CALGARY - The chief economist of Alberta’s Crown-owned financial institution says the province's economy is slowing significantly due to slumping oil prices.Todd Hirsch of ATB Financial says that will likely mean job losses and curtailed investment in the energy sector.He says housing starts remain stable, but the residential real estate market is soft, which suggests construction activity will cool.Hirsch says people are still moving to Alberta, but in lower numbers.He says the biggest change since ATB's forecast in January is that energy prices aren't expected to stabilize and start to gradually rise until late summer and the fall.Hirsch says on the bright side agriculture, forestry and tourism are benefiting from lower fuel prices and the lower Canadian dollar."While it will be a challenging year, Albertans shouldn't panic," Hirsch said Tuesday in a release. "It will by no means be the worst economic year in recent history."Hirsch is forecasting economic growth this year to be 0.8 per cent and unemployment to rise to six per cent.He predicts an average U.S. oil price of between $50-60 per barrel by the end of the year.
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