Interest rate cuts likely to be ‘gradual’ amid inflation risks: Bank of Canada

Click to play video: 'Inflation ticked higher in March. Are Bank of Canada rate cuts still in the cards?'
Inflation ticked higher in March. Are Bank of Canada rate cuts still in the cards?
Canada’s annual inflation rate rose slightly last month, accelerated largely by higher gas prices, data showed Tuesday. Statistics Canada reported that the overall inflation rate in the country was 2.9 per cent year over year in March, up from 2.8 per cent the previous month. – Apr 16, 2024

The Bank of Canada’s top policymakers have a “diversity of views” about when they expect interest rate cuts to start, but the meeting minutes from the governing council’s latest decision show agreement on the overall pace of easing.

The central bank on Wednesday released the deliberations from its most recent policy rate decision on April 10, where the bank’s benchmark interest rate held steady at 5.0 per cent for a sixth straight meeting.

As Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem indicated to reporters after the decision itself, the governing council was “encouraged” by recent progress in taming inflation, according to the release.

Heading into that decision, annual inflation had cooled in Canada to 2.8 per cent, with signs of easing in the central bank’s preferred metrics of core inflation as well. The headline inflation figure ticked up to 2.9 per cent in March, Statistics Canada reported a week after the rate hold.

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Macklem said after the Bank of Canada’s last rate decision that a first cut in June was in the “realm of possibilities.”  But policymakers were not considering lowering the policy rate at the April meeting, the deliberations show.

Click to play video: 'Bank of Canada holds key rate, signals June cut in the ‘realm of possibilities’'
Bank of Canada holds key rate, signals June cut in the ‘realm of possibilities’

The governing council “agreed that inflation was still too high,” according to the minutes, and felt that more time was needed for elevated interest rates to tame price pressures. Persistent shelter inflation tied to rising rents was highlighted as a particular pain point for price stability.

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There were varying perspectives among policymakers about when economic data would likely give the Bank of Canada enough confidence to deliver a first cut to its policy rate for the cycle. But the deliberations warned that easing in the cost of borrowing won’t come rapidly.

“While there was a diversity of views about when conditions would likely warrant cutting the policy rate, they agreed that monetary policy easing would probably be gradual, given risks to the outlook and the slow path for returning inflation to target,” the deliberations read.

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Bank of Canada in 'no rush' to cut: economist

Some members of the governing council indicated that with the Canadian economy performing above expectations so far in 2024, the central bank had more leeway to keep interest rates at their current restrictive levels as policymakers waited for more confidence that inflation would decline all the way to two per cent. An uptick in housing market activity was again cited as a possible risk that could refuel inflation.

Others focused more on the progress made to date in taming inflation, and stressed the risks of leaving monetary policy “more restrictive than needed.”

Governing council ultimately landed on the side that risks of higher inflation were a bigger concern, but said both upside and downside risks to price stability were “less acute.”

Click to play video: '‘Robust’ GDP growth in early 2024 puts Bank of Canada in tough spot'
‘Robust’ GDP growth in early 2024 puts Bank of Canada in tough spot

Benjamin Reitzes, BMO’s managing director of Canadian rates and macro strategist, told clients in a note Wednesday afternoon that it’s clear the Bank of Canada is in “no rush” to bring rates back down to a neutral level.

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Despite a slight uptick in the headline inflation figures in March, continued easing in core prices delivered another point in favour of the “sustained” easing the Bank of Canada says it’s looking for in inflation, he said.

If the April inflation print also comes in softer, the central bank would have to be “strongly considering cutting policy rates in June,” Reitzes said.

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