3 Growth Drivers for Canada’s Economy

It’s taken more than a year, but a crucial shift is taking hold north of the border.

That would be the shift from the beaten-down resource sector, which had been the dominant player in Canada’s economy before oil prices collapsed, to other sectors, such as retail and auto manufacturing.

In the past seven days, we’ve seen two key reports back that up—plus an assist from the country’s just-released federal budget.

Retail Therapy

No sooner had we clicked “publish” on last week’s Maple Leaf Memo, on Canada’s volatile retail sector, than Statistics Canada (StatCan) came out with the latest round of retail sales, and they were, as one analyst called them, “fireworks.”

Overall sales surged 2.1% in January, easily topping the 0.6% analysts expected. Sales slipped 0.2% in oil-dependent Alberta, but shoppers in Ontario and Quebec picked up the slack, notching 2.8% and 2.9% increases, respectively.

We’ve written before in Canadian Edge about how important handoffs are in changing investor sentiment, and this handoff was dramatic: In December, it was as if Christmas never came—Canadian retail sales fell 2.2% from November, on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The uptick also bodes well for Canada’s first-quarter GDP, after growth slowed to 0.8% annualized in the fourth quarter from 2.4% in Q3. (We’ll have to wait until the end of May for StatCan to come up with the official Q1 numbers).

Factories: Working Overtime

One place where a reversal wasn’t in the cards was in Canadian factory sales. That’s because they’re already on a growth spree, rising 1.2% in November and 1.4% in December. In January, they jumped 2.3%, far exceeding the 0.5% forecast.

When you add in strong export data in January, first-quarter GDP growth should easily exceed the 1% the Bank of Canada (BoC) is forecasting, CIBC economist Nick Exarhos wrote in a note quoted in the Financial Post.

Again, the shift from the resource-producing west to the manufacturing-oriented east was evident: Vehicle manufacturing represented 12.5% of all sales, the highest since 2003, while oil and coal slumped to just 7.5%, a low not seen in 12 years.

A key driver of the manufacturing rebound has been the Canadian dollar, which dropped from around US$0.85 in January 2015, when BoC governor Stephen Poloz brought in the first of two interest rate cuts last year, to US$0.69 in January 2016.

But relying too heavily on monetary policy has risks, including the risk of a sharp currency rebound: In the last two months, the loonie has snapped back to around US$0.753 (more on that below).

Business Investment Wanted

To be sure, the recovery is still tepid, with the central bank calling for GDP growth of just 1.4% this year and 2.4% in 2017, which is still below the 2.5% the bank feels is needed to get the economy firing on all cylinders.

And with household debt levels hitting a record 164.5% of income in Q4, consumers can’t be counted on to carry the load much further. Now would be a great time for business to step up and fill the gap, but corporate Canada’s spending remains “very weak,” according to the BoC. (Canada isn’t alone here: U.S. capital spending has also been a missing ingredient in the recovery.)

That brings us back to the loonie, which, if it rises further, could pinch exports. At this point, the BoC seems unconcerned; earlier in March, the bank said the loonie is on the flight path it more or less expected when it released its last monetary policy report in January.

Budget Delivers Expected Stimulus

Finally, the long-awaited federal budget—the first under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—was released March 22. As promised, it contained C$11.9 billion in infrastructure spending, though it also drove the federal books firmly into the red, to the tune of C$29.4 billion.

The government’s finance department expects the infrastructure cash and other measures to boost Canada’s GDP by 0.5% this fiscal year. That could prompt the BoC to raise its growth forecasts at its April 13 policy meeting, making it even more likely that the bank will leave rates untouched this year.

Our Super-Secret Stock Pick

In May, we’re holding our annual Wealth Summit–this year in Las Vegas. It’s a great way for us to meet you, our subscribers, one-on-one, and there are still spaces open if you’re interested.

Also this year, we’ll be making a special recommendation to those who attend the Summit, and to those who are part of our Wealth Society, whose members receive all the Investing Daily newsletters and other premium services.

It’s a fun exercise for us because there are no rules. We don’t have to pick a Canadian stock. In fact, our pick doesn’t even need to be a stock: It could be an alternative investment that isn’t traded on a public market.

Our publisher says we can’t reveal the pick in Canadian Edge, or even to him before the Summit. But in the weeks ahead, we’ll let you in on some of the research we’re doing to identify this exclusive pick.