Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz speaks during a press conference on the Bank of Canada’s interest rate announcement and Monetary Policy Report in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says Canadians have amassed a $2-trillion mountain of household debt that is now casting a big shadow over the timing of his next interest rate hike. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Bank of Canada says Canadians owe $2 trillion as it mulls next rate hike

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says Canadians have amassed a $2-trillion mountain of household debt

Canadians have amassed a $2-trillion mountain of household debt that’s casting a big shadow over the timing of the Bank of Canada’s next interest rate hike, governor Stephen Poloz said in a speech Tuesday in Yellowknife.

To Poloz, the “sheer size” of debt burden also means its associated risks to endure for a while, although he’s optimistic the economy can navigate them.

The debt pile, he said, has been growing for three decades in both absolute terms and when compared to the size of the economy — and about $1.5 trillion of it currently consists of mortgage debt.

The central bank has concerns about the ability of households to keep paying down their high levels of debt when interest rates continue their rise, as is widely expected over the coming months.

“This debt has increasing implications for monetary policy,” he said in his address to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

Related: Bank of Canada holds benchmark interest rate as economic growth moderates

Poloz has introduced three rate hikes since last July following an impressive economic run for Canada that began in late 2016.

But the central bank stuck with its benchmark rate of 1.25 per cent last month as it continued its careful process of determining the best juncture for its next hike. The bank’s next announcement is May 30, but many experts only expect Poloz’s next increase to come at July’s meeting.

Poloz said Tuesday that the volume of what Canadians owe is one of the key reasons why the bank has been taking a cautious approach to raising its trend-setting rate. He called it an important vulnerability for individuals and leaves the entire economy exposed to shocks.

“This debt still poses risks to the economy and financial stability, and its sheer size means that its risks will be with us for some time,” Poloz said.

“But there is good reason to think that we can continue to manage these risks successfully. The economic progress we have seen makes us more confident that higher interest rates will be warranted over time, although some monetary policy accommodation will still be needed.”

Poloz said debt is a natural consequence of several factors, including the combination of a strong demand for housing and the prolonged period of low interest rates maintained in recent years to stimulate the economy.

The governor also provided detail on issues the bank is examining as it considers the timing of its next rate increase.

If it raises rates too quickly, the bank risks choking off economic growth, falling short of its ideal inflation target of two per cent and could lead to the type of financial stability risk it’s trying to avoid, he said.

But if the governing council lifts the rate too slowly, Poloz said it could intensify inflationary pressures to the point it overshoots the bank’s bull’s-eye. Poloz added that moving too gradually could also entice Canadians to add even more debt and further boost vulnerabilities.

In his speech, he also noted several other areas of concern the bank is monitoring closely as it considers future hikes. They include the economic impacts of stricter mortgage rules, the ongoing uncertainty about U.S. trade policy, the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and a number of competitiveness challenges faced by Canadian exporters.

“These forces will not last forever,” Poloz said.

“As they fade, the need for continued monetary stimulus will also diminish and interest rates will naturally move higher.”

Related: Feds’ unheralded $102B rainy day fund kept for the improbable, like cyberattacks

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

CSRD board approves pay increase for directors

Remuneration bylaw will come into effect after election of new board

CSRD looking into upgrades for Scotch Creek Water Plan

District beginning feasibility study for future upgrades

Race is on for Shuswap late-run sockeye salmon

New estimates say about 750,000 sockeye will spawn on the Adams River, similar to 2014 dominant run

Salmon Arm library to undergo upgrades over the winter

New meeting space planned for Okanagan Regional Library’s Salmon Arm branch

Boil water notice lifted for Falkland

The boil water notice for the Falkland Water System has been rescinded

Your weekend weather update

Rain continues to move right across the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen.

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

Low risk associated with case of pneumococcal disease in the South Okanagan

No identified risk to the public from recent case of pneumococcal disease with associated meningitis

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Yukon man facing new attempted murder charge in B.C. exploding mail case

Leon Nepper, 73, is now facing one charge each of aggravated assault and attempted murder

Most Read