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Bank of Canada prepares for a long fight against inflation – The Globe and Mail

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Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa, on Dec. 15, 2021.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Canada is on the cusp of a series of rapid interest-rate hikes, with the central bank poised to start raising the cost of borrowing as early as next week, beginning a sustained push to bring high inflation back under control.

After nearly two years of extraordinarily low interest rates, the Bank of Canada has arrived at a pivot point. Consumer prices are rising at the fastest pace in three decades, straining the bank’s credibility as an inflation fighter. Meanwhile, there’s growing evidence that the economy is operating at or near full capacity and no longer needs emergency monetary-policy support.

The central bank’s governing council faces the biggest decision since Governor Tiff Macklem took charge in June, 2020: whether to pull the trigger next Wednesday and start the process of normalizing interest rates; or whether to hold off until March to provide additional stimulus through the Omicron wave of the pandemic.

Bank of Canada rate hikes are coming, but that doesn’t mean a recession will follow

Today’s inflation is a problem the Bank of Canada can’t tackle alone

The last time the central bank raised interest rates was in October, 2018. The coming rate-hike cycle, which will see the cost of borrowing rise steadily over the next two years, is needed to tamp down rising inflation expectations and to start building up an interest-rate buffer before the next downturn. But it will also test the strength of Canada’s economic recovery, as well as the vulnerability of heavily indebted households.

“Private-sector debt is something that the Bank of Canada has to keep an eye on, particularly because the rate hikes that we’ll do in the next two years could affect the rates that people pay in renewing mortgages in 2024 and 2025 that they may have taken out at very low interest rates,” Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said in an interview.

“And while we’ve put households to a [stress] test to ensure that they will be able to pay those higher rates, it will still put a big squeeze on their spending power,” he said.

Bank of Canada officials said in December that they did not expect to raise the policy rate – which has been held at 0.25 per cent since early in the pandemic – until April at the earliest. Since then, however, they have received a string of data releases showing the strength of the labour-market recovery, a record jump in home prices and a sharp rise in expected inflation and wage growth.

A central-bank survey of businesses, released Monday, found that two-thirds of respondents expect inflation to remain above 3 per cent for the next two years – a potent signal for policy makers. Meanwhile, 80 per cent said they intend to raise wages faster next year compared with last year to attract scarce labour. On Wednesday, Statistics Canada reported that the consumer price index rose 4.8 per cent in December, the fastest annual pace of growth since 1991.

This data pushed a number of analysts to revise their interest-rate forecasts. Economists at Bank of Nova Scotia, National Bank and Laurentian Bank pencilled in a rate hike for Jan. 26. Other private-sector economists expect a March liftoff, although most say a rate hike next week is possible.

Market pricing for overnight index swaps suggests an 83-per-cent chance that the bank moves next week, according to Refinitiv data.

“The bank basically has a free option [to raise rates next week],” National Bank rates strategist Taylor Schleich said. “The economy is screaming that we need interest-rate normalization, and now the banks and the markets are kind of allowing them to do it. So you may as well take it.”

Mr. Macklem has not spoken publicly since mid-December. But he used his last speech to tee up a possible shift in January, noting that inflation was “well above our target, and we are not comfortable with where we are” – strong language for a central banker.

The bank’s latest projection shows the rate of inflation falling to close to 2 per cent by the end of 2022, and bank officials believe that many of the supply chain problems that have been pushing up consumer prices will normalize over the coming year.

At the same time, Mr. Macklem and his team expressed concern in December that higher wage growth and rising inflation expectations could feed into “second-round” price pressures and become baked into higher inflation.

The Bank of Canada is not alone in manoeuvring into place for rate hikes. After spending much of last year arguing that high inflation would be relatively short-lived, central bankers in many advanced economies changed their tune in the final months of 2021. The most significant turn came from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is dealing with the highest inflation of any advanced economy and strong wage growth.

At its December meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee decided to accelerate the end of its massive asset purchase program. Minutes from the meeting released in early January showed Fed officials expected to raise rates “sooner or at a faster pace than participants had earlier anticipated,” setting up a possible March rate hike.

This change in the Fed’s narrative spurred a sharp repricing in global markets. Fixed-income securities sold off in expectation of rate hikes. Equity markets stumbled, with notable declines in growth stocks that greatly benefit from ultralow interest rates when calculating future cash flows.

“The BoC probably does not look to the Fed for validation and they make decisions based on their policy frameworks and analysis,” Jason Daw, Royal Bank of Canada’s head of North America Rates Strategy, said in an e-mail. “But one area that a hawkish Fed makes it slightly easier for the BoC to raise rates is less appreciation pressure on the Canadian dollar than otherwise.”

