Canada in middle of growth spurt, to lead G7 in first half of 2011: OECD

Canada is like the average student in the poor class, not the brilliant student in an average class. But, as Charlie Sheen says, “winning!”

By The Associated Press

OTTAWA – A leading international think-tank says Canada will lead its peers in the G7 in economic growth during the first half of this year. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says the outlook for economic growth has brightened for all G7 countries, with the exception of Japan .

But the improvement has been most marked in Canada and to a lesser extent the United States.

“The outlook for growth today looks significantly better than it looked a few months back,” OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan said in a statement.

“Growth perspectives are higher all across the OECD area, and the recovery is becoming self-sustained, which means there will be less need for fiscal or monetary policy support.”

Canada is now expected to grow by 5.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, and 3.8 per cent in the current second quarter.

Much of that growth has come from the resources sector in Western Canada and continued strength in the housing market in most parts of the country.

Germany is the next strongest economy, with growth rates of 3.7 and 2.3 per cent in the two quarters.

Overall, the Paris-based organization says the G7 economies excluding Japan are set to grow at an annual rate of about three per cent in the first half of 2011, well above the organization’s previous forecast.

The growth estimates given by the OECD are the middle of a range, meaning the rates could be slightly lower or higher.

The new forecasts exclude Japan because of the uncertainty over the full cost of damage from last month’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The Canadian economy began the year with an impressive 0.5 per cent expansion in January that has set the stage for the strongest quarter in a year, according to Statistics Canada.

The performance was in line with market projections, but still was a mild surprise because many economists had worried of a possible payback after December’s equally robust 0.5 per cent gain in gross domestic product.

The strong back-to-back months put the economy on pace to grow by as much as 4.5 per cent in the first three months of the year, analysts have said. That’s two whole points more than the Bank of Canada’s now-dated estimate. At that growth rate, the pace of job creation should be high enough to continue pushing down the national unemployment rate, currently 7.8 per cent.

In the last year, the Canadian economy has created 322,000 jobs and has rebounded nicely from the 2008-2009 recession that battered the country’s manufacturing sector.

In some sectors of the economy, price pressures have been building, raising the prospect of higher interest rates down the road to fight inflationary pressures.

The next scheduled announcement on interest rates from the Bank of Canada is April 12, although the central bank isn’t expected to change its policy rate at that time from the current one per cent. Another announcement is scheduled for May 31, after the federal election.

Most economists believe Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will leave a hike on the sidelines until July