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TORONTO — The Toronto stock market plunged over 200 points as emerging market worries persuaded investors to avoid riskier assets like equities and commodities.
The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 215.18 points to 13,717.79. The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.21 of a cent to 90.31 cents US.
The Dow Jones industrials fell 318.24 points to 15,879.11 after plunging 176 points on Thursday. The Nasdaq was 90.7 points lower to 4,128.17 while the S&P 500 index was down 38.17 points to 1,790.29.
Investors are worried about sharp drops in the values of currencies in several emerging markets, including Turkey, Russia, South Africa and Argentina.
These drops were sparked by moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut back on its massive bond purchases, a key stimulus measure that kept long-term rates low.
But U.S. bond yields have risen as the Fed moves to taper its purchases, and investors have responded by taking their money out of emerging markets.
People walk past homes for sale in Oakville, Ont., in this file photo. The IMF says CMHC mortgage insurance exposes the government to financial system risks and might distort the market as a whole in favour of mortgages over more productive uses of capital. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)
Further measures should be considered to encourage appropriate risk retention by private sector and increase the market share of private mortgage insurers.
International Monetary Fund
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The International Monetary Fund says Ottawa should consider phasing out insuring home mortgages through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
The advice is contained in the IMF’s latest economic report card on Canada, which projects modest economic growth of 2.25 percent for the country next year.
Such a recommendation, surprising from an international financial organization, appears to side with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who has recently questioned whether the federal government should be in the business of insuring higher-risk mortgages at all.
Some analysts have credited the system for providing much-needed confidence in Canada’s housing sector during the 2008–09 crisis, which many believe was sparked by a crisis in the U.S. mortgage market.
The IMF concedes that the current system has its advantages for stability. But it says it also exposes the government, or taxpayers, to financial system risks and might distort the market as a whole in favour of mortgages over more productive uses of capital.
“We think banks lend too much to mortgages and too little to small and medium enterprises,” Roberto Cardarelli, the IMF mission chief for Canada, told reporters in a briefing in Toronto.
“We suspect the fact that banks may benefit from government-backed insurance on mortgages … it sort of makes it easier for banks to do mortgages than other kinds of lending which, presumably, we think, is going to be more useful for the real economy.”
CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal says he believes the advice may be appropriate for the U.S., particularly prior to the crisis, but not necessarily for Canada, where the mortgage securitization market is a relatively small slice of the financial pie. CMHC can carry a maximum of $600 billion mortgage loan insurance on its books.
“In this case size matters,” he said. “It is true when securitization dominates the market it is not a very healthy thing, but when it is part of a normally functioning market, it actually helps the economy” by contributing to low borrowing rates and liquidity.
The Washington-based financial institution said further measures should be considered to “encourage appropriate risk retention by private sector and increase the market share of private mortgage insurers.”
It cautioned, however, that if any structural changes are made, they should be gradual to avoid unintended consequences.
The IMF report, released Wednesday, forecasts that Canada’s economy as a whole will start benefiting next year from a pickup in the U.S. economy, leading to greater demand for Canadian exports and renewed business investment.
In essence, the scenario is identical to the one predicted by the Bank of Canada, which also sees growth rising from the current 1.6 percent level to 2.3 next year.
A slightly more positive estimate was issued Wednesday by the Ottawa-based Conference Board of Canada, which is projecting Canadian real GDP will grow 1.8 percent in 2013, 2.4 percent in 2014, and 2.6 percent in 2015—assuming strong growth in the United States.
The Bank of Canada forecast holds that the risks are balanced—meaning there is as much chance the projected growth rate will be higher as lower.
But the IMF warns, however, that the risks to its outlook are primarily on the downside. The main reason, it says, is that it might be wrong about the U.S. economy rebounding in 2014.
“Renewed political standoff (in the United States) over spending appropriations and the debt ceiling and a faster-than-expected increase in long-term rates in the context of exit from quantitative easing could negatively affect the U.S. recovery and hence demand for Canadian exports,” the IMF said.
“Protracted weakness in the euro area economic recovery and lower-than-anticipated growth in emerging markets would also hurt the prospects for Canada’s exports, including through lower commodity prices,” it added.
