Bank of Canada says rate cuts will probably be gradual as inflation risks persist

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Divisions within the Bank of Canada over the timing of a much-anticipated cut to its key overnight interest rate stem from concerns of some members of the central bank’s governing council that progress on taming inflation could stall in the face of stronger domestic demand — or even pick up again in the event of “new surprises.”

“Some members emphasized that, with the economy performing well, the risk had diminished that restrictive monetary policy would slow the economy more than necessary to return inflation to target,” according to a summary of deliberations for the April 10 rate decision that were published Wednesday. “They felt more reassurance was needed to reduce the risk that the downward progress on core inflation would stall, and to avoid jeopardizing the progress made thus far.”

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Others argued that there were additional risks from keeping monetary policy too tight in light of progress already made to tame inflation, which had come down “significantly” across most goods and services.

Some pointed out that the distribution of inflation rates across components of the consumer price index had approached normal, despite outsized price increases and decreases in certain components.

“Coupled with indicators that the economy was in excess supply and with a base case projection showing the output gap starting to close only next year, they felt there was a risk of keeping monetary policy more restrictive than needed.”

In the end, though, the central bankers agreed to hold the rate at five per cent because inflation remained too high and there were still upside risks to the outlook, albeit “less acute” than in the past couple of years.

Despite the “diversity of views” about when conditions will warrant cutting the interest rate, central bank officials agreed that monetary policy easing would probably be gradual, given risks to the outlook and the slow path for returning inflation to target, according to the summary of deliberations.

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They considered a number of potential risks to the outlook for economic growth and inflation, including housing and immigration, according to summary of deliberations.

The central bankers discussed the risk that housing market activity could accelerate and further boost shelter prices and acknowledged that easing monetary policy could increase the likelihood of this risk materializing. They concluded that their focus on measures such as CPI-trim, which strips out extreme movements in price changes, allowed them to effectively look through mortgage interest costs while capturing other shelter prices such as rent that are more reflective of supply and demand in housing.

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They also agreed to keep a close eye on immigration in the coming quarters due to uncertainty around recent announcements by the federal government.

“The projection incorporated continued strong population growth in the first half of 2024 followed by much softer growth, in line with the federal government’s target for reducing the share of non-permanent residents,” the summary said. “But details of how these plans will be implemented had not been announced. Governing council recognized that there was some uncertainty about future population growth and agreed it would be important to update the population forecast each quarter.”

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