Lifestyle

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

Chevron, Saskatoon, art auctions and more.

?Chevron
Energy

Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the U.S., has been ordered to pay more than US$8 billion in environmental damages by an Ecuadorean court. The record ruling, which was handed down on Valentine’s Day by a judge in Lago Agrio, a provincial capital near Colombia, stems from an epic lawsuit related to drilling activities by Texaco, which allegedly dumped toxic wastewater into the Amazon River basin from 1964 to 1992. The court also ordered Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2001, to apologize within 15 days for its environmentally unfriendly activities or face a doubling of the fine. The company plans to appeal the decision, claiming it contradicts legitimate scientific evidence presented in the case and is the product of opportunism by the Amazon Defense Front, which launched the legal battle 17 years ago. Chevron also argues it was exempted from pollution claims by an agreement with Ecuador and state-owned oil company PetroEcuador, which took over local Texaco operations in 1992. If the fine is upheld, industry analysts say Chevron could simply decide to ignore the negative outcome because it no longer has any significant assets in Ecuador that could be seized.

?Silvio Berlusconi
Justice

A judge in Milan indicted the Italian prime minister on charges involving his alleged hiring of teenage prostitutes and using his position to cover it up. Berlusconi denies the accusations, but the sordid matter has roused considerable public indignation, particularly among Italian women. Three female judges are to preside over the trial, scheduled to begin in April. Some pundits suggest the defendant’s talent for weathering scandal has finally met its match.

?Tony Clement
Politics

He’s faced (or forced) crisis after crisis: the long-form census, the telecom ownership decision, the potash ruling, the unlimited broadband review and now the TMX merger. But you can say this for the industry minister: in a cabinet of nobodies, he’s one of the few whom the PM seems to trust — and all that camera time sure isn’t hurting his public profile.

?Toshiba
Technology

You’d think the first company to sell 3-D TVs that don’t require glasses would have a hit on its hands, but Toshiba sold less than half of its target for December, the first month of sales in Japan. The company’s president says the technology is not easily transferred to bigger screens, something consumers want, and the fact that only 20-inch and 12-inch sets are available may be to blame.

?Arcade Fire
Entertainment

The Montreal-based indie rockers cemented their place in the big leagues after winning Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in February, sending their third album, The Suburbs, to No. 3 on iTunes in the U.S. The win came as a surprise to many viewers, even though the album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s album chart in August, followed by a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden.

?Saskatoon
Employment

Potash Corp. is staffing up in the city, raising the head count at its nominal head office to 300 from 209 over the next two years, and moving five senior executive positions there from Chicago. The move fulfils promises made to the Saskatchewan government during BHP Billiton’s hostile takeover bid last fall, which was vetoed at the federal level.

?Groupon
Advertising

After angering consumers with a Super Bowl ad that made light of the struggles of the Tibetan people, Groupon again came under fire on Valentine’s Day after users discovered price discrepancies between Groupon’s site and the company offering that day’s deal, FTD florists. While Groupon and FTD both agreed to adjust all prices and refund unhappy customers’ cash, it didn’t stop users from calling the proposed deal a scam.

?IBM
Technology

Whatever the outcome of the high-profile Jeopardy! contests pitting two human champions against Watson, Big Blue’s latest trained-seal supercomputer, they were a huge success for the company. The shows played like three 30-minute prime-time infomercials trumpeting the innovative genius of IBM’s labs, and money couldn’t have bought the accompanying avalanche of earned media marvelling over the computer’s abilities.

?GM workers
Finance

The formerly bankrupt automaker is awarding a US$4,000 bonus to its unionized workforce in the United States, the largest-ever profit-sharing bonus for the company. Canadian workers are not so lucky. The Canuck branch rejected a union proposal to offer the same bonus here.

?Air Canada
Transportation

The airline’s finances have been turbulent the past few years, and it narrowly avoided filing for bankruptcy protection. A turnaround could be underway, however. Air Canada earned its first annual profit since 2007, generating $107 million in 2010.

?Apple
Technology

Steve Jobs extended an olive branch to media companies in February with a long-awaited subscription system for buying newspapers and magazines on iPhone and iPad applications, sure to boost digital sales for publishers and convenience for consumers. Apple will still get its 30% cut on subscriptions sold within apps or through iTunes, and will retain customer information.

?Art auctions
Art

After a few rocky post-financial-crisis seasons, auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s scored some of their highest-ever sales totals for their annual February impressionist auctions in London. Buyers snapped up $400-million worth of paintings by the likes of Picasso, Dali and Freud. Though the market was soft beyond the big names, the bottom line offers hope for collectors and auctioneers.

?Stephen Elop
Management

The Canadian CEO of Nokia announced plans to abandon the company’s smartphone operating system to join forces with Microsoft. In a memo to staff, Elop likened Nokia’s dire competitive position to a man stranded on a burning offshore oil rig. Investors were spooked by the drastic change and sent the stock down 19%.

?Cocoa
Food

The disputed result of a recent presidential election has caused civil unrest in the Ivory Coast, and some experts are worried the government will ban all exports. Since the Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest producer of cocoa, this suspicion drove the commodity’s price up to $3,406 per metric ton — the highest in more than a year.