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What Joe Oliver can look forward to: a sluggish economy and frail Canadian dollar

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

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What awaits Oliver
Canada's new finance minister inherits a struggling economy and a currency that's on the ropes.

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Which should help.

Prime Minister Steven Harper today tapped Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver to fill the shoes of Jim Flaherty, who announced his departure late yesterday.

Mr. Oliver, then, faces several issues, from concerns over the country's housing market to Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz's new normal of modest economic growth.

Then there's the Canadian dollar, which continued to sink this morning, though, arguably, that's good news for Mr. Oliver.

In a speech in Halifax yesterday, Mr. Poloz said that a combination of demographics and the hangover from the financial crisis will restrain economic growth in Canada.

Older folks, he said, are saving their money, thus holding back consumer spending, which has helped drive Canada's recovery.

All of this suggests that, as expected, the central bank isn't about to hike its benchmark interest rate any time soon. Indeed, in a question-and-answer session after his speech, Mr. Poloz again left the door open to a rate cut, sending the Canadian dollar sharply lower.

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The loonie, as Canada's dollar coin is known, went as low as 89.43 cents U.S., and was still below 89.5 cents early today.

The decline, said chief currency strategist Camilla Sutton of Bank of Nova Scotia, was entirely Poloz-related and had nothing to do with the resignation of Mr. Flaherty, who is respected globally because of Canada's fiscal standing.

Mr. Flaherty's government is one of the few that can still boast a triple-A rating.

But, as Mr. Poloz noted, it may not be able to boast strong growth.

Here's the thing: The erosion of the loonie is expected to help juice the economy this year and next. A weak currency makes a country's exports cheaper, and thus more attractive.

"A weaker Canadian dollar enhances the competitiveness of Canadian goods in the U.S. market – historically, a 10-per-cent depreciation boosting export volumes by 3.3 per cent in the follow two years," Royal Bank of Canada's chief economist, Craig Wright, said today in a new economic forecast.

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By the end of last year, Mr. Wright noted, Canadian exports were 5 per cent below the pre-crisis peak.

RBC believes the loonie will sink to the 87-cent level by the end of this year, and 85 cents by the end of 2015. That's different from the projections of some other economists: Both Bank of Montreal and Ms. Sutton's Scotiabank forecast about 87 cents by mid-2014, and a pickup to the 90-cent level by the end of the year.

RBC also projects today that the economy will expand by 2.5 per cent this year, and 2.7 per cent in 2015 as the export sector weighs in.

The OECD forecasts economic growth of just 0.5 per cent in the current quarter of the year.

Toyota said to reach deal
U.S. officials are expected to unveil a settlement with Toyota Motor Corp. over the massive recall of vehicles because of unexpected acceleration.

The deal with the U.S. Justice Department, which could be announced today, is expected to top $1-billion (U.S.), according to reports in the United States.

Those reports suggest the Japanese auto giant will escape any criminal proceddings.

"Toyota has co-operated with the U.S. attorney's office in this matter for more than four years," spokesperson Julie Hamp told The Wall Street Journal.

"During that time, we have made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements."

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More


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