Statistics Canada says it will investigate how sensitive information on the country’s employment numbers was distributed ahead of the official release time – a market-moving leak the federal Finance Minister’s office condemned as “unacceptable.”
The country’s national statistical agency released data on the labour force survey for April at 8:30 a.m. EDT Friday on its website. Just before 8 a.m., however, citing “a person familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg News published a story saying the country lost about two million jobs, with the unemployment rate rising to 13 per cent. The job losses were fewer than economists had expected.
“We are conducting an investigation related to this matter and will take appropriate measures,” said Jacques Fauteux, Statscan’s assistant chief statistician.
The leak looks to have moved currency markets. The figures were published at 7:47 a.m., and the Canadian dollar initially strengthened by about eight basis points within the first few minutes of when the news was published, currency traders said, before returning to previous levels within about 10 minutes of the news. (There are 100 basis points in a percentage point.)
“While the tragic job loss is the main focus, a major security breach occurred, and some may have profited from it,” Derek Holt, head of capital markets economics at the Bank of Nova Scotia, said in a note. “There must be an official investigation into a serious leak that tarnishes the reputation of Canadian markets and the circumstances surrounding Bloomberg’s decision to report the leak.”
It’s “not a good sign,” to be seeing a leak of this nature, said Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments. “This is definitely not something that you want to see, and not a sign the market is functioning very well when you have participants gaining access to different streams of information at different times.”
Volatility was higher than it normally would have been, he said. “We saw volatility spike in the next half hour as well – we saw a couple of relatively big moves, bigger than we might normally see prior to a job report.”
Some government officials, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau, receive the job numbers in advance and in confidence.
Pierre-Olivier Herbert, a spokesman for the minister, condemned the fact that the numbers were released ahead of schedule Friday.
“Leaks of this nature are unacceptable,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “We take this very seriously and the government will put the necessary processes in place to ensure this does not happen again.”
Statscan did not respond to questions about who is privy to the jobs numbers ahead of time.
The labour force survey is one of the most important economic releases of the month, closely watched by economists, policy experts and currency traders as a key indicator of how the economy is faring. Friday’s release was under particular scrutiny as employment has plummeted. The agency called the magnitude of the drop in employment since February “unprecedented.”
This isn’t the first time economic figures have been released early or unofficially. In 2011, a KPMG investigation found that early releases of Statscan economic data, of up to 59 seconds, had been occurring for more than six years.
With files from Bill Curry in Ottawa and Tom Cardoso in Toronto
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