Bank of Canada Review Article

  • December 15, 1998

    Recent economic and financial developments

    This commentary, completed in mid-January, discusses economic and financial developments in Canada since the publication of the November Monetary Policy Report. Conditions in world financial markets have improved since November, but the global economic environment is still uncertain. The main uncertainty centres on Japan, which remains in recession. If bank reforms and stimulative fiscal measures are effectively implemented in that country, a gradual recovery should begin there during 1999. The economic expansion in other major industrialized countries, which together account for over half of world output, is expected to remain well sustained. The U.S. economy, in particular, continues to outstrip expectations and even if it slows, as expected, will likely still operate at high levels. In Canada, indicators of domestic demand remain relatively firm, although the growth of monetary and credit aggregates has moderated. The Bank's outlook for 1999 continues to be one of ongoing economic expansion. Inflation is expected to stay in the lower half of the target range of 1 to 3 per cent. Update on 23 February 1999: The global economic environment in which Canada operates is still uncertain. In Japan, there is little sign yet that the economy is about to move out of its slump, while in Europe, the latest data point to a softening in economic activity. In sharp contrast, the U.S. economy continues to outstrip expectations, ending 1998 with growth of 5.6 per cent (annual rate) in the fourth quarter—much stronger growth than had been anticipated earlier. Despite lingering economic uncertainty, global financial markets have been much more stable compared with last autumn and do not seem to have been substantially affected by the events in Brazil. This would appear to reflect the effects of reductions in official interest rates around the world since the autumn as well as the success some emerging-market economies have had in dealing with their problems. As a result, international investors and markets seem to have a renewed sense of their ability to assess and differentiate among debtor countries as well as other borrowers. Here in Canada, even if we allow for the effects of temporary factors (such as the return to normal operations following the end of major labour disruptions), the underlying momentum of the economy is healthy. While resource-based export revenues remain weak, exports of other goods, particularly automotive products, surged in the closing months of 1998, bolstered by continued strong U.S. demand and Canada's improved competitive position. Growth in consumer spending eased through the latter part of 1998, mainly because of the effects on confidence of last autumn's financial turbulence and the end of financing incentives on automobile purchases. The reversal of these factors should have a beneficial effect on consumer demand early in 1999. Housing starts recovered in the fourth quarter, following the resolution of labour disputes, while business investment continued to expand modestly. The robust, broad-based employment gains recorded through the fourth quarter carried into January 1999. On balance, recent data suggest that real GDP increased by about 4 per cent (annual rate) in the fourth quarter—at the upper end of the range expected at the time the commentary was completed. The latest data point to core inflation fluctuating around the lower end of the inflation-control target range of 1 to 3 per cent. While upward pressure on the price level from the past exchange rate depreciation continues, the dampening effects of ongoing intense retail competition, excess supply in product markets, and restrained unit labour costs have kept overall inflation somewhat below expectations. Improved financial market conditions, coupled with the general firmness of recent domestic economic data and a slightly more favourable outlook for commodity prices, have supported a stronger Canadian dollar since completion of the commentary. Because of this, monetary conditions have tightened somewhat further since mid-January. With a measure of stability returning to global financial markets, concerns about the effects of financial volatility on consumer and business confidence in Canada have diminished. As noted in the commentary, such concerns were an important consideration for the Bank in the period following the Russian crisis, when particular emphasis had to be placed on calming financial markets. The easing of these pressures has made it possible to refocus attention on the medium-term policy objective of keeping the trend of inflation inside the target range.
  • December 14, 1998

    Downward wage rigidity

    There has recently been considerable discussion about the ability of inflation to facilitate the adjustment of prices and wages and thus enhance economic performance. The discussion centres on whether wages are downwardly rigid. Wages are said to be downwardly rigid if it is difficult for the wages of some workers to fall despite underlying supply and demand pressures for decreases. Some authors have suggested that if downward nominal wage rigidity is prevalent it would be desirable to select a positive rate of inflation as the target for monetary policy. In this article, the authors evaluate the wage-rigidity hypothesis. They first examine the empirical evidence to assess whether the degree of downward rigidity is significant in Canada. They then analyze some key assumptions of the wage-rigidity hypothesis and its implications for employment. They also look at the empirical evidence on whether the combination of downward wage rigidity and low inflation has reduced employment.
  • December 13, 1998

