28 Mar

Canada’s Federal Budget Describes a Deteriorating Fiscal Outlook and Slowing Economy – March 28 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 28 2023

Federal Budget 2023…Press the Snooze Button

As promised, there would be nothing much in this year’s budget for fear of stimulating inflation. The federal government faces a challenging fiscal environment and a weakening economy. Ottawa promised it would err on the side of restraint. Instead, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a $43 billion increase in net new government spending over six years. The new expenditures focus on bolstering the rickety healthcare system, keeping up with the US on new clean-technology incentives, and helping low-income Canadians to deal with rising prices and a slower economy.

Tax revenues are expected to slow with the weaker economy. The result is a much higher deficit each year through 2028 and no prospect of a balanced budget over the five-year horizon.

The budget outlines significant increases to healthcare spending, including more cash for provincial governments announced earlier this year and a $13-billion dental-care plan that Trudeau’s Liberals promised in exchange for support in parliament from the New Democratic Party.

Freeland is also announcing substantial new green incentive programs to compete with the Inflation Reduction Act signed into US law last year by President Joe Biden. The most significant new subsidy in the budget is an investment tax credit for clean electricity producers. Still, it also includes credits for carbon capture systems, hydrogen production, and clean-energy manufacturing.

The budget promises $31.3 billion in new healthcare spending and $20.9 billion in new green incentive spending by 2028. On top of that is $4.5 billion in affordability measures, half of which is for an extension of a sales tax credit for low-income Canadians.

The spending is partially offset by tax increases on financial institutions and wealthy Canadians and a pledge to reduce government spending on travel and outside consultants. Freeland is planning to raise billions of dollars from banks and insurance companies by changing the tax rules for dividends they get from Canadian firms. The new tax will apply to shares held as mark-to-market assets, not dividends paid from one subsidiary to another.

Wealthy Canadians pay the alternative minimum or regular tax, whichever is higher. The government announced in the budget that it is increasing the alternative minimum rate to 20.5 percent from 15 percent starting in 2024. Ottawa is also imposing new limits on many exemptions, deductions and credits that apply under the system beginning in 2024.

“We’re making sure the very wealthy and our biggest corporations pay their fair share of taxes, so we can afford to keep taxes low for middle-class families,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in the prepared text of her remarks.

Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio will worsen next year, despite the government’s reliance on this measure as a fiscal anchor. Debt-to-GDP will rise from 42.4% to 43.5% next year and is projected to decline very slowly over the next five years.

Not Much for Affordable Housing

The budget included a laundry list of measures the federal government has taken to make housing more affordable for Canadians. 

Budget 2023 announces the government’s intention to support the reallocation of funding from the National Housing Co-Investment Fund’s repair stream to its new construction stream, as needed, to boost the construction of new affordable homes for the Canadians who need them most.

But there was one initiative tucked away in a Backgrounder entitled “An Affordable Place to Call Home.” I am quoting this directly from the budget:

A Code of Conduct to Protect Canadians with Existing Mortgages

“Elevated interest rates have made it harder for some Canadians to make their mortgage payments, particularly for those with variable rate mortgages. 

  • That is why the federal government, through the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, is publishing a guideline to protect Canadians with mortgages who are facing exceptional circumstances. Specifically, the government is taking steps to ensure that federally regulated financial institutions provide Canadians with fair and equitable access to relief measures that are appropriate for the circumstances they are facing, including by extending amortizations, adjusting payment schedules, or authorizing lump-sum payments. Existing mortgage regulations may also allow lenders to provide a temporary mortgage amortization extension—even past 25 years.

This guideline will ensure that Canadians are treated fairly and have equitable access to relief, without facing unnecessary penalties, internal bank fees, or interest charges, which will help more Canadians afford the impact of elevated interest rates.”

We will see what OSFI has to say about this, as the details are always of paramount importance. OSFI is scheduled to announce potential changes to banking regulation to reduce bank risk. We’ve heard a lot about banking risks in recent weeks.

The budget also reduced the legal limit on interest rates.  The government intends to lower the criminal rate of interest from 47% (annual percentage rate) to 35%. According to the law firm Cassels, “’Interest’ is defined broadly under the Code and includes all charges and expenses in any form, including fees, fines, penalties, and commissions.”

Bottom Line

While this was not one of the more exciting budgets, it is important that our debt-to-GDP ratio is low in comparison to other G-7 countries. It is good news that Ottawa recognizes the financial burdens facing homeowners with VRMs. If the banks can extend remaining amortizations when borrowers renew, the pressure on their pocketbooks will be markedly lower.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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21 Mar

Canada’s Headline Inflation Cools in February – March 21 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 21 2023

Further Decline in Inflation in February Will Keep the Bank of Canada On Hold in April

All eyes will be on the Federal Reserve tomorrow when they decide whether to hold rates steady because of the banking crisis or raise the overnight rate by 25 basis points (bps). Before the run on Silicon Valley Bank, markets were betting the Fed would go a full 50 bps tomorrow, as Chairman Powell intimated to the House and Senate.

