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Analysis News:::2022-03-02T17:15:57

Experts predict hike in Canada's prime lending rate

Against the background of strong economic data from the Statistics Canada a day earlier, the central bank is likely to raise interest rates more quickly.

The Bank of Canada is expected to start a series of interest rate hikes this week to wrestle inflation down from a three-decade high.

Experts predict hike in Canada's prime lending rate

The median estimate assumes that Governor Tiff Macklem will raise the benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 0.5% at a policy decision Wednesday. The Bank of Canada is also seen unveiling part of its plan to shrink holdings of government bonds acquired over the past two years.

The rate move would be the first increase in borrowing costs since 2018, starting what's expected to be one of the fastest hiking cycles since the central bank adopted an inflation target three decades ago. Markets expect as many as six hikes over the next 12 months.

"A hike this week will be the first step in the most consequential tightening cycle in decades," Royce Mendes, head of macro strategy at Desjardins Securities Inc., said by email. "Central bankers need to slow red hot inflation without causing a recession."

Inflation is currently running at a three-decade high of 5.1%, but officials continue to blame global supply chain issues that they anticipate will fade in coming months.

Wednesday's decision at 10 a.m. in Ottawa is a statement-only affair, with no new forecasts. But Macklem will give a speech and hold a news conference Thursday, where he'll provide more insight into the decision.

Notably, this decision comes ahead of the star of semi-annual testimony before US lawmakers by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

The Bank of Canada, which has held its benchmark at the emergency level of 0.25% since March 2020, has already begun laying the groundwork. At its last policy decision in January, Macklem warned higher borrowing costs are imminent in an economy at full capacity and no longer in need of extraordinary stimulus.

The central bank has also sought to reassure Canadians that officials are prepared to adjust quickly should price pressures prove to be stickier than forecast.

The Bank of Canada sees inflation falling back to about 3% by the end of this year and near its 2% target in 2023.

"We will be nimble - and if necessary, forceful - in using our monetary policy tools to address whatever situation arises," Deputy Governor Tim Lane said.

Economists note that there are risks to consider as lending costs rise, and the process will be a delicate balancing act.

Thus, Canadian households are some of the most indebted among advanced nations. Housing is the primary growth driver, a sector likely to cool as the cost of borrowing increases. However, high inflation is fuelling interest in real estate.

Markets are betting the Bank of Canada's overnight policy rate will hit as high as 1% by June, and 1.75% by this time next year. Banks use that benchmark to price borrowing costs for clients on variable-rate mortgages.

"Once the policy rate rises above 1%, financial stability considerations will come to the fore," Simon Harvey said. He pointed to the need for a delicate balancing of lending volumes and the current exchange rate.

A Russian invasion of Ukraine is unlikely to stop the Bank of Canada, as rising commodity prices protect Canada from any global economic consequences, and there is no need for energy resources from overseas. Despite this, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the resulting global market turmoil complicate the solution. In particular, because rising commodity prices will only increase inflationary pressures and increase income and demand in Canada's resource-based economy.

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine tilts inflation risks to the upside. It also poses clear downside risks to activity and confidence despite minimal direct trade exposure. With a long road ahead to a more neutral policy-rate setting, we expect the BoC will manage those two-sided risks with a gradual sequence of hikes that extends well into 2023," economist Andrew Hasby said.

It's a messy policy environment for monetary policymakers, analysts say.

"On the one hand, they need to continue on the paths that they articulated to the market over the past few months," Bank of Montreal Chief Financial Officer Tayfun Tuzun said in an interview Tuesday. "On the other hand, given the global situation, they need to make sure that their actions don't necessarily slow down their economies beyond the expected levels."

Overall, the Canadian dollar and Canadian equities look attractive against a background of sharp volatility in other markets. Of course, the commodity revolution looming as a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is bound to make adjustments. Otherwise, the Canadian economy is well anchored on a commodity base and is likely to face a rate hike with ease.

Analyst InstaForex
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