Canada posts Nov. trade deficit of C$1.09 billion, rail strike takes toll

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada posted a trade deficit of C$1.09 billion ($0.84 billion) in November, thanks in part to a major railway strike that slowed the shipment of imports and exports, Statistics Canada said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Shipping containers are picture in St John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a shortfall of C$1.15 billion. Statscan revised the October deficit to C$1.61 billion from an initial C$1.08 billion.

The figures are the latest in a string of unimpressive recent data that analysts say are likely to point to fourth-quarter annualized economic growth coming in below the 1.3% that the Bank of Canada had forecast in October.

The value of goods exports fell 1.4% in November, with seven of the 11 product categories posting declines, while imports fell by 2.4% to C$49.78 billion. In volume terms, exports declined by 2.7% from October while imports dropped by 1.3%.

Some 3,200 conductors and yard workers at Canadian National Railway Co. CNR.TO - the country's biggest rail firm - walked off the job for eight days in November, the biggest rail strike in a decade.

Energy exports declined 7.4% on lower shipments of crude oil, the agency said, because of pipeline disruptions following a rupture in late October.

“Given that these factors (the rail strike and the pipeline disruption) were resolved by the end of the month, we suspect that both exports and imports rebounded sharply in December,” said Stephen Brown, a senior economist at Capital Economics.

Canada relies on rail firms to move products like crops, oil, potash, coal and other manufactured goods to ports and the United States. Industry figures show about half of Canada’s exports move by rail.

Peter Hall, chief economist at Export Development Canada, said the dip in exports was also tied to global trade worries stemming from a dispute between China and the United States.

“As long as this investment hesitation we’re seeing around the world ... persists, we’re going see weakness inside of these numbers,” he said in a phone interview.

The Bank of Canada has held its overnight interest rate steady for more than a year even as several of its counterparts, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, have eased rates.

The central bank is due to release updated forecasts on Jan 22, which is also the date of its next fixed rate announcement. Market expectations, as reflected in the overnight index swaps markets, show operators expect it to stay put. [BOCWATCH]

($1=$1.2982 Canadian)

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Bernadette Baum