The Bank of Canada left its target for the overnight rate unchanged at 1.75 per cent this morning. In the statement accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that growth in the Canadian economy will be challenged by Alberta's cutbacks in oil production but investment outside of the energy sector is expected to strengthen. On inflation, the Bank judges that prices in the economy are evolving in a way consistent with an economy operating at full capacity. Given the Bank of Canada judges the economy is currently acting at full capacity and inflation is running slightly above its 2 per cent target, its bias remains tilted towards “normalizing” its policy rate back to its estimated neutral level of between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent. With that bias in place, the timing of rate increases, rather than their direction, is the more pertinent issue.
However, the deep discount for Canadian Western Select oil, and the ramifications of limited Alberta oil production, is one reason to be skeptical that the Bank will accomplish its objective to return to a neutral 3 per cent rate over the medium term. However, other cracks in the economy are starting to appear as well, including the highly publicized closing to GM’s Oshawa plant which will have a material impact on growth in Ontario. Those factors, along with a slowing housing market across Canada and a potentially sharp slowdown in US economic growth next year, may give the Bank pause. For those reasons, our baseline forecast is that the Bank will only be able to bring its overnight rate to 2.5 per cent during this tightening cycle.