Normally, we’d preview the Bank of Canada’s next policy decision closer to the actual date. But all the relevant data has been published, so why wait? Unless the central bank scraps its story, it will leave the benchmark rate at 1.25 per cent on May 30.
Canada’s dollar dropped half a cent against its U.S. counterpart on Friday, probably because new readings on inflation and retail sales suggest the economy is chugging along, not racing ahead at a pace that would alarm policy makers. The prices of financial assets linked to short-term interest rates put odds of an interest-rate increase next week at about 25 per cent.
The sudden wobble in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement might also have influenced traders. Policy makers have characterized uncertainty about trade policy as the biggest headwind facing the economy because it’s a chill on investment. So the shift to a protracted negotiation, after politicians spent several weeks suggesting a deal was close, is a negative.
But trade never was going to play a major role in the May decision. The vibe around NAFTA was turning positive a month ago, and the Bank of Canada opted to leave the benchmark rate unchanged. Officials said they would stop worrying about trade only when they saw evidence that business investment was holding up. RBC Capital Markets said last week that its monitoring of company announcements suggests a modest increase in spending. Still, definitive data won’t be available until after May 30: Statistics Canada will release its tally of second-quarter gross domestic product the following day, and the central bank’s quarterly Business Outlook Survey is due on June 29.
That’s why the policy announcement scheduled for July 11 is the earliest the Bank of Canada could raise interest rates and remain consistent with what it’s said about how it would react to trade news, positive or otherwise. To move in May would require a noticeable change in other economic variables and that hasn’t happened.
To be sure, oil prices are about $15 a barrel higher than central bank’s current forecast, which is based on prices a month ago.
That will prompt some debate over the next 10 days as policy makers deliberate over where the economy is headed. Normally, a shift of that magnitude would represent a material change in Canada’s prospects. Yet there has been no discernible change in the value of the currency, the TSX or the outlook for economic growth, according to economists at Bank of Montreal. Higher crude prices mean the value of exports is rising, but those gains are being offset by doubts about whether the increase will last and the future competitiveness of Canada’s high-cost oil industry.
One indicator that would outweigh concerns about business investment is inflation. The Bank of Canada’s primary mission is to keep the consumer price index advancing at an annual rate of about 2 per cent. Statistics Canada reported the CPI increased 2.2 per cent in April from a year earlier, the third-consecutive month that inflation exceeded the central bank’s target. That’s noteworthy because annual price increases had brushed the target only three times in the previous three years.
The upward pressure on inflation could make the May decision a closer call than currency traders seem to think. The Bank of Canada cares more about three specially crafted inflation gauges than it does the headline number, which is often distorted by surges and plunges in energy and prices. Two of those three measures now are above 2 per cent, and the third is at 1.9 per cent, so for the first time since early 2012 all four of the key price indicators have been at target or higher. Sebastien Lavoie, a former staffer at the BoC who now is chief economist at Laurentian Bank Securities in Montreal, calculated that prices for 24 of the items in StatCan’s CPI basket were increasing at a rate faster than 3 per cent in the first quarter, compared with 22 that did so in 2017. The number of items that were cheaper declined to 30 from 34. The change suggests inflation is heating up, if only gradually.
“We still think it is preferable for [Bank of Canada] officials to remain on the sidelines at the May 30 monetary policy decision meeting,” Lavoie said in a note to his clients. “This being said, this decision is likely to be a close call given that two of the three core inflation measures are now above the 2% target.”
The two other factors that dominate the Bank of Canada’s narrative about the economy are household debt and Poloz’s contention that lower interest rates might actually help policymakers stay ahead of inflation.
Household debt is about 100 per cent of GDP, compared to about 70 per cent in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund’s new Global Debt Database. All that debt probably means consumers are more sensitive to changes in interest rates than they were in the past. So the BoC is looking for evidence that credit growth is slowing, but not so fast that it crushes domestic demand. And as you might expect, higher interest rates appear to be restraining consumer demand. StatsCan said last week that retail sales jumped 0.6 per cent in March from the previous month, but only because of a surge in automobile purchases. Most other retail segments are essentially unchanged from January 2017.
Sluggish retail sales support Poloz’s argument that Canada’s economy isn’t as strong as its 5.8-per-cent jobless rate suggests. He sees elevated rates of long-term and youth unemployment as marks of the financial crisis and the oil-price collapse. Higher interest rates risk killing growth that could pull more of those people into the labour market and Poloz has been crystal clear that he intends to do what he can to encourage that to happen.
“In some models of the economy, that would become a permanent thing, a hysteresis thing,” Poloz said of the elevated number of marginalized workers, while talking to me and a couple of other journalists in Washington last month. “Well, if it can happen in one direction, there is no reason with enough time that it can’t be reversed because it’s just people combined with new investment, just building more economic building blocks.”
He added: “You’ve got to believe we’re going to get a fair bit of that. But again I can’t guess how much, but I think it’s a really important phase.”
It will take some strong evidence to push Poloz off that course and there hasn’t been enough since then to force a pivot. Bottom line: low for a bit longer.
Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’
Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.
The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.
“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.
Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.
Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:
“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”
He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.
“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.
Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.
“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.
The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”
The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.
And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.
Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.
“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.
Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.
The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.
Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.
More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.
“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”
Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”
The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.
In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.
Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”
Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”
The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.
Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021
Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?
For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.
The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.
At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.
The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.
Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet
National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.
The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.
The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads.
The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.
“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.
“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”
“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.
“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.
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