March 20th, 2018

Central bank warns of fallout from trade fights, signals patience on rates

By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press on March 8, 2018.

OTTAWA – Even with reassuring trade news out of the United States, a senior Bank of Canada official warned Thursday of serious consequences related to steel and aluminum tariffs as he sent signals the bank’s in no rush to raise interest rates.

Deputy governor Timothy Lane said in a speech the central bank is closely watching the uncertainty surrounding global trade tensions, competitiveness issues and the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Lane’s address to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade came shortly after Canada learned it was getting relief from U.S. penalties on steel and aluminum for an undetermined period. Canada is one of only two countries getting a provisional exemption from heavy tariffs that are aimed at the rest of the world.

The prospect of tariffs, and the possibility they could cause a global trade war, have added to an already murky context for Canada that includes worries over NAFTA’s renegotiation and fears over competitiveness, following corporate tax cuts in the U.S.

“Recent developments with respect to steel and aluminum, despite the encouraging news … alongside heightened protectionist rhetoric, can potentially carry quite serious economic consequences,” he said.

Lane’s remarks came a day after the central bank maintained its interest rate at 1.25 per cent as it cited trade policy developments as important, growing sources of uncertainty for the global and Canadian economies.

He said the central bank is dealing with a situation where it doesn’t know when the NAFTA talks or other trade disputes will be concluded, nor does it know how governments or industries will react.

“The range of possibilities is quite wide and that means that trying to quantify any scenario in advance would not be useful for monetary policy purposes,” Lane said.

Lane also used the speech to applaud the bank’s gradual approach to raising rates, a process that has seen three hikes since last summer.

The go-slow strategy, he said, has enabled the bank to carefully analyze data and avoid undermining growth by moving too quickly.

Following Wednesday’s policy decision, experts pointed to several other arguments the bank raised to support its wait-and-see approach on interest rates. Among the examples, the bank pointed to weaker-than-expected growth in the fourth quarter and the need for more time to assess the economic impacts of new housing-market policies, including recent changes to mortgage rules.

Many experts now predict Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz will wait until the second half of the year before raising the rate again, while some say the next hike might not come until 2019.

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