The Canadian dollar continued to drop on Thursday, sinking below 92 cents US before recovering in early trading.
The currency is at its lowest level since the fall of 2009, hammered by strong economic news in the U.S. and lower oil prices, and a widening Canadian trade deficit. At mid-afternoon it was trading at 92.09.
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"The thing that has kicked the pins out from under the Canadian dollar since last spring is the signs that the U.S. is perking up, so that’s made the U.S. more attractive and we’re in a bit of slide by comparison," said Bill Robson, president of the C.D. Howe Institute, a Canadian think-tank.
"When it comes to the impact on the economy, I’m pretty relaxed about it. I see a lot of good things as a result of the lower dollar," he said in an interview with CBC's The Lang & O'Leary Exchange.
Canada's trade deficit
The U.S. trade deficit has dropped 12.9 per cent to $34.3 billion, according to commerce department numbers released earlier this week, but Canada’s trade deficit expanded to $940 million.
After a long period in the early 2000s when Canada consistently racked up trade surpluses, the country has been in a deficit position since 2009.
One of the problems is an economy heavily reliant on oil exports, at a time of declining oil prices. Today’s oil futures for February delivery were down 67 cents in New York to $91.66 US a barrel after flirting around $110 most of last year.
Jim Stanford, an economist with Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector trade union, estimates the high loonie has cost Canada about 500,000 jobs over the last five years.
Exports plunged from 44 per cent of GDP in 2000 to just 30 per cent last year, he said in a Globe and Mail op-ed piece. He welcomed the falling loonie, saying it should help manufacturing industries recover.
Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers Union, is worried that the economic capacity lost in Canada's manufacturing sector won't come back as the loonie moderates.
Did high loonie hurt growth?
"I would argue that an overvalued loonie has curbed growth in this country. It’s priced a lot of Canadian products out of international markets," he told CBC News.
"As a result, Canada has gone from a trade surplus to a trade deficit, which has been a huge drag on our economic growth and employment. Not just as a union guy, as a Canadian, I think this moderation of the exchange rate is quite welcome," Weir added.
He said Canadians might be less attracted to cross-border shopping and overseas vacations, and that could help Canada's recovery.
Today, lower housing starts for December and a drop in building permit applications put further pressure on the Canadian dollar.
Meanwhile, investors are returning to the greenback after the Fed began to cut back on its monthly bond-buying program amid a slew of indicators of an economic recovery.
Joblessness down in U.S.
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Labour Department reported that applications for jobless insurance fell by 15,000 last week to 330,000. More U.S. job creation numbers are expected tomorrow.
In November, New York investment house Goldman Sachs recommended shorting the loonie, predicting it could go as low as 88 cents.
The loonie last reached parity with the U.S. dollar in February 2013 but it declined throughout the rest of last year.
While a lower dollar makes travel outside Canada more expensive, it can boost the Canadian economy by making Canadian goods cheaper for international buyers.
It helps some things and hurts others, said Goldy Hyder, president of Hill and Knowlton Canada.
"I think history would suggest that it’s all relative. Ten years ago if we were talking about a 92-cent dollar it would have been a high," he said.
"One of things we need to appreciate is that the reason the gap really existed ... my sense it's because our interest rate was higher than the U.S. for some time and attracted people. Now that the U.S. seems to be back in recovery, we may be just returning to what’s normal," he added.