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No guarantee rates will stay low, Carney warns

No guarantee rates will stay low, Carney warns

Paul Vieira, Financial Post

OTTAWA -- Governments will be required to undertake "concerted" and "sharp" efforts to restore fiscal sustainability once a market-led recovery is assured, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney said Monday.

This will particularly apply to countries with ageing populations and "unsustainable entitlement programs," he said in a speech to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

While Mr. Carney was speaking about the need of governments to get their fiscal houses in order in the post-crisis landscape, the central banker also went to some lengths to reiterate that the central bank's pledge to keep interest rates at 0.25% until the end of June 2010 is "conditional" on meeting inflation targets. He told reporters afterward it would be unwise to assume current rates are "normal."

"It is an expectation, not a promise," Mr. Carney said in his remarks.

In recent weeks, analysts have debated whether the bank may move before that June 2010 deadline to raise rates given the strength in the economic rebound; or whether it may extend its pledge to keep a lid on growth in the Canadian currency, which it identifies as a risk to growth.

His speech touched on familiar ground, such as the risk of the rising loonie, but also attempted to set the landscape for the "hand off" from government-led growth to the private-sector-led expansion. His remarks suggested that stimuli - whether through government spending or low interest rates - should be kept in place "until the recovery is assured."

When that recovery is assured, certain countries have much work to do to clean up their public finances, Mr. Carney indicated. He did not cite specific countries in his remarks, but jurisdictions that fall under this category could include the United States and western Europe.

"Once the recovery is assured, concerted efforts will be necessary in most economies to restore fiscal sustainability," he said, adding it would be "particularly sharp" for some countries. "The fiscal cost of arresting the downfall will need to be first contained and then repaid over many years."

In Canada, the federal government has set out a framework under which it would remain in a deficit position until at least the 2014-15 fiscal year. But, the Conservative government said it would be able to reduce the amount of red ink in the coming years through cost controls and better growth.

More difficult decisions await legislators in Washington, which is recording shortfalls in the trillion-dollar range. Analysts warn of the need for U.S. legislators to cut spending and raise taxes, which could further keep U.S. consumers timid and undermine global growth.

Without aggressive efforts to keep the U.S. debt in check, bond investors will demand fatter yields that, in turn, could drive up inflation and weaken the U.S. currency.

But some governments are indicating they are prepared to take the steps Mr. Carney is calling for. Alistair Darling, Britain's finance minister, said Monday the country will make annual budget deficit reduction a legal commitment in order to bind future governments to getting the national debt down.

"Policy makers will have to act deftly to maintain stimulus long enough for private demand to take up the burden of growth, but not too long to undermine confidence in and the sustainability of that growth," Mr. Carney said. "The aftermath of the crisis will make considerable demands on structural policies in all countries, including Canada."

Among the structural changes in Canada would be the need for businesses to rely more on emerging markets as a source of demand as open access to the U.S. market becomes "less valuable," Mr. Carney said.

Afterward, he told reporters the U.S. economy would not be as "dominant" because that economy is going through a multiyear adjustment.

Source: Prolink