|Bottom Line: the December employment report confirms the Bank of Canada’s current policy stance that despite headwinds, the Canadian economy remains relatively resilient and that further interest rate cuts are unnecessary. This assessment can change on a dime in today’s uncertain world, but for now, the central bank is likely to remain on hold. Interest rates have risen in the past six-to-eight weeks owing to market forces. The fourth-quarter GDP growth in Canada has slowed markedly on weakness in consumer and business spending; hence the Bank will be monitoring closely upcoming data. We are forecasting roughly 1.8% growth in the economy in 2020, about in line with the 2019 pace. With very tight labour markets, the output gap has closed, and the economy will run at the longer-run potential growth pace consistent with our forecast.
Consumer Confidence Down
Canadian consumers appear to be less sanguine about the outlook than economists. In an end-of-year survey for Bloomberg News by Nanos Research Group, 55% of Canadians said there’s at least a “somewhat likely” chance of a recession this year. Only 33% reported a recession is unlikely, with 12% unsure. According to Bloomberg News, ” the downbeat perceptions reflect a pervasive sense of caution that has dogged the country’s households for more than a year and impacted their behaviour.”
Excluding housing, annual growth in total household consumption has averaged 1.1% in real terms over the past four quarters, the slowest pace outside recession since at least 1962. Another sign of cautiousness: savings rates are inching higher and are now at their highest level since 2015.
Bloomberg reports that “there are also indications that consumer worries have levelled off. The results are little changed from a similar poll taken at the end of November. A separate gauge of consumer confidence — the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index — saw a rebound in December from a two-month slide, as stock markets surged at the end of last year and sentiment around real estate recovered.”
Not surprisingly, recession concerns are most pronounced in prairie provinces like Alberta, where almost three-quarters of households see a chance of a 2020 contraction. Alberta has been hard hit by the plunge in oil prices since mid-2014 and is only slowly recovering. A majority of respondents in British Columbia and Ontario are also concerned a downturn is imminent. Quebec was the only province where optimists outnumbered pessimists.
Consumer confidence in the US has also declined, yet the stock markets in both countries continue to post record highs. We are in the eleventh year of economic expansion, the longest expansion on record, although it is not the strongest. Unlike the US, Canada has benefitted from a surge in immigration in the past three years, boosting growth.
Canadian housing markets have rebounded considerably from the Jan 1, 2018 imposition of the B-20 mortgage stress tests and fiscal stimulus is likely in the next budget,