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Market should recover in 2020
Glacier Media - Jun 19, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

With the decline of the average B.C. home sale price seeming to flatten out in the latest monthly figures, the B.C. Real Estate Association is now forecasting that the average sale price over the year will be $697,000, down 2.2 per cent compared with 2018.

As consumer demand recovers, the average sale price of a home across the province will then rise 4.2 per cent year over year in 2020, to $726,000, the association predicted.

At 71,400 units, total home sales across B.C. are expected to be nine per cent lower in 2019 than in 2018 but are forecast to more than recover that amount in 2020. BCREA predicted there will be 81,400 sales in 2020, a year-over-year rise of 14.4 per cent.

However, this would still be below the 10-year average for MLS residential sales in the province, which is 84,300 sales per year and far below the 100,000-plus sales seen in the recent market boom of 2015 and 2016.

“The shock to affordability from restrictive mortgage policies, especially the B20 stress test, will continue to limit housing demand in the province this year,” BCREA chief economist Cameron Muir said. “However, a relatively strong economy and favourable demographics are likely creating pent-up demand in the housing market.”

Sales are predicted to rise in all 12 of B.C.’s real estate board areas in 2020, with Greater Vancouver, having seen the steepest declines, expected to see the largest recovery, with transactions forecast to jump 25.3 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019.

However, price changes tend to lag sales trends. All but one of the board areas are expected to see prices rise next year, but Victoria and Greater Vancouver’s forecast price recoveries are meagre at 0.3 and 0.5 per cent respectively.

Chilliwack is the outlier, with its four per cent average price rises in 2019 giving way to a slight decline in 2020.

Natural gas costs steady
Okanagan Edge Staff - Jun 18, 2019 - BC Biz

Image: Contributed

The majority of FortisBC’s natural gas customers will not see an increase over the next several months.

FortisBC received regulatory approval from the British Columbia Utilities Commission to maintain the cost of natural gas for most of its customers between July 1 and Sept. 30.

The rate has remained steady since January 2018.

“Natural gas is a popular choice for British Columbians looking for affordable and reliable ways to heat their homes,” FortisBC vice-president Dennis Swanson said. “For anyone considering making the switch to natural gas, this is a good time to do it.”

FortisBC does not mark up the cost of natural gas or propane, so customers pay what the company pays. Natural gas rates in B.C. are near their lowest levels in over a decade.

Victoria company battles ESPN
The Canadian Press - Jun 18, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

Matthew Watson was a sports fan long before becoming a tech executive, supporting West Coast teams like the Vancouver Canucks, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Mariners.

“And the Grizzlies when they were in Vancouver. And now the Raptors,” he says.

Now those teams—and many more—are part of the business model for Watson’s SendtoNews, a Victoria-based startup that has grown over the past decade into one of North America’s largest distributors of short-form sports videos.

“Basically all the major leagues for the U.S. and Canada, we’re their exclusive distribution partner for short-form video,” Watson says.

Despite its success providing highlights of nearly every imaginable type of game played professionally, SendtoNews (STN) isn’t well known to the average sports fan—and that’s how the privately owned company likes to do business.

The low-profile strategy seems to be working, judging from its list of partners, which includes the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, CFL, PGA and NHL.

Many of its 1,600 local and national publishing partners are also high profile, although mainly in the United States: the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, New York Post as well as Postmedia and Torstar in Canada.

“In the U.S., we’ve probably got a 60 per cent penetration of newspaper dot-coms and similar with radio dot-coms and we’re well on our way with native digital sites and also broadcast dot-coms,” Watson says.

“We’ve probably got similar numbers in Canada as well, certainly on the newspaper dot-com front with Postmedia and Sun Media and the Toronto Star and others.”

STN’s secret sauce is an in-house artificial intelligence algorithm that matches the content on their clients’ web sites with relevant videos. Clients paste STN’s code into a news article, and the algorithm chooses videos to accompany it—driving views and increasing the time visitors spend on the site.

Revenue comes from advertising that’s shown before its sports videos begin to run.

“Just in the U.S., we do about 450 million video views a month and we have over 25 million unique viewers in the U.S. alone with all of our publisher sites.”

