The Canadian economy contracted for the first time in 12 months in April as monthly real GDP fell 0.3 per cent due to restrictions put in place to contain the third wave of COVID-19. The largest declines were felt in high-touch services sector industries like retail trade and food services.  Output of the real estate sector also dipped in April, though coming off a record month of sales in March.

Many sectors are currently dealing with the complexities of recovering from a pandemic that has produced significant shortages of materials and labour. As a result, there is an adjustment process underway, highlighted by rapidly rising costs, as businesses scramble to recover back to pre-pandemic levels of production and service. That process will continue to create some ups and downs as the economy moves into a post-pandemic environment but the overall trend in the economy is overwhelmingly positive. Statistics Canada estimates that strong growth resumed in May and we anticipate the Canadian economy will expand at a 6 per cent rate this year.  The same is true of the BC economy, where we are tracking economic growth for 2021 at 6.2 per cent.
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Canadian retail sales decreased 5.7% m/m to $54.8 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in April. This was the largest monthly decline since April of last year. Sales declined in 9 of 11 sub-sectors, with the largest declines in clothing and general merchandise. Excluding the more volatile sectors like motor-vehicles and gasoline sales, retail sales were down 7.6% in April. Drops in sales were driven by third wave restrictions implemented across the country in April. One in twenty Canadian retailers were closed for at least one business day in April due to lockdowns.  

In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales declined just 0.2% m/m as COVID-19 cases peaked in the middle of April. Retail sales rose 0.7% m/m in Metro Vancouver. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, BC retail sales were up by 47% compared to the same time last year.   

In April, Canadian e-commerce sales were up 58.7% year-over-year to $4 billion. E-commerce accounted for 7% of total retail sales, up from 6.6% in March. In April of last year, in the midst of the first wave, e-commerce accounted for 10.2% of retail sales. 
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Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), rose to 3.6% year-over-year in May, up from 3.4% in April. This is the highest level since May of 2011. Much of the increase in inflation was the result of base-year effects, as prices remained depressed in May of last year due to pandemic-induced shutdowns. On a seasonally adjusted month-over-month basis, the CPI was up 0.5% in May. The Bank of Canada's preferred measures of core inflation (which strip out volatile elements) rose an average of 0.2% from April, to 2.3% year-over-year. In BC, consumer prices were unchanged month-over-month and down from 3% year-over-year in April to 2.7% year-over-year in May.

While inflation is currently running higher than the Bank of Canada's 2 per cent target, much of the increase looks to be temporary and is likely to fade as base-year effects become less significant in coming months. Base-year effects are now beginning to fall out of the inflation statistics, as April was the CPI's nadir last year. How inflation evolves over the next 3 to 6 months will be very important for the stance of monetary policy over the next year. If higher inflation is not just a temporary phenomenon but is being driven by an over-stimulated economy, than we could see the Bank of Canada act on interest rates prior to 2023. However, if the uptick in inflation starts to fade in coming months, we expect the Bank will stay its current course.
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Vancouver, BC – June 14, 2021. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 12,638 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in May 2021, an increase of 178.2 per cent over May 2020 when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a lockdown of the provincial economy. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $916,340, a 26.2 per cent increase from $726,335 recorded in May 2020. Total sales dollar volume was $11.6 billion, a 251 per cent increase from last year.

“Provincial housing markets continue to calm after peaking in March,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “The implementation of a stricter mortgage stress test in June may have a minor impact on home sales but we expect strong market activity over the second half of the year."

Total active residential listings were down 17 per cent year-over-year in May and dipped lower on a seasonally adjusted basis following two prior months of rising active listings.

“On the supply side, markets in the Lower Mainland are seeing a strong supply response, with new listings rising,” said Ogmundson, “however, new listings in markets outside of Metro Vancouver have started to flatten out.”
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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 the second half of 2022. The Bank is also continuing its quantitative easing (QE) program, purchasing at least $3 billion of Government of Canada bonds per week. In the statement accompanying the decision, the Bank expects that growth should pick up considerably after the second quarter in which growth was hampered by renewed lock-down measures.  On inflation, the Bank expects to see headline CPI growing at near 3 per cent for much of the summer, though largely due to "base-year" effects as prices in the recovery are measured against prices, particularly gasoline prices, from last year during the COVID-19 induced recession.  However, the Bank expects inflation will ease later in the year.

