Higher Interest Rates Ahead, Bank Warns

Date: Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA-The Bank of Canada has issued its first unequivocal warning that higher interest rates are on their way, likely in about five weeks.

The central bank’s policy statement Tuesday surprised no-one by keeping the trend-setting interest rate at the record low 0.25 per cent for another announcement date, but it was clear about where it was heading next.

The bank’s governing council declared with the economy growing faster this year than thought, as well as inflation, there was no need to stay with its “conditional commitment” that it wouldn’t touch rates until the end of the second quarter, or after June 30.

“This unconventional policy provided considerable additional stimulus during a period of very weak economic conditions,” the council wrote.

“With recent improvements in the economic outlook, the need for such extraordinary policy is now passing, and it is appropriate to begin to lessen the degree of monetary stimulus.”

Hence, the council went on, it was withdrawing the conditional commitment.

That means the bank no longer believes it has a pledge to keep the policy rate at the so-called lower bound until July and sets the stage for a quarter-point or even half-point hike on June 1, the next announcement date.

Markets had already been planning for the central bank to move off emergency rates and in the past few weeks had begun hiking fixed, longer-term mortgage rates.

Once the bank does act, short-term rates and variable mortgages are also likely to be increased.

To drive home the point that the bank believes the financial crisis is over, it said it was also ending its emergency liquidity instrument — the purchase and resale agreements — that ensured money markets in Canada continued to function during the recession.

Several economists had been urging governor Mark Carney to move early on interest rates, but the vast majority felt the bank would lose credibility if it did so without a clear indication that inflation was getting out of control.

A small minority, however, argued that the economy was still too weak to warrant any increase in interest rates this year, and that doing could stall the recovery.

Economists also feared that an early signal from the bank, ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve, would light a fire under the loonie and make life even more difficult for Canada’s battered manufacturing and export sector.

The bank gave at most a mixed signal that it believes inflation is getting out of hand, however, it said it was more lively than it had expected.

Nor is the economy in danger of overheating, judging by the bank’s new forecasts for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The bank said the economy will advance 3.7 per cent this year, 3.1 per cent next year and 1.9 per cent in 2012. In January, its last forecast, it had growth at 2.9 this year, 3.5 next and gave no estimate for 2012.

In essence, the bank has moved up growth in the near term but left it relatively unchanged in the aggregate.

“This profile reflects stronger near-term global growth, very strong housing activity in Canada, and the bank’s assessment that policy stimulus resulted in more expenditures being brought forward,” it said.

“At the same time, the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar, Canada’s poor relative productivity performance and the low absolute level of U.S. demand will continue to act as significant drags on economic activity,” it added.

As for inflation, the council said core prices have been firmer than projected, but that they were expected to ease slightly in the second quarter of this year and remain near the bank’s two per cent target over the next two years.

Total headline inflation, which includes volatile items such as gasoline prices, was expected to be higher than two per cent this year, but returning to target in the second half of 2011.

The sum of the parts, the bank said, is that the economy will return to full capacity one-quarter sooner than it had previously thought in the second quarter of 2011.

Lawrence Kobescak

Lawrence Kobescak

Lawrence Kobescak, the creator behind OntarioMortgageSuperstore.com is a real estate sales representative, mortgage agent and real estate investor. OntarioMortgageSuperstore.com has reached over 240,000 Canadians since 2009. Lawrence has been quoted in the Globe & Mail and MortgageBrokerNews.ca.

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