In a shock move, the Bank of Canada cut its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday to counter the effects of cheaper oil on economic growth and inflation and to try to prevent financial instability that could result from a vulnerable housing market.
Ending the longest period of unchanged rates in Canada since 1950, the central bank cut its overnight rate to 0.75 percent from 1 percent, where it had been since September 2010, and it dramatically slashed its inflation and growth forecasts for the coming year.
Canada is the biggest foreign supplier of crude oil to the U.S. market.
“The considerably lower profile for oil prices will be unambiguously negative for the Canadian economy in 2015 and subsequent years,” the central bank said in its quarterly Monetary Policy Report.
The bank acknowledged that household imbalances remained high and were expected to edge up in the near term, and signaled that it had to cut rates “to provide insurance” against the risks of financial instability and lower inflation.
Lower interest rates could exacerbate the ill effects of a hot housing market in Toronto and elsewhere, but the bank’s move suggested it was more concerned that the oil price collapse might trigger a housing crash.
“A soft landing in the housing sector continues to be the most likely scenario,” the bank said, adding, however, that a possible “disorderly unwinding” of household imbalances could have a big negative impact on the economy and inflation.
An interest rate cut is likely to broadly support incomes by boosting the overall economy, and the thinking is that even if debt rises somewhat, Canadians will be better able to afford to carry debt if their incomes rise.