Lifestyle

Winners & Losers: Who's up, who's down

Jim Flaherty, Chilean miners, Big Oil and more.

?Chile
Mining

The rescue of the 33 Chilean copper miners who spent 69 days stuck 700 metres underground was a relief for the whole country. Chile, which produces one–third of the world’s copper, was thrown into the media spotlight as the government spent $10 million to save the miners. Since all have now been freed from the 125–year–old mine looking relatively healthy, Chile has received minimal criticism for the collapse. The damaged San Jose mine is now permanently closed, and the government has said it will crack down on safety regulations across the country. President Sebastian Piñera promises to impose stricter safety standards at small mines, where many accidents happen, but that will likely require little actual change for Chile. The state’s small mines account for only about 5% of all mining output and a fraction of the 40% of government earnings brought in by the country’s mines. And as football teams and talk shows invite the new celebrity miners to tell their story around the world, the heavy industry seems more glamorous than ever. That’s good news for Chile, whose government will continue to haul copper out of the ground and enjoy two–year–high prices for doing so.

?Jim Flaherty
Finance

The finance minister now has the distinction of presiding over the biggest deficit in Canadian history. Unveiling the country’s fall financial update, Flaherty said last year’s deficit came in at $55.6 billion, roughly $13 billion higher than the previous record, set in 1994. Making matters worse, the 2009–2010 deficit was also $1.8 billion larger than predicted in last year’s federal budget.

?Key Porter Books
Publishing

The latest victim of turmoil in the traditional publishing industry, Key Porter shut its downtown Toronto office this month after laying off 11 of its 17 staffers. Founded by Anna Porter in 1979, its list mixed Canadian history and politics with fiction. It will continue to operate out of the offices of H.B. Fenn, which acquired it in 2004, but will publish far fewer titles, with a greater eye to profit.

?Bombardier
Transportation

The Quebec government has awarded a $1.3–billion contract for new subway cars to Bombardier and its French partner, Alstom. CAF, a Spanish firm that had hoped to compete for the contract, is furious, but the province claims that avoiding a tender process will get the cars delivered two years sooner.

?American Apparel
Retail

Dov Charney recently appointed an acting president, Tom Casey, to help bring order to his chaotic clothing company, which is suffering from declining same–store sales, too much debt, and weak financial controls. Casey’s resumé may be cause for concern, however. His last job was chief financial officer of Blockbuster, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection.

?Jérôme Kerviel
Finance

The former Société Générale trader was convicted of charges relating to his unauthorized dealings that nearly destroyed the major French bank. Kerviel was sentenced to five years in prison (two of them suspended) and barred for life from the financial services industry. He was also ordered to pay SocGen a crushing restitution of €4.9 billion, the amount it cost to unwind his rogue trades.

?Mirror Worlds
Technology

Mirror Worlds, the small technology company founded by Yale University computer science professor David Gelernter, won a $626–million verdict against Apple this month. A federal jury in Tyler, Texas, found Apple infringed patents on three of Mirror World’s software features, all of which are based on a technology Gelernter developed. Apple is challenging the verdict.

?PBS
Entertainment

L.A.’s main public television station announced it will leave PBS next year and become the largest independent TV station in the U.S. KCET–TV said it can no longer afford to pay the $6.8 million in annual PBS dues — a fee that represented 22% of its operating budget last year. Instead of PBS shows like Sesame Street and Masterpiece, the station will feature classic movies, local productions and documentaries from other sources.

?Murdochville
Refining

Exploration Orbite VSPA has begun to build a $7.4–million pilot plant that will turn rich clay deposits into alumina. The development will be lucrative for Murdochville, Que., a former copper mining town. While Canada often has trouble competing with overseas sources who use a bauxite method, this clay production is expected to be very competitive and consistent. Orbite estimates that it has 300 million tonnes of ore, with about 25% alumina content.

?Adam Guerbuez
Social media

A Quebec court upheld a U.S. verdict ordering Montreal businessman Adam Guerbuez and his company, Atlantis Blue Capital, to pay Facebook US$200 in fines and damages for each of the 4,366,386 spam messages he sent to the social network’s users in 2008. The $873–million penalty is largely symbolic — Guerbuez declared bankruptcy months ago — and intended to discourage future spammers.

?New Jersey
Transportation

On Oct. 8, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie axed the US$8.7–billion plan to build a new train tunnel connecting his state to Manhattan. Christie claimed the tunnel — which would have been the largest public works project in U.S. history — would see cost overruns near the $5–billion mark. Transit authorities say the project would have created 6,000 jobs and taken 22,000 cars off the road.

?Plastic makers
Manufacturing

Canada has officially declared chemical compound bisphenol A toxic, becoming the first country to do so. The compound is found in plastic containers and sometimes applied to can liners to preserve food. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada published survey results that found 91% of Canadians had BPA in their bodies. The chemical has been found to mimic estrogen, and may increase the chances of breast and prostate cells developing cancer. The compound also poses a risk to fetuses and babies, and was banned from baby bottles this year.

?Big Oil
Oil

This month, under heavy pressure from industry players, the Obama administration lifted the temporary moratorium on deep–water exploratory drilling, imposed after BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this April. Washington’s decision to lift the ban earlier than expected is good news for the sector, but industry watchers say regulatory uncertainty and the slow pace of granting new drilling permits remain a problem.