Canadian corporations suffered their least-profitable quarter in more than five years in the first quarter, as the damage from the oil crash reached new depths.
Statistics Canada's quarterly survey of private-sector, for-profit corporations said countrywide operating profits totalled $73.1-billion, seasonally adjusted, in the first three months of the year – their lowest since the fourth quarter of 2010. The total was down 4.6 per cent from the 2015 fourth quarter, marking the third-straight quarter-to-quarter decline. Operating revenues fell 0.6 per cent.
Operating profits were down 1 per cent from a year earlier, Statscan said.
The earnings downturn was driven largely by the slumping energy sector. Oil and gas extraction and support businesses booked a collective operating loss of $4.8-billion, their fifth consecutive loss and their worst quarter to date in the oil shock. Over the past five quarters, this business segment has lost more than $15-billion.
Meanwhile, manufacturers of petroleum and coal products lost $960-million, "the industry's first operating loss in 23 years," Statscan said.
But the weakness extended beyond the energy sector, as half of the 22 industry sectors in the survey posted quarter-to-quarter declines.
Overall manufacturing-sector operating profits fell 7.8 per cent, their sixth-straight quarter-to-quarter decline. Mining and quarrying profits slumped 9.5 per cent, their fourth-straight drop. Finance and insurance profits fell 7.1 per cent, their third-straight decline, although Statscan noted that this was largely due to accounting changes in the insurance industry.
On the other hand, retail operating profits rose 3.7 per cent from the previous quarter, while wholesalers' profits were up 4.1 per cent. Transportation and warehousing profits surged 14.4 per cent. And auto-sector profits were up 7.7 per cent.
Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Diana Petramala said the fallout from the Alberta wildfires should "weigh heavily" on the country's overall corporate profits in the second quarter, especially in the energy and insurance sectors. But she sees brighter days in the second half of the year.
"After hitting record lows in early-February of this year, oil prices have made a substantial comeback and are flirting with the $50 (U.S.) a barrel level. This, alongside an improving economic backdrop, should help nudge corporate profits up in the second half of the year," she said in a report.