On the domestic front, the IMF said the long period of low productivity growth and strong Canadian dollar may have left a deeper dent in Canada’s export potential, especially in the traditional manufacturing base, limiting the economy’s ability to benefit from the projected strengthening in external demand.
Cardarelli stressed the importance of investing in the energy sector, an industry that he said would have a significant impact on the organization’s economic forecasts in the future.
“We really feel that the system is stressed in terms of the transportation capacity—the ability of moving these resources out of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan,” he said at a news conference in Toronto.
Among other things, the IMF recommends that Canada’s central bank hold off raising interest rates until there are firmer signs of a sustained transition from household spending to exports and investment, something bank governor Stephen Poloz has signalled he intends to do.
And it warns the federal government that it need not be so fixated on balancing the federal budget in 2015 if there is no meaningful pickup in economic activity.
That is likely to fall on deaf ears, however. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said this week he is confident he will eliminate the deficit in 2015 and bring in surpluses after that.
With files from The Canadian Press
The loonie continued its long slide Wednesday, hitting a fresh four-year low against the U.S. dollar.
The Canadian dollar was trading at 92.58 cents after falling more than a cent Tuesday to its lowest close since late 2009.
The slide followed a spate of bad news about Canada’s economy. The Ivey Purchasing Managers Index, a measure of economic activity, came in much lower than expected for last month, at 46.3, compared to 53.7 the month before. A reading below 50 suggests economic contraction.
Canada’s trade deficit numbers also spooked the markets, with Statistics Canada reporting Tuesday that the country’s overall trade deficit with the world grew to $940 million in November as imports rose to $40.7 billion, while exports were unchanged at $39.8 billion.
The deficit came as the results for October were also revised to show a deficit of $908 million compared with an initial report of a surplus of $75 million for the month.
Meanwhile, U.S. economic data has been positive, further pressuring the loonie downwards.
Payroll firm ADP reported the U.S. private sector created 238,000 jobs during December. That data came two days before the release of the U.S. government’s employment report for last month. Economists expect it will show the economy created about 195,000 jobs in total.
International traders are certainly bearish on the Canadian dollar. The Globe and Mail reports the amount of money being placed in bets against the loonie is nearing extremes, with about US$5.5 billion currently invested against it.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs forecast late last year the Canadian dollar could hit 88 cents U.S. in 2014.
Meanwhile, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz doesn’t appear in any hurry to raise the Bank of Canada’s trend-setting rate. In an interview on CBC on Tuesday, he denied he was under international pressure to raise rates.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suggested in a recent interview that there would be such pressure as a result of Fed tapering.
Poloz did say that Fed tapering will inevitably put pressure on Canadian bond yields, likely leading to an increase in long-term fixed mortgage rates even if the Bank of Canada does not increase its benchmark rate.
— With files from The Canadian Press
China and the United States, the primary sources of economic stimulus since 2008, will begin to unwind their stimulus in 2014. The Fed’s announcement of its first reduction in quantitative easing and China’s rising interbank interest rate are signals of what is to come. The main driver for the unwinding is concerns of bubbles, not that economies are strong enough.
Unwinding stimulus, especially one so large and prolonged, is fraught with unintended consequences. Bubbles tend to pop, not deflate slowly. Even though authorities are calibrating their tightening steps carefully to achieve a smooth landing, financial turmoil due to a bubble bursting is possible, which may drag the global economy into another recession.
Even if no financial turmoil emerges, some assets are likely to come under strong pressure. The economies that depend on commodity exports and/or hot money to plug their current accounts may see their currencies under more pressure. The Australian dollar and Brazilian real are highly vulnerable. The Indian rupee is another weak currency. The Canadian dollar and Russian ruble may come under pressure too.
Stimulus and Growth
After the 2008 financial crisis broke out, I predicted widespread monetary and fiscal stimulus all around, and such stimulus wouldn’t bring back sustainable and sound growth, eventually leading to another crisis. I also predicted that stimulus advocates will blame the failure on insufficient stimulus. My predictions are coming true halfway there. Another financial crisis will make them whole.
