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Volume 15, Issue 8, February 25, 2015

Inside This Issue:

• Register Now for Pascal Houle (Groupe BMR) Breakfast Seminar - March 17
• Lots to Learn at the 2015 CHHMA Spring Conference & AGM
• Sign Up to Sponsor Maple Leaf Night in Las Vegas
• Still Time to Register for Canada Night in Chicago
• CHHMA Group Insurance Program - Vision Care Benefit
• Sears Canada Takes Big Hit in Revenue and Same-Store Sales
• Target Results Dragged Down by Canadian Stores but Pumped Up by Holiday Sales
• Lowe’s Profit Tops Estimates in Midst of Store Revamp
• Home Depot Reports Better than Expected Sales & Profit; Approves $18B Stock Buyback
• Walmart Canada Profit Falls Despite Boost in Sales During Fourth Quarter
• Wal-Mart U.S. Rides Low Gas Prices and Improving Economy to Higher Earnings
• Nordstrom Profit Falls Due to Higher Investments, Discounts
• Target Canada Closing – Latest News
• U.S. West Coast Ports Seal New 5-Year Labour Deal but Still Face Backlog
• Canadian Retail Sales Decline the Most in Four Years During December
• In Many Canadian Cities, Unsold Condos are Stacking Up
• Outlook for Canadian Housing Market Stable, but Still Some Concerns
• Latest U.S. Economic News

Association News

Register Now for Pascal Houle (Groupe BMR) Breakfast Seminar - March 17 

The CHHMA is pleased to be presenting Mr. Pascal Houle from Groupe BMR inc. as our guest speaker at a CHHMA Breakfast Seminar on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at the Hôtel Holiday Inn Montreal-Longueuil, 900 Rue St. Charles Est, Longueuil, QC J4H 3Y2.

Mr. Houle’s current position as head of Groupe BMR, a subsidiary of La Coop fédérée, marks another chapter in a long career working for cooperatives.Mr. Houle is a graduate from the University of Laval and has held several key management positions within La Coop fédérée and other retail cooperatives over his career.
Since joining BMR in 2014, Pascal has quickly become familiar with the operations of the company and worked on successfully bringing BMR into La Coop fédérée’s network.

Join us as Mr. Houle will discuss the changes in store for BMR in 2015, followed by a Question and Answer Period. Mr. Houle will also be accompanied by members of his management team.

Mr. Houle will give his presentation in French.

The price to attend the breakfast is $75 for CHHMA members and $95 for non-members (plus taxes).

Click here for a PDF registration form.  

Online registration will be available later this week.

 Lots to Learn at the 2015 CHHMA Spring Conference & AGM

This year’s CHHMA Spring Conference & Annual General Meeting is being held on Wednesday, April 8th at the International Centre Conference Facility in Mississauga, Ontario.

During the AGM portion of the morning, you can get up to date on the latest association news and plans and also do the Early Bird Registration for the CHHMA Ontario Golf Tournament which is being held at the Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ontario on May 26.There will be a limit of 144 golfers this year, on a first come, first served basis.

Our keynote presentations will provide you with valuable insights, strategies and tips to help you rise above the rest and grow your business. Speakers include:

Craig Alexander, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for TD Bank Group, will once again kick off the conference with his always interesting and informative outlook of the Canadian, U.S. and Global economies.Find out where interest rates, the Canadian dollar and the housing market are heading and other key factors of the economy plus the risk factors that need to be considered.

Award Winning Marketing, Sales and Communication Expert, Media Commentator & Entrepreneur, Tony Chapman, will pass on his career lessons during his topic “Own It” where he will show how you can overcome adversity, road blocks and rules to positively engage and persuade all who matter and turn any interaction (meetings, presentations etc.) to your advantage.

Monique Macarico, a Social Media Consultant & Strategist, will discuss how the Big 3 in Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) are impacting how manufacturers land the big retail accounts.Discover what retailers expect and how social media has become a critical element to getting your products on their shelves.

Consumer, Retail & Shopping Center Expert Anthony Stokan, will close the conference with a look at “What Brands and Retailers Must Do Today to Meet the Consumer Expectations of Tomorrow!”  See what the implications of e-commerce are and the retail categories that will be most impacted; how social media is changing the relationship of brands with consumers; and why buying attitudes and behaviour differ with millennials, generation y and boomers.

As well, Mr. Bryan Gilbart, Vice President of Marketing & Sales,Envirogard/Rainfresh Water Filters and Mr. Paul Straus, President, Home Hardware Stores Limited, will be inducted into the Industry Hall of Fame during the conference luncheon.Some key retailer executives will be invited to attend the luncheon and afternoon presentation by Mr. Stokan.

For full details and to register, click here.   

Sign Up to Sponsor Maple Leaf Night in Las Vegas   

Maple Leaf Night is taking place this year on the evening of Tuesday, May 5th at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.This popular social event is open to CHHMA members and their retail customers in town for the National Hardware Show (May 5-7), which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

Sponsorship is $750 CDN and entitles companies to corporate identification on all tickets, letterheads and event signage.It also entitles your company to one complimentary ticket for the host who will participate in the receiving line and two additional complimentary sponsor tickets.

Additional sponsor tickets can also be purchased for a reduced price of $110 CDN.

Regular individual tickets are $175 CDN or $225 CDN at the door.

Retailers/customers are invited to attend complimentary on behalf of the sponsors.

To sign up as a sponsor, click here for a PDF Sponsorship Request form.  

Regular registration for the event will open early next week..

Still Time to Register for Canada Night in Chicago

The 66th Canada Night reception will be held on Sunday, March 8, 2015 at the InterContinental Hotel, Renaissance Ballroom in Chicago.

Canadian vendors, agents and suppliers to the industry in town for the International Home+Housewares Show are invited to purchase tickets to the event while Canadian retailers are invited as complimentary guests of the sponsoring companies.

The event provides an opportunity to mix and mingle with peers and customers in a convivial environment celebrating the common bond of being Canadian while enjoying the wine & beer bar and some excellent cuisine.

