Bank of Canada sees stronger economy, oil prices a double-edged sword

The Bank of Canada announced on December 3rd, 2014 that it was holding its trend-setting overnight lending rate at 1 per cent.

Economic conditions around the world have changed rapidly in recent months. The Bank’s December 3rd announcement took a decidedly “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach in addressing how recent developments have altered not only the outlook for inflation and the economy, but also the risks to that outlook.

While it considers the potential upside and downside risks to be balanced, the Bank sees them as having intensified.

  1. Risks to the Canadian economy: On the upside, the Bank acknowledged Canadian exports as having improved, resulting in stronger business investment and employment, suggesting the return of balanced and self-sustaining growth. On the downside, the Bank indicated lower prices for oil and other commodities will act as a drag on the Canadian economy, and that household imbalances present a significant risk to financial stability.
  2. Inflation risks: On the downside: weaker oil prices could lower inflation. On the upside, The impact of lower oil price may be tempered by a stronger U.S. economy, Canadian dollar depreciation, and recent federal fiscal measures. The Bank acknowledged inflation is up by more than expected due largely to what it considers to be temporary factors, and while underlying inflation has edged up it remains below the 2 per cent target.
  3. Interest rate risks: On the upside, developments as outlined above together with upward revisions to past economic data suggest that slackness in the Canadian economy may be less than the Bank previously thought. That means the expected date for the first interest rate hike could be moved up. On the downside, conditions in the labour market continue to suggest there is still plenty of slackness in the Canadian economy. Additionally, lower oil prices could mean slower growth and more time before the Bank starts raising interest rates.

What does all this mean for the interest rate outlook? At this point, not much. The first hike is still pencilled in for later next year. Whether that outlook changes will depend on what happens in the months ahead – and perhaps most importantly, what happens to the price of oil.

As of December 3rd, 2014, the advertised five-year lending rate stood at 4.79 per cent, unchanged from the previous Bank rate announcement on October 22nd, 2014 and down 0.55 percentage points from the same time one year ago.

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