The magnitude of the United States’ stimulus could be measured by national debt rising from 62 percent to 100 percent of GDP and the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet more than tripling from 2007 to 2013. The impact on asset prices is reflected by a 60 percent increase in household wealth from the crisis low and 21.4 percent above the 2007 peak – a level considered a bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis. During the same period the U.S. economy has expanded by 6 percent in real terms and 15.8 percent in nominal terms. The current level of total employment is still below the pre-crisis level. It is obvious that the U.S. stimulus policy has had an outsized impact on asset prices and small one on the real economy or employment.
Why would the Fed decrease its QE while the economy is far from healthy? When the Fed first sounded its tightening warning in June, I argued that it was trying to manage an asset bubble. Before 2008, property appreciation was driving the U.S. bubble. Financial markets have been doing the job since. It appeared that the U.S. stock market was ready to spike like in early 2000 when the Fed sounded its warning. The market consolidated afterward. But, when the Fed backed off in September, it went on a tear again. When the Fed took its first step in December, it was viewed as too small to have an impact. The market has continued its rally. The S&P 500 rose by 30 percent in 2013. It remains to be seen if the Fed could prevent a rerun of 2000: the market surges in the first quarter of 2014 and falls sharply afterward.
China’s stimulus, mainly through lowering the credit standard, led to a 175 percent increase in M2 from 2007 to 2013. The main growth consequences are a 61 percent increase in electricity production and an 82 percent increase in nominal dollar exports. While the growth data are still impressive, they are small in comparison to monetary growth. If such a relationship persists, hyperinflation is likely. Further, the growth numbers have come down in the past two years, while monetary growth has slowed less. The trend suggests that the effectiveness of monetary stimulus is declining. Hence, achieving the same growth target brings a higher inflation rate.
The growth dynamic in the past five years depends on local governments borrowing money to spend. The declining effectiveness of monetary growth reflects the same declining efficiency in local government expenditure. The growth dependency on local government spending is tied up with property speculation. As excessive monetary growth triggers inflation expectations, money has poured into land and property. As local governments control all the land supply, they have been able to raise revenues from selling land and borrowing money with land as collateral. These two are the main channels for money supply to turn into expenditure.
Neither China nor the United States has built a sustainable growth dynamic with stimulus. As the stimulus side effects – bubbles and rising leverage – become the main show unwinding stimulus becomes urgent. This is why both countries are likely to take tightening steps.
Smooth Tightening Is Rare
Unwinding stimulus is usually a dangerous business. One never knows how much hot air the stimulus has created. When it leaks, it could cause a big explosion. For example, the Fed’s tightening cycle in the past usually triggered an emerging market crisis. As the United States itself isn’t on a strong growth path, the risk at home is substantial.
I’m surprised by how weak the United States’ growth has been, considering how much household wealth has risen. Hindsight suggests that the wealth increase is concentrated in a small minority who are too rich to spend all the gains. Before 2007 property inflation was driving household wealth, which benefited most people. As Wall Street created financial products for the masses to borrow against property appreciation, the economy benefited from a powerful wealth effect. The surging stock market has been driving household wealth in this cycle. As 10 percent of the United States’ population own most of the stock, the wealth effect isn’t broadly based. This is probably the main reason for the weak economic response to the stimulus.
Similar to the past, the Fed’s tightening cycle could trigger another emerging market crisis. When the Fed mentioned that it could taper QE, emerging markets tumbled. Those with persistent current account deficits, like Brazil and India, saw a mini crash in their currencies. The hot money into emerging markets could be between US$ 3 trillion and US$ 4 trillion during the Fed’s easing cycle. If a fraction of it returns, the shock to the monetary condition in some emerging economies could be severe enough to trigger a banking crisis. I suspect that several major emerging economies would have to raise interest rates aggressively to maintain financial stability. Otherwise, a currency-cum-banking crisis could happen.
The risk at home for the Fed is much higher than during the previous tightening cycles. The U.S. economy is still quite fragile. The improving labor market is due to declining wages for the reemployed. Hence, its contribution to demand is limited. The stock market could be 50 percent overvalued. The Internet sector is a vast bubble similar to what happened in early 2000. If the bubble pops, it may lead to reduction in corporate capex, which could pull the economy back into recession.