Retailers registered to attend include: Best Buy Canada, Canadian Tire, Cayne’s Super Housewares, Federated Co-op, Groupe CDREM, Home Hardware, Hudson’s Bay Company, Kitchen Nook, Linen Chest, Loblaw, London Drugs, Northern Response, Paderno Cookware, PI Incentives, Sears Canada , The Shopping Channel, Stokes and TruServ Canada among others.

Click here for further information and to register or contact Maureen Hizaka at 416-282-0022 ext.23 to discuss sponsorship.

CHHMA Group Insurance Program - Vision Care Benefit

Why let your employees pay Retail for their glasses and contacts when you can get them for Wholesale?

If your plan’s current Vision Care benefit is $225 or more every two years, the CHHMA Benefit Program can provide your employees with a pair of glasses EVERY year.

For more information on this innovative new plan benefit, please contact:

Nigel Ottley, Broker
Benefits Architect Group
(416) 934-1660

Working Together for your Benefit

Industry News

Sears Canada Takes Big Hit in Revenue and Same-Store Sales

Sears Canada Inc. reported Wednesday that its fourth-quarter revenue was down 17.7% from a year earlier to $972.5-million.

The retailer said the decline was primarily due to store closures and a 9.1% decline in same-store sales.

It also had a net loss of $123.6-million or $1.21 per share, which included a write-down on the value of improvements made at its stores.

After adjustments in both years, Sears lost $28.8-million in the three months ended Jan. 31 compared with a year-earlier profit of $18-million.

Total revenues for the 52-week period ended Jan. 31, 2015 were $3,424.5 million compared to $3,991.8 million for the 52-week period ended February 1, 2014, a decrease of 14.2%. Same-store sales for the year decreased by 8.3%.

For the full year, Sears Canada had a $338.8-million net loss, or $3.22 per share in 2014.That compared with a 2013 net profit of $446.5-million, or $4.38 per share, which included gains from the early termination of leases on some of its major Sears stores, real estate sales and other usual items.

"These results are disappointing and not indicative of the potential that exists within Sears Canada," said president & CEO Ron Boire, commenting on the fourth quarter and full-year results.  "Despite the fourth quarter operating results, we increased our position of cash and cash equivalents by $24.7 million during the fourth quarter to $259.0 million. The management team remains focused on building on its relationship with Canadians by providing great fashionable product made of high quality at affordable prices with great service. Our sights are set on this value proposition and connecting with more Canadians than ever before. In addition, we are accelerating implementation of key initiatives related to product development and system infrastructure while continuing to focus on prudent management of expenses, investment of inventory and efficiency of our network.

Source: The Canadian Press, Sears Canada

Target Results Dragged Down by Canadian Stores but Pumped Up by Holiday Sales

Target Corp., working to rebound from a hacker attack and a failed expansion into Canada, posted fourth-quarter earnings that topped analysts’ estimates after holiday sales grew.

The company said on Wednesday that it lost $2.6 billion, or $4.14 per share, in the three months ended Jan. 31. That compares with a profit of $520 million, or 82 cents per share a year earlier.

Target took a pretax hit of $5.1-billion on its Canadian stores, for a loss of $5.59 a share.

Some of the assets and liabilities are based on estimates, Target said, involving, among other things, “estimated losses related to claims that may be asserted against Target Corp., primarily under guarantees of certain leases.”

That means there could be changes down the road and significant ones at that.

“Given the early stage of its exit, these estimates involve significant judgment and are based on currently available information, an assessment of the validity of certain claims, and estimated payments by the Canada subsidiaries,” it said.

“The company believes that it is reasonably possible that future adjustments to these amounts could be material to its results of operations in future periods.”

When you strip out the one-time issues, adjusted profit rose to $1.50 from $1.31. That exceeded the company’s forecast of as much as $1.47. Analysts had predicted $1.46 on average for the period, which ended Jan. 31.

Target’s fourth-quarter sales rose 4.1% to $21.8-billion as same-store sales, rose 3.8%.

“We’re pleased with our fourth quarter financial results, which were driven by better-than-expected sales and particularly strong performance in our signature categories-style, baby, kids and wellness,” said Brian Cornell, chairman and chief executive officer of Target Corporation. “We’re seeing early momentum in our efforts to transform Target, and our team is entering the new fiscal year with a singular focus on continuing to differentiate our merchandise assortment and shopping experience while controlling costs by reducing complexity and simplifying the way we work. We’re confident that these efforts will allow us to grow our earnings while returning cash to our shareholders in 2015 and beyond, driving improvements in Target’s return on invested capital and creating long-term value for our shareholders.”

Full-year 2014 sales increased 1.9% to $72.6 billion from $71.3 billion last year, reflecting a 1.3% increase in same-store sales combined with sales from new stores.  Digital channel sales growth of more than 30%t contributed 0.7 percentage points to 2014 comparable sales growth. Full-year adjusted earnings per share were $4.27, a decrease of 2.6% from $4.38 last year.

The retailer also forecast adjusted earnings per share of 95 cents to $1.05 in the first quarter.

Mr. Cornell is refocusing Target on the U.S. after abandoning its money-losing Canadian operations in January. Cornell, a former PepsiCo Inc. executive who took the reins at Target in August, also is working to regain shoppers’ trust following a 2013 data breach. Getting more customers in the door is key the company’s turnaround, said Peter Benedict, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co.

“Reinvigorating guest frequency is the top domestic priority,” he said in a note before the results were released. The exit from Canada was “in the best interest of shareholders,” said Benedict, who has a neutral rating on Target.

The results, which included the second consecutive increase in a key sales measure in year, come a little more than a month after the discounter announced it was giving up its business in Canada and focusing on revving up its U.S. business.

The results also show how the company is successfully moving beyond a massive data breach disclosed a week before Christmas 2014 that compromised millions of credit and debit cards. That caused shoppers to flee for months and hurt sales and profits. That was one of the major reasons behind the abrupt departure of Gregg Steinhafel, who resigned last May.

