19 Aug

Hoping for an interest rate cut? You might have a long wait


Posted by: John Dunford

In the current climate of political tension and trade disputes there are no certainties and the global economy is looking increasingly fragile, but while many central banks are cutting rates, the BoC looks set to stand firm.

A panel of economists polled by Bloomberg suggests that Governor Poloz and his team will resist the growing trend for rate cuts and keep Canada’s overnight rate at 1.75%.

And they are not just expecting that to be the case in the short term; most believe there will be no change in interest rates until the end of 2020 at the earliest.

Canada’s economy is faring well and providing some expectation-beating results, helping to inform the economists’ view that a change of policy is less likely.

“Poloz will need to see a substantial weakening in domestic data before the bank changes its stance,” Dominique Lapointe, an economist at Laurentian Bank, told Bloomberg. “The extent to which global tensions translate into lower business investment and exports in Canada has yet to be seen.”

Rate cut?

Nine of the 15 economists polled by Bloomberg are forecasting a hold-steady on rates until the end of 2020 with those from some leading Canadian banks – including TD, BMO, Laurentian, and National Bank – most optimistic of that.

The other six economists believe there will be a rate cut in the next year as global demand pressures Canadian exports and the risk of weakening investment grows.

RBC and CIBC economists both expect an interest rate cut in the first quarter of 2020 while Capital Economics is calling for a 1% rate by the end of next year.

11 Aug

Jobs Stall for Second Month In A Row, But Wage Growth Surges


Posted by: John Dunford

The booming labour market in Canada seems to have vanished, at least for now, as employment declined and the unemployment rate rose again in July. Whether it is the summer doldrums, a trained worker shortage or the beginning of a slower second-half economy is yet to be seen. But the news is troubling in the wake of the accelerating trade tensions between China and the US. The US-Sino trade war has already sideswiped Canada, and President Xi Jinping does not face an election. He is not backing down, despite threats of a 10% additional tariff on all Chinese imports to the US. Trump’s response to denounce China as a currency manipulator has no teeth, raising doubts of the White House claim that trade wars are easy to win.

Agriculture and manufacturing in Canada, China, the US and the rest of the world have already been hard hit. Businesses spending on capital equipment and software has slowed dramatically in the face of so much uncertainty. The global economy has slowed, and bond yields around the world have fallen sharply as money is moving to the safe havens of government bonds and gold. Yield curves in Europe and the US are now inverted, which is often a sign of coming recession.

In Canada this week, the 10-year government bond yield fell to 1.22% compared to 1.58% one month ago and 2.33% one year ago. The 5-year bond yield is also at 1.22%, down a whopping 14 basis points in one week. The best 5-year fixed mortgage rate has now dropped to roughly 2.30%, although borrowers still have to qualify at the Bank of Canada posted rate of 5.19%.

Consumer spending has held up, and housing activity is strengthening in Canada and the US. But if the economy slows and job markets weaken further, it is only a matter of time before households tighten their belts.

Canada’s labour market lost 24,200 jobs in July according to Statistics Canada, versus expectations for a gain of 15,000. That follows a decline of 2,200 jobs in June. The unemployment rate rose to 5.7%, a second monthly increase after reaching a 40-year low of 5.4% in May. Hours worked on a year-over-year basis slowed sharply, and the number of people employed by private sector companies plunged by the most since the last recession.

One of the few positive signs was accelerating wages, with hourly pay up 4.5% in July from a year ago (see chart below). That’s the most robust annual pay rise in a decade. Another area of strength was the construction sector, which recorded a 25,000 gain in employment.

Bottom Line: The disappointing jobs report and the broadening trade tensions will likely spur the notion that a Bank of Canada rate cut is coming. Accelerating wages might delay such a move. But if the global economy continues to slow, the Bank might add its name to the very long list of central bank rate cuts, which now includes the Fed. What has changed from my view just last week that the BoC would be on hold for the rest of the year is the widening trade war and the back-to-back slowdown in our jobs market.


2 Aug

The Fed’s Quarter-Point Rate Cut Not the Start of Something Big


Posted by: John Dunford

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) cut the overnight target rate by 25 basis points as expected today. Chairman Jerome Powell, however, said it was designed to “insure against downside risks” rather than to signal the start of multiple rate cuts. President Trump called for “large” rate cuts on Twitter and has for months pressured the Fed to ease monetary policy. It is very unusual for the Fed to cut interest rates in the face of the continued strength in the US economy and the enormous declines in unemployment.

I cannot remember a reversal of policy with so little impetus. Indeed, the opening sentences of the FOMC statement are, “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that the labor market remains strong and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low.”

The White House pressure is without precedent to the point that Trump publically threatened to demote Chairman Powell if the Fed didn’t cut rates. He also proposes to fill vacant seats with known rate doves. This infringement on Fed independence is very dangerous for the credibility of the central bank. Moreover, it will likely weaken the US dollar if additional rate cuts follow quickly.

Consumer spending remains strong; however, a slowdown in business fixed investment was caused by the President’s insistence on generating trade tensions with China, Canada, the UK and other trading partners. The global economy has slowed because of this uncertainty. China’s economy has decelerated significantly, and manufacturing and agricultural exports to China have been particularly hard hit.