SendtoNews has overtaken sports juggernaut ESPN in one of Comscore’s online audience rankings, and Watson has ambitions to beat ESPN in another category.

According to Comscore’s latest available rankings, SendtoNews ranked No. 1 in April in unique viewers from desktops but didn’t beat ESPN in terms of unique multi-platform viewers (those who use desktop and mobile devices).

Watson says that Comscore’s multi-platform category includes both apps for mobile devices, such as smartphones, and streaming videos to televisions, a market segment where ESPN is strong and STN doesn’t compete.

Although STN has benefited this year from the Raptors’ post-season run to victory over the Golden State Warriors, in a typical year the National Football League often provides some of the most-watched content distributed by SendtoNews.

Blake Stuchin, the NFL’s vice-president of digital media business, says the league has always distributed its content on the most wide-reaching platforms of the day.

“Historically, that was just TV and radio. Over the years, it has expanded to a lot more places and a lot more choices.”

That includes its own NFL.com website, the NFL app and third-party social media platforms such as Twitter and Snap.

Stuchin says SendtoNews has the ability to provide its content to more than 200 different local newspaper websites in the United States and Canada.

“We like that SendtoNews very carefully vets those publications,” he says.

“The editorial (written content) is obviously independent but these are quality publications and we know they have high journalistic integrity. So it’s great to be able to supplement the written word with video highlights that fans can watch.”

Stuchin added that none of the NFL’s other media partners connects with fans who follow their local teams through their favourite sports writers.

“SendtoNews has been a good partner in identifying for us a clear area in the market that was underserved and is attractive for us to be able to reach. And what they do, they do very well.”

STN’s original concept was to help newspapers adapt to the still-new digital age by providing easy access to video—originally for a fee.

But in 2015, the year Watson joined the company as CEO, STN decided to move to a revenue-sharing model—essentially making it the organizer that lines up the content providers, publishers and advertisers in return for a share of the dollars generated by consumer views.

Watson says STN is profitable, without providing details. He declined to say how its investors are being rewarded but added there’s no plan to take the company public.

“We’re in a comfortable place, financially. Our investors are patient because our performance and our growth is so good. So we don’t anticipate an IPO in the near future.”

Watson says SendtoNews is “extremely ambitious” and has plans to push into Spanish-language content as well as non-sports markets, but he still prefers fans to know its publishers rather than itself, so you viewers won’t see SendtoNews logos or banners on the video clips any time soon.

“I think that’s part of the key to our success,” Watson says. “We’d prefer to be recommended than recognized, if you know what I mean.”

Homes simply out of reach
Glacier Media - Jun 17, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: CTV

The average home in B.C. is priced at nearly three times what a typical millennial can afford, according to a study released by housing advocacy group Generation Squeeze.

The $700,000-plus price tag for an average home in the province would have to be reduced by $452,000—close to two thirds of the current value—to under $250,000 to be achievable for a 25-34-year-old on a typical annual salary, according to Straddling the Gap.

That’s based on the buyer spending 30 per cent of their income on mortgage payments, having a 20 per cent down payment, and on current available interest rates.

Alternatively, a buyer’s typical full-time earnings would need to increase by nearly three times current levels to afford the average B.C. home, said the report. “Based on the last decade, actual earnings are expected to be flat,” the report said.

The report also said that a millennial buyer saving for a 20 down payment on an average priced home would take 19 years, if saving 15 per cent of their typical pre-tax income each year. That’s 14 years more than in the mid-1980s when some of their boomer parents were buying homes.

In Metro Vancouver, the number of years needed for a millennial on a typical salary to save 20 per cent on an averaged-price home ($1,050,000) rises to 29 years, longer than many of those buyers have been alive.

Generation Squeeze is working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and makes a number of recommendations to help improve general affordability for young Canadians. These include:
• Reducing or removing other large, non-housing expenses such as child care and parental leave, student debt and tuition, transit costs and more;
• Building more purpose-built rental housing to accommodate the fact that people are renting longer;
• Capture housing wealth windfalls through taxation and remove tax-sheltered gains in housing;
• Revitalize B.C. economy to improve earnings, with less reliance on real estate and development for GDP;
• Find new measures to de-risk the market in order to bring down home costs in ways that support all Canadians, including those who already own property; and
• Protect the housing market from inflation in regions where affordability has not already been lost.

