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Work being done on a condominium construction site at Bathurst Street and Fork York Blvd. in Toronto on May 29, 2012. Six chief economists say they expect tepid growth in the first half of 2013 but gains later in the year. Canada’s housing market is expected to cool. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Work being done on a condominium construction site at Bathurst Street and Fork York Blvd. in Toronto on May 29, 2012. Six chief economists say they expect tepid growth in the first half of 2013 but gains later in the year. Canada’s housing market is expected to cool. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Economists see tepid start to 2013, bet on U.S. strength Add to ...

Economic growth will be tepid in the first half of the year, but pick up in the second half. Canada’s housing market will cool, but not collapse. And – for the first time in years – the hot spot of economic activity in the advanced world will be in the United States.

That’s the broad consensus among six chief economists who gave their views on the outlook for the economy this year at a Friday forum.

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Most see no interest rate increases until the end of the year or 2014 and growth accelerating as the year goes on. One of the main drivers of this (albeit cautious) optimism is the U.S. economy, poised for a pickup in housing, autos and business investment.

The economists spoke to a packed audience in Toronto at an annual forum hosted by the Economic Club of Canada. Here are some of their thoughts.

Warren Jestin, chief economist at the Bank of Nova Scotia on emerging markets:

“The increasing dominance of the emerging market sector, the political risk that’s out there and technology shifts, it really turns economists from forecasters into storytellers, given the high degree of uncertainty associated with many of these issues.”

He pegs economic growth at up to 4 per cent for Brazil this year, 5 to 6 per cent for India and 8 per cent growth for China. “As the emerging markets continue to outperform the developed markets, in good years and in bad years, they will become an even more powerful force in driving the global economy and financial markets for the balance of this decade.”

Doug Porter, chief economist at the Bank of Montreal on the United States:

“The U.S. probably has the greatest chance of surprising to high side for the global economy in 2013.”

Fiscal cliff negotiations left several issues unresolved, but those issues are more of a threat to the country’s credit rating than to economic activity. The housing recovery is “real” and broadening, and that will be a major driver to the U.S. economy as it supports job growth and spending. It is expected to out pace Canada over the next few years. “There is a lot more headroom for the U.S. economy to come back, there’s a lot more pent up demand in the U.S. than in Canada, so we think this trend will go on for a few years.”

Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada on the Canadian economy:

Big risks that were a worry a year ago – China’s slowdown and weakness in the U.S. and Europe “are less likely” now. Global growth is likely to improve, U.S. demand is stronger in areas like housing and autos and commodity prices will stay firm, so “for Canada, it’s not a bad export environment.”

A sturdy labour market should support consumer spending, the rate of household debt accumulation is slowing and the housing market is set to cool [not collapse]. As for the Canadian dollar, “everyone agrees it’s overvalued but ...it will continue to be strong.”

Julia Coronado, chief economist at BNP Paribas on Europe:

“I’m surprised at all the optimism up here – I must say, from my vantage point in New York, I feel less optimistic.”

Europe is “not going to be an easy turnaround” and growth will be muted as the region “has a lot of fiscal wood to chop.”

She is “cautiously optimistic” about Europe’s prospects but the country to watch is Spain, which is “far from out of the woods” as the prospect of a downgrade in Europe’s fourth-largest economy looms. Any downgrade would have a ripple effect that could impact the region.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce on financial markets:

In Canada and the U.S. equity market, the first half of the year may see some earnings disappointments that keep markets cool. But “we do expect a fairly strong second half and also a shift where the outperformers...move towards more growth-oriented equities, all based on a view that 2014 will be better.”

He thinks the Bank of Canada may not move on the interest-rate front until 2014. As for gold, with the prospect of a windup of U.S. quantitative easing and talk of rate hikes, “this year could be the top for gold, and we would be sellers on rallies.”

Craig Alexander, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, on the global economy:

“2013 is a year where the pendulum is likely to swing back towards a stronger global economy, but gradually, over the course of the year, gaining momentum as we head into 2014.”

Emerging markets are slowing a bit, but they will still be the lion’s share of global growth. The advance world is still “extremely fragile,” with the strongest activity in North America – and the U.S. in particular.

In Canada, a transition is required. The key drivers of growth – government, consumer spending and real estate – will fade, and so momentum will have to come from the export and business investment side of the economy.

Broadly, debt is the key challenge through the advanced nations. “The world is awash with debt...it needs to go through rebalancing of fiscal policy...It is going to have a very significant impact on economic growth as fiscal policy becomes a greater drag on economies.”

Follow on Twitter: @taviagrant

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