I have argued against the Fed’s monetary policy on the grounds that globalization has short-circuited the feedback loop between demand and supply. Wages, for example, are determined by globalization, not the strength of local demand. What’s happening to the U.S. labor market is similar to what happened to Japan and Taiwan in the 1990s. The economics behind the phenomenon are sound. What’s unstable in the United States is that its stimulus policy has vastly inflated non-tradables like housing, health care and education, which makes internationally competitive wages insufficient for a minimum living standard. This could be the driver for stagflation in the United States. As labor demands a living wage, say, doubling minimum wage to US$ 15 per hour, the Fed may be forced to restart QE to counter its negative impact on labor demand, which leads to a price-wage spiral.
The Fed’s tightening cycle this time is far from predictable, even though the Fed tries to project such an impression. If a financial crisis breaks out, either at home or among emerging markets, the Fed would be back to pumping liquidity to stabilize the market, which would be another step toward stagflation. If a labor movement at home depresses labor demand, it would be back to QE again, which also leads to stagflation. I predicted that stagflation is the ultimate outcome for the global economy. Most of the United States’ nominal GDP increase since 2007 is due to inflation, which already fits the description of mild stagflation. If the Fed is forced to back off from tightening, more pronounced stagflation is not far off.
China’s tightening is really about limiting local government borrowing. They are not interest rate sensitive. The current rise in interest rate is unlikely to dent their appetite. Indeed, China’s local governments went to the shadow banking system for money at high interest rates in 2013, as banks have become wary of too much exposure to them. Local governments depend on the perception that provinces and, ultimately, the central government will bail them out, if they can’t repay their loans. This is the reason that the shadow banking system is focusing on them. Private companies have been borrowing at low interest rates offshore and lending to them at high interest rate, either directly or through trust companies. Unless the bailout responsibility is clarified, China’s credit bubble would continue.
If the central government spells out its position of no bailouts clearly and convincingly, the reaction in the credit market will likely be massive. The shadow banking system, for example, wouldn’t roll over their loans. Unless the banks step in – probably forced by the government – a financial crisis is possible. If the banks do step in, it is actually a bailout by the central government, as it will be forced to bail them out if they go down. When moral hazard is the main reason for a credit boom, cooling it slowly is very difficult.
I have always argued that a hard landing would be a good thing for China. It flushes out all the financial excesses quickly and allows the economy to have a fresh start and soon. China’s labor shortage ensures that such a landing wouldn’t lead to social instability. Declining inflation would improve people’s living standards. Hence, it’s all good looking from the people’s perspective. The banks and local governments wouldn’t look at it that way. They all hope to stretch out the time horizon for paying off the legacy costs from the bubble. Or better that the people in charge now could walk away before the problems are exposed. Hence, the system’s bias is to drag it out. But, a bubble grows larger if it doesn’t burst. One cannot hold a bubble stable; it either shrinks or expands.
China is showing some resolve in reigning in the credit bubble. A credible anti-corruption campaign and rising interest rate are the visible signs. The tightening path is anything but assured. The system’s bias for stable appearance may cause the policy to change direction.
Global Growth Tilts Down
The global economy has depended on stimulus in China and the United States since 2008. As they embark on tightening, one clear implication is that the global economy will slow in 2014. One obvious market implication is that commodity economies will see their currencies dropping again.
At the beginning of 2013, I predicted that Australian dollar, Indian rupee and Japanese yen will tumble, though for different reasons. In 2014, the Australian dollar will continue its tumbling. Other commodity currencies like Brazilian real, Canadian dollar, Russian ruble and South African rand will all come under pressure. The simple logic is that they are really driven by China’s credit cycle. If China’s credit cycle reverses, their currencies will lose their gains on the way up.
Hot money doesn’t really go back to the United States per se. It just vanishes. When investors or speculators borrow dollars and buy local currency assets in emerging economies, the latter’s central banks issue local currencies and use the dollars, now called foreign exchange reserves, to buy U.S. treasuries. The consequence is an expansion in the global balance sheet of assets and liabilities. When the hot money flow reverses, the global balance just shrinks. Such deleveraging hits hard any economy that depends on hot money to finance its persistent current account deficits. India stands out as an example. Its central bank, since its new governor came in, has surprised on the upside. It has been tightening ahead of the curve. India could avoid a financial crisis. The price is much slower growth or even a recession.
