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Canada’s inflation rate quickened somewhat to 1.2 per cent in December, higher than November’s level but still low by historical standards.
Statistics Canada said Friday the consumer price index was led higher by gasoline, which was 4.7 per cent more expensive at the end of 2013 than it was at the end of 2012.
The loonie reacted mildly positively to the news, trading up about a quarter of a cent to 90.34 cents US.
Six of the eight categories of items that Statistics Canada tracks the price of were higher.
Prices increased in every province except B.C., where they were flat.
Loonie inches higher
If pump prices are stripped out, inflation would have come in at 1.1 per cent.
That’s still within the band of between one and three per cent, where the Bank of Canada likes to see the rate stay, but it has been on the lower end of that range for a while.
In its latest interest rate decision, the central bank said it expects inflation to remain subdued for a while yet.
Canada’s inflation rate averaged 0.9 per cent last year. That’s down from 1.5 per cent in 2012 and the softest rate since during the recession in 2009.
“When we are already below [our inflation] target, as we are today, we care more about downside risks than upside ones,” Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said earlier this week.
That’s the central bank’s way of saying it’s less concerned about prices rising to fast, and instead focused on ensuring the economy doesn’t slip any further into disinflation or even deflation.
There’s a lag time of a few months before the impact of Canada’s lower loonie is likely to show itself in inflation data. So economists are expecting the inflation number to come in on the low end of the central bank’s target range for the next several months.
“The inching up in year-on-year [inflation] should not give the [central bank] very much solace on inflation,” Scotiabank said in a commentary Friday morning.
“We don’t expect annual CPI to remain above 1 per cent for too long,” the bank said.
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
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