Lower gas prices help slow inflation rate to 2.0 per cent: Statistics Canada

OTTAWA – A big drop in pump prices tapped the brakes on Canadian inflation last month, slowing the annual rate to two per cent as it offset rising costs of other goods.

Statistics Canada’s November reading, released Friday, detected the slowdown amid the global slide in world oil prices.

The federal agency found prices climbed in every major category of its consumer price index compared to a year earlier except for transportation — in large part due to the sharp fall in gasoline prices.

As a result, the national inflation rate rang in below economists’ expectations of 2.2 per cent following October’s reading of 2.4 per cent.

With gas prices sinking even deeper in December, the chief economist of one major bank predicted an even greater slowdown in next month’s headline inflation reading — to below one per cent, perhaps.

“That’s going to be the dominant story next month,” BMO’s Doug Porter said of the tumbling gas prices.

Statistics Canada also registered a lower core inflation rate for November, which means the Bank of Canada could hold off a little longer before it increases the trend-setting interest rate.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile items such as some food products and gasoline, slowed in November to 2.1 per cent after a 2.3 per cent increase in October. A consensus of economists had predicted the reading for core inflation would rise 2.4 per cent.

That core figure is closely watched by the Bank of Canada, which aims to keep it as close to its ideal two per cent target as possible.

Porter said BMO might change its official projection of October 2015 for the Bank of Canada’s next interest-rate hike.

“We’re very close to pushing that forecast out a couple of months,” said Porter, who thinks the lower inflation could give the Bank of Canada freedom to stay put, even if the U.S. Federal Reserve increases its rate next year, as expected.

“If oil prices stay at these kinds of levels, we’re leaning to the view that the Bank of Canada will just stand aside through the year.”

Statistics Canada found gasoline prices in November fell 5.9 per cent compared to a year earlier, while the monthly gasoline price index fell 7.5 per cent — the fifth consecutive monthly decrease.

Aside from gasoline, some of the major contributors to price decreases were travel tours at 10 per cent, video equipment at 9.3 per cent, digital computing equipment and devices at 4.2 per cent.

On the other side, the increases in the cost of natural gas by 14.7 per cent, meat by 12.2 per cent and cigarettes by 11.4 per cent were among some of the largest year-over-year price gains last month.

On a seasonally adjusted month-to-month basis, the agency said prices overall fell 0.2 per cent from November, after rising 0.1 per cent in October.

Looking across the country, consumer prices for November increased at a slower pace in every province compared to the previous year except for British Columbia, where inflation sped up slightly to 1.2 per cent from 1.1 per cent in October.

Ontario, meanwhile, registered the highest inflation of any province at 2.4 per cent. Prince Edward Island’s inflation rate was the lowest at 0.1 per cent.

For the November core rate, Statistics Canada’s data said lower prices in the categories of clothing and footwear as well as recreation, education and reading pushed the underlying measure downward.

Porter said it was likely caused, in part, by retail discounts during Canada’s growing Black Friday-like sales.

In the Bank of Canada’s latest rate announcement, it acknowledged inflation had climbed faster than it had expected.

But the announcement, made earlier this month, maintained the inflation increase was due to the “temporary effects” of a lower Canadian dollar and price jumps in certain consumer sectors, such as telecommunications and meat.

“This month’s report gives a lot of support to that view,” Porter said.

On Friday, Statistics Canada also released October’s numbers for retail trade, which remained flat at $42.8 billion.

The agency said the result came from lower sales for motor vehicle and parts dealers as well as gasoline stations, which were offset by higher sales in most of the other areas.

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