Target is also grappling with industry wide issues. Like other retailers catering to middle income shopper, Target is contending with a customer base that has not benefited from the country’s economic recovery because wages remain stagnant. Target also has seen a rapid shift among its shoppers to buy and research on their mobile devices. The discounter has been playing catch-up and revamping its apps and just lowered the threshold for free shipping.

Source: The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Target Corp.

 Lowe’s Profit Tops Estimates in Midst of Store Revamp

Lowe’s Cos. Inc. posted fourth-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates as the company revamps its stores as lower gas prices and an improving job market encouraged Americans to spend more on home renovations.

Net income in the three months through Jan. 30 rose 47% to $450-million (U.S.), or 46 cents a share, from $306-million, or 29 cents, a year earlier, the company said Wednesday. The average of 25 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was 44 cents.

"Macroeconomic fundamentals are aligned for modestly stronger home improvement industry growth in 2015," Chief Executive Robert Niblock said.

Lowe’s has been increasing space for seasonal goods and national brands while also adding design services as rising housing values encourage homeowners to renovate their properties. The results show Lowe’s is mostly keeping pace with Home Depot Inc., which also reported profit that topped analysts’ estimates this week.

Same-store sales rose 7.3% in the quarter.  Analysts projected a gain of 5.1%, according to Consensus Metrix. Total revenue increased 7.5% to $12.54-billion from $11.66-billion, topping analysts’ $12.3-billion estimate.

Lowe's forecast full-year earnings of about $3.29 a share, edging past the average analyst estimate by one cent.

The company said it expects same-store sales to grow 4-4.5% in the year ending January 2016.

Total sales are expected to rise between 4.5% and 5%. The forecast translates to sales of $58.75-$59.04 billion - above the average analyst estimate of $58.52 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

In the 52 weeks to Tuesday's close, Lowe's stock gained 58%, outperforming Home Depot's 50% increase.

Analysts at Janney Capital Markets looked for the North Carolina-based company to benefit from the cold weather, according to a note from Monday. Lowe's stock has grown each of the last four winters and has gained about 11% this winter, according to FactSet.

Source: Bloomberg News, Reuters

Home Depot Reports Better than Expected Sales & Profit; Approves $18B Stock Buyback

Home Depot Inc. reported a better-than-expected rise in quarterly same-store sales on Tuesday and said it would buy back $18-billion of its shares.

Home Depot’s profit also beat market expectations as an improving job market encouraged Americans to spend more on renovations, helping to send its shares up 3% in premarket trading.

The company’s $18-billion share buyback replaces a $17-billion buyback authorized in 2013.

Home Depot’s same-store sales rose 7.9% in the fourth quarter ended Feb. 1, beating the average analyst estimate of 5.5%, according to research firm Consensus Metrix.

Same-store sales increased 8.9% in the U.S., where Home Depot has more than 85% of its 2,269 stores.

Net sales rose 8.3% to $19.16-billion, also better than Wall Street’s projection of $18.68-billion.

Chairman and CEO Craig Menear said during a conference call that sales were helped by a strong customer response to its holiday decor and gift centre as well as its Black Friday deals. Online business also did well, particularly during the period known as "Cyber Week."

Strength was seen in categories such as tools, lumber, millwork, lighting, decor, building materials, kitchen, bath and hardware, according to Ted Decker, executive vice-president of merchandising.

Home Depot’s net income rose 36% to $1.38-billion, or $1.05 per share, in the quarter. Excluding items, the company earned $1.00 per share.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 89 cents per share on revenue of $18.7-billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Home Depot also raised its quarterly dividend to 59 cents per share from 47.

Like other U.S. companies operating overseas, Home Depot warned that the strong dollar could weigh on its performance this year.

"If currency exchange rates remain where they are today, this would cause a negative impact to fiscal 2015 net sales growth of approximately $1 billion, as well as a negative impact on diluted earnings per share of approximately (6 cents per share)," the company said in a press release. "The low-end of the company's sales and diluted earnings-per-share growth guidance reflects this currency impact."

But Home Depot is riding an improving, if unsteady U.S. housing market.

For the year, Home Depot earned $4.71 per share on revenue of $83.18 billion. Online sales climbed more than 36%.

The company expects 2015 earnings of between $5.11 and $5.17 per share. Revenue is expected to climb about 3.5% to 4.7%. Home Depot said that the low end of its earnings-per-share and sales forecast takes into account the strong dollar. Wall Street had been looking for full-year earnings of $4.50 per share.

Chief Financial Officer Carol Tome said during the call that the outlook does not take into account any expenses Home Depot may incur in the future for data breach-related claims. Last year the chain reported a massive data breach that affected 56 million debit and credit cards. Tome said that the company will update its guidance when it is able to estimate the expenses.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

Walmart Canada Profit Falls Despite Boost in Sales During Fourth Quarter

Walmart Canada Corp. felt a pinch to its fourth-quarter bottom line, the result of investments in a downsizing, e-commerce and lower prices, even while the discounter enjoyed a boost in its sales.

Walmart Canada’s overall fourth-quarter sales grew 4.1% while same-store sales rose 1.8%, marking the third consecutive quarter of positive sales at outlets open a year or more, the company reported last Thursday.

However, the retailer’s operating profit fell in the quarter – the company didn’t provide the extent of the drop – as a result of spending on e-commerce and discounting as well as a restructuring which saw the loss of about 210 head office jobs.

“Overall, we’re pleased with the positive sales trend we’ve seen in our Canadian operations and we expect the momentum to continue,” David Cheesewright, chief executive officer of the international division of U.S. parent Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said on a conference call last Thursday morning.

Walmart Canada has grappled with steep competition from U.S. discount rival Target Corp. and other domestic players. But the industry strain are expected to ease later this year as insolvent Target Canada moves to pull out of the country, shutting all its stores by mid-May.

