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Mortgage rate war, housing bubble fears & unbundled cable: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP

03/20/2015 06:00 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
The biggest business news story of the week was Thursday's announcement from the CRTC would open the door a tiny crack towards unbundling cable packages.

In a long-awaited ruling on so-called "pick-and-pay" cable TV, Canada's broadcast regulator says by the end of next year cable companies will have to offer consumers the ability to buy individual channels that they want without having to sign up for bundles of dozens more channels — as long as they also sign up for a stripped-down basic cable package, that is.

The move drew mixed reviews, with some people saying it doesn't go far enough, and others warning it means the end for thousands of jobs at hundreds of soon-to-vanish Canadian TV channels.

"There may, indeed, be services that will not survive," CRTC chair Jean Pierre Blais said. "And there will be job losses … but our view is, in this new environment, which is far more competitive, good companies will find ways to innovate and compete and thrive if they are successful."

Here's hoping.

Mortage rate war

For the third year in a row, BMO jumped out ahead of the big banking rivals to come to market with a teaser mortgage rate just ahead of the busy spring buying season. 

The bank is now offering 2.79 per cent on a five-year fixed rate. That's the lowest a major Canadian bank has ever gone in its posted rate for that term, but they weren't alone for long as TD Bank quickly came out with its own similar offer.

The move was designed to grab headlines, and it did just that, but really BMO's offer is no better than what other non-bank lenders have already been offering for a while. And with the Bank of Canada cutting interest rates in January and showing every indication of doing so again at some point, there's reason to think we'll be seeing a lot more offers like that in the coming weeks.

So what's the downside? Well, all that cheap money is just going to convince borrowers to take on more and more debt and inflate housing prices before the inevitable correction. At least, that's what housing bear Hilliard MacBeth told us this week. His new book says we are definitely in a bubble and suggests house prices should be set to come down by as much as 50 per cent.  

If he's right, that's the hangover we'll get from getting drunk on cheap credit for too long.

And oil falling from $100 to $43 in a manner of months could be a catalyst. "I would expect that that’ll start to at least cause a mild correction, if not a bursting of the bubble that I’m predicting," he said.

Powdered alcohol

Speaking of taking away the punchbowl, a U.S. company is raising concern in Canada for its new product: powdered alcohol.

Palcohol is sold in Tetra paks that the user simply adds water to, and gets a vodka, rum or gin-based cocktail or mixed drink.

The drink's inventor says his critics who focus on the potential for abuse are missing the point. And while it won't be available in Canada any time soon, that hasn't stopped critics from lining up against it.

"We’re telling parents watch out, we’re telling governments be careful, and we're telling the police, good luck," Hubert Sacy, director general of Éduc’alcool, told the CBC this week.

#Racetogether controversy

Starbucks didn't get quite the press coverage it was hoping for this week for a controversial new campaign in its stores

When a Starbucks barista writes a customer’s name on a cup — it can spark a conversation. But in the U.S., Starbucks is trying to brew a bigger discussion: baristas are writing the words ‘Race Together’ on cups. It's supposed to encourage people to talk about race. But Starbucks’ good intentions seem to be backfiring.

The chain was trying to paint itself as a good corporate citizen, but the gamble didn't play out that way, one digital media expert told us this week. "The problem is here I think it’s a very highly charged environment, with a very complex, serious issue," David Ian Gray of DIG360 Consulting said. "But it's being perceived to be sort of a patronizing, trite, simplistic two-word commentary."

Other stuff

Those were some of our most read stories this week. Be sure to check out our website for more, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter here. In the meantime, here's a day by day list of some more of our best stuff that you may have missed.

Monday: 

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday 

Friday

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