Interest rate hikes are coming but they'll be lower than many expect: CIBC

Rates likely to pause well below U.S. Federal Reserve's latest 4 per cent forecast

TORONTO, April 10, 2014 /CNW/ - While it's clear that interest rates are heading upward, a new report from CIBC World Markets finds that the hikes will be lower than in previous cycles and fall below what many, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, are predicting. 

"The nature of the upcoming expansion will dictate that, even at full employment, U.S. rates will have to be lower than in past cycles, in both real and nominal terms," says CIBC Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld. "Similarly, Canadian overnight rates could end up reaching a plateau at surprisingly low levels."

The report, co-authored by Mr. Shenfeld and CIBC Senior Economist Peter Buchanan, shows that in both countries, the neutral rate - the level at which interest rates neither stimulate nor restrain economic growth - could be only 2.5 per cent, well below the 4 per cent the Fed forecast at its latest meeting. 

Mr. Shenfeld says that both Canada and the U.S. are headed for substantially slower growth in the working-age population, decelerating to less than half the pace seen in the last expansion. Unless productivity soars, he says the pace of potential (non-inflationary) real GDP growth will also decelerate. In addition, lacklustre capital spending and increased savings rates - particularly in emerging market economies - puts a further damper on the prospects for economic gains.

The report notes that former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers sees these factors driving industrialized countries, including the U.S. and Canada, towards "secular stagnation". He is calling for the use of ramped up debt-financed infrastructure spending as an alternative to another housing bubble to get the U.S. economy back on track. But for Mr. Shenfeld, maintaining a lower path for interest rates, and for Canada, keeping its more competitive exchange rate, will also be key. 

"If we don't turn to larger fiscal deficits, monetary policy will have to provide enough of an offset to those drags on growth. Ensuring that the interest rate differential with the U.S. stays narrow enough to keep the Canadian dollar at a level competitive for exporters will allow the economy to tolerate the end of the housing boom," he adds. 

He notes that in Canada, the exchange rate has enough influence to complicate estimating the neutral overnight rate, given the importance of overall monetary conditions in a small open economy. "Nevertheless, slowing potential GDP, along with high household debt levels that will increase the sensitivity of spending to rate hikes, both suggest that a nominal rate below 3 per cent might be the longer-term neutral rate today." 

While this is good news for the bond market, the co-authors are not making a bullish call just yet, since even if overnight rates in both the U.S. and Canada pause at 2.5 per cent for an extended period of time, the bond market in 2014-15 might not anticipate a long pause and overshoot in their sell-off. 

"To bond players, rate hikes are like potato chips; once you eat the first one, you go through the whole bag," says Mr. Shenfeld.

He expects bond rates to climb sharply next year, but reverse course in 2016 as central banks take an early breather on rate hikes. He expects 10-year U.S. Treasury yields to top out in the 3.5-4 per cent range in this cycle, about 100-150 basis points below the last decade's peak. In Canada, he says yields should be lower given the country's higher credit rating and lower government debt.

"While expecting higher yields through 2015, we see the Bank of Canada surprising markets with a pause on rates in 2016 and the Fed doing so after one more hike, helping bond yields recoup some lost ground," he says. 

As well, he believes a more gentle climb in rates "will be a plus for equity multiples".

The complete CIBC World Markets report is available at: http://research.cibcwm.com/economic_public/download/eiapr14.pdf

CIBC's wholesale banking business provides a range of integrated credit and capital markets products, investment banking, and merchant banking to clients in key financial markets in North America and around the world. We provide innovative capital solutions and advisory expertise across a wide range of industries as well as top-ranked research for our corporate, government and institutional clients.

SOURCE CIBC

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