    Survey of the Canadian foreign exchange and derivatives markets

    In April 1998, the Bank of Canada conducted its triennial survey of activity in the Canadian foreign exchange and derivatives markets. This was part of a coordinated international effort in which 43 countries carried out similar surveys. The foreign exchange market in Canada is the 11th largest in the world, and the Canadian dollar is the 7th most-traded currency globally. The average daily turnover of traditional foreign exchange transactions has grown by 23 per cent (to US$37 billion) since the last survey in 1995. Although this growth was substantial, the rate of increase has declined steadily since the survey began in 1983. The average daily turnover for single-currency interest rate derivatives during April 1998 was US$6.4 billion, an increase of 48 per cent over the previous survey.
  • December 12, 1998

    Conference summary: Information in financial asset prices

    This article summarizes the proceedings of a conference hosted by the Bank of Canada in May 1998. This was the second Bank conference to focus directly on issues concerning financial markets. The topic for 1998—the extraction of information from the prices of financial assets—has been an area of extensive research by central banks worldwide because of its connection to monetary policy. The Bank wanted to encourage such work by Canadian researchers as well as solicit feedback on work conducted internally. It also wanted to broaden the understanding of the interplay in the markets between central banks and other participants. It therefore assembled a wide mix of researchers, central bankers, and market participants. The summary briefly outlines the papers presented as well as the wrap-up discussion.
  • November 14, 1998

    Lower inflation: Benefits and costs

    The federal government and the Bank of Canada have been committed for some time to achieving and maintaining price stability as a way to foster a rising standard of living for all Canadians. To support this objective, the inflation-control target range of 1 to 3 per cent was recently extended through to the end of 2001. By then, the government and the Bank plan to announce a long-run target for monetary policy. In this article, the authors provide an overview of the most recent empirical evidence on the benefits of lower inflation. They draw on an extensive earlier survey and on work presented at two recent conferences on price stability hosted by the Bank of Canada. They find that, when inflation and tax interactions are taken into account, there are large benefits to lowering inflation. When these benefits are compared with the transitional costs associated with lowering inflation, significant positive benefits remain. However, the authors note that the extension of the inflation-control targets to the end of 2001 allows further research to ensure an operational definition of price stability that will help Canadians achieve a high standard of living.
  • November 13, 1998

    Currency crises and fixed exchange rates in the 1990s: A review

    Currency crises in the 1990s, especially those in emerging markets, have sharply disrupted economic activity, affecting not only the country experiencing the crisis, but also those with trade, investment, and geographic links. The authors review the theoretical literature and empirical evidence regarding these crises. They conclude that their primary cause is a fixed nominal exchange rate combined with macroeconomic imbalances, such as current account or fiscal deficits, that the market perceives as unsustainable at the prevailing real exchange rate. They also conclude that currency crises can be prevented through the adoption of sound monetary and fiscal policies, effective regulation and supervision of the financial sector, and a more flexible nominal exchange rate.
  • November 12, 1998

    The LVTS - Canada's Large-Value Transfer System

    The LVTS is an electronic network for sending and receiving large-value payments. It is expected to become operational in the first half of 1999. Major chartered banks and other large deposit-taking institutions will provide access to the system for their clients in the financial, corporate, and government sectors. Canada’s LVTS exceeds world standards for risk control in large-value systems. The author explains how this is achieved through the netting, bilateral and multilateral credit limits, collateral, and loss-sharing procedures used in the event of a default, and, as a last resort, a guarantee by the Bank of Canada. The LVTS gives participating institutions certainty of settlement for their LVTS positions every day, even if one or more participants default. This greatly reduces systemic risk in the financial system. Moreover, the LVTS supports finality of payment; that is, it makes funds unconditionally and irrevocably available to the receiver. Finality is highly desirable when the amount of the payment is substantial, or when exact timing is critical. Since the LVTS will carry the great majority of the value of all payments in Canada, it should be considered the core of the national payments system.
  • November 11, 1998

    A primer on the implementation of monetary policy in the LVTS environment

    The author summarizes the objectives and key elements of the framework that the Bank will use to implement monetary policy under the new payments system. The article includes a comparison of the key features of the pre-LVTS framework with that to be used in the LVTS environment. It also features a glossary of terms with respect to the Bank's monetary policy operations.
  • August 14, 1998

    Recent economic and financial developments (with update on 12 August)