Since then, three bank failures in the US as well as the UBS absorption of troubled Credit Suisse, have caused interest rates to plummet, bank stocks to plunge, and credit conditions to tighten. Many worry that rate increases will exacerbate a volatile situation, but others believe the Fed should continue the inflation fight and use Fed lending to provide liquidity to financial institutions.

Relative calm has been restored thanks to the provision of huge sums of emergency cash by lenders of last resort–the central banks–and some of the US industry’s strongest players.

While Canadian bank stocks have also been hit, the banks themselves are in far better shape than the weaker institutions in the US. Our banks are more tightly regulated, have much more plentiful Tier 1 capital, and their outstanding loans and depositors are far more diversified.

This morning, Statistics Canada released the February Consumer Price Index (CPI). Headline inflation fell more than expected to 5.2% from 5.9% in January. This was the largest deceleration in the headline CPI since the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020.

The year-over-year deceleration in February 2023 was due to a base-year effect for the second consecutive month, which is attributable to a steep monthly increase in prices in February 2022 (+1.0%).

Excluding food and energy, prices were up 4.8% year over year in February 2023, following a 4.9% gain in January, while the all-items excluding mortgage interest cost rose 4.7% after increasing 5.4% in January.

On a monthly basis, the CPI was up 0.4% in February, following a 0.5% gain in January. Compared with January, Canadians paid more in mortgage interest costs in February, partially offset by a decline in energy prices. On a seasonally adjusted monthly basis, the CPI rose 0.1%.

While inflation has slowed in recent months, having increased by 1.2% compared with 6 months ago, prices remain elevated. Compared with 18 months ago, for example, inflation has increased by 8.3%.

Food prices continued to rise sharply–up 10.6% y/y, marking the seventh consecutive month of double-digit increases. Supply constraints amid unfavourable weather in growing regions and higher input costs such as animal feed, energy and packaging materials continue to put upward pressure on grocery prices.
Price growth for some food items such as cereal products (+14.8%), sugar and confectionary (+6.0%) and fish, seafood and other marine products (+7.4%) accelerated on a year-over-year basis in February.

Prices for fruit juices were up 15.7% year over year in February, following a 5.2% gain in January. The increase was led by higher prices for orange juice, as the supply of oranges has been impacted by citrus greening disease and climate-related events, such as Hurricane Ian.

In February, energy prices fell 0.6% year over year, following a 5.4% increase in January. Gasoline prices (-4.7%) led the drop, the first yearly decline since January 2021. The year-over-year decrease in gasoline prices is partly the result of a base-year effect, as prices began to rise rapidly in the early months of 2022 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Shelter costs rose at a slower pace year-over-year for the third consecutive month, rising 6.1% in February after an increase of 6.6% in January. The homeowners’ replacement cost index, related to the price of new homes, slowed on a year-over-year basis in February (+3.3%) compared with January (+4.3%). Other owned accommodation expenses (+0.2%), which include commissions on the sale of real estate, also decelerated in February. These movements reflect a general cooling of the housing market.

Conversely, the mortgage interest cost index increased at a faster rate year over year in February (+23.9%) compared with January (+21.2%), the fastest pace since July 1982. The increase occurred amid a higher interest rate environment.

Bottom Line

The Bank of Canada is no doubt delighted that inflation continues to cool. Canada’s inflation rate is low compared to the US at 6.0% last month, the UK at 10.1%, the Euro Area at 8.5%, and Australia at 7.2%.

The Bank was already in pause mode and will likely stay there when they meet again in April.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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15 Mar

Canadian Housing Appears To Be Close To Bottoming – March 15 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 15 2023

Housing Market Could Be Poised For A Spring Rebound

The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in February bounced 2.3% from the previous month. Homeowners and buyers were comforted by the guidance from the Bank of Canada that it would likely pause rate hikes for the first time in a year.

The Canadian aggregate benchmark home price dropped 1.1% in February, the smallest month-to-month decline of rapid interest rate increases in the past year. The unprecedented surge in the overnight policy rate,  from a mere 25 bps to 450 bps, has not only slowed housing–the most interest-sensitive of all spending–but has now destabilized global financial markets.

In the past week, three significant US regional financial institutions have failed, causing the Fed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Treasury to take dramatic action to assure customers that all money in both insured and uninsured deposits would be refunded and the Fed would provide a financial backstop to all financial institutions.

Stocks plunged on Monday as the flight to the safe haven of Treasuries and other government bonds drove shorter-term interest rates down by unprecedented amounts. With the US government’s reassurance that the failures would be ring-fenced, markets moderately reversed some of Monday’s movements.

