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The U.S. and Canadian economies have a long history of tracking each other. At least they did. At a time when the U.S. economy is churning out strong economic data, low unemployment, and jobs growth, the Canadian economy has been doing the opposite. While many economists do not believe Canada will enter a recession in 2020, there is a large pool of data to suggest the Canadian economy is on the brink of a recession. Which would have a material impact on Canadian stocks.

Is Canada’s Economy Strong?

How could the Canadian economy be heading toward a recession when November gross domestic product (GDP) numbers surprised Bay Street? Canada’s economy did post a surprise gain in November, growing 0.1%. This came after a 0.1% decline in October. We were all expecting the Canadian economy to be flat in November. But before anyone gets too excited, that 0.1% growth is being attributed to a sharp increase in utility costs that came as a result of a cold snap.

Overall, the Canadian economy is still expected to be weak in the fourth quarter. The Bank of Canada recently cut its fourth quarter annualized growth forecast to 0.3% from its lofty 1.3% projections in October. To that end, the central bank held its overnight lending rate at 1.75% but said it was open to a future cut if GDP growth remains sluggish.

How Does This Affect the Average Canadian?

The Canadian economy is not exactly as robust as it could be, especially when you consider the record spending and debt coming out of Ottawa. And this is pushing the average Canadian to the brink.

On the plus side, the average income in Canada increased by 2.8% over two years, but the income for the top earners advanced by 5%. This is not a new trend. Since the 1980s, the majority of Canadian wages have either stagnated or dropped. The top one percent of earners meanwhile have seen their incomes increase significantly.

Right now, Canadian consumers owe $1.76 for every $1 of disposable income and they spend a record 15% to service their debt. That will change when the Bank of Canada gets back to raising interest rates.

According to some of the latest figures, the median debt for Canadian consumers hit $71,300 in the first quarter of 2019; a 2.6% increase year-over-year. Total consumer debt that includes mortgages ballooned to $1.90 trillion in 2019 from $1.82 trillion in 2018. That debt has resulted in Canadians taking more time to pay their auto and bank loans.

Rising debt and stagnant wages suggest the Canadian economy is going to experience a big slowdown and enter a recession.

What about Canada’s Corporate Debt?

Just like Canadian consumers, Canadian corporations are having a difficult time. In fact, Canadian companies are hitting record levels of debt, with the country’s real estate, oil and gas, and manufacturing industries leading the way.

How does our corporate debt compare with the rest of the world? Canada’s non-financial corporate debt is even high when you compare it to your international peers. Out non-financial debt-to-GDP ratio is 118.7%; third among G20 countries. Only China and France have higher debt-to-GDP ratios at 154.5% and 154.1% respectively.

What does all of this mean? Canada’s corporate debt could get much worse if the country’s economy slows down. They won’t be able to rely on debt-strapped Canadians to bail them out. As a result, corporate indebtedness could result in a widening of corporate bond spreads and increased delinquency rates. Which would exacerbate the severity of a recession.

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