Walmart could also be bolstered soon by potentially buying some of the leases of Target stores to expand its business here, although rival retailers also are believed to be vying for some of the Target leases. Walmart has not commented on the possibility of picking up some of the leases.

In Canada in its fourth quarter, Walmart reported “strong” same-store sales in the staples of food, consumer products and health and wellness, Mr. Cheesewright said. Those are the types of products that tend to bring shoppers to stores more often, as opposed to discretionary items such as clothing which consumers don’t need as much.

Indeed, the discounter’s previous trend of declining shopper traffic to stores improved a bit in the fourth quarter, with same-store traffic up 0.1%, the company said. And consumers spent more on each shopping trip, with fourth-quarter purchase amounts up 1.7%.

Walmart Canada’s market share in those staple categories of food, consumables and health items picked up by 0.43% in the 12 weeks ended Jan. 24, according to researcher Nielsen and reported by Mr. Cheesewright.

In underlining the chain’s push to improve its grocery sales here, he said the Canadian division’s sales of fresh food such as fruits and vegetables reached its highest level of the year in the fourth quarter, although he didn’t disclose figures.

He said Walmart’s holiday season in Canada was strong overall, with its online business jumping 38.5%. However, its non-grocery and apparel sales “were still below the rate of growth in the market,” but improved from previous quarterly results, Mr. Cheesewright said.

Walmart Canada is estimated to generate about $23-billion in annual sales. The retailer doesn’t break out the amount of its sales in this country.

Last month, Walmart Canada said it will spend $340 million over the next year in part to convert 27 existing stores into “Supercentres” outfitted with a full complement of grocery aisles, adding to the 282 locations that already sell food (up from 247 locations in 2013).

Source: The Globe and Mail

Wal-Mart U.S. Rides Low Gas Prices and Improving Economy to Higher Earnings

U.S. parent Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, reported overall a better-than–expected fourth quarter profit as shoppers spent more of their savings from lower U.S. gas prices at the company’s stores.

However, the company cut its sales forecast for the coming year, citing a strong U.S. dollar that is hurting sales results in many markets.

Wal-Mart said it now expected sales to increase 1-2%, below its previous forecast of 2-4%.

It also forecast earnings of $4.70-$5.05 per share, below the average analyst estimate of $5.19.

Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, who took the post a year ago, has added more fresh produce to U.S. stores, an effort that’s proving popular with shoppers. Falling unemployment and the plunge in gas prices also is putting more money in consumers’ pockets.

“The precipitous drop in gas prices should translate into consumer spending as we progress throughout 2015,” Charles Grom, an analyst at Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., said in a report before Wal-Mart’s earnings were released.

Wal-Mart reported a 1.5% increase in same-store sales in the U.S., its second straight quarter of growth after six quarters of flat or declining sales.

Analysts on average had forecast a rise of 0.7%, according to research firm Consensus Metrix.

Net profit attributable to Wal-Mart rose to $4.97-billion, or $1.53 per share, for the quarter ended Jan. 31, from $4.43-billion, or $1.36 per share, in the same period a year earlier.
Excluding items, the company earned $1.58 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Total revenue rose 1.4% to $131.57-billion.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of $1.53 per share on revenue of $132.35-billion.

Wal-Mart Raises Wages for U.S. Workers

In a new initiative on the labour front, Wal-Mart, long criticized for its low hourly pay and employee benefits, said it would increase wages for half a million U.S. employees this year.

Wal-Mart’s hourly full-time and part-time workers will earn at least $1.75 above the current federal minimum wage, or $9.00 per hour, starting in April, the largest private sector employer in the United States said last Thursday.

Current employees will earn at least $10.00 per hour by Feb. 1, 2016, the company said.

Wal-Mart, which has about 1.3 million U.S. workers, has been a target for activists in the contentious national debate over proposals to raise the minimum wage.

The company also said associates will have more control over their work schedules. They will be given more resources and training to enable merit-based career advancement and higher levels of pay.

The pay increase, coupled with improvements to the company’s hiring, training and scheduling programs, will cost about $1 billion (U.S.) in the current fiscal year.

That’s approximately 0.2% of the $497 billion in sales analysts project Wal-Mart will generate.

“These changes will give our U.S. associates the opportunity to earn higher pay and advance in their careers,” Mr. McMillon said in a statement. “We’re pursuing a comprehensive approach that is sustainable over the long term.”

With the pay increase, Wal-Mart is looking to reduce its workforce’s turnover, cut training costs and improve stores, while also fending off bad publicity about its wages, said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis.

The move may ripple throughout the industry, including at rivals such as Target Corp., he said.

“This forces all retailers to take a look at their pay levels, but definitely Target,” he said. “They have to be competitive.”

Meanwhile, Walmart employees in Canada will not receive the same across-the-board wage increases announced for Wal-Mart workers in the U.S.

“Hourly associates working full time at Walmart Canada on average earn significantly above the minimum wages set by provincial governments across Canada which are also generally higher than government set minimum wages in the U.S.,” according to a statement issued by Walmart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier.

“In addition, last year the majority of our associates in Canada received a bonus, and all of our associates receive an associate discount of 10% at Walmart Canada’s stores,” according to the release.

Source: Reuters, Bloomberg News, The Toronto Star

 Nordstrom Profit Falls Due to Higher Investments, Discounts

Upscale department store operator Nordstrom Inc. reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit as it spent more on technology upgrades and store expansion, and increased discounts at its Rack brand stores in the holiday shopping season.

The company, which bought Chicago-based Trunk Club in August to gain market share in men's' clothing and to boost its online business, also forecast 2015 profit of $3.65 to $3.80 per share and sales growth of 7 to 9%.

Analysts on average were expecting a profit of $3.76 per share on revenue of $13.47 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Nordstrom also forecast a bigger loss for its Canada business in 2015 as it continues its expansion with store openings in Ottawa in the spring and Vancouver in the fall.

Loss before interest and taxes in Canada is expected to widen to about $60 million in fiscal year 2015 from $32 million in 2014.

