OTTAWA - The International Monetary Fund is telling the Bank of Canada to hold off on interest rate hikes until the economy improves, and not to discount the need for cutting should a shock occur.

The IMF's latest report on Canada, issued Wednesday, paints a picture of an economy that is doing reasonably well in the face of global headwinds, but also one that is vulnerable to external shocks.

It notes the recovery's cruising speed has slowed this year and will likely underperform next year to slightly below two per cent.

The report's good news is that it expects the pace to pick up to slightly above potential in the second half of 2013 and to continue in 2014 with an advance of about 2.25 per cent.

That is in line with many Canadian private sector economists, including the CIBC, which on Wednesday forecast Canadian growth next year at a tepid 1.7 per cent, followed by 2.5 per cent in 2014.

The projections are what economists call "baseline scenarios," which means the most likely to come true. Normally, the baseline scenarios are evenly bracketed by both downside and upside risks.

The trouble in this environment, says the IMF, is that the risks are all "tilted to the downside," citing European's ongoing problems and the still real changes of a budget crisis in the United States.

"In this context, the main challenge for Canada's policy-makers is to support growth in the short term while reducing the vulnerabilities that may arise from external shocks and domestic imbalances," the IMF says.

"The beginning of the monetary tightening cycle should be delayed until growth strengthens again," adding that likely will come only late in 2013. But it could go the other way, the IMF warns.

"On the other hand, there is some space for further monetary easing if the economy were to weaken significantly."

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld said in his view the Canadian central bank is unlikely to act until 2014, and then only with caution, nudging rates up between half and three-quarters of a point.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has kept the overnight rate target at one per cent since September 2010, which has led to some of the lowest borrowing costs in memory. The bank has maintained a tightening bias — a signal of future rate hikes — most of the past year, but has not acted on it.

The IMF has similar advice for Canada's governments. It says they should keep on their deficit reducing track, but be prepared to reverse course.

"If the economy weakened further, the federal and some provincial governments should allow the full operation of automatic stabilizers," such as employment insurance support, it recommends. "In the event of a large adverse shock, the federal authorities could also consider a new temporary stimulus package."

Both the IMF and the CIBC diagnose the economy in much the same way. Global weakness and the strong loonie continue to weigh down on one of the country's most important sectors, exporters.

Meanwhile, former streams of growth — consumer spending and housing — have run their course after several years of boom.

As a result, Canada is a hostage to outside factors, Shenfeld says.

"The absence of a helping hand from abroad will leave Canada exposed," he explained.

"Having earlier tapped fiscal stimulus and a housing boom to shelter the economy from sluggishness abroad, the country's ability to set its own course is now much more limited."

The IMF report also warns authorities to be vigilant about high household debt, including restricting the availability of mortgage borrowing, and warned of possible damage to Canada's banking sector, insurance companies and pension system in the event of another global financial crisis.

It notes that Canada's real estate boom is likely over, as recent data on housing starts, sales and prices suggest.

A separate report issued Wednesday by National Bank and the Teranet land transfer registry added to the evidence of a weakening in Canada's residential real estate sector.

Canadian housing prices fell in November compared with October, according to the Teranet-National Bank composite national index — only the fourth time in 13 years that there has been a decline between the two months.

The composite index covering 11 major urban centres stood at 154.02 last month, down 0.4 per cent from October, as 10 of 11 local markets tracked by the Teranet land registry system dropped. Only Calgary showed an increase in November.

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  • Canadian Household Debt By Region

  • 6. Atlantic Canada: $69,300

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 5. Quebec: $78,900

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 4. Manitoba & Saskatchewan: $84,900

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 3. Ontario: $124,700

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 2. British Columbia: $155,500

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 1. Alberta: $157,700

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

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    THE 10 COUNTRIES DEEPEST IN DEBT

  • 10. United Kingdom

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 80.9 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $1.99 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $35,860 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $2.46 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 8.4 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa Although the UK has one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios among developed nations, it has managed to keep its economy relatively stable. The UK is not part of the eurozone and has its own independent central bank. The UK's independence has helped protect it from being engulfed in the European debt crisis. Government bond yields have remained low. The country also has retained its Aaa credit rating, reflecting its secure financial standing. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 9. Germany

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 81.8 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $2.79 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $37,591 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $3.56 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 5.5 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa As the largest economy and financial stronghold of the EU, Germany has the most interest in maintaining debt stability for itself and the entire eurozone. In 2010, when Greece was on the verge of defaulting on its debt, the IMF and EU were forced to implement a 45 billion euro bailout package. A good portion of the bill was footed by Germany. The country has a perfect credit rating and an unemployment rate of just 5.5 percent, one of the lowest in Europe. Despite its relatively strong economy, Germany will have one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios among developed nations of 81.8 percent, according to Moody's projections. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 8. France

