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Bank of Canada holds interest rate, but cuts growth forecasts as economy's engine loses momentum – Financial Post

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Just as the global outlook brightens, Canadian households have gone wobbly, forcing the Bank of Canada to reassess its outlook.

The trade wars haven’t calmed enough to offset the loss of Canada’s primary economic engine for the past decade. The result is a weaker short-term outlook that could prompt the central bank to cut interest rates if current conditions persist.

But not yet.

Governor Stephen Poloz and his deputies left the Bank of Canada’s benchmark interest rate unchanged at 1.75 per cent on Jan. 22, even as they dropped their outlook for near-term economic growth.

Policy-makers slashed their growth forecast for the fourth quarter to 0.3 per cent from 1.3 per cent, and predicted that growth in 2020 will fall short of the economy’s non-inflationary speed limit, which was revised higher to two per cent.

The lone bright spot at the moment is housing, which the central bank described as “robust.” Otherwise, business investment “appears to have weakened after a strong third quarter” and hiring “has slowed.” The central bank said indicators of consumer confidence and spending “have been unexpectedly soft,” a puzzle given the tight labour markets in most regions and evidence that wages are rising considerably faster than inflation.

Data for Canada indicate that growth in the near term will be weaker,” officials said in a new policy statement. The slump could “signal that global economic conditions have been affecting Canada’s economy to a greater extent than was predicted,” the statement said. “Moreover, during the past year Canadians have been saving a larger share for their incomes, which could signal increased consumer caution.”

The possibility that debt would eventually weigh on spending has been part of Poloz’s story from the beginning of his tenure almost seven years ago. Households took advantage of ultra-low interest rates and piled up debt after the financial crisis, just as central bankers hoped they would. But they were never expected to carry the economy for a decade. Eventually, the burden of all that debt would force consumers to tap out. Exports and business investment would have to take over.

The shift never really happened. The collapse of oil prices in 2014 and 2015 forced the Bank of Canada to keep interest rates low, and then the trade wars interrupted Poloz’s attempt to get rates back to a more normal setting. Strong hiring, outside of Alberta, and high immigration levels kept consumption going, but there was always a risk that this dynamic would lose its force.

Nothing in the central bank’s latest round of communications suggest the economy is in serious trouble. Rather, the message is simply that there probably isn’t as much momentum as previously thought. Policy-makers last year said they would be watching for evidence that the trade wars were spreading beyond corporate decision making. Now, they said, they could be seeing some.

Ahead of the latest policy decision, investors were putting extremely low odds on an interest-rate cut this year. Policy-makers are probably still leaning against a change, but the outlook is no longer so obvious.

If the headlines around trade continue to improve, consumer confidence could get better and spending along with it. Exports and business investment should slowly strengthen, which could forestall the need for stimulus. The Bank of Canada remains concerned about re-igniting a borrowing binge.

Ultimately, the central bank cares most about inflation, and weaker growth could bring deflationary pressure. “In determining the future path of the bank’s policy interest rate, Governing Council will be watching closely to see if the recent slowdown in growth is more persistent than forecast,” the statement said.

• Email: kcarmichael@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

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North American markets gain ground to start the week – BNNBloomberg.ca

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North American equity markets clawed back ground into the close of Monday’s trade, with the S&P/TSX Composite Index up 0.29 per cent, the S&P 500 gaining 0.38 per cent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 0.36 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite Index up 0.66 per cent.

Equity markets had been mixed in earlier trading, as investors weighed the competing factors of economic reopenings and the rising tensions between the United States and China.

In Toronto, four of the 11 TSX subgroups closed in positive territory, with consumer discretionary, financials and materials leading the way. Consumer staples, information technology and health care were the lead laggards.

A big part of the weakness in health care stocks was the underperformance of Canopy Growth Corp., which finished the day as the worst performer on the index after a string of analyst downgrades. The analyst community has expressed concerns over the company’s lack of a clear path to sustained profitability after it withdrew its forecast last week.

Oil prices fluctuated throughout the day, with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate up 0.1 per cent to US$35.53 per barrel. Alberta’s Western Canadian Select was up 3.16 per cent to US$29.08 per barrel.

The Canadian dollar gained more than a full cent against its U.S. counterpart to trade at 73.68 cents U.S., though the greenback was weaker against all of its major-market peers.