It’s taken a long time for the Bank of Canada to get to the point where rate hikes are a possibility. It began shrinking its government bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing, in the fall of 2020, and ended the program in October. It is now in what it calls the “reinvestment” phase, where it’s only buying government bonds to replace maturing assets it already owns.

The central bank’s next move depends largely on whether it wants to wait until after the current COVID-19 lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec are lifted, said Mr. Shenfeld of CIBC. He added that the trajectory of rate hikes over the next few years matters more than whether the bank starts hiking in January or March.

“The exact timing of these rate hikes is important to people doing high-frequency trading. But not of that much importance to where the economy ends up a year or two down the road, which is what the Bank of Canada is really targeting,” he said.

Derek Burleton deputy chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said he expects the bank to bring its policy rate back up to around 2 per cent over the coming years, although policy makers could move haltingly.

“There may be a bit of probing, they may have to hike a few times, see how it plays out on the economy,” Mr. Burleton said.

“I think one of the questions, and this is more directed at central-bank tightening globally, is whether we go through periods of financial-market turbulence, and that could be a factor that could delay a steady tightening.”

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US stocks rally as Fed minutes meet expectations – Al Jazeera English

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Investors fear that overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed could tip the economy into recession.

Wall Street closed higher Wednesday, boosted after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest monetary policy meeting showed policymakers unanimously felt the United States economy was very strong as they grappled with reining in inflation without triggering a recession.

The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s May meeting, which culminated in a 50-basis-point rise in the Fed funds target rate – the biggest jump in 22 years – showed most of the committee’s members judged that further such rate hikes would “likely be appropriate” at its upcoming June and July meetings.

“The uniformity of opinion is a good thing,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird in Louisville, Kentucky. “There’s a lack of uncertainty of what needs to be done in the near term.”

“By the time [the Fed] gets to September, they will have plenty of economic data to make their move from there, so they continue to maintain optionality,” Mayfield added.

All three major US stock indexes gyrated earlier in the day amid increasing jitters stemming from business and consumer surveys, economic data and corporate earnings reports suggesting a cooling American economy – even as the Fed prepares to toss a bucket of cold water on it to tackle decades-high inflation.

Fears that overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed could tip the economy into recession despite evidence that inflation peaked in March has driven those concerns.

“There’s some credence to the idea that inflation is doing [the Fed’s] job for them,” Mayfield said. “There’s already a cooling occurring, and financial conditions have tightened over the last month because of dollar strength and equity market weakness.”

On Thursday, the Department of Commerce is due to release its second take on first-quarter GDP, which analysts are expected to show a slightly shallower contraction than the 1.4 percent quarterly annualised drop originally reported.

The Personal Consumption Expenditures report will follow on Friday, which will provide further clues regarding consumer spending and whether inflation peaked in March, as other indicators have suggested.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 191.66 points, or 0.6 percent, to 32,120.28, the S&P 500 gained 37.25 points, or 0.95 percent, to 3,978.73 and the Nasdaq Composite added 170.29 points, or 1.51 percent, to 11,434.74.

Nine of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 rose, with consumer discretionary stocks leading the pack with a gain of 2.8 percent.

Amazon.com Inc and Tesla Inc provided the strongest lift to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, rising 2.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

Department store operator Nordstrom Inc surged 14.0 percent on the heels of its upbeat annual profit and revenue forecasts.

Fast-food chain Wendy’s Co jumped 9.8 percent after a regulatory filing revealed that shareholder Nelson Peltz was considering a potential takeover bid for the company.

Shares of Nvidia Corp fell more than 8 percent in after-hours trading after the company’s second-quarter revenue forecast missed expectations.

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Gas Up Nearly 4 Cents; Price Freeze Lifts in Labrador – VOCM

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Despite predictions to the contrary, the regulated price of gas is up in most parts of the province.

Gasoline is up by 3.9 cents a litre, except along the coast of Labrador. Diesel on the island is up by 1.3 cents while diesel in Labrador has dropped by 11.6 cents a litre. Furnace oil costs over a cent a litre more on the island while stove oil on the island up by the same amount. Stove oil in Labrador is down by 23.70 cents a litre.

Propane meanwhile is down by just under 2 cents.

The suspension of maximum price adjustments on the coast of Labrador lifts as of today as fuel deliveries resume for the season—that means significant increases, in some cases by about a dollar a litre, for some fuels.

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Cheese not on the table in Canada-U.K. trade talks as Britain seeks market access

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OTTAWA — The British foreign secretary has often been mocked for her preoccupation with cheese. It started eight years ago when Liz Truss expressed outrage in a speech to her party’s annual conference.

“We import two thirds of our cheese,” she raged. “That is a disgrace.”

