To fend off a slowing global economy, nearly 30 central banks have cut interest rates this year. But the Bank of Canada has been conspicuous in its absence. It has even held to a more hawkish tone while its counterparts, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank, have moved rates steadily lower.
At its October 30 meeting, the BoC continued to hold rates steady, keeping its key interest rate unchanged at 1.75%. At the same time, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut its overnight rate for the third time since July, to a range between 1.50% to 1.75%. With the latest rate cut, the Fed’s key rate is now trading in the same range as the BoCs.
Canadian economy appears resilient – for now
Given Canada’s relatively strong economic indicators, BoC Governor Stephen Poloz has been able to hold rates steady. Job growth has been strong, with the economy adding 135,000 jobs in August and September. The slowing Canadian housing market, which had been a concern, appears to have stabilized as mortgage rates came down slightly with falling bond yields. As well, inflation is running slightly below the BoC’s target range, and despite the U.S./China trade war, business confidence has held up.
However, the BoC’s next meeting in December will be closely watched by the market. By then, many economists believe there could be clear evidence that slowing global growth is biting into the Canadian economy. If so, Poloz may no longer be able to resist the move to lower interest rates, with one coming in December or early in the New Year.
Moreover, in its economic forecast the BoC said it expected growth to slow in the second half of the year. It cut its third-quarter growth estimate to 1.3% annualized from 1.5%, and predicted the economy would grow by 1.3% in the fourth quarter.
The BoC also noted that the fallout from the U.S.-China trade dispute could yet significantly damage business investment and exports, with both of these areas of the economy expected to contract. As well, the bank noted that the global slowdown has undermined commodity prices, further hurting the Canada’s economy.
In terms of the Canadian dollar, the BoC’s decision to hold the line while the Fed cut, has helped buoy the loonie’s value, with it trading in the US$0.75 range. If the BoC continues to pause on rate hikes, the Canadian dollar could retain its relative strength against other currencies.
Major central banks and their key interest rates
The Fed: Can it resist Trump?
Despite the three rate cuts by the Fed since July, President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded that the Fed cut rates at a much faster and deeper pace. In one tweet, he called the Fed governors “boneheads,” and demanded that they introduce negative interest rates, ostensibly, he said, to refinance the government’s $22 trillion debt.
However, Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated that it may be the last rate reduction in this cycle. However, since the Fed last cut rates in mid-September, a number of key economic indicators have suggested that job creation is slowing, with the U.S./China trade war hurting manufacturing and business investment. That said, the U.S. economy is still growing, and whether the latest round of cuts can head off a recession and keep the Fed on the sidelines remains to be seen.
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