OTTAWA (Reuters) - Falling gasoline costs provided some relief to Canadians in August, knocking down consumer prices for the first time since January but annual inflation stayed at a five-year high, likely prompting the Bank of Canada to keep interest rates on hold.
The consumer price index dipped 0.2 percent in the month thanks to a 6.6 percent slide in gasoline from record highs, Statistics Canada said on Tuesday. But inflation sped to 3.5 percent on the year from 3.4 percent in July, its highest since March 2003 as energy prices remained sharply above 2007 levels.
The figures were in line with market forecasts.
But core inflation, which excludes several volatile items like gasoline and is the Bank of Canada’s preferred gage of underlying price trends, rose more than expected at 0.3 percent in the month and 1.7 percent year-over-year.
Analysts had expected a monthly rise of 0.1 percent and an annual rate of 1.6 percent, according to median forecasts in a Reuters poll.
“I think the real eye-opener here is core inflation,” said Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.
“Overall the report isn’t a big disappointment but it must be mildly troubling for the Bank of Canada,” he said.
The Canadian dollar strengthened after the move, moving to C$1.0342 to the U.S. dollar, or 96.69 U.S. cents, from a pre-data level around C$1.0338 to the U.S. dollar, or 96.73 U.S. cents.
The Bank of Canada, which aims to bring inflation back down to 2 percent by late next year, expects the rate to continue rising through the remainder of this year due to the effects of past increases in oil and other commodities.
In July, the bank forecast total inflation would peak at 4.3 percent in the first quarter of 2009 but has since said the spike in prices would be slightly milder because of the downturn in oil.
However, it expected core inflation of 1.5 percent in the third quarter, suggesting it may be uncomfortable with the rise above that in August.
Markets have priced in a 50 percent chance the central bank will cut its key overnight lending rate by 25 basis points to 2.75 percent on October 21, according to contracts for overnight index swaps.
“If everything else was normal the Bank of Canada might well be worried by a slight upward tick in the core measure, but everything else is far from normal,” said Craig Wright, chief economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.
“I think the near-term considerations for the bank and everyone is to have some sort of semblance of stability to return to the financial markets and assuming we get that we can look back at what to do on risks on inflation and growth.”
On a 12-month basis, seven out of the eight major components of the index rose, with only clothing and footwear dropping in price.
Energy prices were 20.2 percent higher in August compared with a year earlier even though they fell 3 percent from the previous month. As a result, transportation costs rose the most from a year earlier at 5.8 percent but were 2.1 percent lower than the previous month.
Additional reporting by Frank Pingue and Jennifer Kwan in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty