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The war and interest rates

Updated: Mar 2


This week’s interest rate announcement by the Bank of Canada was almost universally expected to bring an increase; probably 0.25% but possibly as much as 0.50%.


Then Russia invaded Ukraine.


Markets were thrown into a tizzy. They plunged. But the frenzy was short lived. By the end of the day markets were back in the black.


Canada’s economic exposure to Russia and Ukraine is relatively small. Canada imported $1.2 billion from Russia in 2020; Russia imported roughly the same from Canada – less than a week’s worth of commercial traffic across the Ambassador Bridge.


The key factor in the conflict, for Canada, will likely be the price of oil, which has climbed past $100 a barrel. Rising oil prices and higher fuel costs have been a principal driver of inflation here, and inflation is the main concern of the Bank of Canada. It is currently running at 5.1%, a 30 year high, and the central bank is under growing pressure to bring it under control.


Oil is also an important part of Canada’s resource economy. Higher prices will likely lead to more production. Any embargo of Russian oil will create demand for Canadian product. That, in turn, would put more load onto Canada’s economic recovery, which is strong but hampered by pandemic labour shortages and supply-chain problems which, again, are adding to inflation pressures.


None the less, war creates uncertainty, and uncertainty triggers caution among central bankers. A recent Reuters poll of 25 economists suggests the Bank of Canada will go ahead with a quarter-point rate hike this week.

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