Another issue of concern to the FOMC was the low level of inflation. The Fed targets a 2% inflation rate. The Fed’s favourite inflation measure is now running at about 1.4%-to-1.6%.

Two Federal Reserve Bank governors voted against this action preferring at this meeting to maintain the prior target range. It was the first time since Powell took over as chairman in February 2018 that two policymakers dissented.

Today’s action was the first interest rate cut since the financial crisis began more than a decade ago. The Fed started to normalize interest rates from historically low levels in 2015 as the US economy was recovering and continued to raise the fed funds rate until December 2018. Normalization of monetary policy also included the gradual shrinking of the Fed’s balance sheet–selling bonds into the marketplace, slowly reducing liquidity. Today, the Fed stated it would cease this activity as of tomorrow, rather than the planned date in September.

Bottom Line: The Bank of Canada will not follow the Fed. Canadian interest rates are already below those in the US. While the target range for the US fed funds rate is now 2%-to-2.25%, the target overnight rate in Canada is 1.75%. Moreover, today’s real GDP report for May surprised on the high side, suggesting that GDP growth in the second quarter could be close to 3%. This is well above the Bank’s earlier estimate and justifies the Bank’s remaining on the sidelines.

2 Aug

Fed Announces Interest Rate Decision


Posted by: John Dunford

The Federal Reserve reduced interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis and hinted it may cut again this year to insulate the record-long U.S. economic expansion from slowing global growth.

Central bankers voted, with two officials dissenting, to lower the target range for the benchmark rate by a quarter-percentage point to 2%-2.25%. The shift was predicted by most investors and economists, yet will disappoint President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Tuesday he wanted a “large cut.’’

“In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the committee decided to lower’’ rates, the Federal Open Market Committee, led by Jerome Powell, said in a statement following a two-day meeting in Washington. It also noted that “uncertainties” about the economic outlook remain.

Officials also stopped shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet effective Aug. 1, ending a process that very modestly tightens monetary policy and was previously scheduled to come to a close at the end of September.

Policy makers appeared open to another cut as early as September when they next convene, while sticking with wording in their statement that preserves their options.

“As the committee contemplates the future path of the target range for the federal funds rate, it will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” they said.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston’s Eric Rosengren voted against the cut. The statement said they “preferred at this meeting to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate.” It was the first time since Powell took over as chairman in February 2018 that two policy makers dissented.

Investors had forecast the Fed to continue easing monetary policy this year, with futures pricing the key rate to fall about another half-point by January. U.S. stocks rose to a record last week in anticipation of easier money, while the yield on two-year Treasuries has undershot 2% since May.

While the domestic economy has performed relatively well, the Fed cut amid concern that softness abroad threatens the decade- long U.S. expansion. Trump’s trade war with China is hurting foreign demand. Data released earlier Wednesday showed the pace of quarter-over-quarter growth in the euro area slowed by half in the latest three months to 0.2%.

In the U.S., after growing 2.5% last year, fuelled by now-fading tax cuts and higher government spending, the economy expanded at a 2.1% annualized pace in the second quarter. The trade dispute was blamed for a manufacturing slowdown and the first drop in business investment since 2016.

In their assessment of the US economy, officials made only minor changes to their statement language.

Powell has repeatedly said the Fed’s “overarching goal’’ is to keep growth going. Acting now, when the central bank has less room to pare rates than in past downturns, is partly aimed at getting ahead of any potential slump.

Lacklustre inflation also offered the Fed space and reason to ease. Its preferred price gauge, excluding food and energy, rose 1.6% in June from a year earlier and hasn’t met the Fed’s 2% target this year.

Trump is unlikely to be satisfied as he puts the economy at the heart of his re-election bid. He has broken with convention and undermined the Fed’s political independence by lobbying it to loosen policy and publicly questioning his nomination of Powell as chairman.

At his press conference, Powell will almost certainly be asked if the Fed buckled to that pressure. He may also be quizzed on whether the Fed, if requested, would join the U.S. Treasury in any effort to weaken the dollar given Trump’s complaints about the currency’s value.

Limited Scope

While Trump and some investors wanted the Fed to be more aggressive, its scope for doing so is limited. Stocks are high, unemployment is around the lowest in a half-century and consumers continue to spend. At the same time, a measure of business in the Chicago region fell this month to the lowest since late 2015.

The rate reduction was the first since December 2008 when the Fed dropped its benchmark effectively to zero as it battled recession and financial crisis. It began raising borrowing costs in December 2015, doing so another eight times. Officials indicated as recently as December they intended to continue to hike this year.

They dumped that plan in January as financial markets fretted monetary policy had become too restrictive.

Fellow central banks are set to follow the Fed. Those in India, South Africa and Australia are among those to have cut this year. The European Central Bank has indicated it will do so in September.

A worry for policy makers is that a decade of easy money leaves them short of ammunition for fighting a serious downturn. That likely means governments will face demands to do more if economies keep struggling.