that we can possibly do with the priority of keeping Canadians safe.”
The government has also refused to disclose on a per dose basis what it paid for COVID-19 vaccines.
There are so few homes for sale in Canada that people are starting to call it a housing crisis.
Published On 17 Jan 2022
An unprecedented real-estate frenzy has left Canada with the fewest houses for sale in at least a quarter century.
The country had about 86,000 houses left for sale at the end of December on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to data from the Canadian Real Estate Association. That’s all that was left after buyers purchased a record 667,000 homes over the course of 2021, about 20% more than the previous annual record.
With supply depleted, benchmark home prices rose 2.5% in December from the previous month, and were up a record 26.6% from the year before.
“There are currently fewer properties listed for sale in Canada than at any point on record,” Shaun Cathcart, the real estate board’s senior economist, said in a press release accompanying the data.“So unfortunately, the housing affordability problem facing the country is likely to get worse before it gets better.”
The national numbers follow trends seen earlier this month in Canada’s most expensive housing markets, Toronto and Vancouver, where available housing stock has fallen to unprecedented low levels. That has reinforced views that a national shortage is underpinning price increases that have sent the cost of housing spiraling out of reach for many working Canadians in the largest cities, regardless of whether they buy or rent.
What’s increasingly being called a housing crisis is starting to prompt politicians to start to look for answers. The benchmark home price in Canada is now C$811,700 (about $648,000)
“Policy makers are starting to say the right things, but now they have to act to change this course we’re on,” said the real estate board’s Cathcart. “An aggressive national push to build more homes is what will address the issue, but it will probably have to be a greater amount of building than anything we’ve ever undertaken. A touch over the status quo won’t cut it.”
In the meantime, with so little left to buy across Canada, the pace of sales is slowing down. The number of monthly transactions was little changed in December compared with November, though that was still enough for the second highest number of sales on record for that final month of the year.
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