Experts: Federal Reserve’s surprise rate cut will force Bank of Canada’s hand

The question is not if the BoC will cut rates, but by how much

Experts: Federal Reserve’s surprise rate cut will force Bank of Canada’s hand

Yesterday’s unexpected announcement by the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut its benchmark interest rate in response to the economic uncertainty tied to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (formally known as COVID-19) has convinced industry leaders that the Bank of Canada (BoC) will be forced to take a similar action today.

The emergency rate cut by a half percentage point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25% was justified by the Federal Reserve as a necessary response to the economic risks posed by the coronavirus. The BoC is expected to announce its rate cut today from the 1.75% that has been in place since June 2015. The 1.75% benchmark interest rate is the highest among the G7 nations.

Following the news from the Federal Reserve, industry experts fanned out across the media to insist the only question related to a BoC rate cut would be the depth of the action.

“Twenty-five basis points may prompt loonie strength and derail the stimulus of the cut itself, while 50 basis points could stoke a housing bubble,” said Simon Harvey, FX market analyst for Monex Europe and Monex Canada, in a Reuters interview. “Markets are running with the fact that the latter is a less concerning risk at the moment and are aggressively pricing a similar 50 bps from the BoC,”

Although Canada has not experienced the abrupt increases in coronavirus cases that have been recorded in other countries, the economy is expected to feel an impact in certain sectors including travel and tourism, as well through disruptions in its global supply chain.

“That’s enough for them to cut on its own – the terms of trade shock, the travel and tourism, the supply chain disruptions from not being able to source inputs from China,” said Royce Mendes, an economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Toronto, in a Bloomberg interview.

Gareth Watson, wealth adviser at Richardson GMP, predicted the BoC will cut the benchmark interest rate a quarter percentage point.

“It will be a shocker to me if Canada doesn’t follow suit, considering Australia did this morning and there are expectations The Bank of England will follow suit this month,” said Watson in a CBC News interview.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC Capital Markets, told the Ottawa Citizen that a rate cut was long overdue.

“The Canadian economy was barely growing in the last quarter of 2019, so we’re putting a shock into the global economy at a time when Canada desperately was looking for momentum,” said Shenfeld.

And Derek Holt, economist at Bank of Nova Scotia, bluntly stated to the Wall Street Journal, “The Bank of Canada needs to cut. Now. Enough dithering.”

Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the possibility that the government would be willing to provide help to firms experiencing financial damage as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

“There will be impacts on Canadian businesses, on entrepreneurs, and we will always look for ways to minimize that impact and perhaps give help where help is needed,” said Trudeau, although he did not offer specific details on the type of help or the possible qualifications for receiving assistance. 

Finance Minister Bill Morneau took to Twitter to stress that Canadian actions related to the economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak would be conducted in coordination with the other G7 countries, rather than in a domino effect of nation following nation in hurriedly adapting game plans.

“This morning I spoke with my G7 counterparts regarding the impacts on global economic activity from the COVID-19 outbreak,” Morneau wrote on Twitter. “We have reaffirmed our readiness to take action as necessary to aid in the response and support the economy. I’m continuing to monitor the issue closely.”