BUSINESS

Loonie closes lower as oil declines, Swiss central bank ditches euro cap

01/15/2015 08:41 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The Canadian dollar closed lower Thursday amid volatility on currency markets after the Swiss central bank unexpectedly scrapped a limit on the franc's strength against the euro.

The loonie was down 0.14 of a cent to 83.58 cents US. It had earlier jumped as high as 84.65 cents US.

The Swiss central bank introduced the minimum exchange rate policy in September 2011 in an attempt to halt the rise of the franc — a traditional safe-haven currency — against the euro at a time when the eurozone debt crisis was at its height. The strong franc was particularly problematic for Swiss exporters.

The move to ditch the policy sent the euro plummeting 30 per cent against the Swiss currency before it recovered somewhat.

The loonie benefited from a rise of US$2.59 a barrel in crude prices Wednesday after the Federal Reserve said in its latest regional survey that the U.S. economy was growing at a moderate pace in December and early January, helped by gains in sales of autos and other consumer products and increased factory production.

But on Thursday oil gave back most of that gain, closing down $2.23 to US$46.25 a barrel.

A collapse in oil prices — down about 55 per cent from June 2014 highs — has sent the loonie tumbling to levels last seen in late April 2009 and analysts say the currency will continue to be subject to oil-related gyrations for a while yet.

"Until oil stabilizes, the Canadian dollar is at risk of trending lower," said Camilla Sutton, chief FX strategist, managing director, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets.

"Once it stabilizes we would expect the lows in the dollar to be reached in the second quarter of this year and then (it) too should stabilize."

Meanwhile, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver says he will delay tabling a budget until April because of economic uncertainty caused by tumbling oil prices.

While low oil prices benefit consumers at the pump, they hurt the bottom line of oil companies, which leads to decreased investment and less employment, he said. That in turn reduces tax revenue both provincially and federally.

Copper prices revived somewhat Thursday with the March contract up five cents to US$2.57 a pound after prices skidded 14 cents Wednesday, adding up to a 12 per cent plunge just since the start of the year. The drop came amid a weak U.S. retail sales report for December and the World Bank revised downward its global economic forecast.

Expectations the European Central Bank will embark on a round of quantitative easing next week to support the economy pushed gold prices higher. February bullion gained $30.30 to US$1,264.80 an ounce.