December 19, 2018 11:14 am

Lower gas prices send November inflation rate to 1.7% — weakest in 2018

WATCH: Gains for Canadian consumers in terms of cheaper gasoline reflect pain in Alberta, where lower oil prices are straining the energy industry. The federal government is injecting $1.6 billion into the province's oil and gas sector to help it cope.

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The annual pace of inflation slowed considerably last month to 1.7 per cent as upward pressure from higher gasoline prices eased off, Statistics Canada said in a report Wednesday.

The agency’s latest inflation number was the weakest year-over-year increase since January 2018 — and far cooler than October’s reading of 2.4 per cent. Inflation for September was 2.2 per cent.

WATCH: Trudeau says he and Notley have agreed to work together on Alberta’s low oil prices

Pump prices contracted 5.4 per cent compared with a year ago because of a drop in global oil prices to register gasoline’s first year-over-year decrease since June 2017. As a result, price growth decelerated in all provinces. Excluding gasoline, the inflation rate would have increased 1.9 per cent in November.

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Prices for durable goods last month recoiled 0.1 per cent last month, following a 0.9 per cent expansion in October, as consumers paid less for furniture, tools and other household equipment compared with a year earlier, the agency said. Downward pressure on prices last month also came from lower year-over-year costs for traveller accommodation, digital computing equipment and devices and telephone services.

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The main upward forces on inflation were higher costs for fresh vegetables, airline tickets and mortgage interest, the agency said. The average of the agency’s three core inflation readings, which leave out more-volatile items like gas prices, slowed to 1.9 per cent last month from two per cent in October. All three core readings now sit at 1.9 per cent — below the ideal two per cent target of the Bank of Canada. The core average has stayed close to the two per cent bull’s-eye in recent months and November’s reading is the first time it slowed to 1.9 per cent since June.

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The central bank pays close attention to core inflation ahead of its interest-rate decisions – and the weaker reading Wednesday will likely add to the argument that governor Stephen Poloz should leave his benchmark rate unchanged at its next policy meeting on Jan. 9. The bank, which has been on a clear rate-hiking path, can raise its trend-setting rate as a way to keep inflation from climbing too high. It has increased the rate five times since the summer of 2017 in response to Canada’s strong economic performance.

READ MORE: Canada’s household debt-to-income ratio still near record despite rising rates

As he weighs his next decision, experts expect  Poloz to remain focused on the recent plunge in oil prices, the capacity of the energy sector to engage in business investment and the ability of Canadian households — many of which are saddled with very high levels of debt — to manage higher interest rates.

The bank must also consider another concern — a sharp deceleration in wage growth over the past six months. The national unemployment rate has been near a 40-year low for more than a year, but wage growth has cooled instead of picking up its pace in the tightened labour market.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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