Traders await rate news

Currency markets and consumers alike will be looking to the Bank of Canada this week in hopes of getting some idea when the central bank will get around to raising interest rates.

TORONTO — Currency markets and consumers alike will be looking to the Bank of Canada this week in hopes of getting some idea when the central bank will get around to raising interest rates.

On equity markets, the focus will continue to be settled on fourth-quarter corporate earnings reports from the U.S. and Canada.

There are no expectations that the central bank will up its key rate from the one per cent level where it has been since September 2010 because of weak global economic conditions. In fact, economists don’t expect any movement on rates until 2013.

“Financial markets almost see it as a 50-50 chance there could be a rate hike before the end of the year,” said Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “We’re not in that camp. We think they wait until early in 2014, so it’s not a wildly different view, just a slight difference in timing.”

And for the first time, the central bank will also release its Monetary Policy Report the same day as it makes its interest rate announcement.

It’s not that the bank would not like to raise rates as they have been anything but shy in warning Canadians of the dangers of going deeper into debt, a message it is likely to reinforce on Wednesday.

“I think the bank will go out of its way to again drive home the point that Canadians should not become used to this and this is not normal and it is only a matter of time before rates start to rise,” said Porter.

In the meantime, pricing pressures are weak with the annual inflation rate currently coming in at around one per cent, half of the bank’s target.

And economic conditions are likely to get weaker, something the bank will also likely spell out.

“The bank has been calling for growth of 2.3 per cent this year, which is slightly below average,” said Porter.

“We’re actually now at 1.7 per cent and the consensus is pretty close to where we are. So, I don’t know if they’ll come all the way down to consensus so let’s say two per cent is not a bad estimate for what they might be saying for growth now.”

Porter added he thinks the Bank of Canada will also push back the time at which they think inflation gets back up to two per cent.

The Toronto stock market ended last week at its best level in almost a year, up 0.98 per cent, with a chunk of the lift coming at the end of last week after data showed the Chinese economy continuing to recover. The Dow finished the week up 1.19 per cent and at a five-year high.

China’s growth rose to 7.9 per cent in the three months ended in December, up from the previous quarter’s 7.4 per cent.

Stronger Chinese growth in the past has driven commodities higher and boosted energy and mining stocks on the resource-intensive TSX.

Canadian National Railways is the major Canadian earnings report of the week. It comes out Tuesday and analysts expect Canada’s biggest railway to post earnings ex-items of $1.41 a share, 11 cents higher than a year ago.

The earnings season in the U.S. is starting to wind down but investors will still look to reports from McDonald’s on Wednesday. It is expected the hamburger chain will hand in earnings of US$1.33 a share, unchanged from a year ago.

Drug company Bristol Myers Squibb and defence giant Lockheed Martin hand in earnings Thursday while consumer company Procter and Gamble reports Friday.

Hovering in the background to trading has been the brewing impasse over raising the U.S. debt ceiling.

The U.S. Treasury says it will run out of money to pay all the government’s obligations sometime in February or March if Congress doesn’t raise the current $16.4-trillion limit on borrowing. That has raised the spectre of a potential default amid worries that the debate will descend into the sort of squabbling and political brinkmanship that marked the last effort to raise the ceiling in the summer of 2011.

However, there seems to be a growing feeling that the Republicans don’t have the stomach for that sort of battle this time around.

“The reality setting in for them is, hey, we lost the election,” said John Johnston, chief strategist at Davis Rea Ltd.

“I think there’s a feeling that there will be a capitulation again, that they won’t allow a default to happen. I think the odds of a default are minimal, minuscule. There are reasonable elements in the Republican Party speaking out.”

New York markets are closed Monday to mark Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

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