Bank of Canada keeps benchmark interest rate steady at 1%

The Bank of Canada has decided to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at one per cent.

Dollar slides as central bank says it will be cautious in making future adjustments to rate

The Bank of Canada, led by Governor Stephen Poloz, has raised its benchmark interest rate twice this year already. (Bloomberg)

The Bank of Canada has decided to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at one per cent.

The bank's rate, officially known as the target for the overnight rate, has a large impact on the rates that retail banks offer consumers on savings accounts and loans.

The bank has already hiked its rate twice this year — once in July and again last month — after staying on the sidelines for the previous two years.

Those moves came amid signs that Canada's economy was heating up, but since then economic indicators have been more subdued, which helps to explain the bank's cautious tone.

"The current stance of monetary policy is appropriate," the bank said in announcing its decision. "While less monetary policy stimulus will likely be required over time, [the bank] will be cautious in making future adjustments to the policy rate."

Aubrey Basdeo, the head of fixed income at BlackRock Canada, said that word — "cautious" — could be just the right strategy. "They're trying to have a very measured approach in terms of removing stimulus," he said.

None of the economists polled by Bloomberg were expecting the bank to move its rate. But currency traders were caught a little by surprise — the Canadian dollar lost almost a full cent from where it was before the decision, changing hands at 78.15 cents US after the bank's decision came out.

"The Bank of Canada shifted to a significantly more cautious tone on interest rates Wednesday, prompting a sharp descent by the Canadian dollar," said Don Curren, strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, "and perhaps presaging more weakness in the currency as expectations about … monetary policy evolve."

Along with its rate decision, the bank also released its Monetary Policy Report (MPR), which comes out four times a year and provides a deeper dive into the bank's line of thinking. 

The bank said it expects inflation to rise to two per cent by the end of next year — a little later than expected, because of strength in the Canadian dollar.

According to the latest MPR, the bank expects Canada's economy to expand by 3.1 per cent in 2017, 2.1 per cent in 2018 and 1.5 per cent in 2019. The figure for next year is slightly better than the bank was forecasting three months ago, but the 2019 figure is a little worse.

One of the main reasons for that slight downgrade is a "shift toward protectionist trade policies" and "uncertainty around the outcome of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations," the bank said in its MPR.

"Companies are investing less than they would without the uncertainty around NAFTA," Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said at a press conference to discuss the MPR. "Even so, if something does happen in the NAFTA context, it could take quite some time after a decision is made before it's actually implemented."

While other concerns rank higher than NAFTA on the bank's list of things to worry about, the uncertainty goes a long way toward explaining the bank's caution.

"As things stand today, it appears that the urgency to increase rates has faded," TD Bank economist Brian DePratto said.

He said the economy appears to be in a "sweet spot" — neither too cold nor too hot.

"There does not appear to be any immediate urgency to further increase interest rates," DePratto said, "although this 'sweet spot' also clearly implies that the current low level of rates will become increasingly unneeded."

While growth of just 1.5 per cent two years from now isn't an optimistic view, forecasting that far into the future always has to come with a grain of salt, Blackrock's Basdeo said.

BlackRock is slightly more optimistic than the bank, forecasting growth of 2.5 per cent in 2018.

"By all accounts the economy does look reasonably healthy," he said. "We think growth of 2.5 per cent is pretty darn good at this stage."


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