Canadian firms fill brokerage niche in Florida

The red, white, and blue flags people in the Sunshine State love to fly over shopping centers and fast-food shops are quite often accompanied by the maple-leaf emblem of Canada nowadays.

Canadians, Florida has discovered, can be a market worth cultivating. And Florida can be a good place for Canadian firms to expand into.

Florida has long been a popular vacation and retirement destination for Canadians. Exact figures aren't available, because so many drive down, but as many as 2 million Canadians, out of less than 25 million total, are thought to be in Florida for some length of time during any given year.

Two of Canada's largest investment houses chose Florida to launch their first retail offices in the United States, through US subsidiaries in both cases. They are Midland Doherty Inc. in Fort Lauderdale and Wood Gundy Inc. in Sarasota.

Their strategy is to serve both Canadians in Florida and Americans wanting to invest in Canada - although the National Energy Program, intended to promote Canadian ownership of the country's energy firms, has diminished the appeal of investments in such firms for Americans.

Still, some sophisticated investors reap rewards by investing on both sides of the border, playing off the ups and downs of exchange and interest rates. ''But a lot of Americans don't understand the tax implications of a Canadian security,'' says Geoffrey Trafford, vice-president and manager of Midland Doherty here. ''And US brokers seem unaware of the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of investment. And so people come to us for advice.''

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