Thursday, August 27, 2009

BoC may have to break interest rate promise

Alia McMullen, Financial Post Published: Thursday, July 23, 2009

TORONTO -- The Canadian dollar hit a 10-month high Monday amid growing risk appetite and rising expectations that inflation will ultimately force the Bank of Canada to break its promise to keep interest rates on hold until mid-2010.

"The time for tightening is not yet at hand, but June 2010 seems too late," said Yanick Desnoyers, the assistant chief economist at National Bank Financial. "The day when the condition for the Bank's low-rate commitment is no longer met will probably come before then."

Mr. Desnoyers said the benchmark interest rate had been lowered to a record low of 0.25% to limit the damage of the recession and financial crisis. However, he said the rate was too low relative to core inflation, which stood at 1.9% in June, just one basis point below the bank's target rate.

The outlook for higher interest rates, whether they come sooner or after June next year, has helped support the Canadian dollar, which has increased by about 8% since the beginning of the month.

The loonie inched up US0.16¢ to US$92.50 Monday after reaching its highest level since October in intraday trade. The rise was boosted by an improvement in investor sentiment after new U.S. home sales surged by 11% in June and the three-month Libor rate, the benchmark borrowing rate banks generally charge each other, fell to a record low 0.496%.

The decline in Libor, which peaked at 4.82% in October, is a sign that credit pressures continue to ease. Commodity prices were also marginally higher amid expectations of an uptick in demand.

Aron Gampel, vice president and deputy chief economist at Scotia Capital, said the Canadian dollar has also strengthened against the greenback because many were concerned U.S. stimulus efforts would leave behind a problematic debt hangover. He said the loonie was likely on its way back to parity with the U.S. dollar.

With the Bank of Canada having declared that the recession is likely over, interest is beginning to turn to when interest rates will begin to rise. Some, such as Mr. Desnoyers, believe the Canadian recovery, bolstered by government stimulus, will push inflation up faster than expected, forcing the Bank of Canada to use its "get out of jail free card" and raise the benchmark policy rate before June 2010.

The central bank said it would keep interest rates on hold until June 2010 "conditional on the outlook for inflation".

Bond yields have risen in recent weeks and now reflect a 90% chance of an interest rate rise withing nine months.

Others, such as Mr. Gampel, believe the central bank will keep interest rates on hold until mid next year, but embark on an aggressive tightening thereafter. However, he said the economy was at a turning point and the Bank of Canada's ultimate decision would depend on the speed of economic recovery.

"They could be looking at having to push interest rates up at a faster rate, and sooner, if the recovery takes on a greater scope going forward," Mr. Gampel said.
He said the recovery could well be on track to outpace expectations as businesses rebuild inventories, consumer spending picks up and fiscal stimulus kicks in.

However, he said evidence to date does not suggest the central bank will need to hike rates before June, particularly with a large amount of excess capacity in product and labour markets.

Central banks signal low rates here to stay

Paul Vieira, Financial Post, with files from Reuters Published: Monday, August 24, 2009

OTTAWA -- Despite growing confidence that economic growth is in the offing, monetary policy around the world is likely to remain "ultra-accommodative," perhaps until 2011, as doubt remains as to whether or not the growth expected this quarter is sustainable, analysts say.

That is the view emerging following the weekend gathering of the world's leading central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., highlighted by remarks from Ben Bernanke, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, who warned of the uncertainties ahead, and Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, who suggested he is in no rush to reverse emergency stimulus measures.

"The key message from Jackson Hole was ... that monetary policy is likely to remain ultra-accommodative for the foreseeable future - at least for the next several years," said Julian Jessop, chief international economist at Capital Economics of London.

"It seems more likely that there will be no increases in interest rates in any of the major economies over the next 12 to 18 months."

Strategists at RBC Capital Markets concurred, adding in a note released Monday: "We continue to believe the economic backdrop will warrant a significant additional period of low rates. Indeed, even at the Jackson Hole conference, there was not even a suggestion that we should be braced for anything other than that outcome."

This outlook applies to Canada as well. Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch, as part of global report on monetary policy, said it does not expect the Bank of Canada to begin raising rates until 2011 - well past its pledge to keep the key policy rate, at 0.25%, until June 2010.

Canada has a significant output gap - the difference between potential and real gross domestic product - and the rate at which money is deployed in the economy, or money velocity, has shrunk 15% since late last year even though the central bank has taken its target rate to its lowest possible level, the BofA-Merrill Lynch analysis indicates.

"To compensate, we think the Bank of Canada will probably need to keep rates lower ... to ensure that money creation remains in the double-digit [growth] territory needed to reinflate the economy and close the output gap," the report says.
This outlook is similar to what economists at Laurentian Bank Securities suggested last week. They said a lack of pricing power for firms, a sizeable amount of excess supply and virtually non-existent upward pressure from labour costs means the bulk of policy tightening would not materialize until 2011.

The Bank of Canada signalled in its last economic outlook that it expected economic growth to resume this quarter, marking, technically, the end of a deep but relatively short recession.

It expects growth this quarter of 1.3%, 3% in the final three months of 2009, and the latter again in 2010. Further boosting the recovery story was data from Japan, Germany and France that indicated economic growth in the second quarter.

But there are growing concerns about the sustainability of this emerging recovery.

In a note published last week, Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, warned of a difficult recovery that would take years to unfold as elements of the financial system remain dysfunctional.

