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Canada’s economic engines running out of gas

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has said the economy is at a ‘tipping point,’ but data on Monday are likely to show weak growth.

<240>CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

The problem with monthly GDP data is that it's like looking in the rear-view mirror.

It's a useful snapshot of where the economy has been, but hardly a predictor of where it's headed.

Monday brings a reading of Canadian gross domestic product for July. It marked the first month of the second quarter, which is now over.

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The consensus among economists is that the economy grew 0.5 per cent in the month – a reversal from June when floods in Alberta and the Quebec construction strike caused a 0.5-per-cent contraction.

With those constraints out of way, the economy almost certainly did much better in July. Economist David Madani of Capital Economics pointed to better performance in manufacturing, oil-and-gas, construction and the service sector.

But Mr. Madani said the rebound from June won't likely be strong enough to lift third-quarter growth above the meagre 1.7-per-cent rate experienced in the April-to-June period. Capital Economics is forecasting GDP growth of just 1 per cent, which would mark the weakest quarter so far this year.

"The drop in activity, right at the end of the second quarter, means a lower starting point for the level of GDP in the third quarter," he pointed out in a research note.

The Bank of Canada and many other economists are more optimistic. The central bank is forecasting annual GDP growth of 3.8 per cent in the third quarter. The consensus among economists tracked by Bloomberg is a more modest 2.1 per cent.

The broader challenge for the Canadian economy is that there is no clear engine of growth. The once-hot resource sector has cooled, the housing boom is stalling and record high debt levels are likely to hold back consumers in the months ahead.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said earlier this month that the economy is at "tipping point" – poised to get a lift from exports to a recovering U.S. and business investment at home.

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The evidence so far is unconvincing. Exports continue to be a drag on the Canadian economy and business investment has slowed in recent months.

Most troubling for Canada is the prevailing uncertainty in the United States caused by the threatened government shutdown and the U.S. Federal Reserve Board's desire to start withdrawing record monetary stimulus in the months ahead.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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