Analysts watching for shift in tone from BoC on Wednesday

By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press | September 3, 2019 | Last updated on September 3, 2019
3 min read
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Canadians will hear from the Bank of Canada on Wednesday for the first time in eight weeks as it releases an economic assessment that follows a summer marked by growing trade tensions and a dimming global outlook.

Governor Stephen Poloz is widely expected to hold the overnight interest rate at 1.75% in the bank’s first policy announcement—or public commentary of any kind—since early July.

The main focus Wednesday will be on the bank’s accompanying analysis of the global economy’s deterioration and what it means for Canada. Markets will watch for clues whether the door has opened for a rate cut, or cuts, over the coming months.

In July, the bank appeared to be in no rush to lower rates, even as other central banks were poised to make cuts to respond to the already gloomy global environment.

Many analysts are expecting a shift in tone Wednesday from the Bank of Canada to lay the groundwork for a possible rate reduction as early as October. Others, however, predict the bank will give itself more time to get a better handle on all the changes, especially the escalation of the U.S.-China trade war.

Frances Donald, managing director and chief economist for Manulife Investment Management, said she expects Poloz to acknowledge that trade conditions have worsened since July. But she predicts he “will do the least amount possible” and hold the line until the bank’s October policy meeting.

“The reason for that is there has been a tremendous amount of developments in the global economy,” Donald said in an interview.

“This is not a time to rush into a policy decision, it’s a time to weigh up sides and down sides… This is a careful and deliberate central bank and, in my opinion, they will want to do the full run of their forecasts before entering into a new easing cycle.”

The central bank warned in July how widening global trade conflicts had posed a threat to Canada’s stronger-than-expected rebound from a slowdown at the start 2019.

Simon Harvey, a market analyst with Monex Canada, said recent data—including last week’s economic growth report for the second quarter—have shown the domestic economy has indeed bounced back. At the same time, he noted the numbers have pointed to some concerning signs like slowing domestic demand.

More notably, he highlighted intensifying U.S.-China trade tensions, including the exchange of more tariff threats.

“[Poloz] actually struck very dovish tones by stressing the deterioration in the external climate and, since the July meeting, it has deteriorated yet again,” Harvey said.

“So, expect further stressing of the kind of negative global backdrop and how this could play into the possibility of an insurance rate cut by the Bank of Canada this year.”

Other central banks—including the U.S. Federal Reserve—have cut their interest rates or signalled that easing is on the way. Markets expect the Fed to lower U.S. rates again this year.

A research note Tuesday from TD Economics said it expects the Bank of Canada to acknowledge the growing headwinds and remain open to lowering rates in October, which would give the governing council more time to monitor political developments and gauge business sentiment.

The TD report said if the Bank of Canada lowers rates but the economy holds up better than it had anticipated then it could raise the benchmark at a future date. If the bank stands pat and conditions worsen, the authors argue it could be forced to take a less-desirable approach: more-aggressive rate cuts.

“Naturally, we’re not sure the [Bank of Canada] views the balance of risks in the same way as us, so all we can do is strap ourselves in for a period where all economists will be coping with data that will be murkier than anything we’ve seen in recent history,” said the report, co-authored by TD chief economist Beata Caranci and senior economist James Orlando.

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Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Andy Blatchford is a reporter with The Canadian Press, a national news agency headquartered in Toronto and founded in 1917.