Bank of Canada won’t follow Fed in issuing forecasts

OTTAWA — Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has no intention of following the lead of his counterpart in Washington by publishing a forecast on future interest rates.

OTTAWA — Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has no intention of following the lead of his counterpart in Washington by publishing a forecast on future interest rates.

The central banker said Wednesday he was more forthcoming about the direction of monetary policy during the recession, because markets and Canadians needed assurance of the bank’s intentions.

But now that the economic emergency is over for Canada, such extraordinary transparency is a bad idea.

“It is not our view that is the best policy, given all the other aspects we have to communicate to Canadians,” he said.

The bank publishes regular updates on economic performance and projections, as well future expectations for inflation, from which analysts and markets try to read into the mind of the central banker.

But that still leaves plenty of guesswork. Speculation was all over the map Tuesday after the central bank kept its policy rate unchanged at one per cent for the 16th straight month — most economists predicted rates would not rise until 2013, one chartered bank said not until 2014, and at least two prominent forecasters predicted a rate cut in the next few months.

When it announced its intention a few weeks ago, the U.S. Federal Reserve said it wanted to give greater confidence to business and households to encourage investment and spending.

But Carney said given the uncertainty in the world, it may not be fair for the Bank of Canada to signal a direction for rates.

“There’s a sense of false precision that can come from a single (forecast),” he said. “We don’t want people caught by previous language, previous guidance of the institution, as opposed to reacting to new facts on the ground and new outlooks.”

TD Bank chief economist Craig Alexander said there is some merit in a central bank being transparent, “up to a point.”

“There is also a sense that it can be useful for the central bank to surprise people,” he added. Alexander said too much transparency can sometimes induce market participants to take on too much risk, as happened during the lead-up to the 2008 financial market meltdown.

He added that the Fed is in a different world than the Bank of Canada, given that the U.S. economy is still on its knees and credit is remains tight.

“The Fed is an exceptional environment and they are trying to shape market expectations,” he said.

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