Canadian economy slowing in 2019 thanks in part to declining Alberta energy investment

Overall investment in Canadian energy sector will increase thanks to LNG Canada project, Coastal GasLink pipeline

Falling investment in the Alberta oil patch because of lower oil prices and pipeline capacity problems are part of the reason the Conference Board of Canada is lowering its forecast for national GDP to grow by 1.9 per cent in 2019, easing from an expected 2.1 per cent gain this year.

Consumer spending will be restrained by a combination of weaker employment and wage growth, high debt loads, and rising interest rates. Meanwhile, the drop in oil prices and lack of pipeline capacity will continue to constrain investment in Canada’s energy sector. Government spending is also expected to slow due to rising fiscal deficits.

“Canada’s economy is facing a few challenges heading into 2019. Consumer spending has been driving economic growth over the last several years, but Canadians are tightening their purse strings. Economic growth in 2019 will depend on improved business investment and a better performance from the non-energy trade sector,” said Matthew Stewart, director, national forecast.

Household spending is slowing due to several factors, including weaker job growth, rising interest rates and cooling home prices.

While job growth has picked up in recent months, overall employment growth in 2018 was modest. A factor behind the sluggish employment growth has been rising retirements, as many baby boomers continue to exit the labour market.

This has led to labour shortages across many industries in Canada with the unemployment rate hitting a record low of 5.6 per cent in November.

Unfortunately, wage growth remains weak. But, given how tight labour markets are, wage growth should begin to pick up in 2019 as firms compete for a limited number of workers.

In addition to the weaker outlook for consumer spending, the collapse in oil price and pipeline capacity constraints are hitting Canada’s energy sector hard.

Investment in the oil and gas industry in Alberta is expected to decline for a second year in a row in 2019—weak oil prices and the uncertainty associated with transportation bottlenecks and the provincial government’s mandated oil production cutbacks are hurting investment intentions.

Despite Alberta’s ongoing struggles, overall investment in Canada’s energy sector will increase in 2019, thanks to the LNG Canada project and the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which will generate substantial investment in British Columbia.

On a more positive note, non-energy investment should receive a lift from the signing of the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement (CUSMA) and the new federal measures that allow for accelerated write-off of several types of investments.

Assuming that the U.S. Congress passes the trade bill, some of the uncertainty that had restrained investment spending should be alleviated. The CUSMA should also help boost Canada’s export performance.

A pickup in non-energy exports is forecast for 2019 but growth will be limited by weak investment and high capacity utilization rates in the manufacturing sector.


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