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

The euro, James Bond, Foursquare and more.

? The euro

Thanks to free-spending Greek politicians, the European monetary system – and by extension, the ambitious club of nations that relies on it – faces a crossroads, and all ways forward are about as clear and safe as Odysseus’s route home from Troy. Not long ago, the U.S. greenback was considered unstable, while the euro was seen as a relatively solid place to store wealth. No more. Pretty much everybody in high finance now thinks Greece will have to address its budgetary woes with bailout loans from European neighbours and the International Monetary Fund. But nobody knows whether the European Central Bank will try to lend a helping hand. That uncertainty has given institutional investors yet another reason to flee the euro – which has fallen more than 12% against the U.S. dollar since November. Simply put, Greece faces heavy spending cuts and higher taxation. And currency devaluation would offset some pain. The ECB is charged with preserving the value of the euro, so it could ignore calls for help. But as things get worse in Greece, nationalists will push for a return of the drachma. And a Greek retreat from the eurozone could spell the end of the EU.

? Syncrude

The oilsands operator is still struggling with prosecutors over ducks that perished two years ago on one of its tailings ponds. But Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board recently watered down rules dictating how the ponds are to be cleaned up. Existing provincial rules compel Syncrude to treat half of its mature fine tailings by 2013. Amid protests from environmental groups, the ERCB granted the company a generous extension by approving its less stringent treatment plan.

? Danny Williams

In his rush to seize AbitibiBowater’s assets in 2008 after the company closed a mill, the Newfoundland premier’s government mistakenly expropriated a newsprint mill and is now on the hook for a multimillion-dollar cleanup of the site. The province intended to seize a nearby hydroelectric facility but, because of a botched land survey, claimed the defunct mill as well.

? Lane Bryant

Lane Bryant, an American retail chain that caters to plus-size women, was set to air a commercial for its new Cacique lingerie line on Fox and ABC when both networks pulled the plug at the 11th hour. The enraged company is accusing Fox and ABC of discrimination against larger women, claiming the 25-second spot was no racier than a Victoria’s Secret ad.

? Natural gas

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice has signalled to electricity producers he’d like to see Canada’s coal-fired power plants decommissioned over the next 15 years. Proposed rules would see coal plants retired as their service life ends, with no allowance for refurbishment unless expensive carbon capture and storage technology is also deployed. That could be great news for natural gas producers, whose fossil fuel might take up the slack.

? Big U.S. banks

Washington’s financial-sector reformers have decided banks deemed “too big to fail” are not too big to break up. Democrats have put forward legislation that would cap the size of mega banks to limit systemic risk. Critics insist breaking up the likes of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which got larger during the financial crisis by swallowing crippled institutions, will be hard. But as Senator Ted Kaufman points out, U.S. politicians have “broken up things before. We broke up Standard Oil, we broke up AT&T … we broke up the accountants, too.”

? Foursquare

Looks like there’s a new social media kid in town. On April 23, Foursquare hit the one-million-user mark. The hot startup that allows users to “check-in” their physical location with friends signed up its one millionth user in just over a year – half the time it took Twitter to reach the same level of popularity.

? The Nook

While everyone was focused on the iPad’s threat to the Kindle’s supremacy, Barnes & Noble’s dark-horse e-reader pulled out ahead. The Nook outsold the Kindle in March when, according to DigiTimes, it accounted for 53% of all e-readers shipped to the U.S.

? BP

One of the energy company’s offshore rigs exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico in April, creating a massive oil slick that is threatening wildlife. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead. BP estimates as many as 5,000 barrels of oil a day are still spewing from a well head near the sunken rig. The spill may alter President Obama’s five-year plan to open new areas to offshore drilling.

? Hugh Heffner
Real estate

Playboy founder Hugh Heffner donated the last US$900,000 needed to buy the US$12.5-million plot of land housing the famed Hollywood sign. A group of Chicago investors bought the property, known as Cahuenga Peak, from the estate of aviator and film director Howard Hughes in 2002, and planned to develop five luxury homes on the site. The land trust will now be a part of the surrounding Griffith Park, and no construction will be permitted.

? Hewlett-Packard

The prize asset in any acquisition of Palm was going to be its slick operating system. While Palm’s entries in the smartphone market – the Pre and Pixi – earned mixed reviews and modest sales, its WebOS is universally admired. Hewlett-Packard’s recent $1.2-billion purchase of Palm gives the world’s largest computer manufacturer an OS (which some think is better than Apple’s) around which it can get a foothold in the smartphone and tablet marketplaces.

? James Bond

Over his 48-year career, Britain’s most prominent spy and inveterate womanizer has bested the fiendish Ernst Blofeld, the diabolical Dr. No and the devious Elliot Carver. But now he seems to be losing a nail-biting battle with cold, hard cash. Production of the latest James Bond film – the third to star Daniel Craig – has been suspended indefinitely, owing to the ongoing financial woes of its heavily indebted film studio, MGM. The timing is bad, as Craig’s two previous appearances as Bond were financial successes. But even Richard Kiel – the actor who played a metal-toothed villain named Jaws – predicts Bond will return.