The Canadian economy grew  0.1 per cent on a monthly basis in January as weather and labour disputes offset more positive developments in some sectors.  Before the abrupt change in the world economy due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadian economy was set to grow a solid 1.8 per cent in the first quarter.  We may start to see the impact of COVID-19 starting with February's GDP data though the impact will mostly be observed in April, which is likely to show an unprecedented decline in economic activity.

Once the outbreak is contained, the Canadian economy should post a strong recovery due to pent-up demand, large amounts of fiscal stimulus and historically low interest rates.


For the second time this month, the Bank of Canada has lowered its overnight policy rate before its regularly scheduled announcement date, taking the overnight rate down a further 50 basis points to 0.25 per cent.  That level is what the Bank considers its effective lower bound, meaning it can not reduce rates further without potentially disrupting key short-term funding markets.

The Bank also announced two new programs to ensure the continued smooth functioning of credit markets and to promote credit availability.  The first, the Commercial Paper Purchase Program, is targeted at alleviating strains in the short-term funding market  and the second entails the Bank purchasing Government of Canada bonds in the secondary market. The latter program is a type of what is generally called "quantitative easing" though the Bank's program is targeted at all maturities, rather than longer term yields as in traditional quantitative easing.

All of these actions represent a serious and significant amount of firepower aimed at keeping the Canadian financial system and credit markets functioning during this extraordinary time.  If successful, we should see currently elevated risk spreads on mortgage products start to decline, reversing recent increases in Canadian mortgage rates.


A weak report to start off 2020. Seasonally-adjusted Canadian retail sales were up by 0.4% in January at $52 billion. The rise in January was driven by auto dealers and gas stations. Minus these two sub-sectors and sales were down 0.3% in the month. Sales were up in 4 of 11 sub-sectors, representing 48% of retail sales. The impact of COVID-19 on the retail sector will become more evident in the months to come. Statistics Canada notes that respondent comments for February shows that business activities have been impacted.

Regionally, 8 of 10 provinces reported monthly increases in January. Notable increases were reported in Quebec (1.7%) and Alberta (1.6%). In contrast, retail sales were down in Ontario (-0.8%).

In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales were unchanged at $7.3 billion in January. Looking at the non-seasonally adjusted change shows a different picture. Retail sales in January were down from the previous month in all sub-sectors, except at auto dealers and gas stations. Meanwhile, Vancouver reported a monthly decrease of 1% in retail sales. Compared to the same time last year, BC retail sales were down by 0.4% in January.


Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 2.2 per cent in February year-over-year, down from a 2.4 per cent increase in January. Excluding the impact of gasoline prices, national CPI rose by 2.0 per cent year-over-year, matching last month's increase. Gas prices rose less on a year-over-year basis as a result of lower global demand following the COVID-19 spread, and tensions between oil-producing countries. The Bank of Canada's three measures of trend inflation was unchanged, averaging 2.0 per cent in February. Prices rose in seven of eight major components, led by transportation (4.4%) and shelter (2.3%).

In B.C., CPI grew to 2.4 per cent year-over-year, slightly above last month's increase of 2.3 per cent. Notable increases in prices were for recreation (2.0%) and gas (1.7%), where the increase for gas was largely due to the regional Pacific Northwest market. In contrast, prices for food was the only component to report a price decline (-0.5%).

Given recent events around the spread and containment efforts of COVID-19 (e.g., temporary closure of stores and service providers), continued tensions between oil-producing countries, the lowering of interest rates, and disruptions to global supply chains, we expect significant impact on prices going forward.


Today, in an emergency inter-meeting policy action, the Bank of Canada again lowered its overnight rate by 50 basis points to 0.75 per cent. This follows the previous cut to 1.25 per cent on March 4, 2020. This move is in response to the spread of COVID-19, which according to the Bank is "having serious consequences for Canadian families, and for Canada's economy". In its statement, the Bank noted that lower interest rates will help to support confidence in households by lowering borrowing costs for new purchases and for those renewing their mortgages. Additionally, lower prices for oil will weigh heavily on the economy.

We expect this rate cut to be followed by an additional reduction of the Bank's overnight rate at its April 2020 meeting.


Vancouver, BC – March 12, 2020. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 5,741 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in February 2020, an increase of 26.3 per cent from February 2019. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $758,863, a 12 per cent increase from $677,681 recorded the previous year. Total sales dollar volume in February was $4.4 billion, a 41.4 per cent increase over 2019.

“Housing markets in BC continued to trend near long-term average levels in February,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “Recent declines in mortgage rates and favourable changes to mortgage qualifying rules may provide a boost to home sales heading into the spring, although there is significant economic uncertainty lingering over the outlook.”

Total MLS® residential active listings fell 8.4 per cent to 28,303 units compared to the same month last year. The ratio of sales to active residential listings increased 20.3 per cent from 14.7 per cent last February.

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was up 38.4 per cent to $7.6 billion, compared with the same period in 2019. Residential unit sales increased 24.8 per cent to 10,135 units, while the average MLS® residential price was up 10.9 per cent to $745,501.   


The Bank of Canada lowered its overnight rate by 50 basis points this morning to 1.25 per cent.  This move is part of a coordinated action by global central banks to guard against the negative consequences of the Coronavirus outbreak.  In its statement, the Bank noted that although the Canadian economy is operating near potential and inflation is at its 2 per cent target, the Coronavirus is a material and negative shock to the Canadian and global outlook.

Economic growth in Canada slowed sharply to end 2019 and supply chain disruptions due to both Coronavirus and interrupted rail service are expected to slow growth further in the first quarter of this year.

Canadian bond yields have  declined significantly with 5-year bond yields falling below 1% for the first time since 2017.  Both variable and 5-year fixed qualifying mortgage rates will likely follow bond yields lower,  though elevated risk spreads may delay banks and other lenders in lowering mortgage rates in the immediate term.


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. 


Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.

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.

Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.

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