But today, another bogeyman, Credit Suisse, rocked markets again, taking bank stocks and interest rates down even further. All it took was a few stern words from Credit Suisse Group AG’s biggest shareholder on Wednesday to spark a selloff that spread like wildfire across global markets.

Credit Suisse’s shares plummeted 24% in the biggest one-day selloff on record. Its bonds fell to levels that signal deep financial distress, with securities due in 2026 dropping 20 cents to 67.5 cents on the dollar in New York. That puts their yield over 20 percentage points above US Treasuries.

For global investors still, on edge after the rapid-fire collapse of three regional US banks, the growing Credit Suisse crisis provided a new reason to sell risky assets and pile into the safety of government bonds. This kind of volatility unearths all the investors’ and institutions’ missteps. Panic selling is never a good thing, and traders are scrambling to safety, which means government bond yields plunge, gold prices surge, and households typically freeze all discretionary spending and significant investments. This, alone, can trigger a recession, even when labour markets are exceptionally tight and job vacancies are unusually high.

Canadian bank stocks have been sideswiped despite their much tighter regulatory supervision. Fears of contagion and recession persist. Job #1 for the central banks is to calm markets, putting inflation fighting on the back burner until fears have ceased.

Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, reminded us yesterday that previous cycles of rapid interest rate tightening “led to spectacular financial flameouts” like the bankruptcy of Orange County, Calif., in 1994, he wrote, and the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ’90s. “We don’t know yet whether the consequences of easy money and regulatory changes will cascade throughout the US regional banking sector (akin to the S.&L. crisis) with more seizures and shutdowns coming,” he said.

So it is against that backdrop that we discuss Canadian housing. The past year’s surge in borrowing costs triggered one of the record’s fastest declines in Canadian home prices. Sales were up in February, the markets tightened, and the month-over-month price decline slowed.

New Listings 

The number of newly listed homes dropped 7.9% month-over-month in February, led by double-digit declines in several large markets, particularly in Ontario.

With new listings falling considerably and sales increasing in February, the sales-to-new listings ratio jumped to 58.4%, the tightest since last April. The long-term average for this measure is 55.1%.

There were 4.1 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of February 2023, down from 4.2 months at the end of January. It was the first time the measure had shown any sign of tightening since the fall of 2021. It’s also a whole month below its long-term average.

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) was down 1.1% month-over-month in February 2023, only about half the decline recorded the month before and the smallest month-over-month drop since last March.

The Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI sits 15.8% below its peak in February 2022.

Looking across the country, prices are down from peak levels by more than they are nationally in most parts of Ontario and a few parts of British Columbia and down by less elsewhere. While prices have softened to some degree almost everywhere, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and St. John’s stand out as markets where home prices are barely off their peaks. Prices began to stabilize last fall in the Maritimes. Some markets in Ontario seem to be doing the same now.

The table below shows the decline in MLS-HPI benchmark home prices in Canada and selected cities since prices peaked a year ago when the Bank of Canada began hiking interest rates. More details follow in the second table below. The most significant price dips are in the GTA, Ottawa, and the GVA, where the price gains were spectacular during the Covid-shutdown.

Despite these significant declines, prices remain roughly 28% above pre-pandemic levels.

Bottom Line

Last month I wrote, “The Bank of Canada has promised to pause rate hikes assuming inflation continues to abate. We will not see any action in March. But the road to 2% inflation will be a bumpy one. I see no likelihood of rate cuts this year, and we might see further rate increases. Markets are pricing in additional tightening moves by the Fed.

There is no guarantee that interest rates in Canada have peaked. We will be closely monitoring the labour market and consumer spending.”

Given the past week’s events, all bets are off regarding central bank policy until and unless market volatility abates and fears of a global financial crisis diminish dramatically. Although the overnight policy rates have not changed, market-driven interest rates have fallen precipitously, which implies the markets fear recession and uncontrolled mayhem. As I said earlier, job #1 for the Fed and other central banks now is to calm these fears. Until that happens, inflation-fighting is not even a close second. I hope it happens soon because what is happening now is not good for anyone.

Judging from experience, this could ultimately be a monumental buying opportunity for the stocks of all the well-managed financial institutions out there. But beware, markets are impossible to time, and being too early can be as painful as missing out.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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14 Mar

Three US Banks Fail and Markets Freak Out – March 14 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 14 2023

US Policymakers Take Emergency Action To Protect Depositors At Failed Banks

Silicon Valley Bank (SVP) had a sterling reputation among the many tech start-ups it helped to finance. What brought SVB down was an old-fashioned bank run set off in 2021 by a series of bad decisions.

