Canada Loses Haven Status as Dollar Doesn’t Spark Exports

Canada was the envy of developed economies following the global recession, boasting the world’s soundest banks and a robust housing market that helped push its currency above parity with the U.S. Those days are gone.

The dollar plunged to the lowest in more than four years today and returns on Canada’s benchmark stock index were less than half of U.S. equities last year, underscoring an economy beset by the slowest rebound in exports since World War II. Consumers are tapped out with record household debt and governments are more focused on erasing budget deficits than providing stimulus.

With the outlook for other major economies improving and “the lack of job growth and economic growth here in Canada, comparatively I think we’re going to be sub-par for a little while at least,” said Brad Bardua, chief financial officer of Avigilon Corp., the Vancouver-based maker of digital surveillance systems.

The dollar fell as much as 1 percent after Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said the direction of his next move will depend on the evolution of the economy, and a weaker currency should help the nation’s exporters.

The statement follows Poloz’s decision in October to adopt a neutral bias for interest rates. The possibility of easier monetary policy in Canada comes as the Federal Reserve takes steps to taper stimulus.

The International Monetary Fund yesterday forecast Canada’s economy would expand 2.2 percent this year, trailing both the U.S. and U.K. among Group of Seven countries. In 2009, Canada was the leader of the G-7 pack.

‘Higher Level’

“The improvement in Canada hasn’t really been there since we started from a higher level,” said Malcolm J. Jones, a portfolio manager at Adroit Investment Management Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, who oversees about C$500 million ($456 million) of fixed-income securities.

The world’s 11th-largest economy, which relies on exports for about 30 percent of output, is struggling to build momentum for shipments abroad even as the dollar falls and the U.S. economy gathers steam. While the U.S. takes in about 75 percent of Canada’s exports, energy shipments have declined since 2011 as U.S. supplies have grown. Exports of metals have also fallen while auto and parts shipments are little changed over the past year.

‘Trees and Rocks’

“Fundamentally, Canada is a trees and rocks economy,” said David Garofalo, chief executive officer of Toronto-based HudBay Minerals Inc. by phone. “The weakness in the Canadian dollar reflects a softening of the commodities space.”

The Canadian dollar dropped beyond C$1.10 per U.S. dollar yesterday for the first time since 2009. At that time, the country was emerging from recession, buoyed by banks that remained solvent through the credit crisis and consumers that were ready to spend. The currency remains stronger than it was at any point from 1976 to 2006 -- as it averaged C$1.2870 per U.S. dollar during that period.

Exports have been stagnant for more than two years, with shipments 19 percent below where they would be if the recovery followed the average of the last four economic cycles, according to Statistics Canada data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The big gap between our exports and the U.S. economy is the result of lost market share,” said Krishen Rangasamy, senior economist at National Bank Financial in Montreal. “That is the legacy of 10 years of the loonie appreciating,” he said, using the nickname for the Canadian dollar.

Underperforming Stocks

Canada’s benchmark Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index rose 9.6 percent last year, trailing the 30 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, the third straight year of underperformance. The Canadian gauge is up 2.5 percent this year, versus a 0.3 percent drop for the S&P 500. The loonie has depreciated 4.1 percent this year versus the greenback, the worst performer among 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Canadian government bonds due in five years or less yield more than U.S. Treasuries, with longer-dated U.S. debt carrying higher yields.

Canada’s manufacturing base has shrunk, meaning a weaker currency will provide less of a spark that it would have in the past.

Bombardier Inc. said yesterday it was cutting 1,700 jobs in its aerospace division, or about 6 percent of the work force. The Montreal-based company is working to produce its new CSeries regional jet, a plane whose debut has been pushed back four times.

In December, Battle Creek, Michigan-based Kellogg Co. closed a plant in London, Ontario, firing 500 workers who had produced Corn Flakes and All-Bran cereal. Weeks earlier, HJ Heinz Co., the ketchup-maker owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and 3G Capital, closed its plant in Leamington, Ontario, cutting 740 jobs.

Unprofitable Plants

“The tomatoes are going to go to the plants that have the low production costs,” Buffett said in November at an event in Detroit. “It’s really a question of having an unprofitable plant and concentrating production in a more profitable plant.” Heinz is based in Pittsburgh.

Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry Ltd. cut 4,500 jobs and wrote down $960 million of inventory in September. The smartphone maker, whose devices were once known as CrackBerrys for their addictive nature, now holds less than 3 percent of the global smartphone market.

Canada added a net 102,000 jobs last year, a 0.6 percent increase that was the slowest since 2009, Statistics Canada reported this month.

Stimulus options are limited. Canadian consumers, who took advantage of low interest rates and led the recovery by buying houses and cars, now face record levels of debt as a share of income. By contrast, U.S. debt burdens have been declining since a peak in 2007.

Paring Deficits

Governments, both federal and provincial, are paring deficits. While opposition lawmakers called for stimulus after the latest employment report, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who may introduce a new fiscal plan as early as next month, has ruled out major spending initiatives as the government seeks to return to surplus by the year beginning April 2015.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an interview last week that analysts focusing on the sliding currency and weak jobs reports are being short-sighted.

The Canadian government has been “pleasantly surprised” by the strength of the Canadian economy since the end of the global recession, in the absence of similar growth for the country’s largest trading partner, Harper said.

“The strength of the American economy is a big deal,” Harper said Jan. 16. “For us to have better results we need to see the American economy expand.”

Weaker Currency

Policy makers are counting on the weaker loonie to boost exports and revive the economy. The Canadian dollar has dropped 10 percent in the past three months and foreign investors cut purchases of the country’s bonds last year, showing the country’s status as a haven is over.

Foreign investors bought a net C$36.9 billion of Canadian bonds through November last year, Statistics Canada reported last week, down 47 percent from C$69.8 billion in the same period of 2012.

The currency’s drop “is a give-back to some degree,” said Andrew Gretzinger, fixed income portfolio manager with Manulife Asset Management in Toronto, which oversees C$16 billion in assets. “Canada had done better during the crisis.”

Canada’s superlative economic performance following the global recession made the economy a magnet for foreign investment and helped Mark Carney, then Bank of Canada governor, land a new job running the Bank of England.

“Canada is boring, it’s our trademark,” said Adroit Management’s Jones. “All of the exciting money is rushing out of Canada.

Consumer Prices

At today’s announcement, which kept the main interest rate at 1 percent, the central bank said Canada’s economy still has ‘‘significant” excess capacity and inflation is being held down by global weakness in food prices and an increase in retail competition. Consumer prices will advance at an average year-over-year pace of 0.9 percent in the first quarter, below the bank’s 1 percent to 3 percent target band, before quickening to 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter, the bank forecast.

“The downside risks to inflation have grown in importance,” the central bank said, echoing language from its last statement in December. The risks to the projection remain balanced, about the same as in October, the bank said.

The drop in the Canadian dollar is more reflective of the U.S. rebound, Poloz said in a Dec. 18 interview. Today, the central bank projected the dollar weakness will eventually help foreign shipments recover after the country recorded 23 straight monthly trade deficits.

“Stronger U.S. demand, as well as the recent depreciation of the Canadian dollar, should help to boost exports and, in turn, business confidence and investment,” policy makers led by Poloz said in a statement from Ottawa today.

Other commodity-linked currencies have been sliding against the U.S. dollar. The Australian dollar is down 9.0 percent in the past three months, while the South African rand is off 10.5 percent.

The depreciation is a boon for Avigilon, Bardua said. “It makes certain aspects of our business a little more costly but that’s overshot by the revenue side.”

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