CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said on Friday that high commodity prices are unambiguously good for the economy and he made clear the central bank would not counter commodity-driven increases in the value of the Canadian dollar.
In a speech in Calgary, Carney dismissed the idea put forth by the country’s main opposition party that the economy is suffering from so-called Dutch disease, wherein high commodity prices increase the value of the currency so much that the manufacturing sector is hollowed out.
Canada is a leading exporter of crude oil and its currency has been persistently strong against the U.S. dollar, hammering the competitiveness of manufacturers, many of which export primarily to the U.S. market.
“Most fundamentally, higher commodity prices are unambiguously good for Canada,” Carney said, predicting that sustained global demand for commodities would keep prices elevated.
Carney said any moves by the central bank to curb commodity-driven movements in the value of the Canadian dollar would be futile in the long term. Taking such steps would eventually lead to volatile inflation and employment, and an estimated 1 percent cut in output over five years, he said.
“The logic of Dutch Disease requires that we undo our successes in order to depreciate our currency,” Carney added. “Taken to its natural conclusion, this logic dictates that we shut down our oil sands, abandon our resource wealth, have high and variable inflation, run large fiscal deficits and diminish our financial sector.
“Such actions would surely weaken the Canadian dollar, but they would also weaken Canada,” he said.
The Canadian dollar touched its strongest level in nearly a year on Friday after Canadian employment data showed the economy added 34,300 jobs in August, more than expected. <CAD/>
Carney said commodities explain only about half of the currency’s appreciation over the past decade. The U.S. dollar’s weakness against many major currencies and Canada’s safe haven status for investors explain the rest, he said.
His comments contradicted those of Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the left-of-center New Democratic Party, who sparked harsh criticism from the Conservative government for arguing that rapidly increasing oil output is driving up the Canadian dollar and harming the manufacturing sector.
But on Friday the NDP downplayed any differences with the country’s top banker and said it agreed that the manufacturing decline was only partially due to the rising currency.
Instead, it highlighted Carney’s remarks on the need for more environmentally sustainable resource management.
“For all the sound and fury coming from the Conservatives, the fact is that today Mark Carney confirmed (that)... the failure to make polluters pay for the pollution they create is artificially driving up the value of the Canadian dollar and hurting our export industries,” said George Smith, a spokesman for Mulcair.
Dutch Disease originated as a term that was used to describe the decline of Holland’s manufacturing sector as the country’s currency rose after production from a large natural gas field hit full stride in the 1960s.
Carney pointed out that the decline of manufacturing in Canada has been part of a broad trend across the industrialized world. “Canada has not lost ground relative to other advanced economies,” he said.
In a news conference following the speech, the central bank chief did not back down from controversial remarks he made last month criticizing companies for being too cautious and sitting on piles of cash instead of investing it.
“I’m not pointing fingers at specific companies but the challenge is do we try to wait out ... an adjustment period that is going to go on for at least another five years, probably another decade in advanced economies. Are we going to lower our expectations in the face of that or are we going to deal with the things we can deal with?” he said.
“Individual companies, individuals will make those decisions but the better ones will get on it and already are getting on it.”
Carney did not directly address the issue of monetary policy in his speech after the bank held its key interest rate unchanged at 1 percent on Wednesday.
But he noted that even though the economy has added jobs there is still slack in the labor market, which is one of the reasons why policy is so accommodative.
Financial institutions expect the Bank of Canada to put off raising interest rates until the second quarter of 2013, according to an August 28 Reuters poll. <CA/POLL>
Writing by Louise Egan and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Peter Galloway