That year, the stock market boomed, interest rates were near zero, and the tech sector was flush with cash. Many start-ups held their working capital and other cash at SVB. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based lender saw total deposits mushroom to nearly $200 billion by March 2022, up from more than $60 billion two years earlier.

The bank invested much of that cash in long-dated Treasury bonds–normally considered a blue-chip investment. If held to maturity, the full value of the initial investment would have been returned to the bank. However, interest rates have risen dramatically since last March, causing the price of those bonds marked-to-market to decline precipitously. SVB risked large losses if it had to liquidate its securities portfolio.

This created a massive mismatch between the value of the deposits and its bond holdings. Moreover, this was not initially transparent to the depositors thanks to a 2018 relaxation of banking regulation much-favoured by SVB’s CEO. Regional banks were no longer required to mark their assets to market, nor were they required to succumb to the regular stress testing by the federal regulator where they prove they could survive black swan events. In addition, capital requirements became easier for these institutions.

In 2018, Trump eased oversight of small and regional lenders when he signed a sweeping measure designed to lower their costs of complying with regulations. An action in May 2018 lifted the threshold for being considered systemically important — a label imposing requirements including annual stress testing — to $250 billion in assets, up from $50 billion.
SVB had just crested $50 billion at the time. By early 2022, it swelled to $220 billion, ultimately ranking as the 16th-largest US bank.

In 2015, SVB Chief Executive Officer Greg Becker urged the government to increase the threshold, arguing it would otherwise lead to higher customer costs and “stifle our ability to provide credit to our clients.” He said that with a core business of traditional banking — taking deposits and lending to growing companies — SVB doesn’t pose systemic risks.

Another unique problem for SVB was the unusual concentration of deposits from certain types of clients. SVB’s depositors were heavily concentrated in the tight-knit world of start-ups and venture capitalists (VCs). In the past few weeks, VCs, founders, and other wealthy customers on social media and in private chats started discussing concerns that SVB could no longer pay its depositors. Some began to move their money out of the bank, triggering a loss of confidence and a run on the bank. 

A Rapid Fall

On Friday,  Silicon Valley Bank became the biggest US bank to fail since the 2008 financial crisis.

Another beneficiary of easing regulatory oversight of small and midsize regional banks was New York-based Signature Bank, which also suffered a massive withdrawal of deposits. On Sunday, regulators shut down Signature, fearing that sudden mass withdrawals of deposits had left it on dangerous footing. 

The back-to-back bank failures unnerved investors, customers and regulators, harkening back to the financial crisis in 2008, which toppled hundreds of banks, led to enormous taxpayer-financed bailouts, and sent the US and many other countries into a severe recession.  

Canada, on the other hand, escaped much of the pain, experiencing a mild short recession. Although Canadian bank stocks plunged, our banking system was lauded worldwide as a regulatory example for the rest of the world. 

Regulators Rush to Forestall Widespread Bank Runs

US Federal regulators scrambled to defuse the situation over the weekend, announcing on Sunday that all depositors would be paid back in full.

The Federal Reserve, Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced in a joint statement that “depositors will have access to all of their money starting Monday, March 13.” To assuage concerns about who would bear the costs, the agencies said that “no losses associated with the resolution of Silicon Valley Bank will be borne by the taxpayer.”

The agencies also said they would make whole depositors at Signature Bank, which the government disclosed was shut down on Sunday by New York bank regulators. The state officials said the move came “in light of market events, monitoring market trends, and collaborating closely with other state and federal regulators” to protect consumers and the financial system.

The President said on Sunday and Monday, “I am pleased that they reached a prompt solution that protects American workers and small businesses and keeps our financial system safe. The solution also ensures that taxpayer dollars are not put at risk.”

He added: “I am firmly committed to holding those responsible for this mess fully accountable and to continuing our efforts to strengthen oversight and regulation of larger banks so that we are not in this position again.”

The collapse of Signature marks the third significant bank failure within a week. Silvergate, a California-based bank that made loans to cryptocurrency companies, announced last Wednesday that it would cease operations and liquidate its assets.

Amid the wreckage, the Fed also announced that it would set up an emergency lending program, with approval from the Treasury, to funnel funding to eligible banks and help ensure that they can “meet the needs of all their depositors.”

The additional funding will be made available through the creation of a new Bank Term Funding Program (BTFP), offering loans of up to one year in length to banks, savings associations, credit unions, and other eligible depository institutions pledging U.S. Treasuries, agency debt and mortgage-backed securities, and other qualifying assets as collateral. These assets will be valued at par. The BTFP will be an additional source of liquidity against high-quality securities, eliminating an institution’s need to quickly sell those securities in times of stress.

The F.D.I.C. is usually supposed to clean up a failed bank in the cheapest way possible, but regulators agreed that the situation posed a risk to the financial system, which allowed them to invoke an exception to that rule. The regulator will tap the Deposit Insurance Fund, which comes from fees paid by the banking industry, to ensure it can pay back depositors.

