Canada’s Economy Rolls Into the Trump Era

Here in Canada, few things about the new Trump administration have caused as much worry as the potential fallout for cross-border trade.

It’s why the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been pushing hard to connect with the new administration from the get-go, sending a string of high-level emissaries to Washington, culminating with Trudeau himself on Nov. 13.

At stake is the world’s largest trading relationship, and a vital one for Canada: 76% of the country’s exports currently go to the U.S., and those sales account for 23% of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP).

So you could almost hear the sigh of relief from Toronto’s Bay Street when Trump said NAFTA provisions relating to Canada only need a “tweak,” compared to the heavy negotiations the president clearly has in mind for Mexico.

To be sure, the devil is in the details, and we won’t know until talks are underway how easy it will be for the U.S. to take two different approaches toward its NAFTA partners.

Even so, as Canadian Edge chief strategist Deon Vernooy wrote in the latest issue, the U.S. will likely tread very carefully when it comes to its northern neighbor, because disturbing the Canada-U.S. trade relationship would yield relatively meager gains for the U.S.

Consider that, currently, trade is almost completely in balance: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. sent $266.8 billion of goods across the northern border in 2016 and brought in $278.1 billion worth. The $11.2 billion difference is just 2.1% of the $545 billion in total trade between the two countries.

Now for the Good News

In the background is a Canadian economy that’s growing at a faster-than-expected pace.

The latest GDP report, for example, showed 0.4% growth in November, reversing a 0.3% slide in October and beating the consensus forecast.

And if you hold Canadian stocks, I don’t have to tell you that the TSX Composite Index is up sharply—27% in local-currency terms—in the past year. In January alone, Canadian Edge’s Dividend Champions Portfolio tacked on a 3.5% gain in U.S. dollars.

Finally, the jobs picture is looking up. According to Statistics Canada, 48,300 positions were added in January, marking the sixth straight month that job growth beat expectations.

As has been the case over the past year, most of these new jobs were part-time—but there’s a silver lining here too. “Although this sounds alarming, it isn’t, because the data show that most of those who took a part-time position did so because that’s what they wanted,” reads a Feb. 10 research report from RBC Economics.

Where the Job Growth Is

At Investing Daily’s Canadian Edge, we like to track numbers like these because they can tip us off to new investment themes and give us an early heads-up to changing conditions for our current holdings.

And according to Statistics Canada, the fastest job growth in 2016 came in the information, culture, and recreation sector (up 4.2%). The industry also posted 2.8% year-over-year job growth in January, the second-biggest gain, behind the finance, insurance, and real estate sector.

The sector is small and its performance can be lumpy, but job growth there could foreshadow gains for BCE Inc. (TSX: BCE, NYSE: BCE).

The telecom giant gets the vast majority of its revenue from its wireless and wireline (high-speed Internet, broadband TV, and landline) operations. But its Bell Media business has considerable reach, including 28 TV stations (the national CTV network among them), 30 specialty channels, such as TSN (sports) and BNN (business news), 105 radio stations, and four pay-TV networks.

Bell Media’s CraveTV streaming service has also emerged as the main Canadian challenger to Netflix (NYSE: NFLX), after the other domestic player, Shomi, from Rogers Communications (TSX: RCI.B, NYSE: RCI), shut down in November.

The media business turned in respectable fourth-quarter results, with revenue rising 3.6% and adjusted EBITDA increasing 2.2%. In all, BCE’s revenue rose 1.8%, to C$5.7 billion, while adjusted earnings per share gained 5.6%, to C$0.76. The company also hiked its dividend by 5.1%; the stock now yields 4.9% on a forward basis.

The latest issue of Canadian Edge takes a deeper dive into BCE’s earnings and gives you our updated recommendation on this stock and the 26 holdings in our Dividend Champions Portfolio. Click here to try the service on a no-risk trial basis (or go here to log in if you’re already a subscriber).