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Canada's Q4 growth tops forecasts, reducing pressure for immediate rate cut

Published 2024-02-29, 09:28 a/m
Updated 2024-02-29, 10:02 a/m
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A float plane flies past containers and cranes at the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, July 30, 2023. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

By Promit Mukherjee and Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -The Canadian economy expanded at an annualized rate of 1.0% in the fourth quarter, exceeding expectations, data showed on Thursday, a result that should ease interest rate-cutting pressure on the central bank.

Fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) was higher than the Bank of Canada's (BoC's) expectation for zero growth and analysts' median forecast for an expansion of 0.8% growth. January GDP likely gained 0.4% from December, Statistics Canada said in a flash estimate.

"Today's results, while mixed, would send a signal that there's no urgency to cut rates," said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO (TSX:BMO) Capital Markets. "It's not as if the economy is sinking... It's just very slowly but surely moving ahead."

The Bank of Canada (BoC) has kept its key overnight rate at a 22-year high of 5% for the past four meetings as it strives to root out underlying inflation driven by shelter costs, food prices and wages.

Canada's economy did better than G7 counterparts Japan and UK, which slipped into recession at the end of last year.

Month-over-month, real GDP was essentially unchanged in December, missing a 0.2% growth forecast, Statscan said. Quarterly growth was fueled by a rise in exports as imports declined, Statscan said, adding that a decline in business investment was a moderating factor.

Final domestic demand, composed of expenditures on final consumption and gross fixed capital formation, edged down 0.2% in the fourth quarter and outside of 2020, real GDP in 2023 rose at its slowest pace since 2016, StatsCan said.

"Growth appears to have been driven largely by an easing of previous supply constraints... rather than necessarily an improvement in domestic demand," said Andrew Grantham, economist with CIBC (TSX:CM).

The current GDP data doesn't change his forecast for a first interest rate cut in June, he said.

The BoC is expected to keep rates on hold at its next policy announcement on Wednesday.

While high rates have helped cool inflation from 8.1% in June 2022 to 2.9% in January, it has gnawed at growth, building pressure on the central bank to start easing rates.

In its monetary policy report last month, the BoC had forecast economic growth to stall in the fourth quarter and grow by an annualized 0.5% in the first quarter. It expects this year's growth to be 0.8%.

Money markets see more than a 80% chance for a rate cut in June, and a 25-basis-point cut is fully priced in for July.

The loonie clawed back its earlier losses to trade 0.1% higher at 1.3565 per U.S. dollar, or 73.72 U.S. cents. Bond yields for the two-year Canadian government bonds eased slightly from morning trade rose 0.8 basis points to 4.211% at 1433 GMT.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A float plane flies past containers and cranes at the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, July 30, 2023. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

Since the BoC's last rate announcement, data has been mixed with job growth exceeding expectations in January and inflation cooling faster than expected. At 2.9%, inflation is still running hotter than the bank's 2% target.

In an advance estimate for January, Statscan said increases in educational services and health care and social assistance, were partially offset by decreases in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction and transportation and warehousing sectors.

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