Budget surplus, laundry pod risk & Alibaba’s big day: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP

The week began with news about a harmless-looking product that many people likely have in their homes, which a distinguished scientific journal says is a growing danger.

The journal Pediatrics warned us on Monday of the danger posed by laundry detergent pods. Apparently some 17,230 kids were seriously injured in the past two years because of some sort of exposure to them — either ingesting them outright, or having some sort of chemical reaction to them.

The problem, with the smaller kids at least, is that they look a bit like candy. “These have bright colours, they have pretty patterns.  When you feel them, they’re soft and squishy.  If I were a child, it would look like the perfect item to put into my mouth,” one of the report’s authors told the CBC’s Aaron Saltzman this week.

Another problem is that the place they’re typically kept — under a sink or near a washing machine — is exactly at the eye level for kids. So keeping them out of the reach of tiny fingers and mouths seems like the first line of defence. Also possible — child-proof packaging.

Ottawa on track for surplus

One part of the news world that was looking decidedly less sickly this week was Ottawa’s books.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver delivered Ottawa’s fiscal update this week, and there was a lot less red ink for once. As it stands, Ottawa’s on track to deliver a smallish surplus of about $1.9 billion next fiscal year. The government could have been in the black by as much as $6 billion, Oliver said, were it not for having to pay for a few promises the government recently made, most notably to implement income splitting.

Why start spending money when we’re so close to being back above water? Well, if you haven’t heard, there’s an election coming up. So virtually every decision coming out of Ottawa this year should be viewed through the prism of party politics.

The Tories’ income-splitting plan is either a great idea for Canadians or a bad policy that needs to be reversed, depending on who you ask, but one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it’s going to cost the government billions to implement.

And that’s always a touchy subject leading up to election time.

Alibaba breaks a new record

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba broke its own record this week, selling more goods online in a single day than any other company ever has. November 11 is Remembrance Day in most of the West, but in China’s it’s known as “singles day” — and the busiest shopping day of the year.

It’s been described as “the anti-Valentine’s Day” when millions of Chinese people celebrate their singledom (and impress their partners) by forking out a fortune on consumer goods. As the biggest online seller in the country, Alibaba tends to do well on the day, and this year was no exception. The company sold more than $9 billion worth of goods online in a single day, beating last year’s record by almost 50 per cent.

Why does this matter for Canadians? Well, in part, there are Canadian stores that are trying to get in on the buying frenzy. It was widely reported that huge shipments of Nova Scotia lobsters were being gobbled up by Chinese buyers. But other Canadian companies weren’t as lucky.

CBC uncovered that shipments of Canada Goose jackets on the site were most likely either counterfeit or stolen — something that’s likely to become an increasing problem in the sometimes shadowy world of buying bargains, sight unseen, over the internet.

“And it was paid for upfront, there was no getting the money back,” was how one retail expert explained it to the CBC’s Chris Brown this week.

BlackBerry partners with Samsung

Waterloo-based BlackBerry got some good news this week, as investors reacted positively to a deal the company signed with former rival Samsung. The two companies are going to collaborate on devices next year, with Samsung effectively offering BlackBerry’s world-renown mobile security technology on its Galaxy devices.

Security has been one of the last feathers BlackBerry has left in its cap, so a deal to get their market-leading technology on far more phones is good news for the company. Focusing on software, not devices, is something some have been trying to get the company to do for a while now, and it looks like new CEO John Chen is listening. He said this week he hopes to double revenues from the software business with new enterprise products.

Time will tell if it’s a good move, but in the short term at least investors loved the deal, pushing BlackBerry shares up almost 10 per cent on the TSX to around $14 a share.

Big banks go wearable

Banks aren’t normally known for being high tech, so it was big news this week when Canada’s biggest bank and arguably its most venerable corporate name, was dabbling in a new playground.

Royal Bank rolled out a pilot project this week called Nymi, which is a tiny wearable device that slips on the user’s wrist and syncs with the user’s heartbeat to authenticate their identity and approve payments.

Mobile payment is a field that everyone from Apple to credit card companies are piling into. The bank was the first big name in Canada to make news for trying something as personal as heartbeat-monitoring.

It’s another step toward the cashless society that we’ve all been talking about. But not everyone is convinced. The CBC’s Don Pittis wrote this week that anyone waiting for a world free of hard, paper money is likely to be waiting for a very long time indeed.

It was one of our most read stories this week, so if you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to check it out.

Other stuff

Those were just some of the things happening in the business world that we told you about this week. Be sure to check out our website often for more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter here.

Here’s more of our most read stories this week






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