Will Bank of Canada Raise Prime Lending Rate?

Favourable U.S. data suggests Canadian rate increase

Paul Vieira, Financial Post • Monday, Sept. 6, 2010

OTTAWA • What a difference a week makes in gauging the state of the Canadian economy.

At the start of last week, few market players believed the Bank of Canada would raise its benchmark rate on Wednesday as concern over its largest trading partner, the United States, mounted. The U.S. economy was believed to be on the verge of flirting with a double-dip recession, given the spate of weak economic data traders had grown accustomed to over the summer.

But two key U.S. pieces of August data released last week — the ISM manufacturing index and non-farm payrolls — were better than expected and suggested the North American economic recovery, while sluggish, marches on and is in no real danger of falling into an abyss. This helped trigger a “vicious” sell-off in bonds, in which investors piled in because of fears of a severe economic slowdown.

The result: The probability that Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada governor, will raise interest rates by 25 basis points, to 1%, increased to slightly more than 60% on Friday from less than 50% as of late August.
The good-looking U.S. data “tipped the scale heavily” toward a rate hike, said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Also playing a role was Canadian GDP data for the second quarter, which on the surface appeared tepid — 2% annualized growth, well below the rapid pace recorded in previous quarters. But analysts say the Canadian economy is stronger than the second-quarter headlines indicated, with final domestic demand still advancing at a robust pace. Plus, much of the second-quarter drag was from so-called “import leakage,” in which gains in imports — as firms acquired productivity-enhancing equipment at the fastest pace since 2005 — outstripped exports. Income data also showed wages and salaries grew “a very solid” 4.8% annualized in the three-month period, according to economists at Moody’s Analytics.
“Although growth slowed more than expected in the second quarter, the cause of this slowing does not suggest that there has been significant deterioration in the economy’s overall health,” said John Clinkard, chief Canadian economist at Deutsche Bank.

“Given the surge of investment in new machinery and equipment in the second quarter, that [means] business confidence is strong,” Mr. Clinkard said.

Still, much doubt remains about the health of the United States. The Bank of Canada’s economic outlook, released just two months ago, now appears too optimistic given recent trends. It expected the economy to reach its full potential late next year, but that could be pushed out further with weaker economic indicators in the United States and Canada. Plus, recent data suggest inflation, which ultimately drives the bank’s rate decisions, poses no threat as the key core rate — which strips out volatile-priced items — has slowed for two straight months.

These factors are driving analysts to scale back expectations for rate hikes for the remainder of 2010 and into 2011, predicting the Bank of Canada will pause for a while to see where all the economic dust settles. For instance, Bank of Nova Scotia chief economist Warren Jestin now envisages the central bank moving its benchmark rate no higher than 1.75% next year, or 50 basis points below previous forecasts.

Last week’s U.S. data may have put to rest fears of a double-dip recession, “but we are also tracking a U.S. economy that is nowhere near the pace it needs to be at this stage of the business cycle,” said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC World Markets. The United States still requires “easy monetary policy and a softening in next year’s planned fiscal tightening if it is going to stay out of trouble.”

Even with positive jobs and manufacturing data, the week ended with a bit of a reality check for the U.S. economy with figures showing growth slowing in the service sector, which accounts for 80% of U.S. output.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to refrain from rate hikes for a while — well into 2011, according to most analysts — with the U.S. economy still in a lacklustre state. The Bank of Canada, then, won’t want to raise rates too aggressively ahead of the Fed or risk the Canadian dollar appreciating to levels that start to take a bite out of economic output.

In fact, speculation is that the Fed would inject further liquidity, through another round of securities purchases, before considering a rate hike. But senior Fed policymakers remain divided on that need, with Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, describing fears of deflation and a double-dip recession as “alarmist.”

In addition, Mr. Lockhart said that, despite all the worry, the U.S. economy remained on a “gradual recovery track.”

Read more:

Pam Martin of Invis, Mortgage Broker – Kelowna,Vernon, Penticton, Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada