Low interest rates not a threat - for now, Poloz says

In his first significant public appearance since taking over the job of governor of Canada's central bank on Monday, Stephen Poloz said the world is undergoing an unusual post-recession recovery that is akin to a post-war reconstruction.

New central bank governor tells House of Commons finance committee bank's role is to nurture growth

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz is dismissing any suggestion that the central bank's independence will be undermined by new government rules for Crown agencies. (Canadian Press)

New Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz is signalling there will be no shift from the current low interest rate policy under his leadership, at least in the short term, despite fears it is creating imbalances in the economy.

Although keeping rates low for a long period has a distorting impact on the economy, including triggering excessive borrowing, Poloz says the central bank must also consider the risk to the fragile economy of raising rates too soon.

"My concern is we do the right thing so this (weak economy) doesn't last for a generation," he told the Commons finance committee Thursday.

"For now ... we don't see that those risks (from low rates) are manifesting themselves in a threatening way."

Stresses bank's 'nurturing' role

Scotiabank economist Derek Holt said if anything, Poloz's testimony suggests that he might be even more dovish on monetary policy than his predecessor, Mark Carney, as indicated by his statement about the bank having a role "nurturing" economic growth.

"A speech that is all about 'nurturing' and the Bank of Canada's role in building confidence through this process suggests a policy leaning toward at least a less hawkish (bank) than under the last months of Carney's tenure," Holt wrote in a note to clients.

He said one possible ramification might be that the bank may soften, or drop altogether, its persistent warning that its next move, at its policy pronouncement on July 17, will likely be to increase interest rates.

Several other analysts said it was probable that July would bring no material change in the bank's policy to keep the trendsetting interest rate at one per cent, leading to some of the most favourable borrowing conditions in many decades.

MPs' 1st chance to grill new governor

The Canadian dollar jumped more than a penny to 97.85 cents US following the testimony, but analysts said the prime cause was U.S. dollar weakness.

The two-hour appearance was a first chance for MPs to question the new governor, who took command of the central bank this week, looking for any divergence with Carney, who takes over the Bank of England in July.

Poloz's appearance before the House of Commons finance committee suggested to some analysts that he might be even more dovish on monetary policy than his predecessor, Mark Carney, pictured (Alastair Grant/Reuters/Pool)

Poloz provided some evidence that he doesn't see the world exactly the same way as Carney does and that he may be a different type central bank governor, one more likely to limit his views to strictly bank business than his free-wheeling predecessor.

For instance, he said he would not characterize the build-up of cash reserves by corporations as "dead money," as Carney did in urging firms to invest.

Noting Carney himself has since declared it "resurrected," Poloz said he would characterize firms as having "healthy balance sheets."

"And that's a good thing," he said. "The process (of recovery) would be much more difficult if foreign demand is building, and our confidence gets up, and we don't have balance sheet available to do the job, then we have a different problem.

"One of the most importance ingredients to getting the investment momentum we expect to see is having a healthy balance sheet and being ready."

Recovery akin to 'post-war reconstruction'

Asked about Carney's publicly stated concern for income inequality, Poloz said the issue is of interest, but "as a central bank, we only have a modest influence."

The new governor did show signs of having some of Carney's flair, however, describing the current recovery not as a normal climb-back from a deep recession but something akin to a "post-war reconstruction."

The 2008-09 financial crisis was so damaging that the world needs to reconstruct its financial system, he explained. In Canada, the recession put some firms out of business and caused others to permanently downsize.

"In effect, the recession caused a significant structural change in the Canadian economy," he said. "In short, we need to see the reconstruction of Canada's potential and a return to self-sustaining, self-generating growth."

Export markets a priority

The first step to that process is a recovery in export markets, something Poloz said was under way, notably in the United States and Japan.

He also agreed with his predecessor that Canada's commodity riches are a net benefit to the economy, dismissing even his own 2005 concerns about Dutch disease as no longer applicable.

Poloz, who had been a surprise pick for governor by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, also dealt directly with the issue of the bank's independence, particularly the government's recent decision  to require Crown agencies, including the central bank, to, in essence, clear hiring decisions and salaries with the Treasury Board.

That will not in any way impact the policy independence of the bank, Poloz insisted.

"I see a clean separation between administrative independence and monetary policy independence," he said.