The Bank of Canada is cutting its overnight rate target by half a percentage point to 0.75% in response to Covid-19.
The central bank said Friday the unscheduled rate decision was due to the pandemic and its impact on the economy, adding that lower oil prices, even since its last scheduled rate decision last week, will also weigh on the economy.
Darcy Briggs, senior vice-president and portfolio manager, Franklin Templeton Canada, said that while the timing of the announcement was somewhat of a surprise, the cut itself wasn’t.
“After seeing the worst down day in equity markets since 1940 on the TSX, that was a wakeup call that something needed to be addressed — and be addressed fairly rapidly,” Briggs said in an interview.
Briggs added that the Canadian economy was looking vulnerable before the Covid-19 scare.
“Canada wasn’t going into this particular shock from a position of strength. If you go back to Q4 2019, we had growth of 0.3% — that’s not a strong quarter,” Briggs said.
And the cuts are expected to continue.
“The market is priced for most central banks to take rates to zero,” Briggs said. “In April, you’re probably going to see another 50-beeper. That’s effectively zero — anything further would probably be splitting hairs.”
The cut follows a decision last week by the Bank of Canada to cut its key interest rate by half a percentage point.
The central bank made the rate announcement as part of a package of measures announced by the federal government.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the government is making $10 billion available to businesses through a credit facility program.
He says it was an effective tool during the 2008 financial crisis and will be again now.
Morneau says he’s also been in touch with CEOs of the major banks, who told him they will “support businesses and individuals” with fairness and compassion.
By cuttings its overnight rate target, the central bank hopes to boost the economy by prompting the large banks and financial institutions to cut their prime lending rates.
The central bank says it will provide a full update of its outlook for the Canadian and global economies on April 15.
The rate cut comes as private-sector economists have warned that Canada is heading into a recession later this year because of the economic shock of Covid-19 and a sharp downturn in oil prices.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier Friday that Ottawa was looking at ways to get money directly into the pockets of Canadians so they can cover their bills should their lives be upended by Covid-19.
He said help would be targeted to vulnerable Canadians, as well as help to small businesses and workers who see disruptions in their earnings.
Trudeau said the government’s focus is on ensuring that Canadians have the resources and money they need to not have to stress about rent and groceries if they can’t go to work.
The Liberals had promised to deliver a budget on March 30, but the House of Commons has now agreed not to sit until late April to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease.
Canada has recorded more than 150 Covid-19 cases and one death in a pandemic that has swept much of the world.