Canada’s economy continues to defy expectations for a pullback.
Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, March 15, 2023 6:18PM EDT
CALGARY – Crude oil prices plunged below US$70 and Canadian energy stocks took a beating Wednesday as market chaos continued amid concerns about a spreading bank crisis.
“We’re down US$12 in two and a half days, which is obviously a very, very, very large move in crude oil,” said Rory Johnston, a Toronto-based energy analyst and founder of the Commodity Context newsletter.
“I think everyone’s panicking today. I think panic is the name of the game right now,” said Johnston.
Global oil prices have been falling all week as concerns about the health of the global banking sector mount in the wake of the recent closures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in the U.S.
On Wednesday, as shares in Zurich-based Credit Suisse tanked after the bank reported it had identified “material weaknesses” in the firm’s internal controls on financial reporting, concerns about a potential global economic slowdown hit crude oil particularly hard.
The North American benchmark West Texas Intermediate plunged more than four per cent on Wednesday to around US$68 per barrel. That’s the lowest crude price since December of 2021, and it sent oil and gas stocks tumbling, marking the third straight day of losses for the sector this week.
Canada’s energy sector was by far the hardest hit sector on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday, with the S&P/TSX capped energy index losing 5.44 per cent in the day’s trading.
Johnston said for much of this year, the global oil price benchmark Brent crude had been trading in the US$78-88 range. With the reopening of the Chinese economy in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions signalling a potential uptick in demand, market sentiment on future oil demand had been generally bullish with spec positioning in crude oil contracts rising steadily over the last two months.
While the risk of a steep volatile sell-off was certainly there, “what no-one expected was a consecutive series of domino-effect bank failures,” Johnston said.
Oil prices are strongly linked to the global economic outlook, and right now all the headlines for crude price demand appear to be “rather bearish,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst with New York-based foreign exchange broker OANDA Corp.
“Credit Suisse is a bank that matters and contagion risks won’t be easing anytime soon, the U.S. consumer is weakening, and China’s outlook is not looking so robust after unemployment rose and on worries over the real estate market,” Moya wrote in a research note.
“Now near the mid-$60s, WTI crude’s plunge is at the mercy of how much worse the macro picture gets.”
Johnston said energy traders will be closely watching next week’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve. While this week’s banking sector selloff may have reduced the likelihood of another interest rate hike by the central bank at its upcoming meeting, markets are still jittery over the possibility that the Fed’s aggressive attempts to slow inflation could tilt the economy into a recession.
Johnston said until then, it’s unclear whether Wednesday’s oil price slump will prove to be a short-term blip or an indication of longer-term weakness.
“Next week’s Federal Reserve meeting will be crucial for how this market views this (oil price) dip,” Johnston said.
“I don’t think anyone has actually sat back and rationally assessed their outlook for the rest of the year. I think in a week or so, when the dust settles, we’ll see what the outlook actually is.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.
GDP rose 0.5 per cent and also likely rose in February
Canada’s economy continues to defy expectations for a pullback.
Statistics Canada released data on March 31 that showed the economy grew 0.5 per cent month over month in January, a remarkable reversal from December when GDP contracted 0.1 per cent. January’s reading also beat Bay Street analysts estimate for growth of 0.4 per cent.
At the same time, Statistics Canada said preliminary data suggest the economy grew 0.3 per cent in February, indicating additional momentum. Economic activity rebounded in the vast majority of the broad industries that the agency monitors, including manufacturing, construction, and accommodation and food services.
Economists said the monthly numbers suggest quarterly GDP — measured somewhat differently — probably grew at an annual rate of around 2.5 per cent, well above the Bank of Canada’s forecast of 0.5 per cent.
While the report showed an economy healthier than many expected, economists now think the GDP surprise could make the Bank of Canada‘s job tougher as it seeks to cool inflation by raising interest rates to tamp down demand.
Here’s what some of them are saying about the GDP numbers and what it means for the Bank of Canada and interest rates.
“Today’s release of the monthly GDP suggests that the Canadian economy started the year strong. As such, the strength in January and February is pointing to growth in the first quarter of 2023 at around three per cent quarter over quarter annual rate, far from a contraction. This follows a period of weakness in the last quarter of 2022, as higher interest rates took a toll on rate-sensitive sectors.
