Bank of Canada responds to weak Q2 economy—holding policy steady

by Dr. Sherry Cooper on 09 Sep 2021

The Bank of Canada maintained its target overnight rate at its effective lower bound of 0.25%. The Bank is maintaining its extraordinary forward guidance on the path for the overnight rate, estimating the first rate hike in the second half of 2022. This is reinforced and supplemented by the Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) program, which is maintained at a target pace of $2 billion per week.

Bank of Canada Stands Pat

As we await the quarterly economic forecast in next month's Monetary Policy Report, the Bank of Canada acknowledged that the Q2 GDP report, released last week, caught them off-guard. In today's policy statement, the Governing Council of the Bank said, "In Canada, GDP contracted by about 1% in the second quarter, weaker than anticipated in the Bank’s July Monetary Policy Report (MPR). This largely reflects a contraction in exports, due in part to supply chain disruptions, especially in the auto sector. Housing market activity pulled back from recent high levels, largely as expected. Consumption, business investment and government spending all contributed positively to growth, with domestic demand growing at more than 3%. Employment rebounded through June and July, with hard-to-distance sectors hiring as public health restrictions eased. This is reducing unevenness in the labour market, although considerable slack remains and some groups—particularly low-wage workers—are still disproportionately affected. The Bank continues to expect the economy to strengthen in the second half of 2021, although the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections and ongoing supply bottlenecks could weigh on the recovery” (see chart below or view here).

Bank says CPI inflation boosted by temporary factors—maybe

Financial conditions remain highly accommodative around the globe. And the Bank today continued to assert that the rise in inflation above 3% is expected, "boosted by base-year effects, gasoline prices, and pandemic-related supply bottlenecks. These factors pushing up inflation are expected to be transitory, but their persistence and magnitude are uncertain and will be monitored closely. Wage increases have been moderate to date, and medium-term inflation expectations remain well-anchored. Core measures of inflation have risen but by less than the CPI."

The Governing Council again stated the Canadian economy still has considerable excess capacity, and the recovery continues to require extraordinary monetary policy support. "We remain committed to holding the policy interest rate at the effective lower bound until economic slack is absorbed so that the 2% inflation target is sustainably achieved." Concerning forward guidance, the Bank said, "We remain committed to holding the policy interest rate at the effective lower bound until economic slack is absorbed so that the 2% inflation target is sustainably achieved. In the Bank’s July projection, this happens in the second half of 2022." This seems to be a placeholder statement, allowing the Bank to reassess the outlook next month, possibly delaying the guidance if the economy continues to perform below their July projection.

Similarly, the Bank maintains its Quantitative Easing program at the current pace of purchasing $2 billion per week of Government of Canada (GoC) bonds, keeping interest rates low across the yield curve. "Decisions regarding future adjustments to the pace of net bond purchases will be guided by Governing Council's ongoing assessment of the strength and durability of the recovery. We will continue to provide the appropriate degree of monetary policy stimulus to support the recovery and achieve the inflation objective."

Bottom line

Only time will tell if the Bank of Canada is correct in believing that inflation pressures are temporary. Financial markets will remain sensitive to incoming data, but bond markets seem willing to accept their view for now. The five-year GoC bond yield has edged down from its recent peak of 1% posted on June 28th to a current level of .80%. In contrast, the Canadian dollar had weakened significantly since late June when it was over US$0.825 to US$0.787 this morning. Clearly, the Bank of Canada is committed to keeping Canadian interest rates low for the foreseeable future. The next Bank of Canada policy decision date is Oct. 27. Stay tuned for the Canadian employment report this Friday.

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