The most recent inflation data, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”), showed a significant uptick of inflation to its highest level in a decade at 3.4 per cent, though largely due to a jump in energy prices compared to the early months of the pandemic. The question of whether higher than usual inflation is a temporary or more persistent is currently one of the most hotly debated topics in economics. The answer has significant implications for the conduct of monetary policy in Canada and therefore the trajectory of Canadian mortgage rates. The prevailing majority view on inflation seems to be tilted toward recent increases being a temporary phenomenon which should settle over the next year. If so, we should see an orderly unwinding of monetary stimulus with a gradual upward trajectory for mortgage rates beginning next year.
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Canadian employment fell by 68,000 jobs in May (-0.4%, m/m), led by a decline of 54,000 in the number of part-time jobs. This was the second consecutive month of declines amid third-wave restrictions, following a drop of 207,000 jobs in April. The level of Canadian employment is now 3.0% (-571k) below its February 2020 pre-pandemic level. The decline was driven by Nova Scotia and Ontario, which implemented stay-at-home orders last month. The unemployment rate rose 0.1% to 8.2%.

In BC, employment fell by 1,900 (-0.1% m/m), following a decline of 43,100 in April. Despite the slight drop in employment, the unemployment rate also fell slightly from 7.1% to 7.0%, due to a decrease in the labour force participation rate (from 65.1% to 64.9%). Job losses slowed in May due to the reopening of many indoor and outdoor activities on May 25th across the province.  

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The BCREA Commercial Leading Indicator (CLI) rose from 144 to 150 in the first quarter of 2021, representing the third consecutive increase as the economy recovered from the COVID-19-induced recession. Compared to the same time last year, the index was up by 15 per cent.


It is important to note that while the economy is posting a very strong recovery, we are still in an abnormal and uncertain environment for commercial real estate. Normally, the type of growth we see reflected in the CLI would imply an improvement in demand for retail and office space. However, the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health restrictions are driving a wedge between what we see in the data and what is being experienced on the ground.

A 12 per cent jump in manufacturing activity, largely due to surging demand and prices for wood products, and a 6 per cent increase in wholesale trade activity were the main contributors from the economic activity component of the CLI.


Employment in key commercial real estate sectors such as finance, insurance, real estate (FIRE) and leasing increased by about 13,000 jobs in the first quarter. While our office employment measure is now at an all-time high, it is unclear what the implications are for office space demand given the uncertainty around the near-term outlook for a return to traditional office environments. Despite very strong sales activity, manufacturing employment fell by about 6,500 jobs. That decline may be a temporary phenomenon owing to the third wave of COVID-19 and its impact on manufacturing work.


The CLI’s financial component was positive in the first quarter of 2021, as REIT prices rose to their highest level since the fourth quarter of 2019 and risk spreads continued to narrow.

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The Canadian economy expanded at a 5.6 per cent annual rate in the first quarter of 2021, including very strong growth in March. However, restrictions due to the third wave of the pandemic point to a minor contraction of output in the month of April before getting back on track for the rest of the year. Growth was led by a 9.4 per cent increase in housing investment, which led the overall recovery, rising 26.5 per cent since the first quarter of last year. Household spending  was up 0.7 per cent in the first quarter or about 2.7 per cent on an annualized basis as household disposable income rose for the first time following two consecutive declines .  Households continue to save at historically high rates during the pandemic. The national household savings rate rose to 13.1 per cent  in the first quarter of 2021, more than double the savings rate this time last year. As vaccinations continue a strong ascent, we expect the Canadian economy to record about 6 per cent growth this year.

The Canadian economy is enjoying strong growth and that growth should continue through most of this year as ramped up vaccinations combine with pent-up demand and unprecedented household savings.  While strong economic growth this year is a near certainty, what is less certain is the impact that growth may have on inflation and therefore the direction of the Bank of Canada. Most view the recent increase in inflation as a temporary phenomenon driven mainly by "base-year" and other transitory effects. While there is some risk that an over-stimulated economy may be more inflationary than currently believed, there remains considerable slack in the Canadian economy and financial markets remain unconvinced that the economy is headed for markedly higher inflation. That has left government bond yields and fixed mortgage rates  low and stable for the past several months.

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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. 


Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.


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. 


Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.


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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