Canadian seasonally-adjusted retail sales rose 0.1 per cent to $59.9 billion in February. Despite declining sales at sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers (-5.1 per cent), higher sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores (+15.1 per cent) and gasoline stations (+6.2 per cent) drove the total upwards. Core retail sales, which strips out gasoline and motor vehicle and parts dealers, increased 1.4 per cent in February. In volume terms, sales were down 0.4 per cent. 

In BC, seasonally-adjusted sales declined 0.9 per cent in February. Compared to the same month last year, retail sales were up 0.2 per cent in the province. In the Greater Vancouver region, sales fell 0.7 per cent month-over-month and were up 6 per cent year-over-year. 

In February, Canadian e-commerce sales declined 16 per cent to 2.6 billion. As a result, e-commerce decreased from 6.2 per cent of total retail sales in January to 5.3 per cent in February. This percentage remains elevated relative to pre-pandemic levels.
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Canadian prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), rose 6.7% on a year-over-year basis in March, up from 5.7% in February. This was the largest gain since January 1991 (+6.7%). According to Statistics Canada, price rises were broad-based, with groceries up 8.7% year over year, gasoline up 39.8%, durable goods up 7.3%, restaurants up 5.4%, and shelter costs up 6.8%. Excluding gasoline, the CPI rose 5.5% year over year in March. On a monthly basis, prices were up 1.4%, following an increase of 1% in February. In BC, consumer prices rose 6.0% year-over-year. 

With inflation stubbornly high through the first quarter of the year and unemployment in Canada hitting a record low, the Bank of Canada is now planning to bring its policy rate back to a neutral level, between 1.75 and 2.75 per cent, much faster than previously anticipated. We expect the Bank will continue to tighten until there is clear evidence that inflation and inflation expectations are moderating back to normal levels. This more aggressive policy stance has already been priced into 5-year fixed mortgage rates, which are now on a path to surpassing 4 per cent for the first time in a decade.
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The Bank of Canada raised its overnight policy rate by 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent. This was the first rate increase of more than 0.25 per cent since May 2000. The Bank will also begin so called "quantitative tightening" , meaning it will be shrinking its balance sheet over time, reversing the expansion that occurred in response to the pandemic.  In the statement accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that growth in Canada is strong and the economy is moving into a phase of excess demand with tight labour markets and significant pressure on consumer prices. The Bank expects the Canadian economy will grow 4.25 per cent this year before slowing to 3.25 per cent next year.  On inflation, the Bank anticipates inflation will gradually decline from its current 6 per cent rate to 2.5 per cent by the second half of 2023.  Finally, the Bank signalled that interest rates will need to rise further and that the timing and and pace of future increases will be guided by the Banks ongoing assessment of the economy.

With inflation stubbornly high through the first quarter of the year, exacerbated by the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and unemployment in Canada hitting a record low, the Bank has opted for a more aggressive stance.  Clearly the Bank is now planning to bring its policy rate back to a neutral level, between 1.75 and 2.75 per cent, much faster than previously anticipated. We expect the Bank will continue to tighten until there is clear evidence that inflation and inflation expectations are moderating back to normal levels. This more aggressive policy stance has already been priced into 5-year fixed mortgage rates, which are now on a path to surpassing 4 per cent for the first time in a decade.
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The Canadian economy rose 0.2% in January, up for the eighth consecutive month. Goods-producing sectors rose 0.8% while services-producing industries remained flat on Omicron-related restrictions. Canadian real GDP is roughly 0.4 per cent above its pre-pandemic, February 2020 level. Preliminary estimates suggest that output in the Canadian economy grew 0.8% in February.

With a high preliminary estimate for February, the Canadian economy appears to be on a strong growth path as it emerges from the Omicron-related slowdown. The Bank of Canada has noted that the slack in the Canadian economy is largely absorbed, which is partly why it hiked rates from 0.25% to 0.5% in early March. Amid strong GDP growth and high inflation, the expectation is that the bank will again raise rates at its upcoming announcement on April 13th by another 0.25% or even 0.5%. BCREA forecasts that the bank will continue raising rates until the overnight policy rate reaches 1.75 per cent, the level which prevailed prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
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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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