Canadian retail sales rose far more than expected in January, boosted by motor vehicle purchases and a rebound in a number of sectors that slumped at the end of last year, data from Statistics Canada showed on Friday. And while regional divergence is still obvious, observers say the surge in consumer spending bodes well for the economy with just a few days to go before the federal budget.

Sales rose 2.1 per cent, topping analysts expectations for a gain of 0.6 per cent. Excluding the auto sector, sales were up 1.2 per cent, while overall volumes gained 2.1 per cent. It was a sharp reversal after retail sales plunged 2.2 per cent in December.

"Aside from weakness in the oil patch, there appears to be some robust momentum heading into 2016," wrote TD economist Michael Dolega in a note to clients.

Motor vehicle and parts dealers led the advance in January with a 4.8 per cent increase, the sectors third gain in four months, as sales at new car dealers rose.

Consumers cut back their spending in December in the midst of unseasonably warm weather, but five sectors bounced back in January from lower end-of-year sales. Sales at general merchandise stores jumped 4.9 per cent, while clothing purchases rose 1.2 per cent.

"Fireworks at the start of 2016," CIBC economist Nick Exarhos declared in a report to clients.

"After a strong manufacturing report on Wednesday, today's surge in real retail sales suggests that we're set for a 0.4 per cent in gain in January GDP," he added. "However, it will be hard to maintain the current blistering pace in retail sales without a turn for the better in the labour market and for aggregate Canadian incomes."

Spending was up in eight of Canadas 10 provinces, including Ontario and Quebec. But sales in oil-sensitive Alberta slipped 0.2 per cent, the fourth decrease in five months, as higher new car sales were offset by lower sales at gasoline stations.

Lawmakers who support trade restrictions or tighter oversight of financial firms are putting short-term political gain ahead of what's best for the US economy, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce said, targeting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren for criticism.

"They look at the polls, they figure out it plays well, they listen to Elizabeth Warren, who is, all of a sudden, the pope in terms of what's acceptable in this religion," Chamber Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue said in an interview broadcast Friday on Bloomberg Television. "And we're making a fundamental mistake."

Trump, a real estate magnate, is among politicians benefiting from public ire among voters who feel that they are losing ground while Wall Street prospers and China gains economic clout. He has proposed tariffs on Chinese imports to protect US manufacturers. Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is seeking the Democratic nomination, has increased criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though she has spoken favorably of both in the past.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Amid the caustic cacophony of the presidential race its hard to hear where the candidates stand on things that matter.

Though their nasty rhetoric makes for no-they-didnt reality TV, White House hopefuls would be talking about the economy, national security and health care if Utahns had their druthers.

Those are the top three issues 500 registered voters identified as the most important to them in considering a presidential candidate, a new Deseret News/KSL poll shows. Those surveyed were asked to rank their top three on a list of 14 issues. Least important were climate change, poverty and abortion, the poll showed.

The Deseret News and KSL-TV will roll out a series of opinion polls Sunday and Monday aimed at getting at whats important to Utah voters heading to presidential preference caucuses next Tuesday and the general election in November. And, of course, the results will offer a glimpse of the horse race among the leading Democratic and Republican contenders.

The economy was mentioned as important by 56 percent of all respondents, ranking well ahead of any other issue. National security followed at 34 percent and health care next at 27 percent. Dan Jones Associates conducted the survey March 8-15.

Even though jobs have recovered from the 2008 recession, people still lack confidence in the economy going forward," pollster Dan Jones said. Even though Utah has a healthier economy than many parts of the country, when you add the fresh memories of the Great Recession to the current signs pointing to economic unrest in China and Europe, it is no wonder the economy is most important to voters.

Money matters are historically a top issue for voters who are always concerned about finding and keeping jobs, interest rates, saving money and sending children to college.