The Japanese yen is likely to be range bound. Japan’s inflation has picked up. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) doesn’t have an excuse to push down the yen further. If it does, the reaction from U.S. automakers would be severe. In the long run, the yen will continue to decline. But, this doesn’t happen in a smooth curve. What the BoJ does is to concentrate the yen weakness in a short period, which gives the economy a lift. When the lift is exhausted, it pushes for another bout of yen weakness.
I believe that gold has already bottomed in 2013. In a Fed tightening cycle, gold tends to go down. Financial players in this cycle have been impatient to kick gold down as hard as possible. They short gold producers first and then gold. The gold stocks are much bigger in value than gold market per se. Hence, the trading strategy of shorting gold stocks and then gold could be lucrative. As more and more people pursue the same trade, the gold is kicked down way beyond its fundamentals.
Gold demand is from emerging economies. The latter have been experiencing high inflation. The demand for gold has been strong despite the weak gold price in 2013. The current gold price is already below the production cost of some of the biggest mines in the world. I suspect that, in 2014, some mines may be shut. The reduction in supply will become a counterforce against the Fed’s tightening.
I want to repeat my long term bullish call on gold. Its price is likely to top US$ 3,000 in five years. The currency market instability and the likely global stagflation will strengthen gold demand for wealth preservation in emerging economies. As supply is unable to grow, the price has to rise to balance the market.
What’s happened to Canada’s manufacturing sector? Kellogg’s recent decision to close its plant in London ripped another 500 factory jobs away from Ontario. That follows Heinz’s move to shutter its plant in Leamington, which is near Windsor. The 100-year-old plant, and its 740 employees, was the largest employer in the area. The announcement from Heinz comes on the heels of plant closures by Caterpillar, CCL Industries, and Novartis. Added up, and Ontario, home to what’s left of Canada’s industrial heartland, has shed 33,000 manufacturing jobs in the last year.
While the recent plant closures have grabbed headlines, it’s only a fraction of the jobs lost over the last decade. Once the top employer in Ontario, the manufacturing sector is now a shadow of its former self.
Since 2002, Ontario’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by nearly 30 percent—or more than 300,000 jobs. The story is similar when you look at real manufacturing output, which is down almost 20 percent over the same time.
Look back to the 1990s, or indeed most of the post-war period, and manufacturing could be counted on as an engine of economic growth for the province. Today, the opposite is true. The shrinking sector is a drag on growth and part of the reason Ontario’s economy has been a laggard versus other provinces over the last decade.
It’s unfamiliar territory for Ontario, historically the principle cheque writer of equalization payments to the poorer provinces in the Confederation. Not so anymore. The income-per-capita in what was once Canada’s most affluent province is now well below the national average. Ontario’s economic standing among other province’s, similarly, is also on the decline. The province’s share of Canadian GDP is down by roughly 5 percentage points in the past ten years.
It’s not a coincidence that manufacturing employment in Ontario peaked in 2002, just as a free falling Canadian dollar was plunging to nearly 60 cents against the U.S. greenback. Backed by that exchange rate, everyone from auto assemblers to food processors enjoyed a commanding cost advantage over competing plants south of the border.
Since then, the Canadian dollar has soared along with the rising price of oil. While the loonie has long moved to the rhythms of commodity prices, in the last decade it’s danced in lock step with oil prices, which have marched from $20 a barrel to the triple-digit range. These days the loonie is trading more than 50 percent higher than it was during the last peak in manufacturing employment in Ontario.
In the context of exchange-adjusted labour costs rising by more than 50 percent, there’s really no mystery behind why so many manufacturing plants are closing in Ontario. Offsetting such a dramatic swing in exchange-adjusted wage costs would take a boom in productivity that, frankly, just isn’t in the cards.
