A slowing housing market and uncertainty over the shape of a deal on the U.S. "fiscal cliff" are putting a lid on projections for economic growth and stock market gains in 2013.
Most forecasts see Canada's GDP expanding by only 1.8 per cent or so in 2013, down from an estimated 2.0 per cent in 2012.
Much depends on what happens with the U.S. "fiscal cliff," the catch-all term for tax increases and spending cuts that would automatically go into effect if a budget deal is not reached by today. While a compromise appeared to be shaping up Monday, it's still unclear what the agreement would include.
A comprehensive deal could send markets upward in a "relief rally," according to the researchers at Pavilion Global Markets. But a stop-gap deal that defers tough decisions by extending the deadline for tax hikes and spending increases by a few weeks could have the opposite effect.
"If the stop-gap looks like it's going to get done but nothing else is going to get done, you'd have a pretty negative reaction," said Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank and former JP Morgan managing director. "Though not as negative as if no agreement came out."
Investors who are looking for opportunities may want to turn their attention to resource sectors that have been hard hit in recent years by the U.S. housing crash.
Bank of Nova Scotia economists spotlight lumber and wood-board products as a top pick for investors, as they project prices to begin a multiple-year recovery.
This year may also be the time for gold mining stocks to finally catch up to the precious metal itself, CIBC precious metals researcher Barry Cooper wrote last month. He argues that cost pressures on the miners will ease, allowing gold producers to deliver larger profits.
But the mood is downbeat when it comes to Canada's overall economy. While the world spent 2012 wrestling in the dirt with uncertainty, Canada dusted off its shoulders and walked away – but that uncertainty is now trickling into our borders.
The team at Capital Economics warns of "subdued" GDP growth in 2013, with sluggish inflation and declining home sales, a combination that "threatens to upset Canada's outperformance."
"There still appears to be a sense of misplaced confidence regarding Canada's economic fundamentals and growth prospects," economist David Madani wrote. In a 2013 outlook, he argues that while Canada's export sector stands to gain from projected U.S. economic growth, there's little optimism elsewhere in the developed world.
Joining Mr. Madani in warning over Canada's housing market is Shailesh Kshatriya, senior analyst with Russell Investments. He points to the moderation in Canada's biggest housing markets, such as Toronto, as an early sign that the sector will be a drag on the economy over the year ahead.
"A slower housing sector has an impact on private consumption, which represents more than half of Canada's GDP," Mr. Kshatriya said in a December press release.
The economists at RBC Dominion Securities are more optimistic on the Canadian economy, projecting GDP growth of 2.4 per cent. "I think Canada's fundamentals have provided great insulation for this global turmoil, but by no means are we immune to it," Craig Wright, the bank's chief economist, said on a conference call in December.
Like Mr. Madani, Mr. Wright and his team believe net trade will act in favour of Canadian GDP growth, thanks to global appetite for our country's exports.