Another day, another hawkish surprise from a developed central bank.
While nobody expected the Bank of Canada to hike rates today despite soaring inflation, the BOC did surprise most most traders when it announced it is ending its bond buying stimulus program, and accelerated the potential timing of future interest rate increases amid worries that supply disruptions are driving up inflation.
In a policy statement on Wednesday, Canadian central bankers led by Governor Tiff Macklem announced they would stop growing holdings of Canadian government bonds, ending a quantitative easing program that has poured hundreds of billions into the financial system since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, to wit: "The Bank is ending quantitative easing (QE) and moving into the reinvestment phase, during which it will purchase Government of Canada bonds solely to replace maturing bonds." Then again, one look at the BOC's balance sheet makes one wonder just how long this QE halt will survive...
The Bank of Canada will release details of how it will implement the “reinvestment phase’’ of bond purchases in a market notice at 10:30 a.m. That will be a situation where it acquires bonds only to offset maturities, keeping overall holdings and stimulus constant. Most recently, weekly bond purchases had been C$2 billion. BOC head Macklem will also provide more insight into his policy decision at an 11 a.m. press conference.
In any case, the BOC also signaled it could be ready to hike borrowing costs as early as April, as supply constraints limit the economy’s ability to grow without fueling inflation.
Macklem maintained his pledge not to raise the benchmark overnight policy rate until the recovery is complete, but officials now believe that will happen in the “middle quarters’’ of 2022, bringing it forward from the second half of next year as previously thought.
We remain committed to holding the policy interest rate at the effective lower bound until economic slack is absorbed so that the 2 percent inflation target is sustainably achieved. In the Bank’s projection, this happens sometime in the middle quarters of 2022. In light of the progress made in the economic recovery, the Governing Council has decided to end quantitative easing and keep its overall holdings of Government of Canada bonds roughly constant.
The language will reinforce market expectations the Bank of Canada is poised to quickly pivot to a tightening cycle amid growing price pressures. Investors are anticipating the Canadian central bank will start raising interest rates within the next six months, with markets pricing in four rate hikes next year.
The Bank of Canada has been using two major tools to keep borrowing costs low: maintaining its policy interest rate near zero and buying up Canadian government bonds from investors to keep longer-term borrowing costs in check. The benchmark interest rate was left unchanged at 0.25% on Wednesday. The central bank has increased its bond holdings by about C$350 billion since the start of the pandemic.
“Shortages of manufacturing inputs, transportation bottlenecks, and difficulties in matching jobs to workers are limiting the economy’s productive capacity,’’ the BOC said adding that “although the impact and persistence of these supply factors are hard to quantify, the output gap is likely to be narrower than the bank had forecast.’’
The more hawkish tone at the bank on Wednesday comes even amid a less rosy outlook for the economy. The central bank cut its growth estimates for both 2021 and 2022, but officials said much of that reflects worse-than-expected supply disruptions in the global economy.
Because of those disruptions, the Bank of Canada marked down estimates of “supply’’ by more than their downward revisions to output. That means the central bank now sees less excess capacity in the economy, and less reason to accommodate demand with cheap borrowing costs. The build-up of inflationary pressures also appears to be testing the Bank of Canada’s patience. The Bank of Canada revised higher its forecasts for inflation -- to 3.4% in both 2021 and 2022.
This means that the BOC is joining the Fed in tightening into a stagflation.
“The main forces pushing up prices -- higher energy prices and pandemic-related supply bottlenecks -- now appear to be stronger and more persistent than expected,’’ policy makers said. “The bank is closely watching inflation expectations and labor costs to ensure that the temporary forces pushing up prices do not become embedded in ongoing inflation.”
In the accompanying Monetary Policy Report that contains the Bank of Canada’s new forecasts, policy makers also said upside risks to inflation have become a greater concern because price increases are above the central bank’s 1% to 3% control range.
In response to the surprise announcement, the Canadian Dollar soared as much as 0.6%, rising to 1.2309 against the USD...
... while the Canadian 2Y yield spiked more than 24bps above 1.00%...
... in a day defined by violent treasury moves, first in the UK and now in Canada.