COLUMN: Higher interest rates will slow B.C. economy after ‘unusually robust’ show

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

By Jock Finlayson

When it hiked its short-term policy interest rate in late October, the Bank of Canada signaled that an extended period of “money for nothing” – the lowest interest rates in Canadian history – had finally and definitively come to an end.

Last month, the central bank lifted its benchmark overnight rate to 1.75 per cent, which is up from a record low of 0.5 per cent in the summer of 2017. Over the past 15 months, the Bank of Canada has nudged its policy rate steadily higher, albeit in baby steps. Why does this matter?

READ MORE: Bank of Canada hikes interest rate to 1.75%

The reason is that many other interest rates in our economy, including mortgages, lines of credit, and the rates paid on savings accounts and Guaranteed Investment Certificates, are influenced by the Bank of Canada’s rate-setting decisions.

So, as the central bank has been raising its benchmark rate, borrowing costs for consumers, home-buyers, businesses and governments have been rising in tandem. To a lesser extent, savers have also seen slightly higher returns on the money they hold with banks, credit unions and other financial institutions.

Based on statements from Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz and his colleagues, it appears that the bank expects to keep interest rates on an upward trajectory in 2019-20. Of course, this assumes the Canadian economy continues to post modest growth going forward.

READ MORE: Feds to release fall economic update Nov. 21

Some prominent forecasters see the bank’s benchmark policy rate approaching three per cent by mid-2020. If so, the market-determined interest rates facing households and businesses are likely to keep climbing for a few more quarters at least.

The shift from years of rock-bottom interest rates to somewhat more “normal” rates will have widespread effects across the economy. With the cost of credit escalating, consumer spending in Canada is set to slow. So too will key measures of real-estate-related activity, as rising mortgage rates take a bite of housing demand and quash speculation.

British Columbia is more vulnerable than other provinces to the tighter financial conditions being engineered by the central bank.

READ MORE: Housing slowdown forecast to cool B.C. economy

With the most expensive homes in the country, B.C. also “leads” in the amount of debt accumulated by consumers and households – both in absolute terms, and relative to household incomes.

Mortgages make up more than two-thirds of household debt. Thus, costlier real estate means bigger mortgages and a higher debt/income ratio for the average B.C. household.

Estimates suggest that 70 per cent of Canadian households with five-year fixed mortgages as of 2017 will have renewed at a higher rate by the end of 2020. Around one-fifth of these households are in B.C. People with variable rate mortgages will also be paying more in interest costs going forward.

What do higher interest rates portend for the province’s economy as a whole?

First, like Canada, B.C. will see a downshifting in the growth of consumer spending – a trend that is already evident in the data on retail sales in 2018.

Second, housing markets, which have softened in 2018, should stay subdued for some time, as mortgage rates edge up and more restrictive federal government rules on mortgage financing continue to weigh on lending. The NDP government’s measures to curb housing demand and increase the tax burden on expensive properties are also playing a role in taking the froth out of the real estate sector.

Overall growth in the B.C. economy is poised to slow after the unusually robust performance seen in 2016 and 2017.

For 2018, the Business Council of B.C. projects a 2.3 per cent increase in inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, down from average growth of 3.8 per cent over the previous two years.

In 2019, we anticipate a small pick-up in economic activity, fueled in large part by higher investment spending – specifically, the start-up of LNG Canada’s massive gas liquefaction project in Kitimat, by the middle of next year.

READ MORE: Kitimat gets first look at LNG Canada timeline

Looking ahead, it is clear that B.C. will have to rely more on non-residential investment and exports to underpin an expanding economy, as the province moves away from the real estate-centric growth model that prevailed during the era of record low interest rates.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Highway closed near Moyie due to vehicle incident, according to Drive BC.
Highway 3/95 near Moyie closed due to vehicle incident

Highway 3/95 east of Moyie is closed in both directions due to… Continue reading

Courtesy of the Kitsap Public Health District
My Covid test: A report from the front lines

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t ram the swab deep into your brain

(File image)
Kootenay East election: The drama will take days — a look at the numbers

It’s an unprecedented election for unprecedented times. Accordingly, unprecedented patterns of voter… Continue reading

Top row, left to right: Tom Shypitka, BC Liberals; Wayne Stetski, BC NDP; Kerri Wall; BC Green Party. Bottom row, left to right: Samson Boyer, BC Green Party; Nicole Cherlet; BC NDP; Doug Clovechok; BC Liberals. (Compiled by Barry Coulter)
Candidates’ messages: Kootenay East and Columbia River Revelstoke

The Townsman offered each candidate - in Kootenay East and Columbia River Revelstoke - space to hold forth on issues important to them and to voters.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

Most Read