Nordstrom said margins fell in the fourth quarter as it tried to clear inventories with deeper discounts. Merchandise inventories, however, stood at $1.73 billion as of Jan. 31, higher than the $1.53 billion reported a year earlier.

Selling, general and administrative expenses rose 13.5% to $1.08 billion.

Nordstrom's net income fell to $255 million, or $1.32 per share, in the quarter ended Jan. 31, from $268 million, or $1.37 per share, a year earlier.

Same-store sales rose 4.7%. Analysts polled by Consensus Metrix had expected a growth of 3.4%.

Net sales rose 9% to $3.94 billion, helped by higher demand for its skincare and makeup products.

Sales on the website grew 19% from last year, while sales increased 28%, according to the statement.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of $1.35 per share on revenue of $4.01 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

The retailer is boosting its capital expenditures in the next fiscal year to $1.2-billion from $751-million last year as it opens more Rack locations, expands into Canada and Manhattan and opens a third fulfilment centre.

Source: Reuters

Target Canada Closing– Latest News

Target started its highly-anticipated liquidation sales on Feb. 4 for its Canadian stores but shoppers have been unenthused with the 10 to 30% off deals. However, Newspapers ads from Target Canada last Thursday indicated that all merchandise will now be cut by an additional 20 to 40%. The sales do not include Apple products which will stick to a 10% discount.

The big question is how much merchandise is actually left at Target stores, as many shelves are near bare.

It’s likely that a lot of merchandise that Target feels it can get a better price on will be shipped down to its U.S. stores.

The retailer will be shutting down in Canada by May 15, closing all of its 133 stores and laying off more than 17,000 staff, just two years after it began opening stores north of the border.

Some of those reductions have already happened at its Toronto headquarters where its 770-person staff has been reduced to about 80 people.

Court Awards Target Canada Pharmacists $100,000 for Legal Proceedings

Meanwhile on the legal front, Target Canada’s franchised pharmacists have won a victory in their battle with the insolvent U.S.-owned retailer.

Ontario Superior Court ruled last Wednesday that the pharmacists should get $100,000 from Target Canada to cover their legal and financial advice in the insolvency proceedings of the chain.

Justice Geoffrey Morawetz also agreed to name the pharmacists’ association as well as their law firm, Sutts, Strosberg LLP, and BDO, their financial adviser, as their official representatives in the matter.

“The situation facing the pharmacists is not pleasant,” Justice Morawetz said in his ruling.

The pharmacists’ plight underlines the ripple effects of Target’s failure on its array of stakeholders, ranging from suppliers to landlords. The discounter’s pharmacists had each invested more than $50,000 in inventory to team up with Target for its much-touted arrival in 2013, encouraged by projections of high-volume prescription sales and heavy shopper traffic.

But Target Canada’s losses continued to mount and, on Jan. 15, it filed for court protection from its creditors, leaving hundreds of unsecured creditors in the lurch. For its pharmacists, it means having to sell each of their patient records and suppliers to a third party, let go staff and vacate their drugstore by May 15 or, in many cases, earlier.

“These people need all the help they can get,” William Sasso, a lawyer for the Pharmacy Frachisee Association of Canada, which represents the Target pharmacists, said in an interview.

On Jan. 26, Target told its franchised pharmacists they had to leave in 30 days. Two weeks ago, however, Target responded to the pharmacists’ concerns by saying the drugstores could get more time, up to March 30 in some cases.

As a result of Target’s “accommodation,” Justice Morawetz turned down the pharmacists’ bid to get still more time to stay in their drugstores before having to abandon them. “This accommodation represents, in my view, a constructive, practical and equitable approach to address a difficult issue,” the judge said.

Justice Morawetz noted the pharmacists face many “transitional” issues. “First and foremost is dealing with the patient records and ensuring uninterrupted delivery of prescription drugs to all such patients.” As well, they have to deal with relocating or shutting down their pharmacies and returning some products to suppliers.

“This is not a simple case where the franchisee receiving the disclaimer notice can simply walk away from the scene,” the ruling says.

“From a professional and regulatory standpoint, they still have to participate in the process.”

Suppliers Fight Back

Also on the legal front, some suppliers are fighting with Target to get back the goods they shipped to it in the 30 days before the retailer filed for creditors’ protection. If the proceedings were a bankruptcy, the vendors would have had the right to ask to retrieve their 30-day inventory.

Two baby-product suppliers, ISSI Inc. and Elfe Juvenile Products, suggest in court filings that they shipped large amounts of goods to Target in those 30 days. “It is clear from the communications from Target Canada personnel with whom ISSI and Elfe were dealing that they continued to represent, either directly or indirectly, that Target Canada was financially sound, its future was bright and that 2015 would be a great year,” Shell Bern, president of ISSI and Elfe, said in a filing.

Last Wednesday, the monitor, Alvarez & Marsal Canada Inc., said inventory on-hand as of Dec. 15 was about $623.1 million, excluding goods in transit, while inventory on-hand as of Jan. 15 was about $526.6 million, excluding goods in transit.

An article in the Globe and Mail last Thursday discussed the situation of a Toronto-based market research firm that did work for Target and says it was told to switch an invoice from the retailer’s U.S.-based parent to Target Canada just several days before the filing, leaving the firm with what it says is now a $232,328 unpaid claim.

Invoices from the research firm, Advitek Inc., were normally sent to Target’s U.S. head office. But two days before Target Canada filed for court protection from creditors, the parent company asked Advitek to “change the invoices to Canada instead,” Kathrin Menge, a manager at Target Canada, wrote in an e-mail to her U.S. counterparts.

“I find this very suspicious,” Ms. Menge says in the e-mail, which was filed as evidence in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week.

The e-mail was dated Jan. 22 – a week after the retailer got court protection and announced it was leaving the country.

Suppliers are pushing to find out the precise timing of parent Target Corp. executives’ decision to pull the plug on its Canadian division, suggesting the retailer avoided paying bills while bulking up on inventory in the 30 days before the filing in order to cash in on subsequent going-out-of-business sales.

