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'Miracle on Saint-Laurent Street': Quebec economy sees country's strongest post-pandemic rebound – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard holds a copy of his financial update at a news conference on Nov. 25 in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s economy is poised to outperform every other Canadian jurisdiction this year in a remarkable rebound from the pandemic that has put the province on track to record its highest annual GDP growth on record.

The provincial government will spend some of its windfall on cost-of-living bonuses and training programs to help fight the labour shortage and inflation that plagues the province, Finance Minister Eric Girard said during a press conference announcing his fall fiscal update on Thursday.

But the surprisingly strong revenues will also allow Quebec to continue reducing its deficit and debt burden as it continues to close the persistent wealth gap with Ontario that Premier François Legault has made a fixation.

After economic activity declined by 5.5 per cent in 2020, it is expected to bounce back by 6.5 per cent this year, leaving the province richer than before the pandemic, according to government projections. That is much faster growth than the 4.2 per cent expected and slashes $5.4-billion from the projected provincial deficit.

“The economic performance of Quebec in 2021 was exceptional,” Mr. Girard said.

Analysts largely agree with the Finance Minister’s rosy assessment. In a recent research paper titled Miracle on Saint-Laurent Street, Bank of Nova Scotia economist Marc Desormeaux observed that growth of 6.5 per cent would be an “all-time record” for Quebec. It would also outpace Ontario and Canada as a whole, a rare distinction for a province that has traditionally lagged the rest of the country in GDP growth.

Quebec’s rocketing fortunes were fuelled in part by the timing of public-health measures, which the Legault government rapidly eased in the summer of 2020 after the pandemic’s first wave that led to a “staggering” 80-per-cent rise in household consumption in the third quarter of that year, Mr. Desormeaux said. Generous federal and provincial aid also injected life into the economy.

But Quebec’s boom times precede the recent recovery, the bank report points out, with large increases in full-time jobs and wages between 2017 and 2019, along with a household saving rate before the pandemic that was significantly higher than in the rest of Canada. Those strong fundamentals have helped the province emerge from the COVID-19 crisis in good shape, Mr. Desormeaux said.

“There’s a whole lot of momentum in Quebec’s economy.”

In his fall update, Mr. Girard acknowledged anxieties about the twin afflictions of inflation and labour shortages facing much of the Canadian economy. To help Quebeckers with a rising cost of living, he announced single lump-sum payments for low- and middle-income households, amounting to $400 for couples and $275 for people who live alone.

The province will also spend $2.9-billion over five years “to combat the labour shortage” by paying for the training, requalification and recruitment of as many as 170,000 workers, with a focus on the health, education, and engineering and IT sectors.

Despite new spending, strong economic growth allowed Quebec to revise its deficit and debt projections downward. This year’s budget deficit is now pegged at $6.8-billion, fully $5.4-billion less than expected. The province will also be able to reduce its gross debt level faster than anticipated, from 46.8 per cent of GDP in March of this year to an expected 44.3 per cent next March. The acceleration “can be explained by the strength of the economic recovery,” according to the economic and fiscal summary.

The raft of good news has allowed Quebec to play catch-up in its quest to close the wealth gap with Ontario, a goal the Legault government has repeatedly emphasized in its three years in power. Between 2017 and this year, the gap shrunk from 16.4 to 12.9 per cent. On Thursday, the government stated its ambition of eliminating Ontario’s wealth advantage altogether by 2036.

Asked whether that was an excessively long timeline, Mr. Girard pointed out how persistently Quebec has trailed its richer neighbour. “Fifteen years to close a wealth gap that’s been there for almost 100 years, I think that’s realistic,” he said.

Despite the province’s strong showing, some critics charge that it is misspending its unexpected revenue bump. The Conseil du patronat du Québec, a business group, said the work force measures don’t go far enough and that it was surprised by the lack of immediate help finding employees, calling this the “most serious labour shortage in [Quebec’s] recent history.”

