Canadian retail sales fell in January by 1.1% m/m on a seasonally-adjusted basis. This is the second consecutive monthly decline since April 2020. Sales were down in 6 of 11 subsectors, representing 39% of retail sales. Clothing and clothing accessories stores led the decline, down for a fourth consecutive month. Notable declines were also reported at furniture and home furnishing stores. Compared to the same time last year, retail sales were up by 1.3%.  

Sales were down mainly in Quebec and Ontario, where stricter lockdown measures were in place. In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales rose by 4.4% m/m ($8.4 billion) and by 4.4% m/m ($3.7 billion) in Vancouver. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, contributing to the increase were sales at auto dealers and gasoline stations. BC retail sales were up by 14.5% compared to the same time last year.   

In January, Canadian e-commerce sales totaled $3.5 billion, accounting for 7.8% of total retail sales, down from 8.1% in the previous month. E-commerce sales were up by 111% from a year ago. This excludes Canadians purchasing from foreign e-commerce retailers.  
    
With the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Canada, provincial governments began to reintroduce lockdown measures, which directly affected the retail sector. Approximately 14% of retailers were closed at some point in January for an average of three business days. Statistics Canada's preliminary estimate for February suggests that retail sales increased by 4%. Growth in retail sales is expected to bounce back as the vaccine rollout accelerates and pent-up consumption is unleashed.  

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Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 1.1% in February year-over-year. The increase was again due to higher gasoline prices (5%). Excluding the volatile gasoline component, the CPI rose by 1%, which is down from 1.3% in January. Prices rose in all components of the CPI except for clothing and footwear. Growth in the Bank of Canada's three measures of trend inflation remained unchanged, averaging 1.7%. 

Regionally, the CPI was positive in all provinces, led by Quebec (1.6%). In BC, CPI rose by 0.9% in February year-over-year, down from January's 1.1%. Strong price growth continued for health and personal care, shelter, and food. Transportation costs reported the first notable increase since the pandemic started.  

Gas prices were again the driving force behind inflation growth in February. It will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, as oil producers tighten supply. Despite this, the Bank of Canada has indicated that it will not raise rates until the economy is back at full employment and inflation is sustained at its 2% target rate.
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Canadian employment gained 259k jobs in February (1.4%, m/m), almost making up for the 266k jobs lost in the previous two months. This left the employment level 3.1% (-599k) below its February 2020 pre-pandemic level. The rise was largely in part-time employment with full-time positions continuing to see positive growth in February. Notable job gains were reported in Quebec (113k) and Ontario (100k), as both provinces began easing restrictions in February. The only province to report negative job growth was Newfoundland and Labrador. The national unemployment rate decreased by 1.2 percentage points to 8.2%, which is the lowest rate since March 2020. 

In BC, employment grew by 27k (1.0%, m/m) in February, following a gain of 3k in January. The unemployment rate decreased from 8% to 6.9%, which is the lowest rate the province has recorded since February 2020. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, employment increased by 13.9k (1.0%,m/m), following a rise of 9.0k in the previous month. Compared to one year ago, employment in BC was down by 0.6% (-15K) jobs. 

Although national employment is still 599k below its pre-pandemic level, February's employment gain is a step in the right direction. Today's bounce-back signals that the economy is gaining momentum, as the vaccine rollout enters its next phase and public health restrictions ease. That being said, progress could be thwarted if a third wave of the pandemic forces another round of restrictions.
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The Bank of Canada maintained its overnight rate at 0.25 per cent this morning, a level it considers its effective lower bound. The Bank reiterated what it calls "extraordinary forward guidance" in committing to leaving the overnight rate at 0.25 per cent until slack in the economy is absorbed and inflation sustainably returns to its 2 per cent target. The  Bank projects that will not occur until 2023. The Bank is also continuing its quantitative easing (QE) program, purchasing at least $4 billion of Government of Canada bonds per week. In the statement accompanying the decision, the bank noted that while the near-term outlook for growth is strong, there remains considerable slack in the economy and employment is still well below its pre-COVID levels.  Inflation is expected to move modestly higher, largely reflecting base-year effects and deep price declines in some goods and services at the start of the pandemic.

The Bank of Canada was anticipating a second wave induced contraction of the economy in the first quarter of this year  and so  finds itself somewhat caught off guard by a vastly improved economic outlook and rising long-term bond yields.  The massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan, recently passed by the US Congress and good news on the speed of US vaccinations has prompted a re-set of expectations in financial markets as higher economic growth and inflation gets priced into bond yields. While the Bank has continued its quantitative easing program aimed at holding Canadian long-term interest rates down, there is little it can do to combat the pressure on the Canadian yield curve from rising US long-term interest rates.  Recognizing the much brighter economic outlook,  the Bank may announce a tapering of its QE at its next meeting in April but will stick to its commitment to keep its policy rate on hold until 2023.  That would mean a widening gap between fixed and variable mortgage rates over the next year as fixed mortgage rates rise alongside long-term interest rates.
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The Canadian economy expanded at a 9.6 per cent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2020. Growth was led by increased government spending, business investment and investment in new home construction and renovations as well as a large change in business inventories as large drawdowns of inventory from previous quarters reversed.  For 2020 as a whole, the Canadian economy shrank 5.4 per cent, the steepest decline since quarterly GDP data were first recorded in 1961. Interestingly, the households savings rate registered 12.7 per cent, the third consecutive quarter of double digit saving rate.  Remarkably, total household savings in 2020 matched the cumulative savings of the previous seven years combined. That accumulated savings, and how it gets spent over the next year, will be a key component of what we expect to be a robust economic recovery in 2021. 

Following an unprecedented 2020, we expect the Canadian economy will enjoy two years of very strong growth with the economy expanding by 5 per cent this year and a 4.3 per cent in 2022.  An expected acceleration of vaccinations appears to be on the immediate horizon. As that roll-out progresses, we expect pent-up spending throughout the economy to be unleashed, driving a strong economic recovery. While the Bank of Canada has not changed its commitment to keeping its overnight rate unchanged until 2023, there has been substantial upward pressure on long-term Canadian interest rates as markets price in a faster than expected recovery along with the impact of the $1.9 trillion US COVID-19 relief package.  As 5-year government  bond yields move higher,  5-year fixed mortgage rates have also started to rise from a record low average of 1.8 per cent to a still very low level of 1.95 per cent.  For context, the average 5-year fixed rate prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was about 2.9 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. 

 

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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