1:00 p.m. ET: North American equity markets rebound, oil pares losses

North American equity markets rebounded into the midday trade, with the S&P/TSX Composite Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.3 per cent each, the S&P 500 gaining 0.4 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite Index up 0.66 per cent.

In Toronto, only four of the 11 TSX subgroups were in positive territory, led by consumer discretionary, financials and materials stocks. Information technology, consumer staples and health care were the lead laggards.

120 of the index’s 230 members were higher with a pair of cannabis stocks bookending the composite. HEXO Corp. was the lead gainer on the TSX, up 10 per cent after Health Canada approved its facility in Bellville, Ontario. On the flip side, Canopy Growth Corp., was the biggest percentage loser, down nine per cent, after a slew of analyst downgrades after the company shelved its forecast for a path to profitability late last week.

Oil pared some of its earlier losses, with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate down a little more than one-and-a-half per cent to trade at US$34.90 per barrel. Alberta’s Western Canadian Select was essentially unchanged at US$28.16 per barrel.

10 a.m. ET – North American stocks slip, oil falls as U.S.-China tensions escalate

North American equity markets kicked off the week in modestly negative territory, with the S&P/TSX Composite Index down a tenth of a per cent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both falling 0.4 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite Index down 0.2 per cent.

Markets were under that modest pressure amid signs of a re-escalation of tensions between the United States and China, with Bloomberg News reporting Beijing has ordered a halt to imports of some American farm goods. Meanwhile, the U.S. is also facing a wave of civil unrest as demonstrators take to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which has prompted some American cities to implement curfews.

Oil prices fell in the wake of those tensions, outweighing the impact of speculation the OPEC+ group of producers could be poised to implement a short extension of its output cuts in order to put some upward pressure on crude prices. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell 2.5 per cent to US$34.60 per barrel, while Alberta’s Western Canadian Select dropped three per cent to US$27.34.

In Toronto, that weakness in crude weighed on the energy sector in early trading.

Another point of weakness was Canopy Growth Corp. The company’s shares fell about seven per cent after the firm was downgraded by four analysts following the cannabis producer’s disappointing quarterly results late last week.

The Canadian dollar rose a third of a cent against its American counterpart to 72.93 cents U.S., though the U.S. dollar was broadly weaker against its major global peers.

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B.C. protects small businesses from evictions – CityNews Vancouver

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VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) —  The B.C. government is banning commercial landlords who refuse to apply for federal assistance from evicting small businesses that can’t pay rent due to the pandemic.

The order is meant to support the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program and restricts the termination of lease agreements and the repossession of goods and property, says a government release.

“The federal launch of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program has been a welcome step in B.C., but we heard from small businesses that they need us to help fill a gap that has left some of them unable to get the support they need,” said Carole James, Minister of Finance.

“We’re listening to small businesses and have their backs. Preventing landlords who are eligible for CECRA from evicting tenants can encourage landlords to apply for the program and give some temporary relief to businesses who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

The emergency order restricting evictions is effective immediately and will continue for as long as the federal program is in place, which is currently until the end of June.

B.C. could extend the order if the federal program is, as well, James added.

The federal program is offering forgivable loans to eligible commercial property owners to reduce the rent for small business experiencing severe financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Property owners must offer a minimum of a 75 per cent reduction for the months of April, May, and June. The federal and B.C. governments will cover 50 per cent of the rent payments, while the tenants are responsible for 25 per cent of the rent, and landlords cover the remaining 25 per cent.

The federal program loans to landlords will be forgiven if they comply with program terms and conditions, including an agreement to not recover forgiven rent amounts when the program is over.

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Should small businesses be protected from eviction? – Poll – Castanet.net

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Small businesses in B.C. that have suffered significant revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic will be protected from eviction effective June 1.

The provincial government announced Monday new measures to protect small businesses that are eligible for federal commercial rent assistance, but are unable to access that assistance because their landlords won’t apply to the program.

“There are certainly some tenants who their landlords have been very clear that they don’t want to bother, they don’t want to take the time to apply for the federal program, and that then hurts the tenant, because the tenant doesn’t have the opportunity to be able to have that relief to help them,” said James.

“I expect that it will, I hope, make a difference in encouraging those landlords to apply now that they won’t be able to evict those tenants.”

Under an emergency act order, commercial landlords will be restricted from evicting tenants who have lost at least 70% of their revenue, and are thus eligible for Ottawa’s Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, which can only be applied to by landlords.

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