What’s worse, productivity in the manufacturing sector is actually languishing. In theory, a higher Canadian dollar should make it easier for plants to import machinery and equipment that will enhance productivity. The theory, however, assumes that plants will continue to run. In practice, a soaring loonie is spurring international manufacturers to look for greener pastures elsewhere. Instead of spending money in Canada to improve factory productivity, decisions are being made in the opposite direction, which is resulting in disinvestment.
The numbers speak for themselves. In the last decade, the manufacturing sector’s share of business investment is down by nearly half, falling from 14 percent to as little as 8 percent. Without capital spending on new plants and equipment, productivity growth is going nowhere. That, in turn, only exacerbates the competitive disadvantage that a high Canadian dollar puts on wage costs.
Where to from here? With the loonie trading in the 95-cent range against the greenback, who’s choosing to invest in boosting the productivity of an uncompetitive manufacturing sector?
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian economy showed unexpected strength in October, growing for the fourth month in a row and boosting market hopes that the country might finally be shaking off the worst of the great recession.
Statistics Canada said on Monday the economy had grown by 0.3 percent from September. Analysts had forecast a 0.2 percent advance after September’s 0.3 percent increase.
Although Canada regained most of the jobs it lost since 2008 and 2009, growth has been largely sluggish, prompting the Bank of Canada to make clear it will not raise its key interest rate until it sees signs of a firm recovery.
The economy has posted growth every month this year apart from June.
The output of goods-producing industries grew by 0.4 percent in October on higher manufacturing while service industries output climbed by 0.3 percent as almost all major industrial sectors registered growth.
“Canada’s economy is showing sustained strength for the first time since the early days of the recovery,” said BMO Capital Markets economist Sal Guatieri.
The Bank of Canada has said annualized GDP growth in the fourth quarter will be 2.3 percent, down from 2.7 percent in the third. Guatieri, though, said October’s data suggested fourth quarter growth could be around 2.6 percent.
“Importantly, this would mark the first quarter since early 2011 that GDP has posted successive increases above two percent – that is, above potential,” he said in a note to clients.
Manufacturing output grew by 1.3 percent in October while wholesale trade and retail trade advanced by 1.4 percent and 0.3 percent respectively. Construction, as well as mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction, were unchanged.
The economy grew by 2.7 percent from October 2012, up from September’s 2.4 percent year-on-year advance.
Peter Buchanan of CIBC World Markets said the 0.3 percent increases in both October and September “suggest a fairly decent start for the economy to the fourth quarter.”
The data helped push the Canadian dollar higher and by 9.40 am (1440 GMT) it was at C$1.0601 to the U.S. dollar, or 94.33 U.S. cents, up from Friday’s close of C$1.0648 to the greenback, or 93.91 U.S. cents.
The Bank of Canada is worried about the risks posed by the persistently low inflation, which in November was just 0.9 percent, well below the central bank’s target of 2 percent.
The Bank has kept its key overnight interest rate unchanged at 1 percent since September 2010, citing in part the inflation rate and the underperforming economy.
A Reuters poll of primary dealers late last month showed that most did not expect the bank to raise rates until the second quarter of 2015.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Nick Zieminski)
By Louise Egan
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s annual inflation rate crept up to 0.9 percent in November from 0.7 percent in October but it remained below the central bank’s target range, ensuring that chronically weak inflation will stay on policymakers’ radar as a top concern.
The Canadian dollar weakened to a 3-1/2-year low against the U.S. dollar after the Statistics Canada inflation report, which confirmed analysts’ expectations that steep discounting by retailers around “Black Friday” would prevent inflation from gaining much momentum in the near term.
A separate report from Statscan on retail sales in October showed unexpected weakness in the sector as purchases of cars declined.
The consumer price index was flat month on month, with the annual CPI rate pushed higher mainly by shelter and food costs, while prices fell for health and personal care as well as for clothing and footwear.
But the annual core CPI, closely watched by the Bank of Canada because it excludes volatile items such as gasoline and food, slipped 0.1 percentage point in the month for an annual rate of 1.1 percent.
Both the total and core inflation rates were slightly below market expectations of 1.0 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.
“From a policy perspective, (it) helps fuel the growing narrative that the Bank of Canada is becoming increasingly more dovish,” said Mazen Issa, a strategist at TD Securities.
