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Bank of Canada expected to stand firm on rates ahead of Trump presidency

The Bank of Canada is widely expected to keep its key interest rate at 0.5 per cent this morning in its first interest rate decision of 2017 — but uncertainty over the economic policies of president-elect Donald Trump will make the central bank's job more complicated this year.

'The hottest issue about the economy is what a new Trump administration might bring,' CIBC economist says

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz is faced with the challenge of maintaining sound monetary policy as questions swirl about the potential policies of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press, Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The Bank of Canada is widely expected to keep its key interest rate at 0.5 per cent this morning in its first interest rate decision of 2017 — but uncertainty over the future of the global economy after the inauguration of Donald Trump will likely complicate the central bank's ability to make policy decisions in the near future.

"The hottest issue about the economy is what a new Trump administration might bring," said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist with CIBC. "But the Bank of Canada might try to be diplomatic and say less about that, waiting to see how things go."

Canadians will also get a look at the central bank's official projections for economic growth, with the release of the first Monetary Policy Report of the year.

In its last policy report, released before Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, the Bank of Canada was already warning that "heightened political uncertainty and rising protectionist sentiment" could pose a threat to global economic growth.

A poor outlook for Canadian exports, and the introduction of mortgage rules that could possibly slow down Canadian home sales were also seen as risks to the Canadian economy at that time — risks that could have bolstered the case for another cut to interest rates.

Since then, however, the outlook for Canadian economic growth has brightened somewhat, dampening expectations for an interest rate cut.

GDP growth picked up in the third quarter, expanding at a brisk 3.5 per cent annual rate as energy exports rebounded after the Fort McMurray, Alta., wildfires and a weak loonie boosted other exports. December's job report from Statistics Canada showed surprising employment gains, adding to the optimism.

The Trump wildcard

Still, the Trump wildcard remains. The Bank of Canada faces the same conundrum as other economic policymakers around the world: it's hard to predict the policies of a man who has proven himself unpredictable.

"At the end of the day it's hard to go full-Trump in a forecast," said CIBC's Shenfeld. "We can go part-Trump — put in some of the factors that are likely to happen."

"But understanding what it means for Canadian exporters for trade barriers, it's premature to really be able to include that right now. "

At a meeting in December, officials from the U.S. Federal Reserve suggested they could raise interest rates relatively quickly in 2017 if Trump's expected policies of tax cuts and government spending boost U.S. economic growth. 

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg see just a 1.5 per cent chance of an interest rate cut from the Bank of Canada on Wednesday, with no chance of an interest rate hike. They predict the odds of a Canadian interest rate hike will rise towards the end of 2017.

If the central bank does stand firm, it will mark the 12th consecutive hold on interest rates since July 2015, when governor Stephen Poloz and his team cut rates by 0.25 per cent.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that the Bank of Canada last cut its key interest rate in July 2016. In fact, the last cut was made in July 2015.
    Jan 18, 2017 8:17 AM ET

With files from Reuters

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