UPDATE 2-Bank of Canada holds rates, says looking to federal budget

Wed Mar 9, 2016 11:33am EST
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(Adds market reaction, analyst quotes, background)

By Leah Schnurr and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, March 9 (Reuters) - The Bank of Canada held interest rates steady on Wednesday, citing stronger non-energy exports and an economy growing largely as expected, as it awaits this month's federal budget to gauge the impact of the Liberal government's stimulus plans.

The Canadian dollar firmed following the widely expected decision, as the central bank appeared to shrug off a recent rebound in the currency, saying that the rise in the exchange rate and oil prices are in line with what was assumed in January.

Traders had been looking to see what the bank would make of the Canadian dollar's appreciation since its last monetary policy meeting in January, with a weak currency seen essential to boosting the export sector. While the currency has firmed since hitting a 12-year low in January, it is still significantly weaker than a year ago.

"There was some fear that the bank might address some of the strength in the currency, but they ducked that pretty effectively," said David Tulk, chief Canada macro strategist at TD Securities.

As widely anticipated, the bank kept its overnight rate at 0.5 percent, where it has been since July 2015. The bank cut rates twice last year to combat the impact of cheaper oil, a major Canadian export.

Low oil prices are expected to continue to dampen growth in Canada, though the U.S. expansion remains on track and recent financial market volatility "appears to be abating," the bank said.

Despite better-than-expected domestic growth in the fourth quarter, the bank said the near-term outlook remained broadly the same as its January assessment.   Continued...