US real GDP growth registered 2.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, the slowest pace in a year due to a pullback in spending by households that saw consumer spending post its lowest growth in five years.  On the positive side, business investment was solid and exports rose nearly 5 per cent. However, US imports of goods and services from other countries grew only 2.6 per cent.

While steady growth in the United States is generally good news for the BC economy, slow growth in US imports and the ad-hoc approach to trade policy under the current administration still present a significant risk for BC's important export sector.

 

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Canadian retail sales increased 0.4 per cent on monthly in basis in February and were 3.5 per cent higher year-over-year.  Sales were higher in only 4 of 11 sub-sectors representing less than half of total retail trade.  With today's data, and all other data available thus far for the first quarter, we are tracking Canadian economic growth at about 1.6 per cent for the first quarter of 2018.  In BC, retail sales were up 0.4 per cent on a monthly basis and 5.9 per cent year-over-year. Retail sales in the province continue to moderate back to historical trend after growing close to 10 per cent in 2017.

Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), increased again in March as prices rose 2.3 per cent year-over-year, up from 2.2 per cent in February. The Bank of Canada's three measures of trend inflation were relatively unchanged at around 2 per cent.   In BC, provincial consumer price inflation was 2.6 per cent in the 12 months to March.  Rising inflation and an economy operating at capacity signals further Bank of Canada tightening, potentially as soon as the next interest rate decision on May 30.

 

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The Bank of Canada decided to leave the target for the overnight policy rate unchanged at 1.25 per cent this morning. In the statement accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that inflation is forecast to be slightly higher in 2018 than originally expected but will return to the Bank's 2 per cent target once the impact of higher gas prices and minimum wage increases dissipate.  While the mortgage stress test has been a contributor to weaker growth in the first quarter of 2018, the Bank expects the economy to be operating at above potential over the next three years, growing at an average rate of about 2 per cent.

Although the Bank held steady today, with inflation rising to the Bank's two per cent target and many Canadian firms operating at or near capacity, interest rates are very likely headed higher this year.  Headwinds from the trade sector have moderated, energy prices are higher and growth for the first quarter appears to be firming after a slow start. Given those trends, the Bank is likely to adjust its policy rate higher in coming months. That will translate to higher mortgage rates which, combined with the erosion of purchasing power from the mortgage stress test, will temper housing demand in 2018.

 

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Vancouver, BC – April 12, 2018. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 7,409 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) across the province in March, a 24.6 per cent decrease from the same month last year. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $726,930, up 5.3 per cent from the previous year. Total sales dollar volume was $5.39 billion, a 20.6 per cent decline from March 2017.

“More burdensome mortgage qualifications are having the predictable effect of swiftly curbing housing demand,” said Cameron Muir, BCREA Chief Economist. “You simply cannot pull as much as 20 per cent of the purchasing power away from conventional mortgage borrowers and not create a downturn in consumer demand.”

Despite the decline in consumer demand, the supply of homes for sale remains low in most BC regions. Total active listings on the market are essentially unchanged from March 2017, and are at or near a 12-year low across the province. As a result, home prices are expected to continue an upward trajectory.

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was down 1.7 per cent to $13.9 billion, compared with the same period in 2017. Residential unit sales decreased 9.4 per cent to 18,927 units, while the average MLS® residential price was up 8.5 per cent to $732,243.

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Canadian employment grew by 32,000 jobs in March, driven by mostly full-time gains while the national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.8 per cent. Over the past 12-months, employment in Canada is up by close to 300,000 jobs while total hours worked is up 2.2 per cent.  For the first quarter, however, employment is down 40,000 jobs due large job losses to start the year.

In BC, employment fell by 3,900 jobs as a surge in full-time employment (up almost 24,000 jobs) was offset by falling part-time employment. Overall, the level of employment in BC has been trending sideways for several months and was up just 1.3 per cent year-over-year in March. The provincial unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.7 per cent.

 

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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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