Canadian economy 3.3% in Q2: What you need to know


Statistics Canada estimates GDP shrank 0.1% in July

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Canada’s economy grew in the second quarter, but momentum is slowing, as the Bank of Canada’s aggressive interest rate hikes take some of the heat out of the economy.

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Gross domestic product from April to June increased at an annual rate of 3.3 per cent, compared to 3.1 per cent for the first quarter of 2022, Statistics Canada reported on Aug. 31. The agency’s monthly estimate for July showed a contraction of 0.1 per cent.

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Here’s what you need to know:

Is 3.3-per-cent growth considered good?

The Bank of Canada forecast in its July Monetary Policy Report last month that output would grow by four per cent, while Bay Street economists expected the economy to grow by 4.4 per cent.

Today’s data show Canada’s economy has expanded in the face of rising inflation, a tight labour market and excess demand. But Statistics Canada’s negative reading for July, along with  forecasters’ missed estimate, indicate growth is waning and could weaken further in the last half of the year.

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Still, output is higher than the central bank’s “potential” growth rate of two per cent, the threshold at which the economy can expand without fuelling inflation.

“The Q2 GDP reading was likely the last ‘above-trend’ increase of this economic cycle. The bulk of GDP growth in Q2 came earlier in the quarter,” Nathan Janzen, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada, wrote in a note.

“We continue to expect growth to be slower over the second half of the year with the economy slipping into a ‘moderate’ recession in 2023,” he said.

What drove growth?

Despite inflation at levels not seen in decades, household spending was one of the biggest contributors to economic growth. In the second quarter, expenditures rose 9.7 per cent, annualized, amid increased spending on clothing and footwear. That’s partly because rising wages boosted household incomes. Overall disposable household income increased at a quarterly rate of one per cent.

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The savings rate fell to 6.2 per cent, on a quarterly basis, from 9.5 per cent in the first quarter. But household net savings are still more than double what they were at the end of 2019. That, combined with rising incomes and and an economy free from lingering COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, led more people to travel and dine out.

Business investment also played a role. Amid strong consumer spending and high prices for commodities, more businesses stockpiled inventories, the biggest contributor to output at $47 billion. And demand for services, especially travel, helped bolster spending on machinery and equipment, up nearly 14 per cent on an annualized basis.

Nominal GDP, which doesn’t strip out inflation, rose close to 18 per cent, annualized, in the quarter.

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“Recall that nominal GDP drives things like personal income, corporate profits and government revenues,” Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter wrote in a note. “For a Bank of Canada that is laser-focused on inflation, the moderate miss in real GDP is almost meaningless when nominal spending is barreling ahead … deep into double-digit terrain.”

A slowdown in other sectors of the economy indicate the central bank’s rate hikes are beginning to work. For example, investment in the housing market dropped more than 27 per cent, annualized, in the quarter.

Trade also dragged on growth, with imports up more than 30 per cent, annualized, while exports only grew at an annual rate of 11 per cent.

What does it mean for inflation?

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GDP expanded at a slower rate than forecasters expected, but the economy is still too heated for the Bank of Canada’s liking.

Governor Tiff Macklem kicked off an aggressive rate-tightening cycle in March to stamp out rapid price growth. Last month, the Governing Council issued a rare, 100-basis-point increase after the consumer price index reached 8.1 per cent in June. CPI receded to 7.6 per cent in July.

Expect more rate hikes. The central bank is “determined” to bring an end to high inflation and rebalance supply and demand, Macklem wrote in a column for the National Post. “We know our job is not done yet — it won’t be done until inflation gets back to the two per cent target.”

Markets expect the Bank of Canada to increase the interest rate by 75 basis points in September.

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What’s the outlook for the third quarter?

With July’s negative reading, economists are bracing for softer growth in the second half of the year.

“It now looks likely that GDP growth will slow to a little less than one per cent annualized this quarter, leaving it well below the bank’s forecast of two per cent,” Capital Economics senior economist Stephen Brown said by email.

“The bottom line is that the economy is slowing faster than most forecasters expected although, with the labour market still very tight and wage growth likely to accelerate, we doubt that this will be enough to stop the Bank of Canada from raising its policy rate by another one-per-cent point over the next two meetings.”

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