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Bank of Canada holds its key interest rate steady at 5% in final decision of 2023

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada once again held its key interest rate steady at five per cent Wednesday, encouraged by evidence that higher rates are helping bring inflation down.
The Bank of Canada is set to announce its interest rate decision this morning as forecasters widely expect the central bank to continue holding its key rate steady. The Bank of Canada building is pictured in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada once again held its key interest rate steady at five per cent Wednesday, encouraged by evidence that higher rates are helping bring inflation down.

“Higher interest rates are clearly restraining spending: consumption growth in the last two quarters was close to zero, and business investment has been volatile but essentially flat over the past year,” the central bank said in a statement detailing its final rate decision of the year.

The combination of weaker growth and a cooling job market suggests demand is no longer outpacing supply in the economy, the central bank added.

This slowdown, the Bank of Canada has argued, is necessary to restore price stability.

The decision Wednesday marked the third consecutive time the Bank of Canada has opted to keep its key rate unchanged as forecasters widely expect the Bank of Canada’s next move will be a rate cut.

However, the Bank of Canada is not ruling out future rate hikes just yet.

“Governing council is still concerned about risks to the outlook for inflation and remains prepared to raise the policy rate further if needed,” the central bank said, noting it wants to see underlying price pressures ease further. 

The central bank will have to switch to cutting interest rates soon enough, TD director of economics James Orlando said, as the unemployment rate continues to rise and spending in the economy takes a hit. But for now, it makes sense for the central bank to keep its guard up. 

"A hold today was the only option for the BoC," wrote Orlando in a note to clients. "But with inflation still above three per cent, we get why the BoC isn't ready to declare victory."

Weighed down by higher borrowing costs, the Canadian economy has struggled to consistently grow this year. The most recent GDP report showed the economy contracted by 1.1 per cent on an annualized basis in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, inflation has eased considerably over the last year, reaching 3.1 per cent in October.

The Bank of Canada projected in October that inflation will fall back to the two per cent target in 2025.

RBC economist Claire Fan says the central bank's decision to hold its key rate steady was hardly a surprise, but what caught her attention was the central bank's softer tone on Wednesday.

"A lot more emphasis was actually placed on weaker economic data," she said, adding that it reinforces the idea that the central bank will not raise rates again.

RBC expects the Bank of Canada to start cutting interest rates in the second half of next year, a more cautious projection than financial markets. 

"Our view is that they're only going to start sort of cutting in this second half of 2024, once (it) become more obvious that inflation is truly going to return back to target and stay there," Fan said.  

The Bank of Canada's next rate decision, along with its updated economic forecasts, is set for Jan. 24.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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