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Bank of Canada keeps policy unchanged, shifts focus towards the timing of first rate cut

The Bank of Canada decided to keep its key overnight rate at 5%, in line with expectations, holding rates steady for four consecutive policy meetings following the last hike in July.

The focus of the governing council’s discussion is shifting from whether the policy rate is restrictive enough to restore price stability to how long it needs to stay at the current level.

While underlying inflation remains a concern, the central bank’s attention is now on when to cut borrowing costs rather than contemplating further rate hikes.

Annual inflation in December accelerated to 3.4%, still above the central bank’s 2% target but lower than the peak of 8.1% in June 2022.

Money markets are expecting a 25 basis points cut in June, after delaying bets for a cut in April following the release of December annual inflation data.

Governor Macklem mentioned that the BoC may still need to raise rates if new developments push inflation higher. However, the focus will shift towards how long the BoC will maintain the policy rate at 5% if the economy evolves as projected.

Although Macklem had previously indicated that rates were likely at their peak, the recent comments mark the first time discussing the potential timing of a rate cut.

The BoC revised its outlook for growth, expecting weakness in the first quarter followed by a gradual pickup.

Inflation is projected to stay around 3% through the first half of 2024, easing to 2.5% in the second half, and returning to the 2% target sometime in 2025.