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Economic recovery becoming more solidly entrenched, says Bank of Canada

General Angela Calla 26 Jan


OTTAWA – Canada’s economy is becoming more solidly entrenched with the private sector beginning to play an increasingly pivotal role in leading the country out of recession, the Bank of Canada said today in its latest policy report.

In a mildly upbeat assessment of the recovery, the central bank’s quarterly outlook contains some upward revisions for growth in the United States, China, Europe and Japan that should help Canada’s battered exporters and manufacturing sector in the next two years.

And it says Canada’s economy will grow faster going forward than expected, in part because it got off to such a slow start last summer.

Overall, the bank appears more optimistic about the sustainability of the recovery that is happening around the world, although it also cautions that risks of a stall remain.

There is also some upside hope, the bank adds, that conditions may continue to improve better than projected.

“It is thus possible that the recovery in global demand could be more vigorous than projected, resulting in stronger external demand for Canadian exports,” the bank judges.

In Canada, it adds: “Economic growth is expected to become more solidly entrenched over the projection period as self-sustaining growth in private demand takes hold.”

The analysis is broadly similar to what the bank said last October, when it last issued a comprehensive forecast on the economy, but the tone is brighter at the margins and the danger signals less frequent.

For months, bank governor Mark Carney has been cautioning Canadians not to get overextended in purchasing homes, but there is no such warning this time. In fact, the bank says it expects the housing market to cool this year and next as a result of pent-up demand becoming satiated and relatively high home prices.

As well, the bank appears more confident that the private sector is ready to take the handoff from governments as the main driver of economic growth.

The bank says Canada’s reliance on government stimulus spending likely hit its peak at the end of 2009, representing about two per cent of all economic output for the country, and will decline this year.

By 2011, the private sector will be the sole driver of Canadian growth, the bank said.

But while Canada’s domestic demand continues to be the key driver of economic growth, the big change from October’s outlook is that prospects are also improving for the country’s battered export and manufacturing sectors.

“Export volumes are expected to continue to recover over the projection period in response to growing external demand and higher commodity prices. Export growth is projected to be somewhat stronger than was expected last October, owing to a more favourable outlook for the U.S. economy, particularly in the sectors that figure most importantly for Canadian exporters,” the bank says.

Those volumes would be even greater but for the strong Canadian loonie, it adds.

Canada’s auto and forest products sectors were particularly hard-hit during the recession, the bank notes, and will benefit most from renewed growth in the U.S. Canadian manufacturers shed about 200,000 jobs last year.

The central bank now says the U.S. gross domestic product will grow by 2.5 per cent this year, largely as a result of improvement in the financial sector. Three months ago, the bank estimated U.S. growth at a mere 1.8 per cent.

In Canada, the bank says the economy likely grew by 3.3 per cent in the last three months of 2009. For 2010, the economy will advance by 2.9 per cent, followed by a 3.5 per cent pickup in 2011.

In retrospect, the bank noted that Canada’s recession, while severe, was not nearly as damaging as it was in other industrialized countries, partly because of Canada’s solid banking system.

But neither has the recovery been particularly impressive in Canada, starting with a disappointing 0.4 per cent advance in the third quarter of 2009, which the bank attributes to a surprisingly strong influx in imports. The U.S., backed by a weak currency, rebounded more strongly with a 2.2-per-cent increase in the third quarter and a bouncy 4.7-per-cent advance in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The bank believes Canada will make up for the slow start this year, projecting it will advance stronger than the U.S., Japan and Europe.

The main engine of global growth remains China, however, which is expected to be back close to double-digit growth this year.