Oil shocks Bank of Canada into surprise rate cut

In a surprise move, the Bank of Canada announced on January 21st, 2015 that it was lowering its trend-setting overnight lending rate from 1 per cent to 0.75 per cent. This marks the first change to the Bank’s key interest rate in more than four years.

The decision to cut rates was the result of the recent sharp drop in the price for oil, which the Bank said “will be negative for [economic] growth and underlying inflation in Canada.”The Bank’s new Canadian economic forecast assumes that oil prices will average around US$60 per barrel, which means the Bank believes oil prices will rise from the mid-to-high $40 range where they stood at the time of the announcement.

The Bank said that total CPI inflation was already starting to reflect lower oil prices and that inflation was expected to drop below the lower bound of its target range for inflation of between one and three per cent before returning to the target range in the fourth quarter of this year. “This points to interest rates staying lower over the rest of the year,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s Chief Economist.

The Bank said “the oil price shock is occurring against a backdrop of solid and more broadlybased growth in Canada in recent quarters. Outside the energy sector, we are beginning to see the anticipated sequence of increased foreign demand, stronger exports, improved business confidence and investment, and employment growth.”

The cut to the Bank’s key interest rate will act as another shoulder against the wheel pushing Canada’s economy in this direction while helping put a floor under falling inflation.

Even before the surprise rate cut, a rising spread between bond and mortgage rates was already putting downward pressure on five year fixed interest rate mortgages.

As of January 21st, 2015, the advertised five-year lending rate stood at 4.79 per cent, unchanged from the previous Bank rate announcement on December 3rd, 2014 and down 0.45 percentage points from the same time one year ago. The Bank of Canada’s next policy interest rate announcement is March 4th, 2015 and the next update to Canadian economic forecast will be published in its Monetary Policy Report on April 15th, 2015.

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