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A sharp decline in business investment is a major headwind for Canada’s economy, two recent reports say, amplifying competitiveness concerns spurred by trade uncertainty and corporate tax cuts in the United States.

Pipeline delays in Alberta and rising electricity prices in Ontario have increased costs for companies and are among barriers to new spending, particularly on machinery and equipment, according to a report released on Thursday by the C.D. Howe Institute.

The report assessed data from Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. It called weak capital spending a “threat to Canada’s future prosperity."

It adds to alarms sounded by energy executives and the heads of Canada’s big banks about the country’s competitiveness with the fate of the North American free-trade agreement up in the air.

Business groups are also clamouring for a response from the federal government to a U.S. tax overhaul that has effectively eliminated Canada’s corporate tax advantage over its southern neighbour.

The findings echo a similar study by the Fraser Institute, a conservative think tank, that found growth in over all capital investment slowed substantially between 2005 and 2017 and has fallen to its lowest ebb since roughly 1970.

The trend matters because business investment is viewed as a key indicator of future economic growth, said Jeremy Kronick, associate director of research and one of the authors of the C.D. Howe commentary. Slumping numbers since the oil-price shock are a concern, he said.

“It’s not that any one thing is totally damaging to business investment," he said. "But when you add up all those things, it’s like, ‘wow, how competitive really are we?’”

This month, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce chief executive Victor Dodig warned of an investment chill and raised concerns about dwindling foreign direct investment and delays to major infrastructure projects.

He pointed to setbacks faced by the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion as another red flag. A federal court last month overturned approvals of the $7.4-billion project, billed as key to diversifying Canada’s oil exports beyond the United States.

The C.D. Howe study said spending on machinery and equipment is especially weak – a notable trend because such spending drives overall productivity gains. It found that while capital construction spending climbed to $155-billion in 2017, spending on machinery and equipment was about half that amount and below levels seen in 2006.

After a surge last year, growth in oil-rich Alberta is expected to moderate this year as overall investment by major energy companies stays weak, Toronto-Dominion bank deputy chief economist Derek Burleton said in Calgary. He called weak business investment Alberta’s “Achilles heel.”

“It’s a concern everywhere,” he said during a business luncheon on Thursday. “You’re not going to see the same impetus.”

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