The agencies said that “any losses to the Deposit Insurance Fund to support uninsured depositors will be recovered by a special assessment on banks, as required by law.”

Monday’s Market Meltdown

Not surprisingly, the stock markets around the world opened sharply lower on Monday. The previous day, Goldman Sachs said that any Fed rate hikes were off the table for March 22 (I disagree). Bank stocks and energy stocks were hardest hit in virtually all markets. On the other hand, bonds surged, taking interest rates down sharply. 

When banks collapse, others sometimes fear their banks and investments will follow. Even healthy banks don’t keep enough cash to pay out all depositors. So, if too many people panic at once and pull out their money — a classic bank run — it could lead to broader financial and economic calamity. And that is what the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve are trying to stop: a financial crisis prompted mainly by plunging confidence.

Canada’s Banks Are In Much Better Shape

Although most Canadian bank stocks plunged on Monday, the regulatory environment is far tighter than in the US. Moreover, Canadian banks are dominated by the Big Six rather than the thousands of banks in the US. They have nationwide branch networks with a large diversified base of clients with less exposure to technology, fewer deposit runoff issues and higher ratios of loans to deposits. 

There is much less hot money coming into the Canadian banks than the small and midsize regional lenders in the US that focus on a specific niche part of the loan and deposit markets. Canadian banks are also much better capitalized. 

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland met with Canada’s superintendent of federal financial institutions, Peter Routledge, one day after his office announced it had seized control of SVB Financial Group’s branch in Canada.  

SVB’s Canadian arm is unusual because it has a license to lend but cannot take deposits. While some Canadian startups had deposited with the bank’s U.S. arm, the Canadian operation held no client money.

SVB is a small lender in Canada. The tech financer had US$692 million in assets and US$349 million in outstanding loans in Canada as of December, according to OSFI filings. CIBC had $2.9 billion in loans through its innovation banking arm as of October 31, 2021. A bank looking to bolster its lending to startups could scoop up SVB’s loan book at a steep discount.

Yields in Canada fell sharply, following the Treasury market’s lead. Investors reversed course and bet the Bank of Canada will start cutting rates soon. 

OSFI has already taken action to monitor daily the liquidity of Canadian banks in the wake of the SVB failure.

Bottom Line

Goldman Sachs was virtually alone when it said it expects the central bank to pass up the chance to hike interest rates next week. Markets still expect the Fed to keep up its inflation-fighting efforts, despite high-profile bank failures that have rattled the financial system. Traders on Monday assigned an 85% probability of a 0.25 percentage point interest rate increase when the Federal Open Market Committee meets March 21-22.

Surging bond yields played into the demise of SVB in particular as the bank faced some $16 billion in unrealized losses from held-to-maturity Treasurys that had lost principal value due to higher rates.

Is this enough to qualify as the kind of break that would have the Fed pivot? The market overall doesn’t think so.

For a brief period last week, markets were expecting a 0.50-point move following remarks from Fed Chair Jay Powell indicating the central bank was concerned about recent hot inflation data (see chart below).

Bank of America and Citigroup said they expect the Fed to make the quarter-point move, likely followed by a few more. Moreover, even though Goldman said it figures the Fed will skip a hike in March, it still is looking for quarter-point increases in May, June and July.

Next week’s meeting is a big one in that the FOMC will not only decide on rates but also update its projections for the future, including its outlook for GDP, unemployment and inflation.

The Fed will get its final look at inflation metrics this week when the Labor Department releases its February consumer price index on Tuesday and the producer price counterpart on Wednesday. A New York Fed survey released Monday showed that one-year inflation expectations plummeted during the month.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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13 Mar

March 2023 Insights

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 2023

The Bank of Canada was the first major central bank to hit the pause button on rate hikes in late January. Given the slowdown in inflation in the recently released January CPI, The Bank of Canada refrained from hiking interest rates this month. 

That is welcome news for homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages whose rate has risen 425 basis points in less than a year.

Variable-rate mortgage holders with a fixed payment have largely hit their trigger points if they bought in the past couple of years. While their monthly payments have not risen, many are not covering the higher interest costs on their mortgages. Hence their principal outstanding is rising. Little is known about how the lenders will handle that when it comes time to renew.

Housing starts also plunged 13% month over month in January.

Bank earnings are under pressure with higher taxes and capital requirements, and the federal financial institution regulator is looking to tighten mortgage terms somehow. More will be known in mid-April when the comment period is over.

Other sectors of the economy remain relatively robust. Labour markets continue to be very tight as the unemployment rate is near record lows, and job vacancies—though down a bit—remain high. This has boosted consumer spending despite inflation.

