Loonie lower as traders mull possibility of higher rates, strong U.S. data

TORONTO – The Canadian dollar closed lower Tuesday as the greenback gained strength in the wake of U.S. data showing a better than expected reading on durable goods orders, improving consumer confidence and rising house prices.

The loonie was down 0.09 of a cent at 100.53 cents US a day after Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney surprised markets in announcing he is leaving the central bank to take the top job at the Bank of England.

The dollar had been up about a fifth of a cent earlier in the session as traders weighed the chances of higher interest rates following a commentary from a major international economic forecaster.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also said in a new report Tuesday that Canada’s economy will grow by 1.5 per cent in the final three months of this year, and advance only 1.8 per cent in 2013.

Next year’s projection is half a point below the Bank of Canada’s official forecast, but the OECD suggested there’s room for Canadian rates to rise by the latter half of 2013.

The two institutions agree that 2014 will see an improvement to 2.4 per cent growth.

“The Canadian dollar negative uncertainty over who will lead the bank once Mark Carney moves . . . has been offset by an improvement in risk appetite and an OECD economic outlook report which suggests that the Bank of Canada might need to increase interest rates by the second half of 2013,” said Scotia Capital chief currency strategist Camilla Sutton.

“The OECD notes that there is not a large amount of economic slack which could lead to inflationary pressures.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department said that orders for core capital goods, which are considered a proxy for business investment, rose 1.7 per cent in October, the largest amount in five months. Orders in this category had slowed beginning in the spring, acting as a drag on overall economic growth.

Total orders for durable goods were unchanged in October against a 0.4 per cent drop that economists had expected.

Also, there was more evidence of a housing recovery as Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller reported that home prices increased in September in most major U.S. cities.

And U.S. consumer confidence rose this month to its highest level in almost five years, pushed up by a steady improvement in hiring. The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index rose to 73.7 in November from 73.1 in October. Both are the best readings since February 2008.

There was also relief that Greece has secured another instalment of bailout money to stave off bankruptcy.

After three weeks of negotiations, Greece’s euro partners and the International Monetary Fund agreed early Tuesday to release loan payments totalling €44 billion and introduce a series of measures designed to reduce the country’s massive debts to a more manageable level within a decade. These include reducing the interest rates Greece has to pay on the loans and a still-vague bond buyback program.

Without the bailout money, the country would be facing bankruptcy together with a possible exit from the 17-country eurozone, with potentially chaotic repercussions for the world economy.

Commodities were mixed with the January crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down 56 cents to US$87.18 a barrel.

December copper was unchanged at US$3.54 a pound while December gold bullion was down $7.30 to US$1,742.30 an ounce.

Investors also continued to monitor negotiations over the U.S. budget. Democrats and Republicans have to come to an agreement to head off a so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of next year. Economists say the combination would represent a shock sufficient to send the U.S. back into recession.