While praising the government for continuing on its path to cutting the deficit, Maria Lily Shaw, an economist with the conservative Montreal Economic Institute, said she would have preferred the government to balance the budget sooner.

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China's economy grows 8.1% in 2021, slows in second half – Yahoo Canada Finance

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BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leaders are under pressure to boost slumping economic growth while they try to contain coronavirus outbreaks ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The world’s second-largest economy grew by 8.1% last year, but activity fell abruptly in the second half as the ruling Communist Party forced China’s vast real estate industry to cut surging debt, official data showed Monday.

Growth sank to 4% over a year earlier in the final three months of the year, fueling expectations Beijing may need to cut interest rates or stimulate the economy with more spending on public works construction.

That slump is likely to worsen, leading to “more aggressive measures to boost growth,” Ting Lu and Jing Wang of Nomura said in a report.

On Monday, the Chinese central bank cut its interest rate for medium-term lending to commercial banks to the lowest level since early 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asian stock markets ended the day mixed following the dual announcements. China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.6% while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 0.7%. The Nikkei 2225 in Tokyo rose 0.7%.

Lingering Chinese economic weakness has potential global repercussions, depressing demand for steel, consumer goods and other imports.

China rebounded quickly from the pandemic, but activity weakened last year as Beijing tightened controls on borrowing by real estate developers, triggering a slump in construction that supports millions of jobs. That made consumers nervous about spending and investors anxious about possible defaults by developers.

Consumer spending has suffered after authorities responded to virus outbreaks by blocking most access to cities including Tianjin, a port and manufacturing center near Beijing, and imposed travel controls in other areas.

Their “zero-COVID strategy” aims to keep the virus out of China by finding and isolating every infected person. That has helped to keep case numbers low but is depressing consumer activity and causing congestion in some ports.

The ruling party has stepped up enforcement ahead of the Feb. 4 start of the Winter Games, a prestige project. Athletes, reporters and officials at the Games are required to stay in sealed areas and avoid contact with outsiders.

Growth in consumer spending, the biggest driver of economic growth, fell to 1.7% over a year earlier in December from the previous month’s 3.9%.

“The prospect this year for consumer spending to rebound back to pre-pandemic levels has certainly dimmed,” David Chao of Invesco said in a report. “All eyes are on whether policymakers will evolve their zero-COVID pandemic policies.”

Officials have urged the public to stay where they are during the Lunar New Year holiday instead of visiting their hometowns. That will cut spending on travel, gifts and banquets during the country’s most important family holiday.

Forecasters have cut this year’s growth outlook to as low as 5% due to the debt crackdown and coronavirus.

“Downward pressure on growth will persist in 2022,” Tommy Wu of Oxford Economics said in a report.

Compared with the previous quarter, the way other major economies are measured, the Chinese economy grew 1.4% in the final three months of 2021. That was up from the previous quarter’s 0.2%.

Chinese exports, reported Friday, surged 29.9% in 2021 over the previous year despite a global shortage of semiconductors needed to make smartphones and other goods and power rationing imposed in major manufacturing areas.

Exporters benefited from reviving global demand while their foreign competitors were hampered by anti-virus controls. But economists say this year’s trade growth is likely to be weak and export volumes might shrink due to congestion at ports.

“With supply chains already stretched to capacity, last year’s boost from surging exports can’t be repeated,” Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report.

Auto sales fell for a seventh month in November, declining 9.1% from a year earlier, reflecting consumer reluctance to commit to big purchases.

Chinese leaders are trying to steer the economy to more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption instead of exports and investment and to reduce financial risk.

In mid-September, factories in some provinces were ordered to shut down to meet official targets for reducing energy use and energy intensity, or the amount used per unit of output.

One of the country’s biggest developers, Evergrande Group, is struggling to avoid defaulting on $310 billion owed to banks and bondholders. Smaller developers have collapsed or defaulted on debts after Beijing reduced the amount of borrowed money they can use.