We expect a soft landing in the Canadian economy this year—a mild contraction in Canada in 2023 Q2-Q3. This is one quarter later than the Bank of Canada projected in their most recent Monetary Policy Report.

The economy is resilient, and inflation is falling, but the central bank is unlikely to cut rates this year. When rates begin to fall in 2024, they will remain well above the pre-pandemic level of a mere 1.75% for the overnight policy rate. Inflation in the decade before the pandemic averaged less than 2%. Over the next decade, inflation is likely to be higher, especially as on-shoring and the reduction in globalization will be much less disinflationary.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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10 Mar

Blockbuster Canadian Jobs Report For February Throws Rate Pause Into Question – March 10 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 10 2023

Canadian Labour Market Jeopardizes Rate Pause

Today’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) for February was much stronger than expected, questioning how long the Bank of Canada’s rate pause can last. Following the 150,000 jobs gain in January, economists expected a small increase of 10,000 positions and a jobless rate of 5.1%. Instead, the economy added 21,800 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate held steady at 5%, near a record low.

This marked the sixth consecutive month of job creation, taking the total employment gains since September to 348,000. Governor Tiff Macklem has repeatedly commented that the jobs market is overheated and surprisingly strong. The intention of his pause in rate hikes is to assess the impact of the cumulative rise in interest rates on the Canadian economy. While some sectors have slowed–housing, business investment and inventories–the labour market continues to churn out jobs, and job vacancies remain high. 

Much of the job creation was in health care and social assistance. The number of vacancies in the industry has remained elevated as unmet labour demand moderated in other industries. Government employment also added to the hiring. 

In contrast, employment fell in Business, building and other support services. Following a notable increase at the start of the year, employment was little changed in wholesale and retail trade. The number of construction workers was little changed, following two consecutive monthly gains in December and January.

Also troubling to the Bank of Canada was the rise in wage inflation. On a year-over-year basis, average hourly wages rose 5.4%, the strongest pace since November. 

The unemployment rate held steady at 5.0% in February, just shy of the record-low 4.9% observed in June and July of 2022.

US Payrolls Also Top Estimates

With money markets assigning even odds to a rate increase of 50 basis points at the March Fed policy meeting, evidence of enduring labour strength would heap pressure on policymakers to persevere with jumbo hikes and make good on warnings that rates may need to be steeper and go on longer to tame inflation. US payrolls rose in February by more than expected while a broad measure of monthly wage growth slowed, offering a mixed picture as the Federal Reserve considers whether to increase interest-rate hikes.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.6% as the labour force grew, and monthly wages rose at the slowest pace in a year. Average hourly earnings climbed 4.6% from a year ago. That said, wages for production and nonsupervisory workers — which make up the majority of US workers and aren’t in management positions — advanced 0.5% m/m, the biggest gain in three months and primarily driven by service industries.

Bottom Line

For the US, the employment gain was so far above expectations that it opened the way for the Fed to raise the overnight fed funds rate by 50 bps–despite several signs of softening in the report.

In this environment, the Bank of Canada will wait for the incoming inflation and economic data to assess their decision to pause rate hikes. No doubt, the Canadian dollar will be volatile. Policymakers view wage pressures running in the range of 4% to 5% as inconsistent with getting inflation back to the 2% target. Stay tuned.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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8 Mar

Bank of Canada Pauses Rate Hikes As US Fed Promises Further Tightening – March 8 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

MARCH 8 2023

The Bank of Canada Holds Rates Steady Even As the Fed Promises to Push Higher

As expected, the central bank held the overnight rate at 4.5%, ending, for now, the eight consecutive rate increases over the past year. The Bank is also continuing its policy of quantitative tightening. This is the first pause among major central banks.

Economic growth ground to a halt in the fourth quarter of 2022, lower than the Bank projected. “With consumption, government spending and net exports all increasing, the weaker-than-expected GDP was largely because of a sizeable slowdown in inventory investment.” The surge in interest rates has markedly slowed housing activity. “Restrictive monetary policy continues to weigh on household spending, and business investment has weakened alongside slowing domestic and foreign demand.”

In contrast, the labour market remains very tight. “Employment growth has been surprisingly strong, the unemployment rate remains near historic lows, and job vacancies are elevated.” Wages continue to grow at 4%-to-5%, while productivity has declined.

“Inflation eased to 5.9% in January, reflecting lower price increases for energy, durable goods and some services. Price increases for food and shelter remain high, causing continued hardship for Canadians.” With weak economic growth for the next few quarters, the Bank of Canada expects pressure in product and labour markets to ease. The central bank believes this should moderate wage growth and increase competitive pressures, making it more difficult for businesses to pass on higher costs to consumers.

In sum, the statement suggests the Bank of Canada sees the economy evolving as expected in its January forecasts. “Overall, the latest data remains in line with the Bank’s expectation that CPI inflation will come down to around 3% in the middle of this year,” policymakers said.

