The outlook for the loonie in 2023 largely depends on commodity prices, how the U.S. dollar fares, and whether central banks are successful in avoiding a major recession, experts said.
The Canadian dollar recently rose to its highest level in more than two months against the U.S. dollar, which gained strength Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report.
However, analysts are predicting some further weakness in the U.S. dollar in 2023. CIBC, in a Jan. 23 report, said the currency will likely weaken in 2023, which may result in Canadian dollar strength in later quarters.
Analysts at several major Canadian banks predict the loonie will be worth almost 77 cents US by the end of 2023, while it’s currently closer to 75 cents US.
But not everyone agrees. Kevin Burkett, portfolio manager at Victoria-based Burkett Asset Management, doesn’t think the U.S. dollar will flag, while he sees commodities, a big driver of the loonie, weakening in 2023.
In 2022, the loonie’s key drivers — interest rates and commodities — were highly volatile, Burkett said. But the dollar itself didn’t swing because its main counterpart, the U.S. dollar, was seeing similar moves, especially when it came to the direction and pace of interest rates.
But if economic conditions and policy decisions between the two countries begin to diverge in 2023, that could affect the exchange rate, Burkett said.
"I see Canada in a weaker position to start the year than the US, both because of the commodities outlook and because I think the impact of higher interest rates is much more significant in Canada than it is in the U.S.," Burkett said.
Michael Greenberg, senior vice-president and portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton Investment Solutions, said the consumer in Canada is a little weaker relative to the U.S. consumer due to debt levels and the housing market, making us more sensitive to interest rates.
Greenberg said if an economic downturn provoked by central banks’ policies is harsher than expected or hoped for, that would weaken the loonie, while a soft landing for the economy would mean strength for the Canadian dollar.
The loonie held up relatively well against most of its international peers for most of last year, Greenberg said.
"We held up much better than the euro and the yen, but ... we didn't hold up as well versus the U.S. dollar," he said.
In the last quarter, there was a bit of a shift, he said, when it became clear inflation had peaked after months of aggressive interest rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada, which were ahead of other countries with their tightening. Other markets like Japan and Europe shifted their own policies to fight inflation, and their currencies took off, Greenberg said.
Meanwhile, the strong commodity prices that had bolstered the loonie earlier in 2023 started to weaken, he said.
The Canadian dollar’s outlook for the year is highly contingent on external developments, with commodity prices and valuation potential positives for the dollar, Scotiabank said in a report early January.
The bank said while U.S. dollar weakness later in the year would be a boost for the loonie, the Canadian dollar is expected to underperform against many of its G10 peers this year.
Greenberg thinks the Canadian dollar will be relatively rangebound in 2023, with a little more economic certainty removing some of the risk.
"We should expect maybe a little bit less volatility," he said, adding that while investors may still have some opportunity to profit from the loonie's highs and lows, consumers making decisions about shopping or travelling in the U.S. shouldn't worry too much about the currency making big moves throughout the year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.
Rosa Saba, The Canadian Press