Range worries electric consumers
Okanagan Edge Staff - Jun 14, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

A recent survey has found British Columbians are hesitant to buy electric vehicles because they are wary about how far it will be able to go on one charge.

BC Hydro conducted the survey with potential electric vehicle consumers, and nearly 70 per cent of them believe the vehicles can’t be taken out of town.

BC Hydro has 58 fast-charging stations throughout the province—the majority within 300 metres of a major road or highway—that would allow travellers to get from Tofino to the Alberta border. There are a total of 270 fast-charging stations throughout the province, including those in the BC Hydro network.

In addition to the apprehension over making it to their destinations, potential electric vehicle buyers are concerned that stopping to charge their rides would add significant time to their trips. BC Hydro points out that its charging stations are located within 50 metres of services such as food, washrooms or other shopping, making it convenient to charge while stopped for other reasons.

The survey found only seven per cent of British Columbians on a road trip of more than 300 kilometres in a gas-powered vehicle will drive as far as they can without stopping. The rest will stop to go to the bathroom, have a snack, sightsee or stretch.

The fast-charging stations can charge the battery to 80 per cent in about 30 minutes. BC Hydro has an app that features the locations of its charging stations, allowing travellers to map out their potential stops in advance.

Dirty money examined
The Canadian Press - Jun 13, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: Canadian Press

British Columbia’s efforts to fight money laundering are expected to be front and centre today at a meeting of federal and provincial ministers to discuss national strategies for stemming the problem.

The B.C. government says the meeting in Vancouver will highlight new legislative changes already underway in B.C. that could be replicated across the country, including laws to end hidden ownership.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair have scheduled a news conference after the meeting to provide details on Ottawa’s plans to combat both money laundering and terrorist financing.

The province launched a public inquiry into money laundering in May after three independent reviews revealed that billions of dollars are laundered each year through the B.C.’s casinos, real estate market and other sectors.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James says in a statement that money laundering has distorted the province’s economy, fuelled the overdose crisis and driven up housing prices.

But she says criminals don’t stop at provincial borders.

“This is a national issue, and strong action is required from the federal government and all the provinces to combat money laundering in our country,” James says.

Attorney General David Eby says the province is the leading jurisdiction for overdose deaths, luxury car sales and out-of-control real estate — all of which have been linked to a “cancerous” transnational money laundering problem.

“At this summit, we will have one message: Without a significant federal financial commitment to increased law and tax enforcement in B.C., hard-working families who play by the rules will continue to be at a disadvantage to criminals and cheats,” Eby says. “That’s unacceptable.”

Salmon industry under fire
The Canadian Press - Jun 12, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: YouTube

VANCOUVER — A conservation charity said it’s concerned by what it calls a “growing trend” of wild fish killed by the salmon farming industry on B.C.’s coast.

Stan Proboszcz, science advisor with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said nine times as many wild fish were reported inside open-net pen farms in 2017 compared with 2011.

“We saw quite a staggering increase in incidental catch over the years,” he said. “Something’s wrong here if we’re seeing this large increase in wild fish being killed inside salmon farms.”

The society crunched the number of “incidental catches” self-reported by industry to government during harvests, fish transfers and farm relocations.

But Proboszcz said the available data is incomplete and there needs to be more transparency about the apparent increase.

The farms raise Atlantic salmon in netted areas of the Pacific Ocean that allow a fresh flow of water and other sea life to enter.

Shawn Hall, a spokesman for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said the industry is working to reduce its incidental catch or “bycatch” numbers but they remain relatively low compared with the bycatch of commercial wild fisheries.

A 2017 report by Oceana Canada found, on average, only about half of what is caught by commercial wild fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council is the target species. The figures in the Watershed Watch report shows incidental catches on salmon farms represented about 0.5 per cent of the total fish killed in 2017.

