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April 11, 2022

Bank of Canada expected to announce oversized rate hike this week

The Bank of Canada is expected to announce its first oversized interest-rate hike in more than two decades this week after hawkish comments from the country’s top central bankers and growing signs that the economy is overheating.

Governor Tiff Macklem and his team have so far taken a gradual approach to tightening monetary policy, keeping borrowing costs near record lows and changing policy levers in a deliberate manner.

But with inflationary pressures broadening, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sending energy and food prices soaring, bank officials appear ready to push Canadian interest rates up aggressively.

There is a broad consensus among Bay Street economists that the central bank will raise its policy interest rate by half a percentage point at its Wednesday rate announcement, instead of the usual quarter percentage point. The last time it did this was in May, 2000.

This coincides with a growing sense that central bankers waited too long to start raising rates, and that the world may be entering a period of persistently higher inflation

Deputy governor Sharon Kozicki gave credence to the idea of an oversized rate hike in a speech last month. She said the bank was “prepared to act forcefully” to combat inflation, which hit a three-decade high of 5.7 per cent in February. She added that the governing council would likely discuss both the pace and magnitude of increases ahead of the April 13 rate decision – a strong hint that a half-percentage-point rate hike is on the table.

The Bank of Canada kicked off a rate-hike cycle last month, increasing its policy rate to 0.5 per cent from 0.25 per cent. Borrowing costs are still well below normal levels, and analysts expect the bank to proceed with a quick succession of rate hikes, pushing the policy rate above the prepandemic level of 1.75 per cent by the end of the year.

Recent economic data has bolstered the case for a half-percentage-point move this week.

On Friday, Statistics Canada reported that the country added another 73,000 jobs in March, bringing the unemployment rate down to 5.3 per cent, the lowest in nearly five decades of comparable data. Meanwhile, a Bank of Canada business survey, published last week, showed that companies are struggling with labour shortages and rising input costs, and are planning to pass higher expenses to consumers.

This suggests that the Canadian economy has fully recovered from the pandemic downturn and is now bumping up against capacity limits, Royal Bank of Canada economist Claire Fan said in an interview.

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