Poll of 500 Utah likely voters, conducted March 8-15 by Dan Jones and Associates. Margin of error: +/-4.4% (Photo: Aaron Thorup, Poll of 500 Utah likely voters, conducted March 8-15 by Dan Jones and Associates. Margin of error: +/-4.4%)

That shifted slightly in the 2002 election when national security and protecting the nations borders was top of mind after 9/11. Health care, too, is usually something voters care about.

The poll shows that Republicans are more likely than Democrats or unaffiliated voters to cast their presidential votes with a close eye on the candidates national security views at 42 percent. Only 16 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of unaffiliated voters listed national security one of their top three issues.

Democrats and unaffiliated voters believe income inequality is an important issue far more than Republicans. Twenty-nine percent of Democrats and 21 percent of unaffiliated voters named the issue important, while only 5 percent of Republicans did.

Nasty rhetoric among the candidates has swallowed any substantive discussion of public policy in the presidential debates, particularly on the Republican side.

BYU political science professor Mike Barber found Utahns choice of the economy as the top issue interesting given how well the state is doing.

Their confidence is not reflecting the robustness of the local economy, he said.

But that along with national security and health care have been the biggest topics when candidates have debated issues, Barber said.

In many cases voters tend to take cues from the candidates as to what are the important issues, he said.

Contributing: Keith McCord


The new year started with sharp declines in the Chinese stock market that spooked investors around the world. But in recent weeks, conditions appear to have stabilized. Lending in China rose in January by 67%, iron ore prices rallied by 64%, and housing sales in Chinas top four markets also surged. The yuan also regained about half of the 7% it had lost against the US dollar since November.

But the news is not all good.

About $800 billion of debt was added to the Chinese economy in January, but it failed to boost production or increase sales. Producer prices dropped by 5.1% in January-February, while the manufacturing PMI fell to 48 in February from 48.4 in January, signaling further economic slowing. The market is apparently not convinced that the government can keep inflating an already overleveraged economy.

And one very telltale instance of the rats leaving the sinking ship shows you the true story

Chinese Money Is Leaving the Country at a Record Pace

The recent pause in the Chinese markets was engineered by a new round of manipulation by Chinese authorities that will not be able to hold back the adjustments that need to occur for long. As Anne Stevenson-Young and Kevin Dougherty recently warned in The Wall Street Journal, [f]rom hiding capital outflows to propping up real estate values, manipulating futures markets and squeezing short sellers of the yuan, Chinese authorities have been trying to bring back the old, quasi-superstitious belief in Beijings omnipotence.

They go on to warn that [c]ommodities, emerging market equities, and multinationals with exposure to China have already started to realize significant losses. Soon major corrections will reach other assets boosted by the Chinese economy, such as property values in Hong Kong and Singapore. When this unfolds, US government bonds may be the worlds only safe haven. The end of the China story is at hand.

Many native Chinese appear to believe that is the case. Money continues to try to leave the country in droves.

A recent wave of large merger and acquisition (Mamp;A) transactions by Chinese companies is one sign that theyre trying to diversify their assets out of China. In the first six weeks of 2016, there were $82 billion of deals announced by Chinese firms, not including a $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels amp; Resorts Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: HOT). Chinese companies have bid for General Electric Co.s (NYSE: GE) appliance assets, equipment maker Terex Corp., Norwegian web browser Opera, Swiss pesticides maker Syngenta, technology distribution company Ingram Micro, and the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Chinese companies appear desperate to escape the clutch of a currency that has to drop in value in order for China to survive economically.

The problem is that what happens in China will not stay in China. The world is experiencing a commodities bust originating in China just like it experienced a housing bust originating in the United States a decade ago.

Unfortunately, the commodities bust is much larger than the housing bust. Chinas debt has exploded from $7 trillion in 2007 to over $30 trillion today. The Chinese economy cant possibly service that much debt. It is going to have to devalue its currency in order to survive. It will do so slowly, but it will do so eventually. And when it does, the sell-off in China will continue and hurt markets around the world.

Chinas Currency: The Ripple Effect