The world has changed dramatically in the last several months. Barack Obama has taken office, the U.S. has announced revisions to their stimulus plans and even Canadian parliament has started to think of stimulus. As normal everyday citizens of the multi-polar world where do we fit in?
Canada has been fortunate on many levels in the face of tremenduous global financial upheaval and ruin. Our conservative ways have shielded many of our companies from the devastation that we have read about in the global headlines. It appears that the single greatest fear for our economy is what will happen to our trading partners, and in particular our neighbours to the south. Canadian unemployment is now expected to hit 9% from today’s near record low 7.2%. The question is where will the jobs be shed? Auto workers will likely avoid the devastating layoffs that the early 80’s brought them. Manufacturing as a sector will likely not weather the storm as well as the auto industry given the lack of “bail out” for the broader base. The western provinces are now feeling the crunch as the price of oil has fallen dramatically over the past six months. There is no question that the oil business does not have the muscle it did a short time ago. Shedding tears for the oil rich provinces is a waste of time since there is no question that the current low cost will spike again before too long. Such a increase will bring with it jobs and prosperity.
I myself am a IT professional working in the enterprise software space. I have worked in the field for close to 10 years. Many in the workforce will remember the painful early 2000’s job market and I must admit that I am hopeful today we are looking at something very different. As an experienced Canadian IT professional I have spent the vast majority of my time working on U.S. clients. This has allowed me the opportunity to get a close look at the true U.S. economy. While we are more conservative and that has saved us in the financial meltdown, it has also created incredible opportunities in the post meltdown era. Canadian productivty has not begun to benefit from technology improvements nearly as much as our southern neighbours. As a result Canadian corporations not only have the funds but can also implement programs at a lower cost than only half a year ago. In the late 90’s the chartered banks had the chance to buy US banks at bargain basement prices. They never capitalized on that option and in the end pursued a lower risk slower expansion. Could now be the right time for giants such as RBC to both improve productivity and expand their U.S. footprint? Or maybe a harder hit CIBC needs to find ways to lure back investors after the crushing mortgage backed securities losses they experienced? But of course the issues are that coffers are available but understandably gatekeepers continue to hesitant.
The Crystal Ball
Inflation numbers for January in Canada where lower than expected and interest rates will likely continue to slide below even the record lows we enjoy today (3% prime). Will the banks follow suite with a lower rate? The answer is likely yes or else risk another public uproar. So the Canadian consumer will continue to pick up the slack (hopefully) and spend our way out of recession. That will require that jobs and lower prices in Canada continue to be competitive. Although, if you really want a deal you will still have to engage in cross border shopping. Regardless, of interest and unemployment rates, job creation is the most important factor for consumer confidence. If the bright lights in the Canadian economy leverage the current market uncertainty to secure top talent and expand their industry footprints we will be able to navigate the storm very well. Only posterity will tell if now really is the right time to begin less conservative plans for expansion and growth. A path towards innovation and improved productivity can help solidify Canada and its workforce as strong global leaders.