However, year-over-year measures of core inflation ticked down to about 5%, and 3-month measures are around 3½%. Both will need to come down further, as will short-term inflation expectations, to return inflation to the 2% target.

Today’s press release says, “Governing Council will continue to assess economic developments and the impact of past interest rate increases and is prepared to increase the policy rate further if needed to return inflation to the 2% target. The Bank remains resolute in its commitment to restoring price stability for Canadians.”

Most economists believe the Bank of Canada will hold the overnight rate at 4.5% for the remainder of this year and begin cutting interest rates in 2024. A few even think that rate cuts will begin late this year.

In Congressional testimony yesterday and today, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said that the Fed might need to hike interest rates to higher levels and leave them there longer than the market expects. Today’s news of the Bank of Canada pause triggered a further dip in the Canadian dollar (see charts below). 

Fed officials next meet on March 21-22, when they will update quarterly economic forecasts. In December, they saw rates peaking around 5.1% this year. Investors upped their bets that the Fed could raise interest rates by 50 basis points when it gathers later this month instead of continuing the quarter-point pace from the previous meeting. They also saw the Fed taking rates higher, projecting that the Fed’s policy benchmark will peak at around 5.6% this year.

Bottom Line

The widening divergence between the Bank of Canada and the Fed will trigger further declines in the Canadian dollar. This, in and of itself, raises the Canadian prices of commodities and imports from the US. This ups the ante for the Bank of Canada.

The Bank is scheduled to make its next announcement on the policy rate on April 12, just days before OSFI announces its next move to tighten mortgage-related regulations on federally supervised financial institutions.

To be sure, the Canadian economy is more interest-rate sensitive than the US.  Nevertheless, as Powell said, “Inflation is coming down, but it’s very high. Some part of the high inflation that we are experiencing is very likely related to a very tight labour market.”

If that is true for the US, it is likely true for Canada. I do not expect any rate cuts in Canada this year, and the jury is still out on whether the peak policy rate this cycle will be 4.5%.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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28 Feb

Canadian GDP Slowed Dramatically in Q4 2022, Another Reason the BoC Won’t Raise Rates in March – February 28 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

FEBRUARY 28 2023

Bad News Is Good News for the Bank of Canada

Statistics Canada released the real gross domestic product (GDP) figure for the final quarter of 2022 this morning, showing a marked slowdown in economic activity. This will undoubtedly keep the central bank on the sidelines when they announce their decision on March 8. The Bank had estimated the Q4 growth rate to be 1.3%. Instead, the economy was flat in Q4 at a 0.0% growth rate. This was the slowest quarterly growth pace since the second quarter of 2021.

Inventory accumulation in the fourth quarter declined for manufacturing and retail goods, driving investment in inventories to decline by $29.8 billion. Further, higher interest rates by the Bank of Canada hampered investment in housing (-8.8% at an annual rate), and business investment in machinery and equipment was a weak -5.5%. On the other hand, personal expenditure in the Canadian economy expanded by 2.0% (vs -0.4% in Q3), supported by the red-hot labour market. Government spending growth also accelerated. At the same time, net foreign demand contributed positively to GDP growth as exports grew by 0.8% while imports shrank by 12.0%.

The weak Q4 result reduced the full-year gain in GDP for 2022 to 3.4%, compared to 2.1% in the US, 4.0% in the UK, and 3.6% in the Euro area. 

The January GDP flash estimate was +0.3%, pointing towards a rebound in the first quarter of this year. However, flash estimates are always volatile and subject to revision. Nevertheless, the growth in GDP this year will likely be much more moderate, less than 1%.

Bottom Line

The weakness in today’s economic data will be good news to the Bank of Canada, having promised a pause in rate hikes to assess the impact of the cumulative rise in interest rates over the past year. Today’s GDP report and the slowdown in the January CPI inflation numbers portend no interest rate hike on March 8. 

Now the Bank will be looking for a softening in the labour market.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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21 Feb

Canadian Inflation Slows in January Assuring a Rate Pause At March 8th BoC Meeting – February 21 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

FEBRUARY 21 2023

Further Decline in Inflation in January Affirms Bank of Canada Pause in March

Canadian inflation decelerated meaningfully in January despite the continued strength in the economy. Labour markets remain very tight, and retail sales continue strong. Nevertheless, the Bank of Canada’s jumbo rate hikes over the past eleven months have tempered inflation from a June ’22 peak of 8.1% y/y to 5.9% in January. 

The 3-month average growth in the Bank of Canada’s preferred median and trim inflation measures – designed to look through volatility in individual product prices to better gauge underlying price pressures – are running at around 3.5% on a three-month annualized basis. That’s still above the BoC’s 2% inflation target but is well below peak levels last year. 