Chinese officials have tried to reassure investors over the risks of wider problems, saying any impact on lending markets can be contained. Economists say a potential Evergrande default should have little effect on global markets.

___

National Bureau of Statistics (in Chinese): www.stats.gov.cn

Joe Mcdonald, The Associated Press

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Omicron no match for US economy: Moody's – Investment Executive

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“The backdrop of elevated inflation and a tight labour market strengthens the case for an earlier and faster normalization of monetary policy,” Moody’s said. “Indeed, notwithstanding the risks to growth posed by the Omicron surge, the Fed is well placed to move to a neutral monetary stance starting in March 2022, and we now expect three U.S. interest rate hikes this year, compared with our November expectation of none until 2023.”

Additionally, a recent shift in signals out of the Fed indicate “broad support” for both a rate hike in March and a normalization of its balance sheet soon after the rate increase cycle begins, Moody’s noted.

While Covid-19 infections have risen quickly in the U.S., creating added uncertainty, “the economy is on a solid expansionary path that the current virus surge is unlikely to derail,” the report noted.

Moody’s continues to expect that GDP will grow by 4.4% this year after rising by 5.4% in 2021.

“The surge in virus cases will no doubt dampen economic activity in pandemic-sensitive services industries in January but, as previous virus surges have shown, activity will rebound once the omicron wave begins to subside,” Moody’s said.

The report noted that latest epidemiological forecasts point to a peak in case counts by the end of the month, with hospitalizations and fatalities peaking in mid-February.

Inflation is expected to moderate this year, but Moody’s said there remains a good deal of uncertainty in inflation forecasts.

“We expect that the Fed will provide more concrete guidance at its next January meeting as to when and at what pace it will begin to raise the federal funds rate and reduce the size of its balance sheet,” it said.

The rating agency noted that it expects the Fed to take a “measured approach” to withdrawing stimulus and normalizing its balance sheet, given the elevated uncertainty in forecasts and a likely reluctance to move too quickly.

Ultimately though, the prospect of rate hikes and balance sheet normalization “will likely push both short-term rates and long-term yields upward,” Moody’s said.

“The effect of rising rates is likely to be transmitted to the real sector by curbing new lending for consumer goods, autos and homes. Small and mid-size firms, which tend to have shorter debt maturity profiles, will also be affected,” it said. “Lastly, higher interest rates will weigh on the valuations of risky assets.”

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Firms see increasing labor shortages and wage pressures – Bank of Canada survey

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Canadian firms see labor shortages intensifying and wage pressure increasing, with strong demand growth and supply chain constraints putting upward pressure on prices, a regular Bank of Canada survey said on Monday.

The central bank’s Business Outlook Survey Indicator reached its highest level on record in the fourth quarter, which was conducted before the Omicron coronavirus variant began spreading widely.

The data will play into the Bank of Canada’s calculations as it ponders when to raise rates. The bank, which has said it is paying close attention to wage inflation, is scheduled to make its next announcement on Jan 26.

Last October it said it could start raising rates as soon as April 2022, but some investors expect a hike this month. [BOCWATCH]

“The combination of strong demand and bottlenecks in supply is expected to put upward pressure on prices over the next year,” said the survey.

“In response to capacity pressures, most businesses across sectors and regions are set to increase investment and plan to raise wages to compete for workers and retain staff.”

Last month the central bank said slack in Canada’s economy has been substantially diminished.

Inflation expectations for the next two years continued to increase, with two-thirds of firms now expecting inflation to be above the central bank’s 1-3% control range over the next two years.

Most firms, in response to a special question, said they expected the currently elevated inflationary pressures to dissipate over time, with inflation returning to the 2% target over 1-3 years.

Canada’s annual inflation rate was at an 18-year high of 4.7% in November. The December data will be released on Wednesday, with analysts surveyed by Reuters expecting it to hit 4.8%.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.4% higher at 1.2504 to the greenback, or 79.97 U.S. cents.

(Additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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