Last Thursday, the suppliers made some progress in their battle. Justice Geoffrey Morawetz agreed with a timetable for Target and its court-appointed monitor to produce information on an array of matters tied to the contentious issues.

The judge even gave lawyers for the suppliers and market researcher the right to cross-examine Target Canada’s legal counsel on the issues, with notification about the questioning to come by March 30.

Suppliers are seeking to unearth “the tactics employed by Target USA and Target Canada to pay as little as they can to get out of this with maximum benefit and minimum risk,” Lou Brzezinski, a lawyer at Blaney McMurtry LLP that represents Advitek Inc., said in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Source: The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail

U.S. West Coast Ports Seal New 5-Year Labour Deal but Still Face Backlog

West Coast seaports are finally working at full speed again, for the most part, after months of disruptions to trans-Pacific trade that have hit businesses from automakers to meat exports.  However, it will likely take months for the backlog to clear, port officials and logistics experts say.

Full operations resumed at West Coast ports from Southern California to Seattle last Saturday evening, after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers, came to a tentative agreement on a new five-year labour contract last Friday. The contract still must be ratified by members.

The agreement involving 29 ports was reached three days after U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez arrived in San Francisco to broker a deal with the help of a federal mediator who had joined the talks six weeks earlier.

The White House called the deal, reached after nine months of negotiations, "a huge relief" for the economy, businesses and workers. President Barack Obama urged the dockworkers and the shipping companies to work together to clear the port backlogs.

The 20,000 dockworkers covered by the tentative five-year labour accord have been without a contract since July. Tensions arising from the talks have played out since last fall in chronic cargo backups that increasingly slowed freight traffic at the ports.

During the dispute, shipping companies sharply curtailed operations at the marine terminals, suspending loading and unloading of cargo vessels for night shifts, holidays and weekends at the five busiest ports.

The dispute had reverberated throughout the U.S. economy and beyond, extending to agriculture, manufacturing, retail and transportation, and even hitting consumers of McDonald's restaurants in Japan.

Farmers couldn’t get produce to Asia, leaving some fruit rotting in containers, and some North American auto manufacturers were forced to fly in parts to keep plants running.  Small-business owners with limited inventory to cover sales faced shortages, while some apparel companies feared they wouldn’t get products in time for spring delivery.

Wal-Mart said the dispute had caused delays of "pockets of merchandise" and that the potential cost had been included in the company's earnings forecasts last week.

According to the American Association of Port Authorities, some $3.8 billion worth of goods move in and out of U.S. seaports each day.  The West Coast ports handle nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70% of the country's Asian imports.

A number of industry groups—including the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the Agriculture Transportation Coalition—called for a quick ratification of the agreement, while cautioning that this type of disruption can’t be allowed to happen again.

Nearly 50% of all clothing and shoes are imported to the U.S. via the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,
the American Apparel & Footwear Association said. “This dispute has left a damaging effect on our industry—causing extreme delays and millions in lost sales,” the association added. “If our ports aren’t open, we can’t trade. The serious and negative impacts this dispute left on the economy demonstrates why we cannot let this happen again.”

Port officials have said it would take six to eight weeks to clear the immediate backlog of cargo containers and several months for freight traffic to return to a normal rhythm.

The U.S. West Coast waterfront still faces a range of systemic problems cited by port authorities as factors in the backups.

Still, the settlement stopped the labour dispute from devolving into a full-scale, extended shutdown of the ports, which the retail and manufacturing industries have projected could cost the U.S. economy some $2 billion a day.

The ongoing disruptions at the U.S. West Coast seaports were forcing companies to put on more ships and reroute them. That includes heading north to ports in British Columbia. Stephen Brown, the president of the Chamber of Shipping of B.C., says shipping companies already began diverting to ports in Western Canada in May when negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and ship owners first began. He says that tailed off for a while when it looked like the negotiations were going well.

"And then about three months ago when the slowdown began, and ships became significantly delayed, then we saw another round of diversion to Canadian ports, to Vancouver and Prince Rupert," he said.

The problem is that Vancouver and Prince Rupert can't handle the volume of ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach and so get congested. Canada also doesn't have the rail and road networks like those along the West Coast of the U.S., so it takes longer to move cargo once it's unloaded. There are other alternatives, such as ports in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast.

Brown says the U.S. East Coast ports are very busy with ships coming in from Asia via the Suez Canal.  He says it takes a bit longer in terms of sailing distance. Also, freight rates — the cost to ship a container — are now higher on the East Coast because of the demand.

“We’re seeing container ships arriving five to 10 days late, but they’re moving through our supply chain at a normal speed,” said John Parker-Jervis, media and government affairs adviser for Port Metro Vancouver.

Ships arriving late means retailers in central Canada may get their goods five to 10 days late as well. “That’s an effect we’re hearing from customers across the country,” Parker-Jervis said.

Canadian Tire, Canada’s largest container importer, is seeing delays on average of five days, but sometimes imports can be as tardy as six weeks, Neil McKenna, vice president of transportation for Canadian Tire Retail, said in a media interview last week.

Other Canadian importers are receiving shipments two to three weeks later than usual as vessels arrive late at western Canadian ports after being caught up in congestion to the south, said Ruth Snowden, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association.Those same delayed vessels often leave port early, resulting in some Canadian exporters missing export windows.

But given the constant flow of goods through Canadian ports, retailers north of the border seem to be faring better than their American counterparts.

“As we’ve been checking with our members, the impact seems to be fairly limited from a Canadian retailer perspective,” said David Wilkes, senior vice-president of the Retail Council of Canada.

Joy Nott, president of the Canadian Importers and Exporters Association, said large multinational companies are typically not impacted by this kind of disruption due to their sophisticated supply chain planning.  Small and medium-sized companies may take a bigger hit, she added.

