5 ways Brexit could hurt Canadian pocketbooks

We may not be headed for another global financial crisis. But financial experts warn that Brexit could affect everything from Canadian housing prices to your retirement savings.

Brexit could affect everything from Canadian housing prices to your savings

Brexit will most probably mean prolonged low interest rates for Canadians and a short-term dive for investment portfolios. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

At 8:27 Friday morning, financial adviser Rona Birenbaum sent out a mass email to clients, telling them not to panic.

She explains she wanted "to help them manage the inevitable emotional response to this kind of event."

The event is Brexit, the shocking vote by Britons to leave the European Union.

Soon after the votes were tallied, the British pound and Canadian dollar plummeted, as did stock markets around the world.

Canadians saving for retirement suddenly saw flashes of the 2008 economic crisis and, for some, panic set in.

1. What does this mean for my savings?

Anyone checking their investment portfolio Friday may have received a bit of a shock.

"The more equities they have and, frankly, the more European equities they have, the bigger the hit is going to be," says Birenbaum with Queensbury Strategies in Toronto.

But most financial experts don't believe we're headed for another financial crisis like that of 2008 when markets took a serious long-term tumble.

"We continue to operate on the assumption that markets will first overreact, and then reclaim some of their losses," wrote Eric Lascelles, RBC chief economist, in a statement Friday.

He added that U.K. banks don't appear to be in trouble, and while the possibility of global contagion is real, this is "not as dramatic as during the financial crisis."

Birenbaum agrees that we're not headed for a global economic disaster. So she advises Canadians with cash on hand and long-term investment plans to view Brexit as a buying opportunity.

"They can make opportunistic investments, because this kind of environment creates fear and a flight to safety," as panicked investors dump their stocks for cheap, she says.

2. The housing market?

Thanks to the economic turmoil sparked by Brexit, there's speculation the Bank of England could soon cut interest rates. The U.S., which appeared set to hike rates in September, will likely delay that plan now.

In Canada, interest rates will almost certainly remain low for even longer.

But if you're a homeowner or prospective buyer, this may not be cause for celebration.

BMO chief economist Doug Porter warns that prolonged low interest rates will only further fuel Toronto and Vancouver's frothy housing markets.

"The concern is that this is going to just stoke a market that is already too hot for comfort," he says.

For hopeful home buyers in these cities, housing prices may become out of reach — if they haven't already.

Current homeowners shouldn't get too excited, warns Porter. Their property value may go up, but only because the global economy is struggling.

That could hurt the housing market in the long term. "It's not really a good news story," warns Porter.

3. For the global economy?

If we're not headed for another global recession, just what are we headed for?

Porter says Brexit "does somewhat dim the global growth outlook."

But he warns it could spiral into a European economic crisis if other European countries choose to follow Britain's lead and flee the EU, which "would cause great uncertainty and could potentially lead to an unravelling of the European Union," he says.

It could also weigh on the global and Canadian economies for some time, hampering growth.

But the future of the EU has yet to unfold. "The next question for the markets is what happens in the rest of the European Union," says Porter.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks on Friday outside 10 Downing Street after Britain voted to leave the European Union. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

4. For Canadian businesses?

Porter says probably the most direct and immediate fallout for Canada will be felt by companies doing business with the U.K.

"Anyone who was thinking of investing in the U.K. is probably rethinking that at this point," he says. "U.K.'s trade relations are now under a deep cloud of uncertainty."

However, the U.K. accounts for only 2.5 per cent of Canadian trade, so the overall effect on companies here will be minimal.

Still, those doing business in the U.K. must now contend with real economic uncertainty.

In the U.S., global banks JPMorgan Chase and Citibank have already warned that Brexit could force them to slash thousands of jobs in Britain.

5. For the loonie?

Canadians also woke up to news Friday that the loonie was falling fast. In the end, it lost more than a full cent, closing at 76.93 cents US.

Porter believes the loonie will continue to soften further in the coming months thanks to global uncertainty. But he emphasizes that the decline will be "nothing dramatic."

That's still not comforting news for anyone with U.S. vacation plans this summer. But if you're headed to the U.K., chances are you'll encounter a weaker pound and perhaps even discounted prices as Europe grapples with economic fallout from Brexit.

To sum it up, Brexit remains a concern for the Canadian economy, but we're not taking a direct hit — at least not yet.

The implosion of the European Union would have more serious consequences for this country. But take heart. As RBC's Lascelles says, "Brexit does not constitute the end of the world."


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won an Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: