Recent economic and financial developments

  • 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.
  • 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.

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