With the first two months of 2019 behind us, there was no shortage of events fueling political and economic uncertainty in Canadian markets. From Jody Wilson-Raybould’s recent response to allegations that she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in criminal proceeding against SNC-Lavalin to the ongoing extradition case of Huawei’s CFO, all could pose major ramifications for the Canadian economy in terms of trade, employment and growth. Even with these potential challenges facing the federal government, there were some signs of progress. Firstly, Canadian financial markets surged as the S&P/TSX Composite Index rebounded by 11.7% over the past two months after plummeting by 5.8% in December alone. Moreover, the implementation of oil production cuts in Alberta has had a positive impact on oil prices, as the price differential between West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Western Canadian Select (WCS) has narrowed to approximately $12.50/barrel. The surge in value of WCS since December to $44.25/barrel has also supported the appreciation of the Canadian dollar to $0.76 USD. Even with the recent increase in oil prices, the Bank of Canada will likely hold off on raising interest rates until the fall of 2019 due to slowing economic growth (both within Canada and globally), easing inflation, weak recent data on retail sales and the tumble that the housing market has taken due to the new mortgage rules and higher interest rates.
The latest GDP data for Canada, which was released on March 1st, shows that the Canadian economy only grew by 0.4% annualized in Q4 2018, reflecting the toll that weak oil pricing, the slow housing market and weak business investment is taking on the economy. Economic growth in Canada is predicted to decline from a lower than expected 1.8% in 2018 to a forecasted 1.5% in 2019. Despite higher prices for WCS oil, Alberta’s economy is expected to remain weak in 2019 until Canada resolves its pipeline issues. As such, GDP growth for the province is only expected to come in between 0.5% and 1.2% for 2019 due to the provincial government’s cuts to oil production minimal energy investment.