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Some clouds on oil sands investment horizon: RBC

Syncrude's oil sands plant at Mildred Lake north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

RBC Dominion Securities economists are more bullish on Canada for 2013 than consensus estimates, but a growing desire in the U.S. for energy self-sufficiency is creating uncertainty in their investment outlook for Alberta's oil-rich energy sector.

The investment bank's economists took part in a conference call Monday morning outlining their perspectives on the global economy for next year. While they project Canadian growth of 2.4 per cent next year, above a consensus of about 2 per cent, they're less confident in the rest of the world as "fiscal cliff" issues in the U.S. and euro zone calamities bring already sluggish world growth a crawl.

"I think Canada's fundamentals have provided great insulation for this global turmoil, but by no means are we immune to it," said Craig Wright, the bank's chief economist.

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Global support for Canadian exports, and a dollar on the strong side of parity with the U.S., should continue to keep foreign investors greatly interested in Canadian assets, he said. Mr. Wright forecasts net trade to contribute 0.3 percentage points to real GDP growth in 2013, and 0.4 in 2014 – meaning, for the first time since 2001, that the sector adds to growth rather than slowing it down.

There are fears that growing demand in the United States for energy self-sufficiency will hurt Canadian oil exports – but while "we've seen some pullback in investment activity," Mr. Wright said, growing activity in the oil patch will continue to keep it positioned for strong growth.

Despite a "tumultuous" year for western Europe, chief European economist Jens Larsen said he had a "modest degree of optimism" for the region. "The euro is here to stay, and the [European Central Bank] is willing to act," he said. But 2013 will be a rocky year as banks continue deleveraging and investment demand remains weak.

Chief U.S. economist Tom Porcelli said that, like everyone trying to make a prediction for 2013, "fiscal cliff" negotiations hold him back from painting a clear picture.

"The noise-to-information ratio is stunningly high," Mr. Porcelli said, though he suspects a full resolution will not be reached by the end of 2012. He believes Congress will fail to come to a resolution on reinstating payroll tax cuts, and income tax rates will rise for the wealthy. If negotiations finish up part-way through 2013, he suspects a "bifurcated year" for the U.S. economy – 1 per cent growth for the first half, and slightly higher than 2 per cent growth when talks finish.

Nick Chamie, RBC Capital Markets global head of foreign exchange strategy, said emerging matrkets would see a mild pickup in growth to 5 per cent in 2013, with China leading the way at 8.3 per cent GDP growth. Brazil and the Asian juggernaut had the most aggressive easing programs in 2012, helping them surge to the front of the economic cycle and better preparing them for future growth.

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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. In his spare time, he writes about music and the industry around it. More

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