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

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

B.C. has only one bricks-and-mortar marijuana store

Cindy Young makes second run for top political job at the District of Hope

Young, in her run for mayor, is campaigning to attract business to Hope and keep local youth in the community

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

New bus route to ‘replace’ Greyhound along Trans-Canada Highway

Rider Express Transportation says they will soon begin a bus service from Winnipeg to Vancouver

Six Sto:lo chiefs sign MOU agreement affirming Indigenous rights

Moving to next phase of nation-to-nation negotiation in preparation for final treaty

VIDEO: How to roll a joint

The cannabis connoisseur shares his secrets to rolling the perfect joint

Fraser Valley Throwdown returns this weekend

Abbotsford event back for third annual crossfit competition

B.C. Lions look to cement CFL playoff spot with victory over Eskimos

B.C. can cement a post-season berth in the wild West Division on Friday night with a home win over the Edmonton Eskimos

Canada ban on asbestos takes effect but mining residues are exempt

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna plans to announce the new regulations implementing the ban on Thursday in Ottawa

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day two of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

Demand for legalized cannabis in early hours draws lineups, heavy web traffic

Government-run and privately operated sales portals went live at 12:01 a.m. local time across Canada, eliciting a wave of demand.

5 to start your day

Pot is legal across Canada but no pot shops in many Lower Mainland cities

Killer-rapist Paul Bernardo set to make parole pitch today

Paul Bernardo, whose very name became synonymous with sadistic sexual perversion, is expected to plead for release on Wednesday.

Hero campaign raises $1.1 million for Canada non-profits

Lowe’s Canada Heroes campaign was held throughout September

Most Read