9 December 1994 The term structure of interest rates as a leading indicator of economic activity: A technical noteThe spread between long-term and short-term interest rates has proven to be an excellent predictor of changes of economic activity in Canada. As a general rule, when long-term interest rates have been much above short-term rates, strong increases in output have followed within about a year; however, whenever the yield curve has been inverted for any extended period of time, a recession has followed. Similar findings exist for other countries, including the United States. But although Canadian and U.S. interest rates generally move quite closely together, the Canadian yield curve has been distinctly better at predicting future Canadian output. The explanation given for this result is that the term spread has reflected both current monetary conditions, which affect short-term interest rates, and expected real returns on investment and expectations of inflation, which are the main determinants of long-term rates. This article is mainly a summary of econometric work done at the Bank. It also touches on some of the extensive recent literature in this area.
The level of government debt in Canada relative to gross domestic product has risen steadily since the mid-1970s. Canada has not been alone in experiencing rising government indebtedness, but in comparison to other countries, Canada's debt load is now distinctly on the high side. The author reviews some of the effects of rising government debt levels on macroeconomic performance and provides some calculations aimed at illustrating their possible long-run impact on the Canadian economy. His analysis, which is based on a model of the Canadian economy used at the Bank of Canada, suggests that higher levels of government debt reduce both the level of output and the share of output that is available for domestic consumption. The central policy implication is that there are substantial benefits to halting the rise in government debt and thus preventing further erosion of consumption opportunities.