Canada’s muted economic growth keeps early 2024 rate cut bets alive

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -The Canadian economy’s soft patch continued for the third straight month in October and a modest growth forecast for November will further support investors bet for an interest rate cut in the first quarter of next year, economists said.

Latest data released by the Statistics Canada data on Friday showed that the Canadian economy was unchanged in October, while analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a 0.2% month-over-month rise. September’s GDP was downwardly revised to zero growth from an initial report of 0.1% growth.

The last big data release in Canada for 2023 paints a picture of an economy stuttering under the impact of the Bank of Canada’s (BoC) 10 rate hikes between March 2022 and July, which took the benchmark interest rate to a 22-year high of 5%. GDP unexpectedly declined in the third quarter, and the central bank expects growth to remain weak for a few quarters.

While the central bank has maintained that it is too soon to forecast rate cuts, money markets expect interest rates to start coming down in April.

Following Friday’s data, money markets still see a roughly 25% chance of a rate cut in January and a 50% chance of a move in March. A cut is fully discounted for April.

“It fits with the very slow growth narrative that we’ve seen unfolding,” said Andrew Kelvin, chief Canada strategist at TD Securities.

“From a monetary policy standpoint, the bank has already hit the threshold required for easing to support growth. It really is just a question of when the inflation profile comes a little closer to their targets.”

Canada’s annual inflation rate held steady at 3.1% in November, above the central bank’s 2% target. The bank expects inflation to cool to 2.5% by the end of 2024 and returning to the 2% target by the end of 2025.

Governor Tiff Macklem in an interview aired on BNN TV on Monday said that the bank could start cutting rates next year as long as core inflation comes down as predicted.

In a preliminary estimate for November, Statscan said GDP was likely up 0.1%, helped by increases in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.

Royce Mendes, managing director and head of macro strategy at Desjardins, in a note said that the uptick in November wasn’t enough to suggest that the economy was turning a corner.

“As more households and businesses feel the impacts of higher interest rates in 2024, we expect Canada to fall into at least a mild recession. So while the economy is sputtering now, it might begin rolling backwards early in the new year,” Mendes added.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.2% higher at 1.3256 per U.S. dollar, or 75.44 U.S. cents, its strongest level in nearly five months, as the greenback lost ground against a basket of major currencies.

Contraction in wholesale trade and manufacturing sectors weighed on the economy in October. It was the fourth decrease in the manufacturing sector in the past five months and the second consecutive decline in wholesale trade.

Overall, Canada’s goods-producing sector was marginally down, while the services sector posted a 0.1% increase.

The BoC will release fresh economic projections along with its next rate announcement on Jan. 24, after the release of jobs and inflation data for December.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil and Dale Smith in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Mark Porter)