    This commentary, which was completed at the end of June, provides an account of economic and financial developments in Canada since the publication of the last Monetary Policy Report in mid-May 1998. International developments since May have increased the degree of uncertainty surrounding the outlook for the Canadian economy. While most indicators of domestic demand as well as the growth of the monetary and credit aggregates suggest continued relative buoyancy in the domestic economy, the foreign trade data bear clear evidence of the drag arising from the situation in Southeast Asia and Japan. However, with the various risks to the outlook appearing to be greater than previously thought, the Bank will continue to monitor developments carefully and constantly reassess its judgment of Canada's economic and financial situation. The core rate of inflation is expected to remain in the lower half of the 1 to 3 per cent inflation-control target range for the remainder of the year. Update 12 August 1998: The degree of uncertainty surrounding the international situation and its implications for the Canadian economy remains high. In Southeast Asia, economic activity continues to decline and financial markets remain nervous. In Japan, the latest economic data point to further weakness. In sharp contrast, the U.S. economy continues to outperform expectations, with domestic demand showing robust growth according to the latest information. As well, recent developments in Europe point to moderate economic expansion. Here in Canada, allowing for the effects of temporary factors such as layoffs associated with the strike at General Motors, the underlying momentum in the economy continues to be positive. The many cross-currents affecting the Canadian economy are evident in the data released since the commentary on recent developments was completed. In the resource sector, production and exports have been weak because of reduced demand from Asia. However, exports of other goods, particularly non-automotive manufacturing goods, have been buoyant, reflecting strong demand from the United States. In Canada, retail sales continue to rise and sales of existing homes are also growing, consistent with the pickup in the growth of household credit. At the same time, new home construction has weakened, in part because of strikes in the Greater Metropolitan Toronto area. Business investment and the growth of total business credit have also remained relatively strong. Recent information on overall investment intentions for 1998 show marked growth, consistent with the latest monthly indicators on investment in machinery and structures, but the resource and non-resource sectors are showing divergent near-term trends. The latest labour force data also point to sustained underlying growth in employment and incomes. On the whole, recent data suggest that real GDP increased by about 2 1/2 per cent (annual rate) in the second quarter, somewhat less than anticipated at the time the commentary was completed. Our current estimate is that the various strikes and other production disruptions (the largest being the spillover effects from the GM strike in the United States) lowered second-quarter real GDP growth by about 1/2 of a percentage point. Thus, in the absence of these disruptions, growth would have been closer to 3 per cent. Economic activity in Canada will continue to be affected by the GM strike and associated layoffs into the third quarter, complicating interpretation of the economic data for this period. This and the uncertainties on the external front underscore the need for continued close monitoring of economic developments. On balance, the positive elements of ongoing strength in consumer and investment spending in Canada, together with the high level of U.S. demand for our products, continue to support economic expansion at rates that will reduce unused capacity. On the inflation front, the latest information points to core inflation remaining in the lower half of the 1 to 3 per cent inflation-control target range. While the effects on the price level from exchange rate depreciation will be working to raise inflation, offsetting factors, such as excess supply in the economy and price competition from Asian producers, will keep overall inflation pressures subdued. Since completion of the commentary, monetary conditions have eased further as a result of the depreciation of the Canadian dollar. As noted in the commentary, the extent of the current international uncertainty is causing volatility in financial markets and fluctuations in monetary conditions over a wide range.
  • August 13, 1998

    Labour force participation in Canada: Trends and shifts

    A key determinant of the potential growth of an economy is the rate at which the labour force increases, which depends both on population growth and on changes in the participation rate. Cyclical factors related to the economic environment can play a significant role in affecting the participation rate, as can structural factors and demographic trends. From the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s, the participation rate rose almost without interruption to a record high of 67.5 per cent. In contrast, between 1990 and 1995, it declined sharply and has been relatively steady at around 65 per cent since 1995. In this article, the author analyzes the participation rate of age and gender groupings in order to better understand the factors leading to these developments and their implications for future movements in the aggregate rate. While cyclical factors contributed to the decline in the participation rate in the 1990s, structural factors (such as an increase in school attendance rates and the increasing use of computer technology) and demographic trends (the aging of the population) have had a substantial impact. The conclusion reached is that, while some recovery is to be expected, the aggregate participation rate is unlikely to return to its 1989 peak over the next decade or so.

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