Special Feature

CIFPs National Conference 2016

Investment Executive heads to Orlando, Fla. to report from the 14th annual national conference of the Canadian Institute of Financial Planners (CIFPs). The conference runs from May 18 to 21. Photo copyright: rabbit75123/123RF.

Economy & Markets

Consumer spending and housing market driving U.S. economy

By Fiona Collie |

A growing U.S. economy is good news for Canada's export sector, although any improvement north of the border will be muted due to the ongoing decline in oil prices, said Michael Gregory, deputy chief economist and head of U.S. Economics with BMO Capital Markets.

"We can ride the coattails of a stronger U.S. economy because we get that export lift," said Gregory, who was speaking at the 2016 Canadian Institute of Financial Planners' (CIFPs) conference in Orlando on Friday.

Strong consumer spending in the U.S. and a growing housing market are two reasons for that lift south of the border. The U.S. job market is currently increasing by about 200,000 new jobs per month, Gregory said, meaning a growing number of people have income with which to make purchases.

Other reasons why U.S. consumers are loosening their purse strings include lower energy and import prices and an easing of lending practices. One possible drag on spending, Gregory said, is that wages have not seen any significant increase.

U.S. homeowners have, however, seen an increase in the value of their homes. Seven years after the financial crisis, most U.S. housing market prices have returned to pre-recession levels, which means many homeowners are feeling a little richer these days.

"I think we can see a wealth effect, as this confidence effect begins to kick in a little bit more," Gregory said. "So, [we're] very upbeat about the U.S. consumer sector."

Furthermore, the housing market remains quite affordable despite rising prices, Gregory said, in large part due to low interest rates. Millennials are beginning to enter the market, purchasing their first homes.

"Right now, they represent about 30% of turnover in the housing market [and] traditionally [first-time homebuyers] represent about 40%," Gregory said. "So, that's going to climb over time."

American consumers are not the only ones in the U.S. thinking of spending. All levels of government are increasing spending after years of cutbacks and layoffs. More important, this being an election year, government spending at the federal level is unlikely to tighten.  

"No one is talking about cutting back in Washington," Gregory said. "They'll talk about that after the vote."

Canada will be able to take advantage of this uptick in government and consumer spending thanks of the weak loonie. The Canadian dollar is likely to remain below 80 cents for the foreseeable future, which will ensure Canada's exports remain competitive.

However, offsetting this potential growth in the Canadian economy is the downturn in oil prices. "Canada's going to lag," Gregory said. "Part of [the reason] is because the oil sector in Canada is much larger [proportionally] than in the U.S. and that pain is spreading much more across the country."

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