Of particular concern in his outlook was the source of demand once governments phased out fiscal stimuli. The worry is that U.S. business investment and household spending would remain weak, and Asian economies would fail to pick up the slack.
Still, some leading central bankers warn about leaving interest rates too low too long.

Masaaki Shirakawa, governor at Bank of Japan, told his peers at Jackson Hole that policymakers must avoid economic bubbles fostered by expectations that interest rates will remain low.

"Shirakawa's point about the need to prevent future bubbles is weighing more on minds of central bankers, so maybe they do have to be a little more careful," said David Cohen, director of Asian economic forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore.

Flaherty calls economic signs encouraging, tentative

Not aware of other big Chinese forays into Canada
Reuters Published: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

BEIJING -- Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Wednesday described recent positive economic signs as encouraging but tentative.

Speaking to reporters after three days of meetings in Beijing, Flaherty said he welcomed Chinese direct investment in Canada but had not been made aware that China Investment Corp. was considering other big forays into Canada.

CIC, China's $300-billion sovereign wealth fund, agreed last month to acquire a 17.2% equity stake in Canadian miner Teck Resources for $1.74-billion.

Flaherty, who last week raised the possibility of policy makers' intervening in the currency market if the Canadian dollar's sharp rise put the country's fragile economic recovery at risk, said he has always expressed concerns about rapid fluctuations in the Canadian dollar.
© Thomson Reuters 2009

Housing resales rocket in July

Record 18.2% jump
Alia McMullen And Garry Marr, Financial Post Published: Saturday, August 15, 2009

Canada's housing market boomed in July as low interest rates and improving economic confidence sent sales of existing homes to a record for the month, despite generally weak economic conditions.

The remarkable turnaround from an almost frozen market at the start of the year has economists stunned, and while they predict activity will level out soon, the risk is continued low interest rates begin to stoke a house price bubble.

"We can't rule it out," Douglas Porter, the deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, said of the possibility of a bubble. But he said the scenario was hard to fathom given the underlying weakness in the economy.

Even so, that weakness to date has not prevented a strong rebound in the existing housing market, which declined steadily throughout 2008 and hit a decade low in January.

Home resales increased by 18.2% in July compared with a year earlier, to reach 50,270 units -- the highest July sales result on record, Canadian Real Estate Association figures showed yesterday. At this pace, the housing market is on track to be even hotter than it was in 2007, which was a record year. Seasonally adjusted sales have risen for six straight months to be up 61.2% since January and are now just 1.4% below the peak in May 2007.

But despite the spectacular gain, the level of activity in the first seven months of this year remains 6% lower than in 2008 when activity had already begun to decline. Mr. Porter said some of the rise in the month was a result of sales that had been held back from the start of the year because of the weak market conditions.
But homebuyers have swarmed back into the market because of low interest rates and more affordable house prices.

"Homebuyers recognize that interest rates and prices have bottomed out, and are taking advantage of excellent affordability before prices and interest rates move higher," said Dale Ripplinger, the president of CREA.

A five-year fixed-rate mortgage, the most popular product among consumers, is still available for under 4% at some financial institutions. Variable-rate mortgages, tied to prime, remain in the 3% range and are not expected to rise until June. The Bank of Canada has promised to keep the benchmark interest rate at a record low 0.25% until mid-2010, provided inflation does not begin to rise.

The strength in the market has been felt right across the country. Vancouver sales last were up 90% from a year ago, while sales climbed 28% in Toronto and 28% in Edmonton. The strong demand in the country's highest-priced markets has to some degree skewed the average price higher. The average price of a home sold on the Multiple Listing Service last month rose 7.6% from a year earlier to $326,832.

The strength in the resales market has not been echoed in the price of new homes, which fell 3.3% in June compared with a year earlier, Statistics Canada figures showed Wednesday.

Part of the pressure on prices has come from a decline in supply, which has fallen for seven straight months. New listings in July were down 13% from a year earlier to 73,444.

Economists are skeptical the housing market will be able to continue to post such strong growth.

"After improving markedly, affordability will deteriorate in coming quarters, and unemployment will continue to rise," said Pascal Gauthier, an economist at TD Bank Financial Group. "New listings might well start rising again too. Combined, a larger supply and a softening in demand should cool prices in a delayed fashion."

Housing Starts Increase in June

OTTAWA, July 9, 2009 — The seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of housing starts increased to 140,700 units in June from 130,300 units in May, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

“The increase in housing starts in June is broadly based, encompassing both the singles and multiples segments,” said Bob Dugan, Chief Economist at CMHC. “In addition, Western Canada experienced an increase this month.”

Housing starts are expected to improve throughout 2009 and over the next several years to gradually become more closely aligned to demographic demand, which is currently estimated at about 175,000 units per year.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased 9.5 per cent to 120,100 units in June. Urban multiple starts increased 11.3 per cent to 67,000 units, while urban single starts also moved up by 7.3 per cent to 53,100 units in June.

June’s seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased 59.4 per cent in the Prairies, 25 per cent in British Columbia, and 3.1 per cent in Ontario. Urban starts declined 6.3 per cent in Quebec, and 3.9 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 20,600 units in June2.

As Canada’s national housing agency, CMHC draws on more than 60 years of experience to help Canadians access a variety of quality, environmentally sustainable, and affordable homes — homes that will continue to create vibrant and healthy communities and cities across the country.