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 85.4 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $2.26 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $33,820 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $2.76 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 9.9 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa France is the third-biggest economy in the EU, with a GDP of $2.76 trillion, just shy of the UK's $2.46 trillion. In January, after being long-considered one of the more economically stable countries, Standard & Poor's downgraded French sovereign debt from a perfect AAA to AA+. This came at the same time eight other euro nations, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, were also downgraded. S&P's action represented a serious blow to the government, which had been claiming its economy as stable as the UK's. Moody's still rates the country at Aaa, the highest rating, but changed the country's outlook to negative on Monday. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 7. United States

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 85.5 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $12.8 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $47,184 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $15.13 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 8.3 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa U.S. government debt in 2001 was estimated at 45.6 percent of total GDP. By 2011, after a decade of increased government spending, U.S. debt was 85.5 percent of GDP. In 2001, U.S. government expenditure as a percent of GDP was 33.1 percent. By 2010, is was 39.1 percent. In 2005, U.S. debt was $6.4 trillion. By 2011, U.S. debt has doubled to $12.8 trillion, according to Moody's estimates. While Moody's still rates the U.S. at a perfect Aaa, last August Standard & Poor's downgraded the country from AAA to AA+. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 6. Belgium

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 97.2 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $479 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $37,448 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $514 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 7.2 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aa1 Belgium's public debt-to-GDP ratio peaked in 1993 at about 135 percent, but was subsequently reduced to about 84 percent by 2007. In just four years, the ratio has risen to nearly 95 percent. In December 2011, Moody's downgraded Belgium's local and foreign currency government bonds from Aa1 to Aa3. In its explanation of the downgrade, the rating agency cited "the growing risk to economic growth created by the need for tax hikes or spending cuts." In January of this year, the country was forced to make about $1.3 billion in spending cuts, according to The Financial Times, to avoid failing "to meet new European Union fiscal rules designed to prevent a repeat of the eurozone debt crisis." <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 5. Portugal

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 101.6 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $257 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $25,575 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $239 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 13.6 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Ba3 Portugal suffered greatly from the global recession -- more than many other countries -- partly because of its low GDP per capita. In 2011, the country received a $104 billion bailout from the EU and the IMF due to its large budget deficit and growing public debt. The Portuguese government now "plans to trim the budget deficit from 9.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 4.5 percent in 2012 and to the EU ceiling of 3 percent in 2013," according Business Week. The country's debt was downgraded to junk status by Moody's in July 2011 and downgraded again to Ba3 on Monday. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 4. Ireland

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 108.1 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $225 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $39,727 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $217 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 14.5 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Ba1 Ireland was once the healthiest economy in the EU. In the early 2000s, it had the lowest unemployment rate of any developed industrial country. During that time, nominal GDP was growing at an average rate of roughly 10 percent each year. However, when the global economic recession hit, Ireland's economy began contracting rapidly. In 2006, the Irish government had a budget surplus of 2.9 percent of GDP. In 2010, it accrued a staggering deficit of 32.4 percent of GDP. Since 2001, Ireland's debt has increased more than 500 percent. Moody's estimates that the country's general government debt was $224 billion, well more than its GDP of $216 billion. Moody's rates Ireland's sovereign debt at Ba1, or junk status. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 3. Italy

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 120.5 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $2.54 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $31,555 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $2.2 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 8.9 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> A3 Italy's large public debt is made worse by the country's poor economic growth. In 2010, GDP grew at a sluggish 1.3 percent. This was preceded by two years of falling GDP. In December 2011, the Italian government passed an austerity package in order to lower borrowing costs. The Financial Times reports that according to consumer association Federconsumatori, the government's nearly $40 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts will cost the average household about $1,500 each year for the next three years. On Monday, Moody's downgraded Italy's credit rating to A3, from A2. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 2. Greece

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 168.2 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $489 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $28,154 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $303 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 19.2 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Ca Greece became the poster child of the European financial crisis in 2009 and 2010. After it was bailed out by the rest of the EU and the IMF, it appeared that matters could not get any worse. Instead, Greece's economy has continued to unravel, prompting new austerity measures and talks of an even more serious default crisis. In 2010, Greece's debt as a percent of GDP was 143 percent. Last year, Moody's estimates Greece's debt increased to 163 percent of GDP. Greece would need a second bailout worth 130 billion euro -- the equivalent of roughly $172 billion -- in order to prevent the country from defaulting on its debt in March. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 1. Japan

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 233.1 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $13.7 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $33,994 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $5.88 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 4.6 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aa3 Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio of 233.1 percent is the highest among the world's developed nations by a large margin. Despite the country's massive debt, it has managed to avoid the type of economic distress affecting nations such as Greece and Portugal. This is largely due to Japan's healthy unemployment rate and population of domestic bondholders, who consistently fund Japanese government borrowing. Japanese vice minister Fumihiko Igarashi said in a speech in November 2011 that "95 percent of Japanese government bonds have been financed domestically so far, with only 5 percent held by foreigners." Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has proposed the doubling of Japan's 5 percent national sales tax by 2015 to help bring down the nation's debt. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>