“Typically speaking our bycatch is less than one per cent of the total,” Hall said. “That isn’t to say there isn’t more to do. There is. We should continue to keep that number as low as possible and keep driving it down through new processes, technologies, innovation, research into how to take that ever lower.”

The growth in wild fish caught on salmon farms could have to do with the growth of Pacific herring populations, he said.

The report found herring to be the most common wild fish found on the farms, representing 70 per cent in 2017, followed by sablefish and cod.

Tilray merger boosts stock
The Canadian Press - Jun 11, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
Tilray Inc. president Brendan Kennedy.

NANAIMO, B.C. — Tilray Inc.’s stock soared after it signed a deal to merge with its largest shareholder while also putting limits on the release of resulting new shares in the Canadian cannabis company for two years.

Under the agreement, U.S. private equity firm Privateer Holdings Inc. will become a subsidiary of the Canadian cannabis company. However, new Tilray shares distributed as a result of the merger would be subject to a lock-up, allowing for their release only under certain circumstances, the pot firm said.

Tilray shares soared as high as US$46.65 on the Nasdaq after the announcement, up from its previous close of US$38.80. Shares closed at US$43.14, up more than 11 per cent.

“We appreciate the long-term confidence that Privateer has in the Tilray business … We believe this transaction will give Tilray greater control and operating flexibility, while allowing us to effectively manage our public float,” Tilray’s chief financial officer Mark Castaneda said in a statement on Monday.

Privateer, backed by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, holds 75 million shares, or roughly a 77 per cent stake, in the Nanaimo-based company.

Under the agreement, Tilray will acquire Privateer and its stake in the company in exchange for an equal number of new Tilray shares that will be issued to the U.S. private equity firm’s shareholders.

The new shares will be subject to a lock-up and may only be sold under certain circumstances over a two-year period.

During the first year, the shares will be released only in marketed offerings and/or block trades to institutional investors or via sales to strategic investors arranged at the sole discretion of Tilray. The remaining shares will be subject to a staggered release over the second year.

“We believe this structure will maximize overall returns for our visionary investors in a tax-efficient manner while giving Tilray the operating flexibility it needs to continue to be a leader in the rapidly emerging global cannabis industry,” Privateer managing partner Michael Blue said in a statement.

Sawmills cutting production
Trevor Nichols - Jun 07, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: Western Forest Products

Western Forest Products Inc. is the latest lumber producer to announce temporary production curtailments to deal with challenging market conditions.

The Vancouver-based company says it will reduce output at three of its sawmills to align volumes with customer demand.

The Duke Point facility will be affected for two weeks and its Saltair sawmill for one week in June.

Operating levels at its Chemainus sawmill will be reduced to 80 hours per week from 120 hours per week.

The curtailment is expected to reduce production by about 15 million board feet.

Western has an annual lumber capacity in excess of 1.1 billion board feet at facilities in British Columbia and Washington State.

West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd., Interfor, Canfor and Tolko have previously announced similar curtailments.

“The challenge of weak markets is compounded by the disproportionate impacts of softwood lumber duties on high-value products, including Western Red Cedar,” said Western president and CEO Don Demens.

YVR expansion taking off
Contributed - Jun 05, 2019 - BC Biz

Photo: Richmond News

By Richmond News

The massive international terminal expansion at Vancouver International Airport reached a big construction milestone this week.

The project, known as Pier D, broke ground last June and completion of the structural building phase was marked with a steel topping ceremony Tuesday. Construction is expected to be complete in 2020.

To show the progress, the airport shared a time lapse video of the construction.

“YVR’s mandate is to serve our region, connecting people and products to destinations all around the world,” Vancouver Airport Authority CEO Craig Richmond said in a press release.

“We are able to deliver on this thanks to our unique operating model and by being a connecting hub, which encourages passengers from other parts of the world to travel through our airport.”

The international terminal’s growth is part of 75 major expansion projects taking place at the airport over the next 20 years. Included in the design will be three western hemlock trees growing inside the terminal, art installations and new restaurants. The terminal will also soon include larger gates to support bigger planes.

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