Productivity sags amid slowdown

Wed Sep 10, 2008 11:05am EDT
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's labor productivity has fallen for a third straight quarter, the longest decline since 1990, and a track record that analysts said shows businesses are on unsteady footing as the economy flirts with recession.

Productivity, measured as the amount produced by a worker per hour, fell 0.2 percent in the second quarter after declining 0.6 percent in each of the previous two quarters, Statistics Canada said on Wednesday.

That compares dismally with the U.S. record of increased productivity in the first two quarters of this year.

"This matters because sagging productivity is bearish for earnings growth, a negative for overall business competitiveness, and because it further reinforces the point that Canadian businesses are increasingly ill-prepared for a slowdown," said Derek Holt, an economist at Scotia Capital.

Holt said that Canadians should have outperformed their U.S. counterparts on productivity given the strength of the Canadian dollar, which has lowered the cost of importing machinery and equipment from the United States.

The business sector suffered a 0.2 percent decline in real gross domestic product in the second quarter, largely because of flagging exports, but the number of hours worked rose 0.1 percent, Statistics Canada said.

Overall economic growth in Canada came in at a meek 0.3 percent in the second quarter after a contraction of 0.8 percent in the first, narrowly avoiding the popular definition of a recession as two back-to-back quarters of shrinking GDP.

OIL SANDS   Continued...