Saturday, September 24, 2011

Canada and Fiscal Stimulus Round 2 Fight!

Mark Carney is in Washington this week trying to convince 17 Europeans to agree. He was generous to take 20 minutes of his time to talk to The House's Evan Solomon on Europe's sovereign and banking debt crisis. Europe's woes are interesting -- Carney understands that to keep Greece and other countries a part of the common currency there will need to be large fiscal transfers to enable smooth transitions of these economies to lower their wages until they are competitive again. The more interesting part for Canada's housing market is Carney's comments (or lack of comments) on what Canada's government and central bank will do in case of a European-centred credit crunch giving the rest of the world a cold.

I'll summarise Carney's comments on how Canada will react to a potential impending global downturn (feel free to listen; unfortunately I don't have time to transcribe the most interesting bits):
  • Canada's banking system will remain solvent one way or another.
  • The US and Europe look to be undergoing slow growth for some years to come.
  • Canada's businesses have been investing in capital equipment and need to continue to invest, making up for a chronic productivity gap with other countries.
  • Canada needs to start selling and investing in ventures in the developing world.
  • Elements of the massive fiscal stimulus unleashed in 2008 and 2009 can be retooled for 2011-2012, however many of the measures were less "effective" than desired [By less effective not sure if he means with undesirable side effects].
What Carney didn't say:
  • Household debt issues were not discussed or alluded to.
Even with a massive fiscal stimulus emanating from Europe, which is looking unlikely, we should fully expect another round of fiscal stimulus to aid the Canadian economy. Given Carney's comments over the past year on: high household debt levels , robust house prices and sales despite tightened credit conditions, plum corporate balance sheets, and his relative silence on government fiscal spending, I will formulate some guesses on what fiscal and monetary stimulus will be concentrated on:

Highly probable
  • Accelerating capital cost allowance for businesses
  • Slowing of public sector layoffs
  • Lower corporate taxes
  • Employment insurance hiring incentives
  • R&D tax credits
  • Extending employment insurance benefits
  • Targeted but piecemeal government spending programs, geared towards non-residential infrastructure.
Somewhat probable
  • A second "Canadian Action Plan"
  • Energy efficiency upgrades
  • Reducing Bank of Canada's overnight lending rate
  • Reducing CMHC requirements for loans
When a stimulus of the magnitudes required to stave longer lasting effects of a second recession, my feeling is the government is aware that increasing household leverage risks tipping households into an unsustainable debt spiral similar to what Ireland experienced a few years ago. This does not mean Canada is the next Ireland or Spain but the effects of overleveraged households should be obvious to anyone who has read the literature on these countries' housing busts. It may even be the case that if a stimulus is unleashed that commensurate crimps on residential investment will be required to ensure investment money flows are properly targeted away from the overbought housing market, and instead concentrating more on consumption with broader wage growth.

In summary, I expect the chances of a second fiscal stimulus package from the federal government are high, and we should expect that household borrowing will be carefully watched -- even regimented -- to ensure their debt-to-income ratios are not increased further. This will likely mean higher federal deficits in the next one to two years, and a probability the government misses its "balanced budget in 2014" pledge.


Rob said...

I find your analysis thoughtful and plausible. Thanks for taking the time. I increasingly get the feeling that we're doing right by Carney, and he's earning his paycheque during what the ancient curse refers to as, "interesting times."

jesse said...

Mark Carney earned his paycheque by making Jamie Dimon blow a fuse over the weekend. That's some mighty fine central banking, son.

Kay said...

Hi FYI! I'd love to see some of those lovely colorful graphs:)

BC Population stats just out today: 2011-Q2 ( 2010-Q2 / 2009-Q2 / 2008-Q2)
Net Inter-provincial: -746 (+2031 / +3117 / +2815)
Net International: +9525 (+10338 / +11930 / +15253)
Net Natural: +3502 (+3394 / +3923 / +3375)

Total: +12281 (+15763 / +18970 / +21443)

Chinese immigrants landing to Vancouver: 1710 - 2011Q2
~6500 (2011- projected)
8894 (2010 total)
8975 (2009 total)
9595 (2008 total)

Kay said...

wait a minute.. is this the same Jesse/Jesse1 on VCI/RET/Economic Analyst/etc?

jesse said...

Yay more data. Usually I wait for the BC Stats RSS feed to be updated but thx for the head's up.

I post as jesse1 on RET, mostly for a sandbox for trying out new material.