Business

Mortgage interest still driving inflation, as overall rate nudges up to 2.9%

Canada's inflation rate went up slightly in March compared to February, with Statistics Canada pointing out gasoline prices are partly behind the increase, along with shelter costs such as mortgage interest rates and rent.

Year-over-year inflation is up slightly but dropped when excluding gasoline prices

The silhouette of a man pumping gas is shown.
Gasoline prices contributed the most to the March inflation rate, according to Statistics Canada. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Canada's inflation rate went up slightly in March compared to February, with Statistics Canada pointing out gasoline prices are partly behind the increase.

The federal agency's consumer price index for March 2024 saw a 2.9 per cent increase compared to the year before.

In February, that measure was at 2.8 per cent, so while March saw an increase in inflation, the situation would be different if often-volatile gasoline prices are excluded from the calculation.

According to Statistics Canada, without gasoline prices, inflation actually went down slightly in March. Economists such as Pedro Antunes point out that "core" inflation, which strips out some of the more volatile and irregular prices, seems to be weaker than expected.

"That's definitely good news," said Antunes, chief economist with the Conference Board of Canada, who also pointed out that many inflation numbers are now getting within the Bank of Canada's targets.

Canada's central bank had been increasing interest rates since March 2022, with 10 rate hikes in less than two years.

Earlier this month, Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem said that cutting interest rates in June is "within the realm of possibilities," but that the central bank needed to see a sustained slowdown in inflation before cutting rates.

WATCH | Renters in Toronto on what inflation is doing to them: 

Her landlord sold her apartment. Her new unit is the same size — and $700 more a month

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CBC News asked renters in Toronto's Liberty Village what they think of renting in Canada's biggest city.

Shelter costs up, clothing costs down

The inflation rate for services, such as air transportation, was up by 4.5 per cent. But goods — the items consumers and businesses purchase, generally speaking — was up at a far lower rate of 1.1 per cent.

Food prices rose three per cent compared with a year ago, while prices for clothing and footwear fell 2.7 per cent. Prices for household operations, furnishings and equipment dropped 2.3 per cent.

The cost to stay sheltered in Canada pushed the consumer price index upward as well, with Statistics Canada noting it "continued to apply upward pressure in March," with both the cost of mortgage interest and rent contributing the most to the difference in inflation between March 2023 and 2024.

Shelter prices went up by 6.5 per cent in March compared to the year before, which was the same rate as February. Rent was up by 8.5 per cent year over year.

Antunes pointed out that rent costs may be seeing delayed increases compared to housing prices, which shot up at the height of the pandemic.

"Since interest rates have come up, home prices have settled. But I think rent prices in some respects are catching up to the fact that the cost of housing is so high for everyone these days," said Antunes.

A bald man in rectangular glasses looks into the camera on a video call.
Economist Pedro Antunes says there's 'good news' in today's inflation numbers. (CBC)

The cost to replace a home, which Statistics Canada calls the "homeowners' replacement cost index," declined in both February and March 2024 compared to the year before; this is related to the price of new homes.

However, the cost to carry a mortgage — essentially, interest charges — was up substantially, at 25.4 per cent in March 2024 compared to March 2023.

Mortgage interest rates have continued to show large increases in the consumer price index, as Canadians gradually renew mortgages in a higher interest rate environment than several years ago.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anis Heydari

Senior Reporter

Anis Heydari is a senior business reporter at CBC News. Prior to that, he was on the founding team of CBC Radio's "The Cost of Living" and has also reported for NPR's "The Indicator from Planet Money." He's lived and worked in Edmonton, Edinburgh, southwestern Ontario and Toronto, and is currently based in Calgary. Email him at anis@cbc.ca.

With files from the CBC's Nisha Patel and The Canadian Press

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