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Canadians getting message on their personal debt bombs, but will it last?

These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Jan. 11, 2013.

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Credit growth slows
Canadians certainly appear to be getting the message on consumer debt. The big question is, will it last?

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By all accounts, growth in consumer debt is slowing markedly, according to economists and the Bank of Canada, which has been on a campaign to halt the borrowing binge amid record low interest rates.

Consumer debt in Canada increased by 4.7 per cent in November from a year earlier, Royal Bank of Canada said today, slowing from the 4.9 per cent of October and well down from the 6.4 per cent of November, 2011.

Growth in mortgages alone showed "significant deceleration" over the last six months of 2012, said RBC economist David Onyett-Jeffries.

In November alone, he pointed out, mortgage credit increased by just 5.7 per cent, the slowest pace since late 2001.

At the same time, of course, Canada's housing market has cooled rapidly in the wake of new government rules on mortgages.

But other borrowing has slowed, as well.

"Among types of non-mortgage credit, the pullback in borrowing on credit cards (which account for just under one-fifth of non-mortgage lending by banks) has been a significant contributor to the overall slowing in the component," Mr. Onyett-Jeffries said in today's report.

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Yesterday, the Bank of Canada's senior deputy governor also noted the slowing growth of consumer debt. If this keeps up, Tiff Macklem told an audience in Kingston, Ont., the key measure of debt to disposable income "can be expected to stabilize" later this year.

"These are encouraging signs of a stabilization of household imbalances and a more sustainable housing market," he said.

"But after a decade of building, it is too early to be sure."

RIM hit by Vodafone troubles
BlackBerry users across the Middle East, Europe and Africa were experiencing service disruptions on Friday in a fresh service outage that appeared to be related to Vodafone Group PLC's network and not Research In Motion Ltd's servers.

The outage, one of several that has affected BlackBerry users over the past two years, comes in the run-up to the launch of RIM's new BlackBerry 10 phones Jan. 30, devices the company hopes will halt sales declines and help stabilize the business after a year of arduous restructuring, The Globe and Mail's Iain Marlow reports.

Trade deficit swells
Canadian exporters took a hit in November, notably on trade with Europe, while imports climbed, leading to a sharp increase in the country's trade deficit.

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The trade gap swelled in November to about $2-billion from $552-million a month earlier, Statistics Canada said today.

Export volumes were flat, while export prices slipped by 1.3 per cent. Imports gained, climbing on volume.

"In volume terms, exports barely rose by 0.1 per cent, with imports up by 2.5 per cent, suggesting that yet again subdued external demand is contributing to Canada's economic woes," said economist Emanuella Enenajor of CIBC World Markets.

Canadian exports to its biggest market, the United States, increased by almost 4 per cent, but those to other markets plunged 13.4 per cent, hitting their lowest point since September, 2010.

So while Canada's trade surplus with the U.S. widened to $3.3-billion, its deficit with other countries surged to a record $5.3-billion, the federal agency said.

Notable was the plunge in exports to Europe, down more than 19 per cent in November from October and 27.5 per cent from November of 2011.

China inflation picks up
The one thing they can't control in China's managed economy is the weather.

As Carolynne Wheeler reports today from Beijing, inflation in China rose more than expected in December, largely because of unusually cold temperatures that affected the growing season and supply chains.

Inflation in the non-food categories came in at 1.7 per cent for December, while food prices surged 4.7 per cent.

The annual inflation rate climbed to 2.5 per cent from 2 per cent.

"Freezing weather drove food prices and inflation higher last month but, as we head into the Chinese New Year period, underlying price pressures appear subdued," said chief Asia economist Mark Williams of Capital Economics in London.

It would be unwise to read much into a single month's inflation, particularly at this time of year when weather and the Chinese New Year holiday can cause big but short-lived increases in food prices," he said in a research note.

"January's inflation rate is likely to be lower in year-over-year terms and February's much higher since the New Year festival fell in January last year but is in February this year."

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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