Calgary

Q&A: What Alberta's economic growth in 2017 will mean for next year

The business headlines were mostly positive for Calgarians in 2017. But how will the biggest business stories of the year impact the city next year?

Business expert Deborah Yedlin recaps some the biggest business stories

The economy in Calgary saw growth this year, but how will the city hold up in 2018? (CBC)

If you were keeping up with business news this year, you probably saw the economy in Calgary catch a pretty good bounce.

Calgary's GDP was forecast to jump nearly five per cent, investors saw returns as stock markets enjoyed record-high increases and the financial world scratched their heads at the rise, fall, and rise again of the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

But what goes up can easily come down, and growth in Alberta could fall again in 2018.

Business expert Deborah Yedlin recapped some the biggest business stories of 2017 with the Calgary Eyeopener and how they could affect the city's economic outlook next year.

The following is an excerpt from that interview:

Q: What kind of growth did Calgary see this year?

A: We did see that Calgary grew quite significantly in 2017 and the conference board was talking about our GDP going to increase 4.6 per cent this year making it the fastest growing Canadian city for 2017.

And Edmonton actually wasn't far behind. It had 3.9 per cent forecast but the news there, of course, is we had a good year this year, and next year it's expected to slow down somewhat in both Calgary and Edmonton

Q: What does the increase of commodity prices mean for the oil and gas sector next year?

We saw West Texas Intermediate up 10 per cent this year, Brent crude oil was up 16 per cent.

The biggest story was natural gas prices are down below $3 and they've been stuck there and they've been down 16 per cent in 2017.

Natural gas prices have slumped for several years in Western Canada but hit a new low this summer. On a few occasions, prices fell to zero and then turned negative.

I think we saw a firming of oil prices. We saw the numbers definitely continue to improve in terms of quarterly results, but we're not seeing the accompanying boost in capital expenditures because companies are still being extremely cautious.

Q: What results can we expect from some of the big oil patch deals this year?

A: Cenovus bought the ConocoPhillips assets, it was a $17-billion deal in March. And that was just after Canadian Natural decided to buy Shell and Marathon Oil's oilsands assets as well for about $12.4 billion.

And so both of those deals were interesting for a couple of reasons: one was we continue to see foreign oilsands companies exiting the oilsands and the fact that those deals were both financed in the equity markets.

So clearly the markets were willing to finance the companies that were viewed as good long-term plays.

What came out of this, of course, was that the market wasn't as happy with that [Cenovus] deal as they were with the Canadian Natural deal. Stock went south and … the CEO, Brian Ferguson, was going to step down and he did that at the end of October.

Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson stepped down as head of the Calgary company on Oct. 31 but plans to stay as an adviser until the end of March 2018. (CBC)

Q: How do you summarize this record-breaking year for the indexes?

A: I think it was just a surprise for so many people. Nobody expected to see the kind of growth in the markets that we saw this year.

When you look at the Dow Jones industrial average, it's up 25 per cent since last year. It was the first full year of President Trump and we had no idea the kinds of things he would be able to push through in terms of his agenda.

Every week it seemed there was another record-high. It was incredible.

Q: What do you make of the cryptocurrency bitcoin?

A: It's confounding to so many people, bitcoin going from $1,000 at the beginning of the year to bumping up to $20,000 and then down again.

Yedlin is skeptical about the future of Bitcoin for regular transactions but says the price of the cryptocurrency should still be in the thousands of dollars in 2018. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

So many people look at this as a bubble and it won't end well because it's not really backed by any store of value. People are saying in 2018 you'll see a range anywhere from [as high as] $6,500 [down] to $2,000, but who knows?

The Canadian dollar is backed by value. What is bitcoin backed by? We're not sure.

Q: What does all this mean for the economic growth in Calgary in 2018?

A: We're starting to see the energy sector find its new footing in a new cost environment.

There's a lot of really interesting things that are happening that are bringing in people from the energy sector ... that are looking to apply their skills somewhere else.

And I think there's a lot of optimism. We have to realize that Calgary has a lot of potential. We have a lot of intellectual horsepower, we are entrepreneurial and I really got a sense that … possibility is coming back to Calgary.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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