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Bank of Canada cuts interest rates for last time in April

The Bank of Canada lowered its benchmark overnight lending rate by one quarter of a percentage point to 0.25 per cent at its setting on April 21st, 2009. The trend-setting Bank rate, which is set 0.25 percentage points above the overnight lending rate, declined to 0.5 per cent. The Bank acknowledged the global economic recession had intensified since publishing its previous economic forecast in January. “In an environment of continued high uncertainty, the global recession has intensified and become more synchronous since the Bank's January Monetary Policy Report Update, with weaker-than-expected activity in all major economies,” said the Bank when it again lowered interest rates on April 21st. The Bank has repeatedly lowered its policy interest rate to support economic growth. Since December 2007, the Bank has cut its overnight lending rate by a total of 4.25 per cent. Major Canadian chartered banks lowered their prime lending rate in lockstep with the Bank of Canada’s most recent interest rate cuts. In its announcement, the Bank indicated that it was done cutting rates now that its benchmark overnight lending rate has been dropped to what it described as “the effective lower bound for that rate.” In a departure from the status quo, it did not lower the deposit rate, which is the rate of interest paid on deposits held by financial institutions at the Bank of Canada. Leaving the deposit rate unchanged at 1/4 per cent further adds much needed liquidity into the financial system. “The Bank was unusually explicit in its language about holding its key interest rate at its rock bottom, now that it further downgraded its inflation outlook,” said CREA Chief Economist Gregory Klump. “By saying ‘the target overnight rate can be expected to remain at its current level until the end of the second quarter of 2010 in order to achieve the inflation target,’ the Bank has removed any guesswork for projections as to how long it will be before interest rates can be expected to begin rising.” The Bank downwardly revised its forecast for economic growth in 2009 and 2010, and extended its forecast as to how long Canada would remain mired in an economic recession. It also pushed the goalposts out to the third quarter of 2011 as to when it expects inflation to climb back to the two per cent midpoint of its target range between one and three per cent. “For the second time this year, the Bank revised its economic growth forecast downward, making it more downbeat than the most bearish of private sector economic forecasts,” said Klump. “The Bank economic growth forecast for 2010 was also cut, but it remains rosier than the current consensus.” The Bank’s Monetary Policy Report published on April 23rd included information about additional monetary policy tools it may use to further inject liquidity into the financial system in its ongoing attack against the continuing credit crunch. The circumstances under which it would these tools were not described. It instead focused how measures already taken to boost financial market liquidity would be given ample time to loosen up the credit crunch. When the Bank cut interest rates on April 21st, the advertised five-year conventional mortgage rate stood at 5.45 per cent. This is down 1.54 per cent from one year earlier, and 0.34 per cent below where it stood when the Bank made its previous interest rate announcement on March 3rd. The ongoing credit crunch has led mortgage lenders to reduce discounts on advertised mortgage interest rates, and in some cases these have been completely eliminated. “Resale housing activity began stabilizing in the first quarter of 2009, thanks to improving affordability,” said Klump. “Lower prices and an extended stretch of low interest rates will further support sales activity this year and next. In the economic recessions of the early 1980s and 1990s, resale housing activity bottomed out before the overall economy did. As then, homebuyers this year will continue being drawn to market by improving affordability.” (CREA 21/04/2009)

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