TSX closes flat on pessimism surrounding talks aimed at averting fiscal cliff

TSX closes flat on pessimism surrounding talks aimed at averting fiscal cliff by Malcolm Morrison, The Canadian Press Posted Dec 27, 2012 4:45 pm MDT TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed little changed Thursday as traders continued to assess the chances of the United States going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”A double-whammy of tax increases and spending cuts, which threaten to erode the already weak U.S. economy, is set to click in on Jan. 1.The S&P/TSX composite index added 2.97 points to 12,373.77 while the TSX Venture Exchange gained 11.15 points to 1,196.75.The Canadian dollar was off 0.37 of a cent to 100.51 cents U.S.Markets hit their worst levels of the session after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the U.S. government appears headed over the fiscal cliff because of a lack of progress in negotiations between Republicans who control the House of Representatives and Democrats who control the Senate and White House.But indexes recovered most of the losses late in the day on word that the House will be back in session Sunday evening. It is unclear what legislation the House might consider Sunday, since Speaker John Boehner is publicly insisting that the Senate must make the next move to avert the cliff.“At the end of the day, this prevailing will-they-or-won’t they in Washington is causing a dip,” said Craig Fehr, Canadian markets specialist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.“But it’s tough to read too much into anything given that volumes are exceptionally low. All the players aren’t in the game so to speak.”The Dow Jones industrials lost 18.28 points to 13,096.31, as data showed fiscal cliff worries are spreading to consumers.The U.S. Conference Board said that its consumer confidence index fell this month to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November, the second straight decline and the lowest level since August.The survey showed consumers were slightly more optimistic about current business conditions and hiring, but their outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011The Nasdaq composite index fell 4.25 points to 2,985.91 and the S&P 500 index declined 1.74 points to 1,418.09.Other data showed that the average number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits over the past month fell last week to the lowest level since March 2008.The U.S. Labour Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.On the Toronto market, losses were led by a 0.5 per cent decline in the financials subgroup as Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF) moved down 26 cents to $26.35. TD Bank (TSX:TD) declined 72 cents to $83.27.Commodities were mixed with February bullion up $3 to US$1,663.70 an ounce. The gold sector led advancers, up about 1.8 per cent with Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) ahead 73 cents to C$34.24 while Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) advanced 46 cents to $35.98.Support also came from the base metals sector, which rose 0.75 per cent while March copper was unchanged at US$3.60 a pound after rising five cents Wednesday. The gain, the largest in four weeks, came after workers rejected a wage proposal at BHP Billiton’s Escondida mine in Chile. Turquoise Hill Resources (TSX:TRQ) gained 21 cents to C$7.26.The February crude oil contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange edged down 11 cents to US$90.87 a barrel. The energy sector was slightly higher while Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) fell 40 cents to C$28.49 and Niko Resources (TSX:NKO) jumped $1.05 to $10.50.A major TSX loser was Poseidon Concepts Corp. (TSX:PSN), which plunged more than 50 per cent after the oilfield service company suspended its dividend, replaced its CEO and initiated a board review of the management and business processes. Poseidon shares were down $1.83 at $1.48 after the company said it has established a special committee of the board to review the recent writeoff of certain accounts owing to it.The tech sector also provided lift with Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) up $1.20 or 11.43 per cent to $11.70, mirroring an 11 per cent gain on U.S. markets on Wednesday. RIM stock plunged about 25 per cent last week as analysts raised concerns about less revenue from the lucrative service fees charged by the company to use its secure network. The stock had been on a roll earlier in December on rising optimism about the new BlackBerry 10 lineup, which is being launched at the end of January.Elsewhere on the corporate front, Bombardier Aerospace has received a new order for six Learjet 75 business jets. Bombardier shares added a penny to $3.76. read more

Businessasusual not an option with future global food security in jeopardy cautions

According to FAO, without a push to invest in and reorganizing food systems, far too many people will remain hungry in 2030 – the year by which the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to eradicate chronic food insecurity and malnutrition.“Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” the report noted.In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050, it added.Climate change will affect every aspect of food productionOn top of these challenges, climate change adds a new level of complexity. Its increasing impacts are leading to greater variability of precipitation and increasing the frequency of droughts and floods.RELATED: Drought drives food price spike in East Africa, UN warnsIn the midst of this multifaceted issue, the UN agency is advocating for a shift to more sustainable food systems that make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs, and for sharply reducing the use of fossil fuels in agriculture. In The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlights that while “very real and significant” progress in reducing hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, these have often come at a heavy cost to nature.“Almost half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded,” noted the report.“[As a result,] planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” added FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, underlining the gravity of the situation.With global population estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050, world-wide demand for agricultural products could be pushed by as much as 50 per cent above current levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources.At the same time, the report argues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food – a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation and greenhouse gas emissions. Empowering small-scale farmers and providing them better access to information, markets and technologies is key to ensuring future food security. Photo: FAO Reducing fossil fuel dependency will also help cut agricultural green-house gas emissions, conserve biodiversity, and reduce waste, it added.Furthermore, investments in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as in research and development, are needed to sustainably boost food production and help producers better cope with water scarcity and other climate change impacts.The social dimension to food securityAlso in the report, FAO has called for preserving and enhancing livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food for the most vulnerable.Amid the core challenge of having to produce more with less, it has underlined that the twin-track approach is needed to immediately tackle undernourishment, and that pro-poor investments in productive activities – especially agriculture and in rural economies – could sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor.RELATED: UN agency urges support for small farmers to help them not just get by, but thrive and feed othersIn addition to boosting production and resilience, it is equally important to create food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets.“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” read the report.“Business-as-usual” is not an option. read more