Canadian GDP was essentially unchanged in February following very strong growth in January and three consecutive monthly increases. At the industry level, output was led by higher output in the real estate sector, as well as growth in the finance and construction industries.  Declining output in the goods sector, particularly manufacturing and oil and gas, offset gains in other sectors.

Despite February's disappointing GDP number, we are still tracking first quarter growth at 3.5 per cent due to very strong economic data observed year-to-date. However, it was also reported today that the US economy grew only 0.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year, which could mean Canadian exports were weaker than expected.

 

Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.

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Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), continued to trend lower in March as consumer prices rose just 1.6 per cent following a 2 per cent increase in February.  The Bank of Canada's new core measure of inflation, called CPI-common which it says better tracks the underlying trend in prices, was up 1.3 per cent for the third consecutive month.   In BC, provincial consumer price inflation was 2 per cent in the 12 months to March.

Trend measures of core consumer prices continue to show muted levels of inflation, suggesting that the economy is still operating well below capacity. However, the Canadian economy does appear to be heating up with strong economic and job growth. If that continues, then we could see a pick up in inflation by the end of the year. For now, moderate inflation means very little pressure on the Bank of Canada to act on interest rates.

 

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Vancouver, BC – April 13, 2017. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 9,826 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in March, down 21.8 per cent from the same period last year. Total sales dollar volume was $6.79 billion, down 30 per cent from March 2016. The average MLS® residential price in the province was $690,597, a 10.5 per cent decrease from the same period last year.

“Consumer demand continues to normalize following blockbuster home sales in 2016," says Brendon Ogmundson, BCREA Economist. "However, the supply of homes available for sale has not recovered and is still declining in many markets around the province."

Although the average price in BC was down year-over-year due to a shift in the composition of sales away from higher-priced homes in Greater Vancouver, home prices in most markets are being pushed higher due to severe supply constraints. This is particularly true for the Victoria region, which currently has just over one month of inventory for sale, as well as for the apartment and townhouse market in the Lower Mainland.

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was down 34.7 per cent to $14.1 billion, when compared with the same period in 2016. Residential unit sales declined 25.5 per cent to 20,893 units, while the average MLS® residential price was down 12.4 per cent to $674,856.

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The Bank of Canada announced this morning that it is holding the target for its overnight rate at 0.5 per cent. In the press release accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that economic growth has been faster than previously expected, boosted by what the Bank sees as temporary spending from the oil and gas recovery and a boost to consumer spending by the Canada Child Benefit. However, export growth remains challenged and business investment is low. Therefore, the Bank judges that it is too early to conclude that the economy has turned a corner.  In addition, CPI inflation is trending below its 2 per cent target while the Bank's three new measures of core inflation continue to drift lower.

That downward trending inflation, along with uncertainty in United States policy,  seems to be the main barriers keeping the Bank from raising its benchmark overnight rate. While there is some remaining slack in the economy, as measured by the output gap, the Canadian economy has been growing well above the Bank's estimate of potential growth (1.5 per cent) for three consecutive quarters including a first quarter 2017  in which available data points to above 4 per cent growth.  In addition to strong GDP numbers, the economy is adding jobs at a rate of 35,000 per month over the past six months, the highest level of job growth since 2010. Should this momentum continue, it is likely we will begin to see a more hawkish Bank of Canada in the second half of the year and a first rate increase in early 2018. 

 

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US Real GDP Growth (Q4'2016) - January 27, 2017


US real GDP growth registered a weaker than expected 1.9 per cent growth the final quarter of 2016, and 1.6 per cent growth for the year as a whole.  Growth was pulled lower by a widening US trade deficit, while consumer demand and business investment were robust. Most economists expect US economic growth to accelerate to about 2.2 per cent in 2017.

The pace of economic growth in the United States could be a key determinant in the BC housing market this year. While faster US growth is generally positive for the BC economy, a stronger pace of growth along with a possibly significant shift in the fiscal outlook due to the large tax cuts and ramped-up spending plans of the Trump administration, is already translating to rising long-term interest rates as markets anticipate higher inflation and consequent monetary tightening by the US Federal Reserve. In turn, that uptrend in rates is putting pressure on Canadian mortgage rates, with many lenders increasing their best offered rates. 

 

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Canadian Retail Sales - January 20, 2017


Canadian retail sales inched 0.2 per cent higher in November.  Sales were higher in just 5 of 11 sub-sectors, with motor vehicle and parts dealers and building materials supplies leading the way.  E-commerce sales accounted for 3 per cent of total retail sales, the highest proportion to date in 2016.  Given today's data,  we are currently tracking fourth quarter Canadian real GDP growth at 1.5 per cent. 

In BC, retail sales were down 0.7 per cent on a monthly basis, but were 5.5 per cent higher year-over-year.  Year-to-date, retail sales in the province are up 6.5 per cent. 


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Canadian Manufacturing Sales - January 19, 2017


Canadian manufacturing sales rose 1.5 per cent in November after posting a moderate decline the previous month.  Sales were higher in 14 of 21 manufacturing sub-sectors. After adjusting for inflation, the total volume of sales was 1.2 per cent higher. 

In BC, where the manufacturing sector is a significant employer and a key driver of economic growth, sales were up 2.4 per cent on a monthly basis and 9.2 per cent year-over-year. The manufacturing sector has been on a significant upswing after a slow first half with sales posting nearly 8 per cent growth over the second half of the year. That growth is adding to already strong momentum in other sectors and supporting housing demand across BC communities where manufacturing, particularly of forestry products, is an important driver of local economic activity. 


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Bank of Canada Interest Rate Announcement - January 18, 2017


The Bank of Canada announced this morning that it is holding the target for its overnight rate at 0.5 per cent. In the press release accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that uncertainty in the global outlook, particularly with regard to policies in the United States, is undiminished. The Canadian economy is forecast to grow 2.1 per cent in both 2017 and 2018, implying the Canadian economy will return to full capacity in mid-2018.  On inflation, the Bank noted that it continued to be lower than expected but should return to it 2 per cent target in coming months.

Political uncertainty in the United States will likely govern the direction of both policy rates and long-term bond yields over the next year. The interest rate on 5-year government of Canada bonds has risen to its highest point in a year, which is adding upward pressure to mortgage rates offered by Canadian lenders.  While the Canadian economy is forecast to post steady growth in 2017, overall slack in the Canadian economy remains persistent.  Without a significant uptick in economic growth, inflation will likely continue to trend at or below the Bank's 2 per cent target.  That, along with lingering uncertainty, will keep the Bank sidelined through 2017 with a chance of lowering its target rate should current downside risks to the economy become realized.


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