On the heels of a devastating decline in the Canadian economy, the Bank of Canada suggested today that the worst of the pandemic’s negative impact on the global economy is behind us, conceding, however, that uncertainty remains high. The Bank today maintained its target overnight rate at 0.25%. No additional rate cut was expected as the Bank has described the 0.25% level as the effective lower bound of the policy rate. Governor Poloz has all but ruled out negative interest rates unless the economy deteriorates dramatically further.
Today’s Governing Council meeting is Stephen Poloz’s swan song, as the new Governor, Tiff Macklem, takes the helm today. Macklem took part as an observer in the Governing Council’s deliberations and endorsed today’s rate decision and measures announced in the press release, thereby assuring continuity in monetary policy.
The Bank has taken very aggressive action to support liquidity and the full functioning of financial markets by buying short- and long-term securities. The central bank’s balance sheet holdings of securities have grown to about 20% of Canada’s GDP, up from 5% pre-crisis. That’s still well below the levels seen at the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, and the European Central Bank, which have conducted these quantitative easing operations since the financial crisis more than a decade ago. However, the Bank of Canada’s securities purchases have been extraordinary in relation to the size of our economy.
“Decisive and targeted fiscal actions, combined with lower interest rates, are buffering the impact of the shutdown on disposable income and helping to lay the foundation for economic recovery.” According to the central bank, the Canadian economy appears to have avoided the most severe scenario presented in the Bank’s April Monetary Policy Report (MPR).
The level of real GDP in Q1 was 2.1% below the level in the fourth quarter of 2019. The Bank of Canada is now predicting that real GDP in Q2 will likely post a further decline of 10%-to-20%, as continued shutdowns and sharply lower investment in the energy sector take an additional toll on output. That suggests a peak-to-trough decline of 12% to 22%, instead of the 15% to 30% scenario the central bank had previously been estimating. “The Canadian economy appears to have avoided the most severe scenario,” the Bank of Canada said.
Bottom Line: While the degree of uncertainty remains high, there is evidence that the worst of the economic downturn is behind us. Preliminary data for May suggests that home sales picked up on a month-over-month basis in May in the GTA and GVA, although home sales continued to be down significantly from levels one year ago.
Some people are concerned that the extraordinary stimulus in monetary and fiscal measures in recent months might, in time, be inflationary. Governor Poloz has made it clear that the dire results of the economic shutdown would have been highly deflationary had these actions not been taken. Deflation, coupled with high debt levels, would have triggered a depression. Economic models are ill-equipped to deal with the fallout of the pandemic. Policymakers need to be nimble in responding, and when the economy has recovered sufficiently, they will begin the unwinding of all of this stimulus, which will require an equally deft response on both the fiscal and monetary side.