Can Inflation Save Canada From Recession?

By Mike Caggeso
Associate Editor

Canada's consumer price inflation rose 2.2% year-over-year in May, edging ahead as the Bank of Canada signaled it would last week. The spike suggests Canada's economy of is also sputtering alongside that of the United States, but soaring commodities costs just may help our northern neighbor skirt recession. 

Inflation is up significantly from the 1.7% increase reported in April, Statistics Canada reported yesterday (Thursday). And high gas prices are to blame as fuel costs rose 15.0% in May compared with the same month last year - that's considerably faster than the 12-month change of 11.6% posted in April.

Excluding gasoline prices, 12-month inflation grew 1.6% in May.

Last week, the central bank voted to keep its overnight interest rate at 3%, warning that inflation risks have "shifted slightly to the upside." But the bank quickly followed that up by saying global demand for Canadian goods and services remains strong despite a U.S. slowdown.

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"This report will not push the bank to raise rates in 2008, but we do see 100 basis points of hikes coming in 2009 as Canada's inflation problem heats up," Meny Grauman, an economist with CIBC World Markets Inc. in Toronto, said in a note to clients, Bloomberg News reported.

With an end to the rate cuts, the Canadian dollar is on the rise. The loonie has gained 1% since the June 10 decision to hold rates steady, Bloomberg reported.

Recession Protection?

Earlier this month, Canada announced its gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 0.1% in the first quarter, marking the country's first decline since the second quarter of 2003.

But this is where inflation could actually be a friend.

In today's world, where interest rates are low and commodity prices are high, Canada's in a very strong position for two reasons:

  • It has oil reserves - somewhat larger than the Middle East - in the form of the Athabasca oil sands.
  • And it's the world's largest producer of uranium, with 25% of the world market.  (Australia is a close second, with about 23%.)

Since Canada is a chief oil exporter, its oil companies are on the receiving end of soaring prices. And in turn, that helps pad the economy's pocket, becoming an unlikely protective barrier to another quarter of negative GDP growth.

Also working in the economy's favor, month-to-month wholesale sales jumped 1.4% in April, more than doubling forecasts of 0.6%, Reuters reported. This suggests that domestic demand is able to wade through inflationary waters and lends credence to justifying a future interest rate hike.

The Bank of Canada's next scheduled date for announcing the overnight rate target is July 15.

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