Exports, oil rebound no panacea for Canada, bank economists say

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The troubles that plagued the Canadian economy last year are going to persist through 2016, but things may be a bit brighter by the end of the year, according to a panel of chief economists at the country’s five biggest banks.

Here’s what they’re expecting for the world’s 11th biggest economy, which is on pace for 1.2 percent growth in 2015 after being dragged down by the collapse in commodity prices:

No Panacea

Canada’s gross domestic product can be expected to grow about 1.5 percent in 2016, with 0.5 percent coming from exports and 1 percent from domestic demand, said Douglas Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal. That compares with an average forecast of 1.8 percent, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“But the reality is we just cannot count on an export bonanza,” Porter said. “Not with a very intense competition that we continue to see from China, and Mexico to a lesser extent, and with the fact that this country just does not have the industrial capacity that it may have had 10 years ago.”

Stocks, Bonds

“All’s well that ends well,” Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said of the outlook for the equity market in 2016. After an 11 percent slide in 2015, Canadian stocks will post single digit returns and end 2016 on a better note in anticipation of a marginally improved year for the global economy in 2017, he said.

For bonds, it’s “much ado about nothing” for the front-end of the yield curve, Shenfeld said. The Bank of Canada might cut interest rates one more time in 2016 and take it back in 2017, but short-term interest rates aren’t going anywhere, he said.

“This is a slow boat to nowhere,” he said.

Oil Price

“We’re all looking for some sort of rebound in commodity prices, with oil at some point getting back towards $60 or above by 2017,” said Beata Caranci, chief economist at Toronto- Dominion Bank. The central bank estimates $55 oil by the end of this year. U.S. crude is currently trading at about $36 a barrel.

Bank of Nova Scotia’s Warren Jestin warned $60 oil could “reinvigorate” some shale projects but it won’t be enough to encourage the multibillion-dollar investments in the oil sands in a way that will stimulate growth in the province of Alberta and Canada as a whole.

“We changed the conversation in energy,” he said. “The conversation used to be $90-$100 oil. Now we’re talking optimistically about $50-$60 oil.”

Currency Pressure

The Canadian dollar will stay below 80 U.S. cents over the next two years, Caranci said. The currency hit its lowest since 2003 on Tuesday, with one U.S. dollar buying C$1.4019 and the Canadian dollar buying about 71.33 U.S. cents.

“That’s because we need the helping hand on the trade side from foreign demand, specifically the U.S.,” she said.

U.S. Lift

“The U.S. is the bright shining star -- that’s the good news story,” said Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada. “But it’s also suggested it’s not a very fast race or a very bright sky.”

U.S. growth will be marginally better than 2015’s growth rate of 2.5 percent driven by accommodative monetary policy, easing fiscal policy, and low oil prices leaving more money in consumers’ pockets. Employment and income have been strong and investment outlook is a bright spot, he said.

“More competitive currency, stronger U.S. and a pick up in global growth we think will give Canadian exports the lift that we’ve been waiting for,” he said.


Allison McNeely
Bloomberg News

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