Posted on December 6, 2023

Bank of Canada Holds The Overnight Policy Rate Steady at 5% For the Third Consecutive Meeting

The Bank of Canada Held Rates Steady and Took A More Neutral Tone

It was widely expected that the Bank of Canada would maintain its key policy rate at 5% for the third consecutive time. It will continue to sell government securities (quantitative tightening) to normalize its balance sheet. Market participants weighed and measured each word of the BoC press release and assessed that the Bank took a less hawkish stance.

This time, the release said, “Higher interest rates are clearly restraining spending: consumption growth in the last two quarters was close to zero, and business investment has been volatile but essentially flat over the past year. Exports and inventory adjustment subtracted from GDP growth in the third quarter, while government spending and new home construction provided a boost. The labour market continues to ease: job creation has been slower than labour force growth, job vacancies have declined further, and the unemployment rate has risen modestly. Even so, wages are still rising by 4-5%. Overall, these data and indicators for the fourth quarter suggest the economy is no longer in excess demand.”

At the prior meeting in late October, the Bank said that the labour market remained “on the tight side” but acknowledged today that it was loosening. Indeed, the October Monetary Policy Report suggested that the inflation rate would not hit its 2% target level until late 2025.

Today, the tone was much more optimistic, suggesting that policymakers are increasingly confident interest rates are restrictive enough to bring inflation back to the 2% target. Still, Bank officials want to see more progress on core inflation before it begins to ease. It said, “The Bank’s preferred measures of core inflation have been around 3½-4%, with the October data coming in towards the lower end of this range.”

The central bank focuses on “the balance between demand and supply in the economy, inflation expectations, wage growth, and corporate pricing behaviour” and remains resolute in restoring price stability.

Bottom Line

Bond yields peaked in early October and have fallen by nearly 100 basis points. This has led to reductions in fixed mortgage rates; however, those cuts have been far less than historical experience would have suggested, given the rally in 5-year government bonds.

Cuts in variable mortgage rates await a reduction in the overnight policy rate, which triggers a commensurate decline in the prime rate, which is currently stuck at 7.2%. I expect the BoC to begin cutting the policy rate by the middle of next year, taking it down a full percentage point to 4% by yearend.