“Certainly the risk that the bank adopts an explicit easing bias in January continues to grow and this report lends further credence to that view,” he said.
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz told Reuters this week the bank’s stance on monetary policy is neutral, but he acknowledged it is “having trouble explaining” why inflation is so weak, as well as being puzzled by poor exports and business investment in the context of an improving U.S. economy.
The bank first explicitly stated an increased concern about low inflation in its October 23 interest rate decision, when it shifted into a neutral after 18 months of leaning towards rate hikes.
This month, it warned that heightened competition in the retail sector appeared more persistent than anticipated.
More retailers in Canada, including Target Corp (TGT.N: Quote) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote), have been running Black Friday sales in November even though Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, as they try to keep customers from crossing the border for better deals.
In the United States, this shopping season is expected to be the most competitive since the financial crisis of 2008, with retailers discounting heavily to woo cautious shoppers.
Inflation has been below the Bank of Canada’s 2 percent target for 19 months. For seven of the past 13 months it has been below the 1 to 3 percent range the bank tolerates.
The latest figures suggest inflation will be below the Bank of Canada’s latest estimate of 1.3 percent average CPI in the fourth quarter. The bank will update its forecasts on January 22.
“I do think the real story here is on core inflation, the fact that we’re now just about scraping the very low end of the comfort zone for the Bank of Canada, and I do think it’s largely due to the heavy duty discounting we’re seeing among a number of retailers,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.
“So it’s a fairly big miss by the bank on core inflation.”
The Canadian dollar weakened after the report to C$1.0700 to the greenback, or 93.46 U.S. cents, from Thursday’s close of C$1.0666, or 93.76 U.S. cents.
RETAIL VOLUMES TO FUEL GROWTH
Retail sales unexpectedly fell by 0.1 percent in October from September as a downturn at car dealerships offset upbeat supermarket sales. Market analysts had forecast a 0.2 percent increase in monthly sales.
The weak reading followed three straight months of gains as four of the 11 retail subsectors declined.
However, in volume terms, retail sales grew 0.2 percent in October.
The data, combined with strong readings in manufacturing and wholesale trade in October, suggest the economy will grow at a healthy clip in the fourth quarter, although below the 2.7 percent annualized growth seen in the third.
Overall sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers fell 1.9 percent. New car sales slid 1.6 percent after a 4.6 percent surge in the previous month. Gasoline station sales fell 1.6 percent.
On the other hand, food and beverage stores registered a 1.7 percent jump in sales.
Total sales excluding the auto sector grew 0.4 percent.
Just weeks after investment bank Goldman Sachs advised clients to bet against the loonie, global currency traders appear to be doing just that.
Bets against the loonie surged by more than a third in one week, the Globe and Mail reports. According to numbers from the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission, there were $5.4 billion in short positions against the Canadian dollar last week, up by $1.5 billion in a week.
That’s the highest number of bets against the loonie since last spring, when short positions against the currency hit an all-time high.
There are numerous reasons analysts expect the loonie to keep falling, chief among them weakness in resource prices. Canada’s dollar generally tracks commodity prices.
In its report, Goldman Sachs noted that Canada has had a trade deficit — which normally means a declining currency — for the past five years. But the country avoided a sinking loonie because of the strength of its financial system, which attracted a lot of foreign investor money.
That foreign investment has now hit the brakes, Goldman Sachs said, and that’s reflected in a declining Canadian dollar.
A weaker dollar could be bad news for cross-border shoppers and people traveling abroad during the holiday season. Some travel companies are already considering slapping a “currency surcharge” on the price of package vacations. Many of these companies’ costs are in U.S. dollars.
But what’s bad news for travelers could be good news for retailers, who can expect to see more shopping at home if prices in the U.S. are higher for Canadians.
The loonie has been on a downward trajectory for much of the year, hitting its high point for 2013 in January, at above $1.01 U.S., before declining to around the 94-cent U.S. mark in recent weeks.
One of the world’s most influential investment banks says betting that the loonie is going to fall is one of its best investment tips for 2014.
