Get the latest market trends in your inbox
Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.
Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday
Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday
Denver news in your inbox
Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver
Des Moines news in your inbox
Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines
Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox
Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities
Tampa Bay news in your inbox
Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay
Charlotte news in your inbox
Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
The coronavirus pandemic hit the global economy hard in 2020, but the economy may be close to consolidating years of technological advances — and ready to take off in a burst of productivity growth.
Why it matters: Productivity is the engine that makes the economy grow for everyone. If long-gestating technologies like AI and automation really are ready to fulfill their potential, we’ll have the chance to escape the great stagnation that has choked our economy and poisoned our politics.
What’s happening: Hidden in part by the human and economic suffering of the pandemic, 2020 saw a collection of remarkable technological breakthroughs, including a mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 and advances in AI language generation.
Context: In a blog post published last month, the economist Tyler Cowen added in a few others, including affordable solar power and remote work, and asked whether total factor productivity (TFP) — a rough approximation of the effect technological and strategic progress has on economic productivity — in 2021 “will be remarkably high, maybe the highest ever?”
- Cowen’s musings matter because he literally wrote the book on “the great stagnation” — his term for the curious and persistent slowdown in wage and productivity growth in the U.S. over the past few decades, even as the internet and everything that grew out of it seemed to transform life as we knew it.
Flashback: After a few postwar decades of scorching growth, labor productivity began to decelerate sharply in the 1970s, and aside from a period of 3% growth in the mid-1990s to early 2000s — which economists attributed to the widespread effects of the computer — it’s stayed mired at about 1.2% a year ever since .
- Some experts have argued that conventional economic metrics fail to fully measure the productivity benefits of newer technologies like social media and the internet, but even so, they don’t compare to the advances of the past, like widespread electrification and antibiotics.
It looks increasingly possible that the last decade plus of sluggish productivity growth isn’t a sign that the benefits of new technology have permanently plateaued, but that businesses were using the time to invest in and adjust to those new advances — and that we may now be ready to reap the benefits.
- Economists like Erik Byrnjolfsson have argued that we’re experiencing a “productivity J-curve.”
- When powerful new technologies are introduced into the economy, productivity may flatten or even dip a bit as initial investments are made — the first part of the J. But once those technologies have been fully digested, productivity can swoop upwards — the second part of the J.
- That’s what we’ve seen in the past. Computers began to filter into the workplace in the 1970s and 80s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the productivity gains of all those PCs were finally felt.
What they’re saying: “Often times in the short term it can be costly to invest in new business processes and skills, and during that time you won’t see productivity rising,” Byrnjolfsson told me earlier this year.
- “But in the years after you’ll see the upwards part of the J, and COVID-19 has catalyzed the energy and creativity around this process.”
By the numbers: A survey by the World Economic Forum in October found more than 80% of global firms plan to accelerate the digitization of business process and grow remote work, while half plan to accelerate automation.
- About 43% expect those changes to reduce their workforces overall, which implies an expected increase in productivity.
The catch: If those gains don’t filter down to workers — or worse, end up eliminating jobs without replacing them with better ones — even a faster, more productive economy won’t ameliorate the inequality-driven political divisions that have dogged the U.S. in recent years.
The bottom line: As bad as 2020 has been, we may look back upon it as the year that finished the launchpad for a new Roaring ’20s.
Canadian regulator lifts banks’ capital buffer to record, priming for post-pandemic world
Canada‘s financial regulator raised the amount of capital the country’s biggest lenders must hold to guard against risks to a record 2.5% of risk-weighted assets, from 1% currently, in a surprise move that could pave the way for them to resume dividend increases and share buybacks.
The new measures, which take effect on Oct. 31, is a sign that the economic and market disruptions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic have abated and banks’ capital levels have been resilient, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) said in a statement.
But the regulator acknowledged that key vulnerabilities, including household and corporate debt levels, as well as asset imbalances caused by steep increase in home prices over the past year, remain.
In a sign of concern about the housing market, OSFI and the Canadian government raised the benchmark to determine the minimum qualifying rate for mortgages, starting June 1.
The increase in the Domestic Stability Buffer (DSB) to the highest possible level raises the Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital – the core bank capital measure – to 10.5% of risk-weighted assets; a 4.5% base level, a “capital conservation buffer” of 2.5%, and a 1% surcharge for systemically important banks, plus the DSB.
The change “gives OSFI more leeway to loosen a restriction down the road, namely the freeze on buybacks and dividend increases,” National Bank Financial Analyst Gabriel Dechaine said.
OSFI felt it was “useful for the banks to understand what our minimal capital expectations are and to give them time to adjust to that… ahead of any lifting of the temporary capital distribution restrictions,” Assistant Superintendent Jamey Hubbs said on a media call.
Even with the higher requirement, Canada‘s six biggest banks would have excess capital of about C$51 billion, dropping from C$82 billion as of April 30, according to Reuters calculations.
That was driven in part by a moratorium on dividend increases and share buybacks imposed by OSFI in March 2020, although a pandemic-driven surge in loan losses has so far failed to materialize.
The Canadian banks index slipped 0.25% in morning trading in Toronto, while the Toronto stock benchmark fell 0.1%.
The increase is the first since the last one announced in December 2019, which did not come into effect as planned in April 2020, as OSFI made an out-of-schedule change https://www.reuters.com/article/canada-mortgages-regulation-idUSL1N2B636J that dropped the rate to 1% in March. It has maintained that level at its twice yearly reviews.
