August 5, 2016 / 7:52 PM / a year ago

Dismal data adds to doubts about Bank of Canada export forecast

OTTAWA, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Another month of bleak Canadian trade data in June has fueled concerns the central bank has been too optimistic about non-energy exports helping to revive the country’s struggling economy, economists said on Friday.

The situation is not bad enough to spur additional rate cuts, but could soon prompt a more cautious tone from the Bank of Canada, they said in interviews.

“It will give the bank pause,” said Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada.

“I think the bank is going to express caution, disappointment with the trade number, but probably also imply that they are going to continue to monitor the data.”

Canada’s second-quarter trade deficit hit a record, with exports tumbling 4.7 percent, their biggest decline since 2009, data showed on Friday. Export growth has been weak after a strong gain in January. A 0.6 percent rise in June exports came largely due to a jump in prices, with volumes down 1.4 percent.

While the figures are prone to revisions and May’s wildfires in Alberta made it difficult to determine how the economy is performing, economists said the data raise a red flag.

The central bank is counting on an uptick in non-energy exports for the economy to meet its growth projections, but those shipments were down 0.4 percent in June.

“If we get another couple months of this type of weakness, you would have to expect the bank needs to be a little more forthright in their assessment,” said David Tulk, chief Canada macro strategist at TD Securities.

A more dour tone would likely weigh on the currency and short-term rates. The Canadian dollar weakened sharply against the greenback after Friday’s data and overnight index swaps implied higher odds of a rate cut later this year.

Though economists largely expect the bank to hold steady, Tulk said there is a higher probability that the next move could be a cut than a hike. The bank eased twice last year as oil prices collapsed.

Last month the bank revised down its forecast of how much exports would contribute to growth in 2016, though it expects gains in 2017 and 2018.

The central bank is not the only one puzzling over weak exports, said Peter Hall, chief economist at Export Development Canada, noting that the drawdown in U.S. inventories might be a reason.

“This is something that is perplexing the economics community.”

$1 = 1.3021 Canadian dollars Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Richard Chang

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