Business gloom deepens as sales moderate, Bank of Canada survey finds

By Craig Wong, The Canadian Press | October 16, 2023 | Last updated on October 16, 2023
3 min read
Pumped golden balloon shaped of dollar sign with the growing bar graph on white wall, symbolizing inflation concept. (3d render)
iStockphoto/Eoneren

Canadian business sentiment continued to weaken in the third quarter, according to the Bank of Canada’s latest business outlook survey, as companies said they expect sales growth to slow over the coming year.

The Bank of Canada said on Monday that its business outlook survey indicator came in at its lowest level in more than a decade, except for a brief period early in the Covid-19 pandemic when the economy was shut down.

“This slowdown in demand is … weighing on businesses’ plans for investment and employment,” the report said.

The survey found the negative effects of rising interest rates are spreading, with more businesses thinking higher rates will restrain both sales and investment plans.

A third of the firms responding said sales have fallen over the past year amid a widespread slowing of demand.

The survey also suggested that inflation expectations among businesses have edged down, though they remain above pre-pandemic levels. It noted that many expect it will take longer than three years for inflation to return to the Bank of Canada’s 2% target.

The share of companies planning for a recession in the coming year held steady at about one-third.

Meanwhile, the bank’s Canadian survey of consumer expectations suggested expectations of inflation remain elevated. The report noted the gap between perception and actual inflation is unusually wide.

It said the rising cost of living remains the most pressing concern for consumers and that many expect the impact of higher interest rates on households is far from over.

“Those expecting more adverse effects ahead are less likely to plan major purchases,” the consumer report said.

“Overall, consumers reported that they are more likely to spend on discretionary items like vacations and concerts than buy items usually financed with loans, such as cars or appliances.”

BMO economist Shelly Kaushik said in a note to clients that the “Bank of Canada’s aggressive rate hikes are working as intended, with both businesses and consumers expecting a slowdown in activity.

“However, policymakers will take note that inflation and wage expectations remain well above target, and are only receding slowly. The broadly downbeat tone of these surveys support our call for the bank to remain on hold, with a tightening bias, at next week’s meeting.”

TD Bank economist Maria Solovieva noted one concern in the report was that some businesses continue passing along the uncommonly large cost increases from earlier in the pandemic through to customers.

“On the other hand, according to the bank’s own research, the extent of the pass-through depends on the competitive pressures in the marketplace and the strength of consumer demand, both of which are becoming less favourable,” Solovieva wrote.

The Bank of Canada’s next interest rate decision and monetary policy report are set for Oct. 25.

The central bank kept its key interest rate target on hold at 5% last month but has said repeatedly that it is prepared to raise rates again if needed to bring inflation back to its target of 2%.

Statistics Canada reported the annual inflation rate ticked up to 4% in August, while the September reading is expected Tuesday.

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Craig Wong, The Canadian Press

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