After trading in a fairly narrow band between 95 cents and $1.05 US for the past three years, the bank says it expects the loonie to lose some of its value next year, because of a number of factors.
Canada has had a current account deficit — the balance of payments between Canada and the rest of the world for all goods, services, investments, imports and exports — for the last five years.
‘We see good reasons for gradual [loonie] weakness’– Goldman Sachs
Goldman says all else being equal, that should lead to any currency losing some of its value. But that hasn’t happened with the loonie due to a variety of other factors that the bank says are about to end.
A strong banking sector was able to attract foreign investment, enough to offset a 30 per cent decline in manufacturing since the recession. But our much lauded financial sector isn’t attracting as much foreign investment as it once did, Goldman notes.
Over the past few quarters, capital inflows have slowed rapidly, pushing the [balance of payments] into deficit of about one per cent of GDP currently,” Goldman says.
The loonie was also seeing some time in the sun as a reserve currency, which means other foreign governments were stockpiling it, and increasing its value. That trend is also slowing, Goldman says.
Another thing working against the loonie is that instead of a rate hike next year (which would push the loonie higher) economists are now saying it’s not impossible that we see a cut, as inflation remains low.
“Our baseline is for the [Bank of Canada] to be on hold, but since the money market curve is pricing a small chance of hikes through end-2014, we see risks here also skewed to the downside,” Goldman Sachs said.
The bank also says the housing market is likely to drag the loonie lower. “With house prices already very elevated … it is likely that private consumption will no longer be the kind of positive impulse to the economy that it was in the past,” the bank said.
“All told, there are a number of reasons why the Canadian dollar has scope to weaken,” the report reads. “Combining all these factors, we see good reasons for gradual [loonie] weakness to persist for idiosyncratic reasons [and] a steady drift weaker and gradual underperformance relative to other major currencies, in particular the U.S. dollar.”
Add it all up and the bank suggests the loonie could fall by as much as seven per cent. The loonie was trading hands at 94.38 cents US on Wednesday.
The Bank of Canada has held its key interest rate at one per cent and cut its outlook for economic growth to 1.6 per cent this year, 2.3 per cent in 2014 and 2.6 per cent in 2015, a sizable downgrade from its July outlook.
In its monetary policy report released today by governor Stephen Poloz, the bank says it sees the economy returning to full capacity by the end of 2015.
The statement also removes the bank’s warning that a rate hike is inevitable, a “major turn in guidance,” according to Andrew Pyle, senior wealth adviser and portfolio manager at Scotia McLeod.
“There is clearly not enough confidence in the U.S. or global economy to push export growth and the Bank is also more concerned about a potential correction in the housing sector because of the continued ramp-up in prices,” Pyle said in a note to investors.
The Bank of Canada says softer-than-expected U.S. growth pushed the full recovery of the economy later, but that it expects “a better balance between domestic and foreign demand will be achieved over time and that economic growth will become more self-sustaining”.
In its July report, the bank had predicted the Canadian economy would grow 1.8 per cent this year, followed by 2.7 per cent in 2014 and 2015, returning to full capacity in mid-2015.
The report sent the Canadian dollar plummeting, down 0.93 cents against the U.S. dollar to to 96.27 cents US in mid-morning trading.
That won’t be the end, according to Pyle, who says he sees the Canadian dollar falling to 92 cents US within a month, and that he believes Poloz is attempting to push the dollar down to boost exports.
The lower economic outlook and stubbornly low inflation mean the Bank of Canada is likely to hold interest rates for at least another two years, Pyle says.
TD Bank says it now believes rates will stay unchanged until 2015, according to commentary by economist Diana Petramala.
“Interest rate hikes will be gradual and dependent on economic performance and financial conditions going forward, with the bank keeping a close eye on the evolution of domestic risks,” Petramala says.
- Bank of Canada rate unchanged (globalnews.ca)
- BoC downgrades economy for next three years, keeps interest rates unchanged (canadianbusiness.com)
- The Bank of Canada is keeping its trendsetting overnight interest rate at one per cent. (newscanadanetwork.wordpress.com)
- Bank of Canada Drops Bias to Lift 1% Policy Rate (bloomberg.com)