“The resilience of the Canadian economy is likely to complicate the Bank of Canada’s job of bringing inflation back to its target. The Bank of Canada signalled at its latest meeting that it would keep its policy rate unchanged for some time to better assess the impact of previous rate hikes on the economy and inflation. However, with growth likely close to three per cent, excess demand in the economy is growing, adding to inflationary pressures and raising the likelihood that further rate hikes will be necessary. Similarly, the tight labour market is supporting strong wage growth. However, the banking woes in the U.S. and Europe suggest caution is warranted.
“The Bank of Canada is likely at a crucial juncture and facing a significant dilemma. The central bank may have to choose between fighting inflation and hiking interest rates again or focusing on financial stability and keeping rates on hold.”
“The strength of GDP growth in January, and probably February too, suggests the Bank of Canada will use its April meeting to reiterate that, despite the recent banking turmoil, it is still prepared to raise interest rates again if needed.
“The big surprise is that, despite the early estimates showing falls in manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales in February, the preliminary estimate points to another 0.3 per cent month-over-month gain in GDP last month. That gain implies the economy is heading for growth of about 2.5 per cent annualized this quarter, slightly higher than the two per cent gain we have pencilled in.
“A 2.5 per cent expansion would also be stronger than the bank’s forecast of a 0.5 per cent rise, but recall that the stagnation in GDP last quarter was weaker than the bank’s estimate of a 1.3 per cent gain. Moreover, we know that the rebound in activity is helping to lower prices rather than contributing to inflationary pressures. For example, the CPI passenger vehicle price index fell by 2.5 per cent over the first two months of the year. So while the bank will stick to its hawkish messaging, we doubt recent developments will cause it resume rate hikes.”
“There were many indications that the economy got off to a solid start in 2023, but today’s double-barrelled blast of strength is well above even the most optimistic views. Even if growth stalls in March, it now looks like Q1 will post growth of 2.5 per cent, up from a flat read in Q4. While we continue to look for a notable cool-down in the next two quarters, we are bumping up our GDP growth estimate for all of 2023 by three ticks to one per cent. Suffice it to say that if the strength seen in the opening months of the year persists, the Bank of Canada is going to find itself in a tough spot.”
“Today’s outsized move in January real GDP and continued momentum through February leaves little room to equivocate. The Canadian economy started the year on a very strong footing. We are now tracking real GDP growth approaching three per cent annualized in Q1, well above the bank’s 0.5 per cent tracking in the January 2023 monetary policy report.
“As such, expect substantial upward revisions to the central bank’s near‑term forecast when it’s published in a week and a half. But with the recent global banking sector volatility and inflation coming in below expectations in February, there are plenty of good reasons for the bank to stay on the sidelines for the foreseeable future. However, the data suggest the central bank should reiterate its hawkish‑leaning forward guidance.”
“After stalling in Q4 2022, it now looks like GDP will grow modestly in Q1. Still, we believe a contraction in the economy will be unavoidable this spring and summer as the full impact from higher interest rates materializes, lenders tighten credit due to ongoing financial turmoil, and the U.S. slips into recession.”
“Despite the continued rebound of the Canadian economy in Q1 after a sluggish quarter, we still believe that the Bank of Canada should maintain its pause in monetary tightening. The rate hikes have been very aggressive and will continue to weigh on the economy given the lag in their pass-through.
“In addition, the outcome of the ongoing turmoil in the global banking sector and its impact on credit conditions in the coming months remains uncertain. We expect to see ups and downs in output in later quarters that will leave GDP essentially flat over the next year. This is an argument for patience. All the more so given the encouraging developments in inflation that are now emerging.”
“While the Bank of Canada is currently on a conditional pause as it awaits more data, the strength in the real economy, as measured by upward revisions from last month’s preliminary figure (for GDP) and another probable above-potential reading in February, could tilt the central bank in a more hawkish direction.
