Bank of Canada holds key interest rate at 0.5%

The Bank of Canada keeps its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.5 per cent today while reducing its growth outlook for the economy.

Bank cites slower short-term activity in housing resale market, coupled with soft Canadian exports

The Bank of Canada is holding its benchmark interest rate at 0.5 per cent, it said Wednesday. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The Bank of Canada kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.5 per cent on Wednesday and reduced its growth outlook for the economy, citing cited slower short-term activity in the resale housing market coupled with soft Canadian exports as reasons for the lowered outlook.

The central bank trimmed its outlook for growth this year to 1.1 per cent, from the 1.3 per cent it had forecast in July.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz called the recent federally mandated mortgate measures brought in to stabilize the Canadian housing market "a welcome development, as it will mitigate financial vulnerabilities over time."

"We expect it to reduce housing resales in the near term, and perhaps cause a shift toward the construction of smaller homes, which together will shave some spending in the economy," Poloz said. 

The central bank said it sees the new mortgage rules knocking 0.3 per cent from economic growth by the end of 2018.

Export issues

Meanwhile, Canada's exports of goods posted gains in July and August, after a sharp contraction over the previous five months, but that was not enough to make up for previously lost ground, the bank said. 

Weak U.S. business spending and lower expectations for the housing market in the United States, Canada's top trading partner, have led to a reduction in the bank's outlook for growth in our exports over the next two years.

The downward cut to exports, including spillovers to demand here in Canada and to our imports, would lower real GDP by 0.6 per cent by the end of 2018.

Poloz told reporters that U.S. economic weakness in the first half of this year explains half of the shortfall in Canada's exports, but they are looking at other factors, including lost export capacity and competitiveness challenges, as other possible reasons.

"In our surveys, companies have mentioned a number of factors that can influence competitiveness or hinder exports directly," Poloz said. "These include deficient infrastructure, regulatory uncertainty, rising trade barriers, relatively high electricity costs, and the unknown status of current and future trade agreements."

Overall, the bank said it now expects the economy to grow by two per cent in both 2017 and 2018, saying the economy is now forecast to get back to full capacity around mid-2018, later than it said in July.

No pending hike seen

Many economists said the latest economic outlook put the Bank of Canada in a more "dovish" position on interest rates, meaning it appeared less inclined to nudge up borrowing costs.

"This is a bank that has precisely zero appetite for rate hikes, and seems to be keeping a flame alive for the possibility of rate cuts, should the need arise," BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said in a commentary. 

"We continue to look for the bank to keep rates unchanged through next year, with the earliest possible move up not until 2018," he said.

Poloz said the central bank's governing council actually discussed whether to add more monetary stimulus to the economy, but they opted to hold off, citing several uncertainties, including the: 

  • Effects of the new federal mortgage rules.
  • Expected outlook for exports.
  • Impact of federal fiscal measures.  
  • Effects on business confidence of the Nov. 8 U.S. election.

TD Bank economist Brian DePratto said in a commentary that an interest rate cut "would likely do little to nothing" to spur Canada's exports, "while potentially undoing much of the impact of recent housing market rule changes, spurring further financial stability risks."

Dominion Lending Centres chief economist Sherry Cooper said she thinks it would take a "material negative shock" to economic to force the bank to cut interest rates.

"That shock might come  from a larger-than-expected contraction in housing activity among other sources," Cooper said.


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