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The Bank of Canada (BoC) left its overnight rate unchanged last week, as expected.
The Bank also released its latest Monetary Policy Report (MPR), which I read with great interest because it gives us the BoC’s views on the state of the world’s economies and includes projections for where the Bank sees foreign and domestic economic momentum headed over the next several years.
In a perfect world, the MPR would offer an unbiased assessment but bluntly put, that has not been the case for some time now. The BoC remains primarily concerned about our elevated household debt levels and continues to warn Canadian consumers about higher future interest rates. The Bank’s hope is that this form of ‘moral suasion’ will help counteract the natural effect that its ultra-low interest-rate policy is having on household borrowing. If successful, the BoC would be able to continue stimulating the rest of our small, open economy, which is needed in light of current global economic conditions, without fueling a household credit bubble as a by-product.
The challenge that the BoC has today when drafting its MPRs is that it must support its higher interest-rate warning with forecasts to match. This is where the tangled web that tries to connect the Bank’s warning to the hard economic data can be most plainly seen.
A pattern has emerged in the last several MPRs where the Bank downgrades its current data and near-term forecasts, unable to deny that our near-term economic momentum is slowing, but then offers more optimistic medium-term projections as an offset. This is a clever way of massaging the data because it allows the Bank to use a distant pickup in economic momentum as a way of continuing to justify its threat of higher interest rates, even while we are clearly still in the midst of an economic slump. Then, later, as the future unfolds and that momentum doesn’t materialize, the BoC simply adjusts its projections downward as they move nearer to the present day and makes new medium-term projections to fit as needed. Wash, rinse, repeat (and hope no one notices).