Once again, the Canadian economy showed signs of struggle as the December jobs report showed gains only in Ontario, while jobs were flat or down in every other province. In marked contrast, payrolls in the U.S. rose more than projected as the unemployment rate remained at a low 5%. U.S. strength vindicated the Fed’s recent rate rise.
Canada added 22,800 jobs in December, rebounding from a loss of 36,00 in November, but the unemployment rate remained at 7.1%–posting a rise of 0.4 percentage points over the course of 2015. While today’s employment report surpassed expectations, most of the job gains were in part-time positions. December’s gains capped a rocky year for job growth as the natural resource sector shed thousands of jobs. Employment increased among people aged 55 and older last month and was little changed for the other demographic groups.
Provincially, Ontario was the lone province posting job gains, up 35,000, lowering the unemployment rate to 6.7%.The hard-hit resources sector took its toll again in Alberta, which lost 3,900 jobs and in Saskatchewan, where there were 4,600 fewer people working in December.
For 2015 as a whole, the fastest employment growth was in British Columbia, up 2.3% compared to just under 1% for the country as a whole. Despite this, the jobless rate in B.C. increased to 6.7% as more people looked for work. Job growth in Alberta was flat last year as declines in full-time jobs were offset by gains in part-time work, but the unemployment rate rose to 7%, its highest level in nearly six years. Employment declined in Newfoundland.
By sector, the biggest job losses last year were in natural resources–down 6.8%. Most of the decline was in Alberta, although there were smaller declines in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. The service sector outperformed goods producers, led by employment in professional, scientific and technical services. There were also significant gains in health care and social assistance. Employment in manufacturing increased just over 2%–the first increase since 2012–mostly in British Columbia.
While the Canadian employment report in December surpassed Bay Street expectations, the underlying story is that the private sector remains weak, especially the energy and mining sectors. Given the recent global market rout and a deepening oil market slump, the Canadian economy is vulnerable to further weakness and Alberta, in particular, has yet to see the worst of it.
There is fresh pain for producers of the world’s cheapest crude as the Canadian heavy grade oil prices reached a record low, raising the prospect of more production coming offline. Northern Alberta’s vast oil sands hold the world’s third-largest crude reserves but carry some of the highest production costs globally — up to US$50 a barrel — because of the energy-intensive production process. The spot price for Western Canadian Select fell below US$20 a barrel earlier this week, its lowest level since tracking began in 2008, according to Bloomberg. The decline was precipitated by the report of a surge in U.S. gasoline inventories to its highest level in 22 years and the climb in crude supplies at the American storage hub in Oklahoma to a record high.
Canadian oil producers are cushioned somewhat by the weak loonie, as they are paid in U.S. dollars and most of their costs are in loonies. Most Canadian companies will likely keep producing to pay bills and loans, even if the crude price does not cover cash operating costs.
We are likely to suffer continued weakness in the Canadian dollar and the under-performance of the Canadian stock market. Mortgage rates are rising and government actions to cool the housing market will also contribute to downward pressure on the economy. However, the weak loonie will help to spur exports and to attract foreign capital. Tourism will no doubt rise. The New York Times today deemed Toronto the top tourist destination for 2016. Government fiscal stimulus will help and cannot come too soon and Governor Poloz is ready to use unconventional monetary policy tools if needed.
The United States is leading the global economy as weakness in China, Russia, Brazil and other emerging economies is driving down commodity prices and stock markets. The U.S. December jobs report confirmed the strength in the economy as payroll growth surged, capping the second-best year for American workers since 1999. While U.S. employers continue to add to the head count, wages have yet to show a sustainable pickup.
Hence, monetary policy will continue to diverge in Canada and the U.S.
Thanks to my DLC Chief Economist Dr. Sherry Cooper for this article.