BUSINESS

8 Things To Know About The Economy, From Canada's Big Bank Economists

09/23/2014 08:40 EDT | Updated 09/23/2014 10:59 EDT
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Top economists from Canada’s big five banks assembled for a rare team prognostication Monday to weigh in on everything from how Millennials living with their parents are holding back the U.S. housing sector to why Canada will wait longer than the U.S. to raise interest rates.

The panel discussion hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade asked economists from Canada’s major banks -- TD, CIBC, Royal Bank, Scotiabank, CIBC and Bank of Montreal.

Here’s what they’re saying about the economic lookout:

1. The U.S. manufacturing sector has “got its mojo back”

Compared to other developed economies, the U.S is actually a relatively low-cost place to make goods, partly because it doesn’t require as much labour as it used to thanks to cheap power and mechanization, said CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld.

“The idea that you would ship every plant off to Indonesia or Bangladesh to take advantage of the lowest wage rates no longer works in a large swath of manufacturing where, with robotics and mechanization, the labour content can actually be cut down to the point where made in the USA is no longer equivalent to excessive costs.”

2. But Millennials living in their parents' basements are holding the homebuilding sector back

New home building is the missing ingredient in the recipe for U.S. economic success, Shenfeld said.

“The big problem here is that Zoe and Zach are still living at home in their parents’ basements, they are not starting new families at the age of 25 or 30 the way their parents did. Part of that is they’re lazy good-for-nothings,” he said to laughs from the audience.

“BUT part of that is also they have student debt, they have poor job prospects, [though] those things are also starting to turn around so the unemployment rate for people under 35 is gradually coming down.”

3. Three per cent growth is the new four per cent growth

Growth in the U.S. economy is expected to hover around three per cent this year, a respectable of level in the era of slow growth. Canada’s total GDP growth is expected to be closer to 2.5 per cent. However, in 2015 there will be quite a divergence between positive signs in the U.S. economy and question marks lingering over the rest of the world.

4. Canada’s export-led recovery is real!

The healthy three per cent U.S. growth rate is key to maintaining demand for Canadian exports. External trade has also benefited from a weakening Canadian dollar, and Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at RBC, believes the dollar will fall even further through to 85 cents U.S. next year. He predicts that will lead to strong export growth of six per cent this year and eight per cent next year, compared to two per cent in 2013.

“This transition that economists have been talking about away from consumer spending toward exports and business investment, I think we’re starting to see that turn but right now the evidence is largely with respect to exports.”

5. Expect a “healthy pause” in the housing market

High consumer debt levels are still cause for concern, and will limit spending. In the housing market, debt burdens combined with poor affordability likely mean flat growth ahead, Ferley said. “It isn’t a crash in the housing market by any stretch, but it’s a healthy pause.”

6. Ontarians are doing better: buying autos, just not making them

Ontario has posted record numbers of auto sales in recent months, while commercial real estate is coming back along with housing, said TD economist Derek Burleton. “We do have some momentum here,” he said.

However, in the auto manufacturing sector, considered the bellwether for how the sector as a whole is faring, assembly activity is still in decline and is not expected to increase in the next few years as more plants shut down, but there is growth in the parts sector.

7. The Canadian job market has been disappointing

“There’s no question we’ve been disappointed in terms of the gains in employment, “ said RBC’s Ferley. The growth numbers have been at odds with gains seen among other economic indicators. Burleton added that one of the most pronounced changes has been the shift to part-time and temporary employment. “Companies are feeling a lot of heat these days and looking for more flexible arrangements,” he said.

8. The economies of the BRIC countries have landed like a brick

Just a few years ago, economists were all about the BRIC countries (that’s Brazil, Russia, India and China), saying those economies would lead global growth. “You’ve got Brazil, they’re basically in recession, Russia was the R, they’re probably in recession given the cautions that people would have about investing in Russia these days over political uncertainty. India are moving a little bit because they have a new reformist government but definitely China is slowing down .”

“So of those four, three of them are decelerating,” Burleton said, adding that pre-recession global growth hovered around five per cent, whereas now we’re hovering closer to three per cent.

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