Muted Outlook for Canadian Economy

By: CBoC Team

Consumer Spending Holding Strong Despite Confidence Being Weak

Ottawa, April 12, 2023 — Despite the progress that has been made, inflation is still weighing down Canada’s economy according to new research from The Conference Board of Canada. In keeping with its previous forecast, real GDP growth will be at a virtual standstill for the rest 2023. For the year as a whole that means a 0.9 per cent gain, followed by only a modest 1.4 per cent improvement in 2024.

“Concerns about the U.S. financial system are unlikely to be mirrored in Canada given our country’s more concentrated banking system,” stated Ted Mallett, Director, Economic Forecasting at The Conference Board of Canada. “The indirect effects will be muted, and business investment was already expected to be weak in Canada so there is relatively little business lending to pull back.”

The global economy has slowed sharply over the past year as major central banks have increased interest rates, but despite the weak near-term growth anticipation, the chances of a severe global recession have receded. Inflation remains a threat, but two key developments provide reason for optimism. The first is the mild winter in Europe eased concerns of an energy crunch, with natural gas prices now lower than before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The second is China’s removal of the zero-COVID policy, which saw their economy open at a much faster pace than anticipated.

The U.S. economy continues to defy expectations, with an expansion of 2.7 per cent in the final quarter of last year. Several factors should ensure that the coming slowdown in economic growth won’t be as severe as past slumps in economic activity. The major reason behind this view is the excess savings that households in America built up during the pandemic when the opportunity to spend was severely limited.

A slower U.S. economy will weigh on Canada’s trade results in the coming months, but the exports sector will still see a good showing in 2023, according to The Conference Board of Canada. Supply chain disturbances, which significantly restrained activity for many export sectors last year, have shown signs of easing over the past several months. A weak domestic economy, the depreciation of the loonie, and a steep decline in machinery and equipment investment will lead to muted activity for total real imports this year.

The oil and gas sector is a major bright spot in Canada thanks to strong corporate profits and ongoing projects in Western Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Canada’s labour market has seen an impressive start to 2023, according to The Conference Board of Canada, which is being fuelled by an uptick in population growth. International migration to Canada has risen sharply in recent quarters, driven by record immigration targets and increased admissions of non-permanent residents, including temporary foreign workers.

Higher mortgage rates have slowed residential demand and unsurprisingly, the resale market has corrected with sales and prices decreasing. This downturn will frustrate some homeowners who bought at peak prices, while higher interest rates could severely impact some homeowners forced to renew mortgages at higher interest rates.

“While much of the COVID-19 support spending is now in the rear-view mirror, governments continue to have a heightened presence in the economy,” continued Mallett. “The pandemic brought about a new era of challenges to public finances, which were hardly looking rosy heading into the pandemic. The most notable question mark in today’s fiscal climate is how well governments can cope with new economic shocks.”

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