Canadian Economy Took a Record Nosedive in Q2
Canadian real GDP plunged 11.5% in the second quarter, or -38.7% at an annualized rate, the worst quarterly decline on record (see chart below). This followed an 8.2% plunge in Q1. The worst of the contraction occurred early in the quarter as the lockdown in March and April wreaked havoc on activity. Since then, the economy has shown surprisingly strong signs of recovery.
StatsCan revealed today that GDP rose 6.5% in June following the 4.8% rise in May and an estimated 3.0% growth in July. Even so, Canada’s recovery is expected to be bumpy and long. No doubt, not all businesses and sectors will expand in sync, and not all jobs will be recovered.
One of the brightest spots in the recovery has been housing, where activity surged in July, reflective of record-low mortgage rates and pent-up demand. Apparently, many homebound Canadians are reassessing their housing needs. Demand for increased space, especially in the suburbs or exurbs, has been robust.
Virtually every sector of the economy was battered in Q2. Household spending dived 43% while business investment collapsed at a 57% annual rate. Virus containment weighed on both, with a fall in oil prices exacerbating the decline in oil & gas investment. Net exports were the only sector that added to economic activity, but only because imports fell more than exports as housebound consumers and shuttered businesses had little need for imported products.
On a year-over-year basis, the monthly rise in June and July will leave GDP down a much milder 5%, but still worse than the -4.7% drop during the financial crisis. The surge in June–itself a record bounce–reflects the gradual re-opening of the economy, with retail, wholesale and manufacturing leading the way. Retail trade jumped 22.3% in June, surpassing its pre-pandemic level of activity. Motor vehicle dealers contributed most to growth.
Following a 17.3% jump in May, the construction sector rose 9.4% in June as a continued easing of emergency restrictions across the country contributed to the return to nearly normal levels of activity at construction sites. Residential construction grew 7.1% as increases in multi-unit dwellings construction and home alterations and improvements more than offset lower single-unit construction. Non-residential construction rose 11.0%, surpassing the pre-pandemic level of activity, as all three components were up.
Real estate and rental and leasing grew 2.5% in June. Activity at the offices of real estate agents and brokers jumped 65.2% in the month, following a 56.4% increase in May, as home resale activity in all major urban centres saw double-digit increases. The output of real estate agents and brokers was about 7% below February’s pre-pandemic level, but other data show it was up sharply in July, hitting new record highs.
GOVERNMENT PROVIDED A MUCH-NEEDED CUSHION
Household disposable income surged last quarter despite the pandemic thanks to government income support (see chart below). The rise in income, coupled with the massive decline in consumer spending as well as the deferral of mortgage payments for many triggered a surge in the savings rate. The household saving rate jumped to 28.2% from 7.6% in the prior quarter. Savings rates, of course, are generally higher for higher income brackets.
The plunge in economic activity in the second quarter–though awful–was not as deep as the Bank of Canada expected (-43%) in its most recent Monetary Policy Report. As well, the rebound since the end of April has been stronger than expected, especially in the housing sector. To be sure, labour market conditions are still very soft with the jobless rate at 10.9% in July, but the new programs announced last week by the federal government to replace CERB will help ease the transition for people still looking for work.
A possible resurgence in the virus remains a risk unless an effective vaccine can be distributed. The economy will operate below capacity into the next year, but perhaps not as drastically below capacity as previously feared.