Recent tragic events in Japan follow a string of global catastrophes that could slow economic recovery in the short term, but should not push either the Canadian or global economies back into recession, according to some of Canada's top economists.
"Obviously horrible things have happened (in Japan) that will take some of the growth out of the economy for the next two quarters," said Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.
"Then people need to rebuild infrastructure, rail and housing and that will actually improve growth in the next four to six quarters."
Hodgson joined two major banks Thursday in projecting that the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and last week's earthquake and tsunami will conspire with a number of other global events — including uprisings in the Middle East and Europe's sovereign debt crisis — to decelerate the
global economic recovery.
"They will have a negative impact ... (but) we're certainly not returning to recession in any place," Hodgson said.
G7 countries, including Canada were set to meet in a teleconference Thursday night to discuss the economic impact of the disasters in Japan.
Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) economists said in a report that they had trimmed their forecast for global growth by a quarter point to 3.75 per cent as a result of recent events.
"Prior to Japan’s earthquake, we had been calling for global GDP growth this year of four per cent," they wrote.
"Until we see how the (Japanese) nuclear crisis plays out, it’s next to impossible to properly assess the full economic impact, but a rough guess would be that events in Japan could cut this year’s GDP growth by nearly a percentage point."
As a result, the bank doesn't expect an increase in the Bank of Canada's key overnight lending rate until at least this summer.
However, the effect on the Canadian economy will be minimal and short-lived as Canada stands to benefit from higher oil prices and Japan's rebuilding process, Paul Taylor, chief investment officer at BMO Harris Private Banking, said during a conference call Thursday.
There will be a short-term impact on the financial sector— where Canadian insurer Manulife (TSX:MFC) has taken a beating due to its exposure in Japan — as well as uranium producers, as governments around the world begins to rethink the use of nuclear energy.
However, many Canadian businesses, including lumber producers and engineering and construction firms, will see an increase in business during the rebuilding phase, he added.
"The Canadian economic impact, we expect to be quite limited," he said, adding that trade between Canada and Japan doesn't compare with Canada-U.S. trade.
"For us, it's only the secondary impact of Japan's effect on U.S. economic activity that were focused on," he said.
Meanwhile, his colleague, Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at U.S.-based subsidiary Harris Private Bank, said he was knocking down his U.S. growth forecast by a percentage point because of the crisis in Japan.
Japan's earthquake and nuclear disasters will likely reduce manufacturing output for several months, potentially creating shortages that could disrupt North American producers, such as automakers, that rely on Japan for parts.
General Motors said Thursday that it was suspending production at its Shreveport assembly plant in Louisiana next week due to a parts shortage resulting from the crisis in Japan, but so far its Canadian plants are operating normally, a spokesman said.
CIBC also cut its growth forecast for the U.S. growth by a tenth of a point, to 2.7 per cent, mostly due to the negative impact of oil price hikes and government spending cutbacks.
Among other things, CIBC senior economist Peter Buchanan noted in a report that surging gasoline prices raise questions about whether U.S. consumer spending can continue its increasingly healthy pace.
However, Buchanan believes that oil would have to reach US$160 a barrel to derail the economic recovery, a scenario he does not see playing out. After plunging in recent days, crude jumped $3.44 to settle at US$101.42 a barrel Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"Oil has risen dramatically before, only to crash back to earth, and there are still good reasons why history may repeat itself," Buchanan said.
Inventories in industrial countries were adequate when the Middle Eastern political pot began bubbling and OPEC, while it likes firm prices, has no interest in recession-inducing ones that crush demand.
Since Canada is one of the world's top dozen net exporters of oil and oil products, higher crude prices are a modest plus for the economy in the near term.
But beyond four to five quarters, the drag on the economies of its major trading partners means the bad more than cancels the good, and the level of GDP is actually lower than it would otherwise have been.