By Jacqueline Thorpe
Canada has posted less than stellar economic statistics recently, including weak retail spending and combined jobs losses of 73,000 in October and November, indicating the economy barely eked out growth beyond 1% on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter.
Economists see a bounce back heading into 2020 but just how vigorous that is will depend largely on the labor market, which the Bank of Canada will be watching closely. Analysts forecast 25,000 jobs were created in December with the unemployment rate dipping to 5.8% from 5.9%, according to the median estimate of a Bloomberg survey.
“Of course the bank would never admit they’d base a decision on one data point but this one could be rather crucial,” Sarah Howcroft, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said at panel discussion on the 2020 outlook at Bloomberg’s Toronto office Wednesday.
Howcroft said there’s a bit of downside risk for the economy after the weak fourth-quarter handoff. Still, she expects the Bank of Canada to remain on hold this year given core inflation is above the 2% target and one of the highest in the developed world. A resurgent housing market and forthcoming fiscal stimulus also argue for the central bank to stick to the sidelines.
Here are some other nuggets from the panel discussion:
“I think this could be a year where the Canadian stock market does have a little bit of outperformance versus the U.S,” said Rose Devli, a portfolio manager at 1832 Asset Management, pointing to a better outlook for financials and oil and gas, which have been beaten up in Canada.
Devli sees clearer skies ahead for markets despite volatility caused by geopolitical risks, such as those coming from Iran, due to expansive monetary policy and low interest rates.
Martha Tredgett, executive director at LGT Capital Partners, with $60 billion under management, said that could change if a Democrat gets into the White House.
“I think it could be a big negative frankly,” Tredgett said. “Trump, love him or hate him, he’s very pro-business. He’s been very good for equity markets, financial markets, so it would be hard to see a democratic candidate get into the White House and for the present scenario to continue.”
In November, the Bank of Canada released a multi-year plan to study the economic impacts of climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.
“Aside from investing, the Bank of Canada might be interested in how some of the cultural shifts that are accompanying increasing environmental awareness are going to impact their mandate,” said Howcroft. This could include how trends such as the sharing economy, a push for waste reduction, recycling and less travel could have a real impact on consumer spending habits.
Tredgett said while investing based around ESG — environmental, social and governance factors — has boosted her fund’s returns, the government has to tread deftly from a policy perspective.
“What the Canadian government has be careful of is, not kowtowing to certain special interest groups,” she said. “You really do have to pay attention to where capital is flowing, to where investors are willing to place capital, and where you’re going to create jobs. You really can’t prioritize special interest groups that will upend your economy.”