Nott said the backlog could also have a trickle-down effect to the end consumer, as additional costs build-up in the supply chain, leading to potential price increases.

“In a modern-day supply chain, the last man standing is the customer,” she said.

Source: Reuters, The Toronto Star, The Wall Street Journal

Economic News

Canadian Retail Sales Decline the Most in Four Years During December

Canadian retail sales fell at the fastest pace in more than four years in December as consumers scaled back holiday gift purchases.

Sales fell 2.0% to $42.1-billion, the most since April, 2010, Statistics Canada said last Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News forecast a 0.4% decrease, based on the median of 18 projections.

After removing the effects of price changes, particularly lower gas prices, sales in volume terms declined 1.3%.

Lower sales were reported in 9 of 11 subsectors, representing 71% of retail trade.

For all of 2014 however, retail sales rose 4% from December 2013.

“Most store types typically associated with holiday shopping registered weaker sales in December, more than offsetting November gains,” Statistics Canada said.

Receipts fell by 5.6% for clothing and accessories stores and 9.2% at electronics and appliance retailers. Year-over-year those categories were up 2.7% and 3.3% respectively.

Gasoline sales fell 7.4% in December (and -11.0% y/y) as prices fell, the sixth straight decline and the largest since December, 2008. Economists had pointed to cheaper gas as a boost to the finances of consumers who have taken on record debt loads.

The report suggests consumer confidence may be deteriorating with the plunge in crude oil prices through the second half of 2014. The Bank of Canada cut interest rates last month in a surprise move it called an insurance policy against the oil price shock.

The retail sales report also suggested falling oil prices are hurting consumer spending in Alberta, the heart of Canada’s energy industry. Sales fell 2.5% in the western province, the third straight decline, Statistics Canada said.

Motor vehicle and parts sales fell 1% in December. Excluding that category, retail sales fell by 2.3%. Excluding motor vehicles, parts and gasoline, retailers reported a 1.3% drop in receipts.

The largest increase in dollar terms came from a 1.0% gain at food and beverage stores, reflecting higher sales at beer, wine and liquor stores (+4.0%), specialty food stores (+3.1%) and convenience stores (+2.3%). Sales at supermarkets and other grocery stores edged down 0.1% in December but were up 1.8% from a year ago.

General merchandise store receipts declined 2.0% in December, led by a 3.9% decrease at department stores but finished the year ahead by 5.8% and 5.3%.

Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores declined 1.3%, partially offsetting the sales gain in November. Lower sales at sporting goods stores offset gains made at hobby, toy and games stores.Over the past 12 months, sales in this sector were up 8.5%.

Sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers fell 1.0% in December but were up 11.3% for the full year.

Furniture stores sales fell 0.5% during the month while home furnishing stores dropped 1.7%.  For 2015, sales rose 12.5% and 9.8%.

Retail sales were down in every province in December.

Ontario (-2.3%) reported the largest decrease in dollar terms, with widespread declines across most store types.

Sales declines in the Prairie provinces were mainly a result of lower sales at gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers. Sales in Alberta (-2.5%) and Saskatchewan (-3.6%) were both down for the third consecutive month. Sales in Manitoba decreased 2.8% in December, more than offsetting the gain in November.

British Columbia reported a 2.2% decrease in December, with widespread declines.

Lower sales at gasoline stations accounted for most of the decline in Quebec (-0.5%). Results for other types of retailers were mixed.

Among the Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick (-1.9%) reported the largest decrease in dollar terms.

Source: Statistics Canada, Bloomberg News

In Many Canadian Cities, Unsold Condos are Stacking Up Next
(Article by Tamsin McMahon, The Globe and Mail)

When the federal government tightened mortgage rules in 2012, overheated condo markets in Toronto and Vancouver were widely seen as the main target. But little more than two years later, it’s many smaller cities that are bearing the brunt of stricter regulations.

Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton are grappling with a surplus of unsold condo units driven by a surge in new construction and a dwindling supply of first-time buyers in the wake of Ottawa’s decision in June, 2012, to limit mortgage insurance to amortization periods of 25 years or less from 30 years.

While deep-pocketed investors in Toronto and Vancouver stepped in to fill the void, the picture has been different in smaller markets where condo sales are driven largely by first-time buyers.

“It definitely had an effect on first-time buyers,” said Paul Cardinal, manager of market analysis for the Quebec Federation of Real Estate Boards.

“What’s not really intuitive is that you would have thought the most expensive markets would have been impacted more than the less expensive market, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

The downturn has been most painful in Quebec, where the boom in condo construction started in 2011 and 2012 as young buyers, armed with cheap mortgages, flocked to the housing market.

Roughly a third of Quebec buyers had taken out mortgages with 30-year amortizations – and that number rose to 40% in Montreal, Mr. Cardinal said. He calculated that the change was the equivalent of raising interest rates by one percentage point.

Similar problems have plagued markets such as Moncton and Halifax, according to a recent housing market forecast from Re/Max. In Regina and Saskatoon, the number of unsold housing units hit a 30-year high, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation said, the majority of them condos.

Winnipeg has also seen a surge of new condo construction since 2012 as builders rushed to cater to new immigrants under Manitoba’s provincial nominee program and retirees looking to downsize and spend their winters down south.

Last year was the first time in 30 years that the city saw more multifamily units under construction than single-family homes. The level of unsold inventory has been rising, as have rental vacancy rates, sparking concerns about overbuilding. “That’s something we’re keeping an eye on,” said Dianne Himbeault, CMHC senior market analyst. “At this point levels are above the five-year average in terms of completed an unoccupied units.”

Montreal in particular has been grappling with a glut of unsold condos for the past two years as builders haven’t scaled back their plans in the wake of softening demand. The city had a backlog of nearly 3,000 unsold condos last year, yet condo starts in Montreal rose 19%, defying analyst expectations for a slowdown in new construction.

There are now nearly 20 condo sellers for every one buyer in Quebec City and downtown Montreal, well above the long-term average, said Hélène Bégin, chief economist at Desjardins Group.