“While it is still too early to call for another rate hike, the odds are shifting in that direction: BoC officials stated they are mostly worried about upside risks to inflation and have shown little panic about recent global banking troubles. Stronger growth means the costs to another hike are falling, and it also puts upward pressure on inflation. Markets largely agree with our assessment, as they are now pricing only 35 basis points of rate cuts by year end, the fewest in nearly three weeks, and a far cry from the 90 basis points of cuts priced just a week ago.”
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Reaction to the $26 billion Rogers-Shaw merger in Alberta was mixed on the day it was announced.
Bob Schulz, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, called the merger a “win-win.”
“It’s a blockbuster deal for Canada, but it could be the rising (rural telecommunications) star for the world in the developing countries that we actually test here,” Schulz said Friday.
He noted Canada’s spread out pockets of population presents a unique operating environment for telecommunications companies, and faces competition from emerging companies like Elon Musk’s Starlink.
Shaw executive chair and CEO Brad Shaw said the deal was an “exciting new chapter” for connectivity in the country.
“In today’s telecommunications industry, we recognize that companies need even greater scale to compete and make ongoing investments for future technology,” Shaw said in a statement. “This merger will provide the scale necessary for the future success and competitiveness of the wireline business that Shaw has built over the past five decades.”
Schulz was quick to point out that while the merger would reduce two telcos into one, the stipulation that Shaw’s Freedom Mobile be sold to Quebecor-owned Videotron will help with competition in the mobile phone market.
Rogers must fulfill list of conditions in Shaw merger or face stiff financial penalties
“Consumers may think it’s a bad idea by having the two go together, but if Videotron comes in because they have lower prices, it may force the Rogers-Shaw combination to move down.”
The U of C professor said the conditions of the merger is likely to put added pressure on existing telcos.
“If Videotron decides that they’re going to expand, then Bell would have to do something a little different in order to compete or decide they’re going to compete less of the west and more of the east,” Schulz said. “And it’s also going to be interesting to see what happens with Telus, because now Telus will have a stronger competitor to compete with in the west.”
Minister of Technology and Innovation Nate Glubish said the Alberta government will be “unwavering” in holding the merged companies “accountable to conditions of this deal and the commitments they have made to Alberta jobs, consumers and communities.”
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“We will closely monitor the requirement for Rogers to create about 3,000 jobs in Western Canada and invest a further $1 billion to connect rural, remote and Indigenous communities to high-speed internet,” Glubish said, noting the investment aligns with the province’s broadband strategy.
He welcomed the entry of the low-cost mobile offering from Videotron, which is to include rates 20 per cent lower than current offerings and invest $150 million into their network.
“While the telecommunications industry is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, we will hold Rogers and Shaw to their commitments outlined in this deal and protect Albertans’ interests going forward.”
The Opposition’s municipal affairs critic called the merger a “loss of an iconic Alberta company.”
“(Shaw has) deep roots in the province that go back almost 60 years, employing hundreds of people in their headquarters in Calgary and thousands across Western Canada,” Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci said in a statement.
What Rogers purchase of Shaw will mean for Canadian consumers
Ceci said a deal of this size will change the telco landscape in the country and could jeopardize jobs, increase customer costs and reduce access to services.
One of the 21 stipulations made by the federal government was for Rogers to establish a western headquarters in Calgary.
“I am encouraged to see these conditions included in the deal and we will be watching closely to ensure they are implemented,” Ceci said in a statement. “However, it is concerning that the Danielle Smith government failed to advocate for Alberta. They sought intervenor status in the deal, but did not take a position.”
Calgary student Ashmal Dawoodani endorses the government encouraging competition and called the Rogers-Shaw deal “only beneficial to the larger corporations.”
“Just selling off the mobile assets to another company is sort of like a short term solution. It’s not really looking too long-term,” Dawoodani said. “I think we do have some of the highest phone bills across the world and I don’t think that’ll change from such a small move like that.”
Nicole Flemming said the merger could limit options for customers like her.
“I like to have more choice with my cell phone providers and Internet providers so I don’t really like that idea (of the merger),” Fleming told Global News “It gives me less choice as a consumer – I like to shop around.”
Shaw Communications and Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News, are owned by the Shaw family based in Calgary.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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