Last week, the Bank of Canada held its policy rate at 5%. The decision was expected given slowing in the economy and modest improvement to core inflation measures. The Bank is likely at the end of its tightening cycle. How soon it eases rates – and how low will rates go in the near to medium term – is the question.
Maintaining a restrictive rate policy
The Bank can maintain a restrictive policy even without increasing rates any further, simply by keeping rates at their current level. With the overnight rate at 5% and an inflation rate of 3.8%, the real policy rate is 1.2%. This rate is restrictive, since it is higher than the neutral real rate of interest, which the Bank estimates to be between 0 and 1%.
The neutral real rate of interest is the level of interest that neither stimulates nor restrains economic growth. In other words, it is the rate at which the economy is in balance, with stable prices and full employment. Therefore, when the real rate of interest is restrictive, we would expect GDP to slow.
In its recent Monetary Policy Report (MPR), the Bank is forecasting economic growth to average less than 1% over the next few quarters, while potential output growth is expected to average 2%, mainly due to population growth and increased labor productivity. This should lead to a negative output gap (low demand and a surplus of products) and lower inflation.
When might rates begin to fall?
The Bank’s latest Monetary Policy Report (MPR) also provides signals that we can monitor to gauge when rates could start declining.
When interest rates rise, one of the main ways monetary policy affects the economy is through reduced consumer spending on durable goods, like appliances, furniture and cars. Prices for durable goods, except for cars, have dropped from 5.4% to -0.4%, while prices for semi-durable goods, like food and clothing, have decreased from 4.3% to 2.1%. We’re still experiencing delays in delivering cars. As a result, manufacturers are concentrating on selling more expensive vehicles with higher margins and are offering fewer discounts from list prices.
Inflation in service prices, excluding shelter, has slowed from 5.1% to 1.5%. If bond rates begin to drop, we will see a gradual decline in mortgage costs. The challenge will be rental costs, which are soaring due to the very limited availability of rentals and the continuous influx of newcomers. Increasing housing supply is key to reducing rental prices. However, that is a problem that will take years to resolve given the significant shortage of housing.
Currently, the Bank is concerned about inflation expectations, corporate pricing behaviour, and wage growth. As noted in its Monetary Policy Report, “As excess demand eases, inflation is expected to slow. At the same time, inflation expectations should also fall, businesses’ pricing behaviour should normalize, and wage growth should moderate. So far, progress has occurred but somewhat more slowly than anticipated.”
The Bank will be careful to ensure that inflation expectations inconsistent with its 2% target are not embedded in corporate pricing and wage expectations. A slowing economy should help to lower those expectations.
The general view from market economists is that we could see some easing of the overnight rate by mid-2024.
Housing Affordability Watch
CMI monitors the latest developments and offers insights on solutions to Canada’s housing affordability crisis
We recently introduced our new blog, CMI’s Housing Affordability Watch, aimed at providing regular updates on market developments and proposing potential solutions to address Canada’s housing affordability crisis. Our focus will include retrospective analyses of successful programs implemented in Canada and globally. Given the pressing need for over $1 trillion in fresh funding for housing development, our primary focus will be on how to formulate effective strategies to foster private sector engagement and build successful programs.
Read our inaugural post here: Introducing CMI’s Housing Affordability Watch.
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