* Maintains policy tightening bias despite slower growth
* Says economy won't return to full capacity till mid-2015
* Carney says economic slack is "not that big"
By Louise Egan and Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, April 17 The Bank of Canada chopped its
economic growth forecasts and welcomed signs of a cooler housing
market on Wednesday as it left its benchmark lending rate
unchanged and said it still expects its next move on interest
rates to be up.
The central bank, the only one in the Group of Seven (G7)
leading industrialized nations hinting at higher rates, held its
main rate at 1 percent, where it has been since September 2010.
In the last Monetary Policy Report it will issue before
Governor Mark Carney leaves to head the Bank of England in July,
the bank sharply downgraded economic growth expectations and
suggested that slack in the economy was still building.
It cut its 2013 growth outlook to 1.5 percent - the same as
an International Monetary Fund forecast - from the 2.0 percent
it saw in January. It forecast 2.8 percent growth in 2014.
Nonetheless, the central bank said it still expects interest
rates to rise, repeating that after a period of time "some
modest withdrawal" of monetary stimulus would likely be
Some analysts had speculated the central bank could water
down or drop language about raising rates as the economy slows.
But Carney told reporters it is important to look at the
context, including the fact that the benchmark rate is low, and
the financial sector is functioning very well.
"There is slack in the economy. We call it material slack,
but it's not that big, and it's certainly not that big relative
to other major economies," Carney told a news conference.
The bank has been worried about the recent housing-market
boom in Canada and about a surge in household debt, which
critics say has been fueled by its ultra-easy monetary policy.
The housing boom slowed after the federal government
tightened mortgage rules last year. But many think the central
bank is reluctant to drop its tightening bias because it might
help reignite the property sector.
Carney praised the "constructive evolution of the housing
market", and said it will influence interest rates.
"We're encouraged by what we're seeing. That reality
provides a longer horizon, a period of time before an adjustment
would need to be made," he said.
Still, the central bank warned there were still some signs
of overbuilding, particularly of multiple-unit dwellings in some
cities, and that valuations in some segments were stretched.
Canada weathered the global recession better than most
countries, and the Bank of Canada has eschewed the quantitative
easing used by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and
now, on an unprecedented scale, by the Bank of Japan.
But the economy has struggled recently, under pressure from
slower growth in government spending, the slower housing market,
a persistently strong Canadian dollar, and lower-than-expected
"Our view is that we're not going to see that acceleration
in investment until we see that pickup in demand, the pickup
that we're expecting," Carney said.
One bright spot is the U.S. housing recovery, which the bank
projects will boost Canadian export growth by 1 percentage point
The bank said the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar
has curbed export growth.
It figured the economy's spare capacity grew to 1-1/4
percent in the first quarter, from the 1 percent it saw in
January for the fourth quarter of 2012.
That means it will take longer for the economy to hit full
capacity, and for total and core inflation to rise to the bank's
2 percent target. It now sees this happening by mid-2015,
whereas in January it had predicted the second half of 2014.
"It likely pushes (an interest rate hike) out even further.
It's likely we won't have higher rates in Canada until well into
2015," said Bank of Nova Scotia chief currency strategist
Before Wednesday's statement, forecasters had tipped the
third quarter of 2014 as the likely date for a rate hike.
Yields on overnight index swaps, which trade based on
expectations for the policy rate, showed traders slightly scaled
back their bets of a rate cut later this year.