4 of the last 6 months of Canadian
trade balances have been negative
Big media has been spinning the low CAD as a net positive for Canada. But it's not working out and probably explains in part the sudden decision by the Bank of Canada in cutting its key lending rate another 25 beeps on January 21, 2015, depressing the CAD/USD even further, but:
"There is considerable uncertainty about the speed with which this sequence (increased foreign demand, stronger exports, improved business confidence, investment and employment growth) will evolve and how it will be affected by the drop in oil prices. Canada’s weaker terms of trade will have an adverse impact on incomes and wealth, reducing domestic demand growth." (Bank of Canada)
Export countries want their currency to be valued less than their customer's currency so that they can 1) undersell the competition and 2) try to increase inflation (which increases tax collections). Neither is working. While exports rose 1.5% in December 2014, imports rose 2.3 percent with gains in 8 out of 11 import sectors. The main contributors to the increase in imports were energy products, motor vehicles and parts, as well as metal and non-metallic mineral products. Although Canada is a net energy exporter, its economy measured by GDP is that of producing 30% goods and 70% services (Stas Can Nov 2014).
Global oil demand growth remained at a relatively suppressed 585 kb/d y-o-y in 4Q14. There are several reasons why lower crude oil prices so far seem to have failed to stimulate demand. Those include heightened deflationary risks in both Europe and Japan; adverse revenue impacts on net-oil-exporters; a global trend towards reductions in energy price subsidies and/or increases in oil consumption taxes; and the heavy falls experienced by many currencies, versus the US dollar, negating the impact of lower crude prices in domestic currency terms. Reflecting the downwardly revised macroeconomic backdrop, mid-January saw the World Bank revise down its 2015 global economic growth forecasts to 3.0%, versus 3.4% in June 2014, still an acceleration on 2014 (+2.6%) but notably less-so than previously assumed. (International Energy Agency)
New Record Lows on the Baltic Dry Index Chart
"When inflation expectations are solidly anchored, as is now the case in Canada, there is no reason to fear deflation." said senior Bank of Canada deputy governor Agathe Côté, and yet many analysts are expecting the Bank of Canada to lower its central bank rate again at its next scheduled rate announcement on March 4, 2015. (Canadian Press via CBC News Feb 19, 2015)
U.S. Dollar Strength
From the early 1990's to the early 2000's, the USD/CAD was trending up and increasing Canadian import costs on a weak CAD relative to the USD (top panel of chart). After 10 years the trend reversed and for the next decade to 2013 the CAD unit was strong against the USD allowing Canadians to buy more stuff at cheaper prices.
Now the trend appears to be reversing once again with the USD on the ascendant. For the Canadian exporters who took advantage of a strong CAD and who used the FX advantage to invest in machine independence technology (IT & Robotics) as well as reducing middle management; they will probably transition well if the global slowdown is still in an early phase of a trend change (Bloomberg March 24/14 "China’s manufacturing industry weakened for a fifth straight month").
But for exporters who rely on import materials and for all Canadians who shop for imported goods, CAD depreciation is going to depress consumption, lower aggregate demand, reduce wage growth and deflate unproductive asset values at the margins as participants liquidate in order to reduce debt, repair balance sheets and try to maintain lifestyle in a rising import price environment.
As I noted this month in the updated TSX chart (March data), the Canadian commodities index is attempting a breakout to the upside.
The first 2 weekly April data points are up as well CCI).
The 2 Sided Loonie
The chart mashup shows the difference in labour unit cost between Canada and the U.S. in the top panel and the steady drop in the CAD relative to the USD since 2011 (middle panel) and the Canadian balance of trade in the bottom panel.
Only about 30% of Canada's GDP is derived from exporting and most Canadian exporters will enjoy the CAD falling against the USD because most of their export trade (75%) is to the U.S.
But the Loonie remained relatively high against the USD for 5 years (2002-05) and that led to purchasers of Canadian exports to look for alternative sources and that led to more layoffs in Canadian production plants (Bombardier cut 1700 jobs, Kellogg cut 500, Heinz cut 740, Blackberry cut 4500 - Bloomberg).
Layoffs are not easily reversed, and as the top panel of the mashup shows, the Canadian unit labour cost is 14-15% above the U.S. making it that much harder to sell into the U.S. or anywhere else (IMF via Reuters).
As a consumer society, disposable income is also shrinking in Canada as the price of everything we import goes up against the falling CAD and a falling safe haven status compounded by the end of the Canadian Immigrant Investor Program this month which only attracted 130,000 people since the 1986 inception (Globe & Mail).
The foreign investor class has good reasons to look at their Canadian asset portfolios and high on the list will be negative yielding real estate bought in the last 10 years. We could see some drama on the MAR-MOI charts this year if real estate inventory for sale surprises to the upside.
Oil and Money Flow
Canadians like to assume that Canada is a large exporting resource laden land mass; yes and no. The Wall Street Journal observes a different market; "Canada an Emerging Market? Yes, for U.S. Oil Exports". Light crude imported into Canada from the U.S. increased 520% from 2008 to 2013 and is expected to rise another 61% by 2015 (top panel of chart mashup).
As the U.S. becomes more energy self sufficient, Canada becomes more reliant on imported fuels. For more background information see the blog discussion between Andrew Leach and Robert McClelland etal.
Canadians don't build energy infrastructure because of a) expense; it's short term "cheaper" to import other nation's value added products, b) trade agreements; our small relative market size keeps us compliant and acquiescent at the bargaining table and c) policy void; it's easier politically and corporately to let a+b=c
Now look at the bottom panel of the chart mashup above. When the price of imported fuel spikes so does the volume of Canadian imports AT THE HIGHER PRICE!
Meanwhile in Canada:
History, Charts & Curated Readings
"History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in.... I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all - it is very tiresome." Jane Austen spoken by Catherine Morland in 'Northanger Abbey'
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense