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Although the Canadian economy grew at a weaker than expected pace in the third quarter, business investment in plant and equipment grew the most so far in 2010. ((CBC))

Canada has posted weaker than expected economic growth in the third quarter, prompting speculation the Bank of Canada will forgo an interest rate hike.

Statistics Canada said Tuesday that gross domestic product rose by only 0.3 per cent in the third quarter, down from a 0.6 per cent gain in the previous quarter. On a monthly basis, real GDP by industry declined by 0.1 per cent in September.

The agency said lower exports and lower investment in housing restrained GDP growth.

 "The story is staring us in the face. We can thank a strong Canadian dollar for a not-so-strong Canadian economy," said CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld. 

"Our exports to the U.S. are floundering in quarters in which the U.S. has seen a huge rise in its overall imports."

Douglas Porter, the Bank of Montreal's deputy chief economist, said it means the Bank of Canada will be in no rush to raise interest rates when it makes its scheduled announcement next week.

"In a nutshell, this result is a clear disappointment, especially after the surprisingly perky growth rates seen earlier this year," he said in a note.

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Statistics Canada said lower exports and lower investment in housing restrained GDP growth in the three months ending in September. ((Source: Statistics Canada, The Daily, Nov. 30, 2010))

"In hindsight, it looks like the economy borrowed all the growth from the second half of the year and put it in the first few months of 2010. Bottom line for the Bank of Canada — there's zero rush to raise rates again," Porter added.

The Canadian dollar closed down 0.76 of a cent to 97.41 cents US Tuesday after dipping earlier in the day to 97.21, its lowest level in a month.

Expressed at an annualized rate, real GDP grew one per cent in the third quarter, after expanding 2.3 per cent in the second quarter. By comparison, real GDP in the United States grew 2.5 per cent in the third quarter.

Analysts were expecting annual growth of 1.5 per cent in Canada.

 What makes up GDP?
  • Personal consumption: 55% to 60%
  • Government spending: 20% to 25%
  • Business spending: 17% to 20%
  • Trade: -3% to 3%

A commentary in November by ATB financial research analyst Will Van't Veld provides insight into why increased business investment is needed for GDP growth.

'With a strong currency inhibiting export-led growth,' Van't Veld said, 'it's become increasingly important to see non-residential and inventory investment … strongly rebound in order to see a full recovery.'

Business spending includes three sub-categories: residential construction, non-residential (commercial real estate and machinery and equipment) and inventories. Non-residential is the most important, at half the total of business spending.

While low interest rates and government stimulus and tax cuts have kept people spending and encouraged business investment in residential construction, non-residential investment declined dramatically during the recession and has yet to fully recover. The positive news in this latest report, however, is that business investment recorded its strongest quarterly increase this year.

The central bank increased borrowing costs three times between June and September, but has since held rates steady at one per cent. It is set to make its next rate decision on Dec. 7.

"The chance of Bank of Canada movements in December, January or March will unambiguously decline on the back of this. At the same time it has to be acknowledged that this is probably the low-water mark for GDP," said Eric Lascelles, chief Canada strategist at TD Securities.

Business investment in plant and equipment recorded its strongest quarterly increase so far in the year, as investment in machinery and equipment expanded 6.5 per cent in the third quarter.

An increase in consumer spending also contributed to the growth in final domestic demand.

The increase in goods-producing industries significantly outpaced that of the services industries for a fourth consecutive quarter.

Manufacturing, mining and the public sector were the main sources of growth in the third quarter, Statistics Canada said. The increase in manufacturing was concentrated in the production of durable goods, while the strength in mining was attributable largely to higher activity at copper, nickel, lead and zinc mines.

Construction and retail trade also contributed to the overall increase in GDP. Conversely, decreases were recorded in the output of real estate agents and brokers, as well as in wholesale trade and in the finance and insurance sector.