Economists Divided on When the Bank of Canada Could Cut Interest Rates

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The Bank of Canada on Wednesday announced it would once again be holding the overnight interest rate steady at 4.5 per cent for a second time in a row.

The latest consumer price index report showed Canada’s inflation rate had slowed to 5.2 per cent, the lowest it’s been in over a year. Bond yields in Canada have also fallen, suggesting the market is betting on future interest rate cuts. But even as inflation continues to cool, economists are split on when we can eventually see lower interest rates.

Sal Guatieri, senior economist and director at BMO Capital Markets, says he’s not expecting a rate cut until “early next year.”

“If we see much more weakness in the economy — a real recession — yes, the Bank of Canada almost certainly would swing into action in reverse gears and cut interest rates,” he told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. “But we don’t see that. We just see a very mild downturn and growth resuming by the end of this year.”

Rather than a sharp recession, Guatieri says BMO is forecasting a “technical downturn in the next couple of quarters,” one he expects will be “very mild, very shallow” and over by the end of this year.

“Canada has kind of mixed as to whether we will slip into recession. The general forecast calls for continued growth, very modest growth for the rest of this year, but they’re not ruling out the possibility that we could see small declines for a quarter or two this year. So that could meet the technical definition of recession,” he said.

Meanwhile, Randall Bartlett, senior director of Canadian economics at Desjardins Economics, is projecting the Bank of Canada could cut rates “as early as the end of the year,” given how fast inflation has been slowing, and how some banks in the U.S. have run into trouble in the last month.

“Most importantly, inflation has come down faster than the Bank had previously anticipated and financial conditions have tightened on the back of banking sector turbulence outside of our borders,” he wrote in a research note on Wednesday. “Together, these look to have outweighed the sustained strength in the Canadian economy and labour market.”

Canada also continues to have a strong job market. In the last labour report, StatCan reported Canada gained 35,000 jobs while the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.0 per cent, which is near record lows.

“Canadian households continue to benefit from significant government financial supports with a job market at full employment. The combination has reignited consumer spending through the first quarter of this year. With government policy at odds with the central bank, it could forestall the needed calming in price pressures as the year presses forward,” economists from TD wrote in a research note on Thursday.

The economists also said in order for rate cuts to occur, there would need to be “a convincing slackening in the job market and erosion in economic momentum.”

“This places the timing close to year-end or early 2024. In other words, just as the rate hike cycle started in Canada and the U.S. in close alignment, so too will the rate cut cycle,” they wrote.

When asked about whether rate cuts are on the horizon, Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem told reporters on Wednesday the rate cuts the bond markets have been anticipating “don’t look like the most likely scenario to us,” and didn’t rule out a future rate hike to get inflation down to two per cent.

Despite Macklem’s attempts to quell speculation in the market that a rate cut is on it way, Derek Holt, head of Capital Markets Economics at Scotiabank, says the Bank of Canada’s own forecasts showing a return to two per cent inflation in the medium-term is what’s feeding the rate cut bet.

“The BoC almost always shows itself to be fully under control of inflation — even when it obviously isn’t — by showing a return to two per cent inflation as if magically within a medium-term horizon. Maybe if you stopped showing that wishful thinking you wouldn’t have markets pricing rate cuts from restrictive levels above neutral,” Holt wrote in a research note on Wednesday. 

Source: CTV News