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From lower oil prices to a weaker loonie: How the new coronavirus could impact Canada’s economy

2nd case of ‘presumptive’ coronavirus confirmed in Toronto
WATCH: Ontario health officials have confirmed a second presumptive case of the new coronavirus in Toronto.

The spread of a new strain of coronavirus from China to at least 16 countries has implications for the global economy, analysts warn. That includes Canada, where one confirmed case and one presumptive case of the new coronavirus have been detected so far.

If the current outbreak follows the course of past health scares, it will only be a temporary bump for the Canadian economy, according to an analysis by BMO economist Sal Guatieri. But that stumble would come as domestic growth has already entered a soft patch.

READ MORE: 2nd ‘presumptive’ coronavirus case reported in Ontario

Typically, global health-care worries send stock markets into sell-off mode, with prices of airlines, restaurants and hotels hit especially hard, Guatieri said in a note published on Friday. At the same time, investors pile into safer assets.

Do Canadians need to worry about coronavirus?
Do Canadians need to worry about coronavirus?

On Monday, Canada’s benchmark S&P/TSX composite index was down about 0.6 per cent in midday trading, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were down around one per cent, erasing a significant portion of their gains for January. Companies that rely on travel and tourism suffered steep losses. Meanwhile, the prices of safe-haven assets like gold and bonds rose.

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READ MORE: U.S. stocks tumble as coronavirus cases spike in China

The stock declines follow equity sell-offs in Europe earlier in the day. Most markets in Asia were closed for the Lunar New Year, with Chinese authorities extending the holiday to Feb. 2 in an effort to keep as many people as possible at home to contain the outbreak.

Lunar New Year celebrations continue under coronavirus scare
Lunar New Year celebrations continue under coronavirus scare

As with previous outbreaks, the new, fast-spreading coronavirus is also rattling commodities markets. Crude oil prices dipped below US$60 (C$78) for the first time in nearly three months on Monday, as reports of more businesses being forced to shut down fuelled expectations of slowing oil demand.

The dip in commodity prices typically has knock-on effects for the currencies of countries with resource-based economies, like Canada’s, Guatieri wrote.

On Monday, the Canadian dollar was trading at 75.78 cents U.S., compared with an average of 76.10 cents U.S. on Friday, which was already a four-week low.

READ MORE: Oil prices, stock markets tumble as coronavirus cases spike in China

Comments from the Bank of Canada, which recently trimmed its 2020 economic forecast, have also been putting pressure on the loonie.

In general, global epidemics tend to slow down broader economic growth, Guatieri wrote.

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“People shop less, delay travel and stay home. Companies turn cautious and delay investments.”

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While government moves to contain the crisis and increased demand for health-care services offsets the adverse economic impacts somewhat, “the economy slows nonetheless,” Guatieri said.

In 2003, the spread of SARS shaved 0.66 percentage points off annualized economic growth between March and June that year, according to an estimate from the Bank of Canada. The outbreak caused nearly 800 deaths worldwide, 44 of which were in Canada.

Is Canada doing enough to protect Canadians from the coronavirus outbreak?
Is Canada doing enough to protect Canadians from the coronavirus outbreak?

But the economic impact of SARS and other recent epidemics has been short-lived, Guatieri said.

Stock markets were quick to bounce back once the outbreak appeared to be under control and the number of cases began to fall, with economic activity also recovering rapidly, the report said.

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In Canada, the full-year impact of the SARS outbreak was a reduction of a mere 0.1 per cent of GDP, according to the Bank of Canada.

Guatieri also noted the Chinese government is taking decisive steps to control the outbreak and health care authorities have better technology and protocols in place since the SARS crisis.

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And while the new coronavirus outbreak strikes at a time when both the U.S. and Chinese economies are losing steam, economists have also been hoping for that growth slump to ease somewhat thanks to recent progress on trade negotiations with the approval of a “Phase 1” trade deal between Washington and Beijing.

The ratification of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) is also expected to be a boost for Canada’s economy, ending the uncertainty that weighed on cross-border business as the three countries negotiated a trade agreement to replace NAFTA.

The bottom line is “it’s too soon to revise down our growth forecast” because of the latest health scare, Guatieri said.

— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press