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:
- 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.
- 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.