Carney says he will be clear about interest rate hikes to stem debt problems

NANAIMO, B.C. - Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is promising that he will be transparent about any moves the bank makes to raise interest rates in the future.

NANAIMO, B.C. – Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is promising that he will be transparent about any moves the bank makes to raise interest rates in the future.

In a speech delivered in Nanaimo, B.C., Carney said he intends to ensure that Canadians know exactly what the bank is doing and why.

“If we were to lean against emerging imbalances in household debt, we would clearly declare we are doing so and indicate how long we expect it would take for inflation to return to the two per cent target,” he said in notes released in Ottawa.

It was unclear whether Carney was setting the grounds for a policy shift, but the example he chose was telling in that it targeted the one aspect of the economy that he has described as Canada’s top domestic vulnerability.

It is unusual for the bank governor to speculate, even on a hypothetical situation. And in the past, he has said the federal government was the principal agent for discouraging Canadians against taking on bigger mortgages than they can realistically afford.

Earlier in the day, Statistics Canada revised its data on family finances showing that household market debt had risen to a record 163 per cent of disposable income, well above the 152 per cent previously reported using a less focused measure.

The federal government moved for a fourth time to curtain mortgage lending in August, but some economists argue that for policy to work long term, interest rates must rise. The bank has kept its trend-setting policy rate at one per cent since September 2010, which has lead to among the lowest borrowing costs in the country’s history.

In conclusion to his speech, Carney again underlined his intentions:

“The bank will take whatever action is appropriate to achieve the two per cent CPI inflation target over the medium term,” he said.

“That certainty is our contribution to ensuring that Canadians can invest and plan with confidence.”

However, throughout the speech, Carney lamented that uncertainty about the global economy and the intentions of governments were strangling the recovery by scaring off retail spending and business investment.

That is even true in Canada, he says, where conditions are much more stable and businesses have reasons to be confident the financial system will function even if times get tough.

Invoking Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression era inaugural address that the only thing to fear was fear itself, Carney said Canadians need to make sure they are not letting uncertainty stand in the way of making good business decisions and compounding the problem.

“What we face now is better described as uncertainty rather than fear,” he said. “Nevertheless, the spirit of FDR’s comment applies — we must take care not to allow uncertainty to dominate our actions, letting profitable opportunities slip away and, more generally, compounding the very real, but still manageable, challenges facing the global economy.”

Canadians can’t save the euro currency, or the United States from going over a fiscal cliff, but the country has it within its power to make decisions that improve productivity and take advantage of the opportunities offered by emerging markets, Carney said.

Carney urged European policy-makers to act quickly and decisively to diminish uncertainty by setting in place a realistic three-to-five-year plan for reforming the eurozone, including creating a banking union and closer fiscal union.

And U.S. politicians must act to avoid the fiscal cliff in 2013, when trillions of dollars in tax increases and automatic spending cuts would automatically be triggered if policy-makers don’t reach a settlement. Without action, the U.S. economy would take a hit amounting to roughly four per cent of gross domestic product, Carney said.

“If authorities do not change these provisions, this massive fiscal drag will likely push the U.S. economy back into recession next year,” he warned. “That is not what we expect, but like others, we cannot be sure.”