Canada’s strong economic growth in the first quarter is likely a temporary blip that will give way to more moderate expansion during the rest of the year.
While most analysts agree that should keep interest rates on hold when the Bank of Canada announces it latest policy stance on Tuesday, a number of others are getting nervous about the central bank’s slow pace in normalizing monetary conditions, saying it increasingly runs the risk of fueling higher inflation and destabilizing the economy.
“In order to control prices and avoid wild swings in the economy, we are of the opinion that the Bank of Canada should be more aggressive in the normalization of its monetary policy than what the market expects,” Pierre Lapointe, a global macro strategist at Brockhouse Cooper, said in a note to clients on Monday.
Canada’s gross domestic product expanded at an annualized rate of 3.9% during the first three months of the year, its fastest pace since the first quarter of 2010 when the economy grew 5.6%, according to Statistics Canada.
Falling just shy of the 4% expected by economists, the country’s latest GDP figures were aided by strong growth in the mining and oil and gas industries as almost all major sectors with the exception of retail, and arts, entertainment and recreation.
Business investments in plants and equipment were up 3.2%, the fifth straight increase, while exports were up 1.6% in the first quarter, and imports rose 2.2%.
Jim Flaherty, Canada’s Finance Minister, said the GDP numbers were encouraging when asked about them during a news conference at a Chrysler plant in Etobicoke on Monday morning.
“We knew the first quarter was going to be strong, and it is strong,” he said. “It’s in line with expectations. I’m particularly encouraged by the fact that government capital spending is a smaller part of the growth.”
But Mr. Flaherty, who said he plans on tabling “essentially the same budget” as the one in March that was rejected by the opposition to spark the recent federal election, also acknowledged that Canada’s growth for the rest of the year would be more modest.
Several economists, including David Madani of Capital Economics, agreed that the country’s economic pick-up is not sustainable.
With the temporary boost to growth from higher energy and auto production already realized, Mr. Madani expects second-quarter growth as a low as 1.5%.
He said Canada faces several headwinds and forecasts that slower US economic growth and the strong Canadian dollar will continue to restrain exports, particularly in industries dependent on auto sales and housing construction in the US.
“More importantly, Canadian domestic demand appears increasingly vulnerable to a shaky housing market, where still rising prices test the limits of housing affordability and already high household debt levels,” he said in a note to clients.
Under those circumstances, Mr. Madani said the Bank of Canada is unlikely to raise interest rates anytime soon. Consensus estimates, meanwhile, predict the central bank only raising its key lending rate 25 basis points to 1.25% by the end of the third quarter and to just 1.75% by year-end.