In Gatineau, near Ottawa, condo prices have fallen 14%, as stricter rules and federal government job cuts have sapped the confidence of new buyers.

Yet despite a rising stockpile of unsold units, prices in Montreal’s condo market haven’t fallen, rising 1% last year, in large part because developers are choosing instead of offer generous incentives instead of price breaks. “Instead of taking $10,000 or $20,000 off the price, they’re offering to furnish it with the whole washer, dryer, dishwasher, stove and fridge,” said real estate agent Mike Abatzidis of Re/Max Du Cartier.

Desjardins’ Ms. Bégin expects to see a slowdown in new construction this year if the city is to avoid a serious downturn in its condo market. “If we don’t, the adjustment will be just more painful,” she said.

Not everyone agrees. In downtown Montreal, a joint venture backed by Chinese investors recently broke ground on one of the city’s most ambitious condo projects, a two-phase, 800-unit project known as YUL Condominiums.

“This is a world-class city which is still not seen as a condo market,” said Steve Di Fruscia, CEO of Tianco Group, the Vancouver-based company developing the project with Montreal’s Brivia Group. “It’s just a question of time to get the local community out of the rental market and into [condos].”

So far the project is 50% sold, but Mr. Di Fruscia says he confident the city’s glut of unsold condo inventory is merely the short-term growing pains of a city whose condo market is still developing.

“We are very bullish on Montreal,” he said. “We think it’s a great time to plant seeds. We are very hungry for some more real estate in the city.”

Source: The Globe and Mail  

Outlook for Canadian Housing Market Stable, but Still Some Concerns 
(Article by Outlook for Canadian Housing Market Stable, but Still Some Concerns)

Canada’s housing market is expected to remain stable through this year, despite the winter chill that has settled over the Prairies and hot spots in Toronto and Vancouver.

That’s according to a report issued last week by the Bank of Montreal’s BMO Capital Markets.

“Outside Vancouver and Toronto, valuations appear reasonable, reducing the chance of a severe nationwide correction,” senior economist Sal Guatieri wrote in the report.

“Low interest rates should support steady sales and prices in 2015, though Alberta can expect a bumpier landing.”

Active listing are high in Quebec and eastern Canada and rising fast from low levels on the Prairies, the report said.

“We’re all becoming a little more concerned by the growing supply in more regions across the country,” Guatieri said. “That’s something worth monitoring but not worthy of raising the alarm bells yet.”

Montreal and Ottawa, for instance, have an elevated supply of unsold condos, but that’s not the case in Toronto, Guatieri said.

In Toronto, demand is generally keeping up with the number of units coming on the market, Guatieri said. The city still has more than 50,000 condos under construction, but these units will take years to complete, Guatieri said. More than 80% are pre-sold.

“On the demand side, there’s a lot of people moving to the region and because detached homes are so pricey, condos are the affordable alternative for many first time buyers and new arrivals to the city,” Guatieri said.

“We just don’t see anything on the horizon that would turn off demand, such as a big downturn in the economy or a big spike in interest rates. We’ll see continuing demand from young buyers and, if anything, the federal government might increase immigration levels.”

Valuations and affordability are a greater concern in Toronto, Guatieri added, particularly when it comes to detached homes.

“It’s a market that is vulnerable if we slip into recession and people lose their jobs or if interest rates rise rapidly,” he said. “We will see a correction in this region.”

BMO expects interest rates to rise gradually over the next three years and that the pace of price increases will slow.

At the moment, neither has happened. The Toronto Real Estate Board said in a report issued last Wednesday that the average selling price for the first half of February was $602,110 — up 10.3% from the year-earlier period.

“It’s surprising,” Guatieri said, referring to the sharp rise in prices. “We don’t expect that trend to continue. The longer it continues, the more worried we will be about Toronto’s housing market.”

National house prices are expected to rise 2 per cent this year, with weakness in Alberta partly offset by further gains in Toronto and Vancouver, Guatieri wrote in the report. “However rising interest rates in 2016 will restrain prices in these two cities.”

Demand is especially weak in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, falling fast in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but remains healthy in B.C. and Ontario, the BMO report said.

Sales in Calgary and Edmonton plunged in January as a result of plunging oil prices and are also weak in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Click here to see the full BMO report.  

Source: The Toronto Star

Latest U.S. Economic News

U.S.  Home Prices Rise in December
U.S. single-family home prices rose in December, led by strong increases in the western half of the United States, a closely watched survey said on Tuesday.

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 4.5% in December from the prior year. This was above a Reuters poll of economists that forecast a rise of 4.3%, as well as the 4.3% growth rate in November.

“While prices and sales of existing homes are close to normal, construction and new home sales remain weak,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

“The softness in housing is despite favourable conditions elsewhere in the economy: strong job growth, a declining unemployment rate, continued low interest rates and positive consumer confidence.”

Source: Reuters

U.S. Home Resales Hit Nine-Month Low, Supply Weak
U.S. home resales fell sharply to their lowest level in nine months in January amid a shortage of properties on the market, a setback that could temper expectations for an acceleration in housing activity this year.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said on Monday that U.S. existing home sales declined 4.9% to an annual rate of 4.82 million units, the lowest level since April last year.

December’s sales pace was revised up to 5.07 million units from a previously reported 5.04 million units.

Revisions to sales data going back to 2012 were minor. Sales slumped last month despite a decline in mortgage rates, which saw the 30-year rate hitting a 20-month low.

Tight inventories are hurting sales by limiting the selection of houses available to potential buyers. The lack of supply is also keeping house prices elevated, helping to sideline first-time buyers from the market.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast U.S. existing home sales falling only to a 4.97-million unit pace last month. Sales were up 3.2% from a year ago.

Last month, the inventory of unsold homes on the market slipped 0.5% from a year ago to 1.87 million. Economists say insufficient equity and uncertainty about the economy’s strength were forcing potential sellers to stay in their homes.

Source: Reuters


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