Now Truss is facing another battle over cheese, this time with Canada.

Britain wants greater access to Canadian markets for more than 700 varieties of cheese including Stilton, Cheshire, and Wensleydale, a crumbly variety originating from Yorkshire.

But Ottawa has made it clear it does not want to see more British cheddar, let alone artisan varieties such as stinking bishop, renegade monk and Hereford hop, on Canadian fridge shelves.

During the first round of negotiations of the U.K.-Canada trade deal, Canada told Britain that a larger quota for British cheese is not on the negotiating table.

When it was a European Union member, Britain was part of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, giving it some access to Canada’s cheese market.

After the U.K. left the EU, a “continuity agreement” with Canada was swiftly put in place to maintain the CETA arrangement until a bilateral trade deal could be struck.

Ralph Goodale, Canada’s high commissioner to the U.K., said if Britain wants more access to Canadian markets for its cheese as part of a bilateral free-trade agreement, it will have to knock on Brussels’ door and get its part of the dairy quota back.

“The point is we have already provided that volume in the EU deal and the British left it there without taking it with them,” he said in an interview. “That’s an issue they need to resolve with the Europeans because the Europeans have their quota.”

Goodale said the U.K.’s request for extra access for British cheese — on top of the access given to the EU — is “what the Canadian negotiators consider to be pretty much a dead end.”

“You are talking about a double concession — one we have already made to the EU and the request is being made by the U.K. for yet another one on top of that,” he said.

The high commissioner said Canada values its trading relationship with the U.K., adding that he is confident that a mutually-beneficial trade deal will be reached.

But if Canada allows the British to export more of their cheese it would involve “a major commitment of compensation to dairy producers” in Canada to make up for lost incomes.

In 2018, after the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement gave the U.S. fresh access to the Canadian dairy market, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would compensate Canadian dairy farmers.

Canada’s dairy industry was worth over $7 billion in 2020, according to the Canadian Dairy Commission’s annual report.

There are over 10,000 dairy farms in Canada — most of them in Quebec and Ontario — with an average of 92 cows per farm, it said.

Until at least the end of next year, Britain will be able to keep exporting its cheese to Canada under the trade continuity agreement, the U.K.’s trade department said.

This allows U.K. cheese exporters to access the Canadian market tariff-free under the EU portion of Canada’s World Trade Organization cheese tariff rate quota.

As part of the 1995 WTO agreement on agriculture, Canada established tariff rate quotas for cheese and other dairy products. The quotas set out quantities of dairy that could enter Canada with little or no duty.

For Britain, a fully fledged free trade deal with Canada is crucial after Brexit left it looking for fresh tariff-free markets.

“We want to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive new agreement with Canada that will strengthen our close and historic bilateral trade relationship,” said a U.K. government trade spokesman in a statement, adding the relationship was worth about $34.5 billion in 2021.

In March, U.K. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan flew to Canada to announce with Canada’s Trade Minister Mary Ng that bilateral negotiations had officially begun.

In a speech in the House of Lords in London earlier this month, Goodale reported on progress in the talks, saying that “both sides are optimistic that, as good as CETA and the continuity agreement were, we can do better still when Canada and the U.K. negotiate a deal face-to-face, directly with each other.”

Like Goodale, Ng said Canada is confident a free-trade deal with Britain will be reached, enhancing co-operation in a number of areas, including on renewables, sustainability and the digital economy.

“Canada values the relationship with the United Kingdom. They are … an important trading partner and a trade agreement with the U.K. will be very good for Canadian businesses,” she said in a phone interview from Thailand last weekend.

But she was also firm about the need to protect Canada’s dairy producers, and that means keeping more British cheese out.

“I have been very clear, our government has been very clear, that we will not provide access to our supply-managed sector,” she said. “We have been clear about that from the get-go.”

The Canadian dairy sector now produces 1,450 varieties of cheese, including ewe, goat and buffalo varieties, as well as the cheese curds used in the Québécois dish poutine.

At least half of Canada’s cheese is made in Quebec, which is home to a number of artisan varieties including bleu l’ermite, or blue hermit, and Oka, a popular semi-soft rind cheese.

Pierre Lampron, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, has made it clear he will fiercely protect Canadian cheese from British interlopers.

Lampron said he had “validated that the issue of access to the Canadian dairy market was not on the agenda of these trade talks.”

Canada’s protectionist stance toward its dairy industry may have pleased farmers. But it has caused some tension with close allies.

Earlier this month, New Zealand launched a formal trade dispute against Canada, accusing the federal government of breaking promises to give access for dairy imports under the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

The Biden administration also recently said it was asking for a second dispute settlement panel under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to review a trade dispute with Canada over dairy import quotas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

 

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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