Canadian Economy Ended 2020 On An Extremely Upbeat Note.

General Dakota Matias 3 Mar

Strong Canadian Economic Growth in Q4 and January

This morning’s Stats Canada release showed that economic growth in the final quarter of last year was a surprisingly strong 9.6% (annualized). The surge in growth in January was even more interesting, estimated at a 0.5% (not annualized) pace. If these numbers pan out, it means that Canada did not suffer a contraction during the second wave and ensuing lockdown.

The January figure is noteworthy in that retail sales plunged as nonessential stores were closed in key parts of the country as we faced surging numbers of COVID cases. The strength came from resources, housing and government spending and the mild weather likely helped.

At its last meeting in January, the Bank of Canada (BoC) estimated that Q4 growth would come in at 4.8% (half the actual 9.6% pace) and that there would be a net contraction in Q1 of this year. The strength in Q4 emanated from very hot housing, some business investment in machinery, government outlays and a resurgence in inventory accumulation. Inventory build-up is often seen as a negative sign reflecting weak consumer spending. But maybe firms were preparing for a considerable rebound in demand.

Economists on Bay Street are upwardly revising their growth forecasts for this year, and no doubt the BoC will do so again when it meets next Wednesday. Clearly, the economy has been more resilient than expected. Will that change the Bank’s assessment of the continued need for monetary stimulus? Probably not. But it will likely temper their view that the next rate hike will not be until 2023, a sentiment the BoC has asserted regularly in the past.

 Consumer spending was weak at the end of last year, not surprisingly given many stores were closed and a stay-at-home order was in place in several highly populated areas. Households have been hoarding cash. The savings rate declined to 12.7% in Q4 from as high as 27.8% earlier in the year, but that is still way above normal. Accumulated savings will provide a backstop for robust consumer spending once the economy opens up.

For all of 2020, the Canadian economy contracted by 5.4%–a substantially harder hit than in the US, which posted a 3.5% decline.

 Bottom Line

The stronger-than-expected economy raises the potential that there is enough stimulus in the economy. The Trudeau government appears to be determined to hike government spending meaningfully in the next federal budget (likely coming this Spring). We know it is the government’s predilection to juice the economy for another couple of years, but that could well deserve a rethink.

Interest Rates & Commodity Prices Surge On Economic Rebound Optimism.

General Dakota Matias 2 Mar

Canadian 5-Year Bond Yield Surges!

In an unprecedented move, bond yields are spiking around the world. Yields globally are now at levels last seen before the coronavirus spread worldwide. At the same time, commodity prices are surging, including energy, metals and minerals, agricultural products and lumber. The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package is has triggered fears that if the US economy returns to full employment too quickly, inflation might be the result.

Central banks have attempted to soothe markets, with European Central Bank chief economist Philip Lane saying the institution can buy bonds flexibly. Fed Chair Jerome Powell called the recent run-up in yields “a statement of confidence” in the economic outlook. Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem told us earlier this week that it’s a long road to recovery for the Canadian economy. The Bank of Canada will continue to provide support every step of the way. Many Bay Street economists took this to mean that he reinforced the BoC’s commitment to keeping the policy rate at its effective lower bound of 25 bps until sometime in 2023.

These global developments have sideswiped Canada. On Tuesday, I warned that the 5-year government bond yield had risen 27 bps to 0.69% since the beginning of this month, shown in the first chart below. This morning, the rise has become exponential, hitting 1.00%, shown in the second chart.

Keep in mind that Canada’s economy has considerable slack with unemployment rising in recent months and the lockdown continuing for at least a couple more weeks in the GTA. Moreover, Canada has fallen far behind other countries in the vaccine rollout. But there is no denying that pent-up demand in Canada is high. Not only have home sales been breaking records, but auto sales and anything housing-related–such as Home Depot earning growth–have skyrocketed.

Savings rates are high, and the big banks have reported a surge in deposit growth as consumers squirrel away those savings. Remember, the Roaring Twenties was a response to the 1918 Pandemic, more than anything else.

The CRB commodity price index, shown below, is on a tear, and the gains are in every sector except gold and orange juice. That means that new home construction costs are also rising, as home sales remain well above listings.

Bottom Line

It’s time to lock-in mortgage rates. For those in the market, preapprovals are prudent. Rising rates will likely trigger more housing activity in the near-term as those thinking of buying might move off the sidelines, pushing prices higher over the first half of this year.

The surge in interest rates would undoubtedly stall or reverse if we see a third wave of new variant COVID cases in advance of a full rollout of the vaccines in Canada. However, there is enough monetary and fiscal stimulus in global markets, and oil prices are expected to continue to rally sufficiently that an ultimate rise in interest rates cannot be far off. This is indicated by the loonie moving to a near a 3-year high.