Prices for cellular services and passenger vehicles contributed to the deceleration in the all-items CPI. However, mortgage interest costs and food prices continue to rise.

Last month, inflation excluding food and energy, rose 4.9% y/y. Prices excluding mortgage interest costs rose 5.4%. In both cases, year-over-year price growth was slower than in December. Some of the decline in inflation was due to base-year effects. In January 2022, mounting tensions amid the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, coupled with supply chain disruptions and higher housing prices, put upward pressure on prices.

Monthly, the CPI rose 0.5% in January 2023, following a 0.6% decline in December. Higher gasoline prices contributed the most to the month-over-month increase, followed by a rise in mortgage interest costs and meat prices.

Another critical factor in today’s data is that inflation in services eased to 5.3% from 5.6%.

Food prices, however, remain elevated in January (+10.4%) compared to 10.1% in December. Grocery price acceleration in January was partly driven by year-over-year growth in meat prices (+7.3%), resulting from the most significant month-over-month increase since June 2004. Food purchased from restaurants also rose faster, rising 8.2% in January following a 7.7% increase in December. 

Bottom Line

The Bank of Canada must feel pretty good about today’s inflation numbers. They confirm the wisdom of their announced pause in rate hikes at the January meeting. Despite continued strength in the labour market and January retail sales, headline and core inflation measures have declined again, with a five handle now on the headline rate. That is still a long way to the 3.0% inflation forecast by the end of this year, but it is moving in the right direction. 

There will be no BoC action when they meet again on March 8. Their press release will be scrutinized for a hawkish versus dovish tone. Regardless of upcoming data, there is virtually no chance of any rate cuts this year.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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15 Feb

Canadian Housing Market Remains Weak – February 15 2023

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Posted by: Matthew J. Charlton

FEBRUARY 15 2023

December Housing Data Ended 2022 on a Weak Note

The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in January were the lowest for the month since 2009 and fell 37.1% from a year ago. The Canadian housing market has been sliding for eleven consecutive months as the unprecedented rise in interest rates–up from 25 basis points to 4.5% for the policy rate–has moved buyers to the sidelines. This is an abrupt reversal in the fevered pace of home sales during the pandemic.

The rapid rise in interest rates, designed to combat inflation, has driven many buyers to the sidelines. Higher borrowing costs have reduced affordability despite the sharp decline in prices in many regions.

On a regional basis, sales gains in Hamilton-Burlington and Quebec City were more than offset by declines in Greater Vancouver, Victoria and elsewhere on Vancouver Island, Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal.

New Listings 

Last month, the number of newly listed homes rose 3.3% on a month-over-month basis, led by increases across British Columbia. Despite the slight increase, new listings remain historically low nationally. New supply in January 2023 hit the lowest level for that month since 2000.

With new listings up and sales down in January, sales-to-new listings eased back to 50.7%. This is roughly where it had been over the entire second half of 2022. The long-term average for this measure is 55.1%.

There were 4.3 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of January 2023. This is close to where this measure was in the months leading up to the initial COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, considered historically slow.

Home Prices

Canadian home prices fell by the most on record in 2022 as rapidly rising interest rates forced a market adjustment that is still ongoing. 

The Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was 15% below its peak in February 2022. Looking across the country, prices are down from peak levels by more than they are nationally in many parts of Ontario and some parts of B.C. and down by less elsewhere. While prices have softened to some degree almost everywhere, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and St. John’s stand out as markets where home prices are barely off their peaks at all.

In contrast, some East Coast markets have bottomed and appear to be trending higher.

Housing Construction Falls

In other news, CMHC reported that the annual pace of housing starts fell 13% in January. The national housing agency says the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts for the year’s first month was 215,365 units compared with 248,296 in December.  

This is very troubling as the population growth in Canada is slated to be very strong, and rental properties are in very short supply. The housing shortage will only rise. Rents have surged in many parts of the country for new inhabitants, straining household budgets even more.

With interest rates high and the cost of construction booming, many developers are moving to the sidelines.

The table below shows the decline in MLS-HPI benchmark home prices in Canada and selected cities since prices peaked in March when the Bank of Canada began hiking interest rates. More details follow in the second table below. The most significant price dips are in the GTA and the GVA, where the price gains were spectacular during the Covid-shutdown.

Even with these large declines, prices remain roughly 33% above pre-pandemic levels.

Bottom Line

The Bank of Canada has promised to pause rate hikes assuming inflation continues to abate. We will not see any action in March. But the road to 2% inflation will be a bumpy one. I see no likelihood of rate cuts this year, and we might see further rate increases. Markets are pricing in additional tightening moves by the Fed.

There is no guarantee that interest rates in Canada have peaked. We will be closely monitoring the labour market and consumer spending.

Please note: The source of this article is from Sherry Cooper

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