A slightly frightening Halloween release of Canadian GDP data showed that the Canadian economy edged down 0.1 per cent in August. Declines in the manufacturing, mining and oil and gas sectors offset increases in the other 12 of 20 industrial sub-sectors that posted positive growth. Given today's release,  growth in the Canadian economy is tracking at about 2 per cent for the third quarter.
     
Today's disappointing GDP data should be the final nail in the coffin for further Bank of Canada rate increases this year.  The economy is showing real signs of slowing with no inflation in sight. We expect the Bank will hold its key policy rate at 1 per cent until mid-2018.

 

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The Bank of Canada announced this morning that it is maintaining its target for the overnight rate at 1 per cent. In the press release accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that inflation has edged up slightly and is expected to return to its target of 2 per cent in the second half of 2018 while economic growth is forecast to slow in the final six months of this year following a very strong first half.  The Bank emphasized that it will be cautious in making future adjustments to its policy rate as it assesses the sensitivity of the economy to higher interest rates.

There are several factors influencing the Bank's decision to move to the sidelines. Recent economic data points to a slowing of growth from the soaring heights of the first half of 2017. Moreover, inflation remains muted and newly announced tightening of mortgage regulations will have a significant impact on households, particularly in a rising mortgage rate environment. We expect that the Bank will take a wait and see approach over the next few months as the impact of its previous rate tightening takes hold.

 

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Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), registered 1.6 per cent in the 12 months to September, up from 1.4 per cent in August.  The Bank of Canada's three measures of trend inflation were largely unchanged, averaging 1.6 per cent.   In BC, provincial consumer price inflation was 2.0 per cent in the 12 months to September. 

Canadian retail sales declined 0.3 per cent on a monthly basis in August but were 6.9 per cent higher year-over-year. Sales were down in 8 of 11 retail sub-sectors and excluding the impact of higher gas prices and rising motor vehicle sales, the retail sector was down 1.3 per cent. In BC, after five straight monthly increases, sales fell 1 per cent on a monthly basis, but were up more than 10 per cent compared to September last year.

Given that incoming economic data has been signalling a slowing of the economy and inflation is still essentially treading water below the Bank's 2 per cent target, not to mention the tightening of mortgage regulations by OSFI, we expect that the Bank of Canada will stay on the sidelines at its upcoming October 25th meeting.

 

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Canadian manufacturing sales rebounded 1.6 per cent in August following two consecutive months of falling output.  Sales were up in only 8 of 21 manufacturing sub-sectors, with the majority of growth arising due to higher sales in the transportation equipment and energy sectors.
 
In BC, manufacturing sales increased 0.8 per cent on a monthly basis and were up 5.2 per cent year-over-year. Strong gains continued in the wood products sector, along with very strong growth in machinery, and transportation equipment manufacturing. A growing manufacturing base has helped push employment higher across the province, supporting housing demand making strong contributions to BC's economy in 2017.

 

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Canadian housing starts decreased by 4 per cent in September to 217,118 units at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR).  The six-month trend in Canadian housing starts also declined to 214,821 units SAAR.

New home construction in BC rose 6 per cent on a monthly basis to 37,470 units SAAR but was down 18 per cent on a year-over-year basis.  Single detached starts were flat compared to one year ago while multiple unit starts declined 24 per cent year-over-year.

Looking at census metropolitan areas (CMA) in BC: 

  • Total starts in the Vancouver CMA fell 13 per cent from August and were down about half compared to September 2016. Multiple unit starts were down 58 per cent from one year ago as record levels of units under construction weigh on new projects.
  • In the Victoria CMA market, housing starts continue to surge, rising 127 per cent year-over-year. Multiple unit starts continue to drive new home construction, with starts more than triple levels seen last September.
  • New home construction in the Kelowna CMA jumped more than 200 per cent year-over-year as close to 350 new multiple unit starts were recorded.
  • Housing starts in the Abbotsford-Mission CMA also more than doubled year-over-year due to strong growth in both single and multiple starts.

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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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