Prior to that, OSFI had raised the required level by 25 basis points at every twice yearly review since it was introduced at 1.5% in June 2018.
($1 = 1.2326 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Nichola Saminather; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jonathan Oatis)
Canada Economic Indicators
The economic indicators used to gauge the performance of an economy and its outlook are the same across most nations. What differs is the relative importance of certain indicators to a specific economy at various points in time (for instance, housing indicators are closely watched when the housing market is booming or slumping), and the bodies or organizations compiling and disseminating these indicators in each nation.
Here are the 12 key economic indicators for Canada, the world’s 10th-largest economy:1
Statistics Canada, a national agency, publishes growth statistics on the Canadian economy on monthly and quarterly bases. The report shows the real gross domestic product (GDP) for the overall economy and broken down by industry. It is an accurate monthly/quarterly status report on the Canadian economy and each industry within it.2
Employment Change and Unemployment
Key data on the Canadian employment market, such as the net change in employment, the unemployment rate, and participation rate, is contained in the monthly Labour Force Survey, released by Statistics Canada. The report contains a wealth of information about the Canadian job market, categorized by the demographic, class of worker (private sector employee, public sector employee, self-employed), industry, and province.3
Consumer Price Index
Statistics Canada releases a monthly report on the consumer price index (CPI) that measures inflation at the consumer level. The index is constructed by comparing changes over time in a fixed basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. The report shows the change in CPI monthly and over the past 12 months, on an overall and core (excluding food and energy prices) basis.4
International Merchandise Trade
This monthly report from Statistics Canada shows the nation’s imports and exports, as well as the net merchandise trade surplus or deficit. The report also compares the most current data with that for the preceding month. Exports and imports are shown by product category, and also for Canada’s top ten trading partners.5
Teranet – National Bank House Price Index
This composite index of house prices across Canada was developed by Teranet and the National Bank of Canada and represents average home prices in Canada’s six largest metropolitan areas. A monthly report shows the change in the index monthly and over the past 12 months, as well as monthly and 12-month changes in Canada’s six and 11 largest metropolitan areas.6
RBC Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index – PMI
Released on the first business day of each month, this indicator of trends in the Canadian manufacturing sector was launched in June 2011 by Royal Bank of Canada, in association with Markit and the Purchasing Management Association of Canada. RBC PMI readings above 50 signal expansion as compared to the previous month, while readings below 50 signal contraction. The monthly survey also tracks other information pertinent to the manufacturing sector, such as changes in output, new orders, employment, inventories, prices, and supplier delivery times.7
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index
The Conference Board of Canada’s Index of Consumer Confidence measures consumers’ levels of optimism in the state of the economy. It is a crucial indicator of near-term sales for consumer product companies in Canada, as well as an indicator of the outlook for the broad economy since consumer demand comprises such a significant part of it. The index is constructed on the basis of responses to four questions by a random sampling of Canadian households. Survey participants are asked how they view their households’ current and expected financial positions, their short-term employment outlook, and whether now is a good time to make a major purchase.8
Ivey Purchasing Managers Index – PMI
An index prepared by the Ivey Business School at Western University, the Ivey PMI measures the monthly variation in economic activity, as indicated by a panel of purchasing managers across Canada. It is based on responses by these purchasing managers to a single question: “Were your purchases last month in dollars higher, the same, or lower than in the previous month?” An index reading below 50 shows a decrease; a reading above 50 shows an increase. Panel members indicate changes in their organization’s activity over five broad categories: purchases, employment, inventories, supplier deliveries, and prices.9
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) issues a monthly report on the sixth working day of every month, showing the previous month’s new residential construction activity. The data is presented by region, province, census metropolitan area, and dwelling type (single-detached or multiple-unit). The indicator is an important gauge of the state of the Canadian housing market.10
This key indicator of housing activity is compiled by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and is based on the number of home sales processed through the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) Systems of real estate boards and associations in Canada. The monthly report from the CREA shows the change in home sales across Canada, as well as for major markets, from month to month. The report also includes other important housing-related information, such as the change (as a percentage) in newly listed homes, the national sales-to-new listings ratio, months of housing inventory, the change in the MLS Home Price Index, and the national average price for homes sold within the month.11
Statistics Canada releases a monthly report on retail sales activity across Canada, with changes shown on month-over-month and year-over-year bases. The headline number shows the percentage change in national retail sales on a dollar basis; the percentage change in volume terms is also shown. The retail sales figures are shown by industry and for each province or territory, and provide insights into Canadian consumer spending.12
The building permits survey conducted monthly by Statistics Canada collects data on the value of permits issued by Canadian municipalities for residential and non-residential buildings, as well as the number of residential dwellings authorized. Since building permit issuance is one of the very first steps in the process of construction, the aggregate building permits data are very useful as a leading indicator for assessing the state of the construction industry.13
The Bottom Line
The 12 economic indicators briefly described above show the health of key aspects of Canada’s economy: consumer spending, housing, manufacturing, employment, inflation, external trade, and economic growth. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive picture of the state of the Canadian economy.
Canada adds jobs for fourth straight month in May
Canada added 101,600 jobs in May, the fourth consecutive month of gains, led by hiring in the education and health services sector as well as in professional and business services, a report from payroll services provider ADP showed on Thursday.
The April data was revised to show 101,300 jobs were gained, rather than an increase of 351,300. The report, which is derived from ADP’s payrolls data, measures the change in total nonfarm payroll employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.
(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Alex Richardson)