Statistics Canada building and signs are pictured in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Statistics Canada is expected to report that the consumer price index decreased in April, the first full month the economy was gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Annual inflation rate turned negative in April, Statistics Canada reports

It was the first year-over-year decline in the CPI since September 2009

Canada’s inflation rate turned negative in April as the economy came to a standstill in the first full month of the pandemic as part of a spending shift that a top central banker says may signal further changes in consumption patterns post-COVID-19.

Statistics Canada said Wednesday the consumer price index for April fell 0.2 per cent compared with a year ago, the first year-over-year decline since September 2009.

The reading compared with a year-over-year increase of 0.9 per cent in March, when the pandemic first started to affect the broader economy.

The drop in inflation in April was fuelled by a 39.3 per cent plunge in gasoline prices the largest year-over-year decline on record. Excluding energy, Statistics Canada said CPI rose 1.6 per cent.

The price changes helped paint a portrait of what shifted last month as the pandemic drove demand for some goods and services over others.

When prices drop, consumers may start to put off buying things now in hopes of paying less in the future. When that happens, businesses can be hurt, making the economy even worse.

In an afternoon speech, Bank of Canada deputy governor Timothy Lane said many of the changes will reverse as restrictions are eased and businesses reopen, but warned of “persistent price effects” for different products and services and further changes in consumption patterns.

The central bank expects downward pressure on inflation even once restrictions have eased.

“Even if the economy as a whole bounces back quickly when the shutdown is eased, some sectors may be permanently affected,” Lane says in his speech, citing “lasting effect on travel of all kinds” and the “long-term prospects for oil demand and prices.”

Prices have moved higher in recent weeks, TD Bank senior economist James Marple wrote in a report, suggesting “the biggest of the price declines are likely in the rear-view mirror.”

Household cleaning products increased on a monthly basis by 4.6 per cent, while toilet paper fuelled an increase in the “paper supplies” category by six per cent, the largest monthly increase for that index on record.

Travel and accommodation prices fell 9.8 per cent on a yearly basis in April, the largest decline since 2011 as public health restrictions limited travel to and within Canada, the agency said.

READ MORE: Feds expand criteria for emergency loans to include family businesses, contractors

Statistics Canada said there were notable declines in locations near major tourist attractions, including Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains.

Food prices for rice, eggs and margarine posted “significant increases,” the agency said, coinciding with higher demand for non-perishable products as consumers were encouraged to limit shopping trips.

Prices for pork and beef increased by nine and 8.5 per cent, respectively, compared with April 2019. The change was due to a boost in sales and supply issues, including a slowdown in cross-border shipping and production cuts or temporary closures of Canadian meat processing plants, Statistics Canada said.

Lane says there is an expectation among Canadian firms of a “return to domestic manufacturing” post-pandemic.

“They expect supply chains to shrink and diversify and essential health products to be produced domestically,” he said in the prepared text of his speech. “Supply chain disruptions imply a loss of access to some markets, and consumers would likely pay more for goods and services.”

The average of Canada’s three measures for core inflation, which are considered better gauges of underlying price pressures and closely tracked by the Bank of Canada, was 1.8 per cent year-over-year.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes wrote in a note that the central bank will likely “look through the deflationary print” because the it didn’t reflect of the pricing environment for consumers.

“Nevertheless, with the economy likely still underperforming if and when further restrictions are lifted, there will be an underlying drag on inflation that central bankers will need to offset with additional monetary easing,” Mendes writes.

In a separate report, Statistics Canada said wholesale sales fell 2.2 per cent to $63.9 billion in March.

The overall drop came as the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and accessories subsector plunged 21.2 per cent, the largest monthly percentage drop since January 2009. Excluding the subsector, wholesale sales rose 2.1 per cent.

In volume terms, wholesale sales dropped 2.8 per cent.

Jordan Press and Craig Wong, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canadaeconomy

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATE: Cops still on scene hours after dump truck, cyclist collide on Harvey Avenue

The woman sustained injuries to one of her legs, according to RCMP

Boaters asked to slow down, be respectful on regional lakes

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre also reminded boaters physical distancing still applies on the water

Filming to resume safely later in June: Okanagan Film Commission

Film commissioner Jon Summerland said they want to start filming again later in June

Kelowna RCMP investigate woman’s sudden death

Criminality is not suspected at this time, according to RCMP

Undisclosed video evidence comes to light in West Kelowna murder trial

‘They’ve disclosed hundreds of pieces of evidence. Why would this have gotten missed?’ - defence lawyer

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

Police seek help identifying person of interest in Salmon Arm arson investigation

A fire in a garage was extinguished but it is being treated as an arson.

Penticton Search and Rescue respond to six calls in less than a week

Two hikers rescued in early morning search near Greyback Lake latest in series of searches

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary rescinds all Grand Forks-area evacuation orders

Evacuation alerts for 1,136 Boundary properties remain in effect as officials monitor forecasts

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

In photos: Modified, yet traditional graduation gives Penticton graduates a sense of normalcy

Students around Penticton take part in pre-recorded graduation ceremonies

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

WATCH: Burned out car be gone thanks to Vernon dealership, ski resort

Bannister GM Vernon and SilverStar Mountain Resort team up in road cleanup

‘We either make a difference or we don’t’: Revelstoke teen leads protest in support of BLM

Revelstoke joined cities across the world protesting against racism and police brutality

Most Read