The Loonieâ€™s Stagnant Purchasing Power
When Ontarioâ€™s Premier recently complained that Canadaâ€™s petro-dollar undermines manufacturing exports, many economists tripped over each other to counter that a strong loonie benefits all Canadians through cheaper imports.
In theory, that makes sense. Incomes denominated in Canadian dollars should be worth more if each Canadian dollar buys more.
But itâ€™s not a theoretical question. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) measures the purchasing power of currencies in member countries.
The Exchange Rate vs. Purchasing Power Parity
(annual averages in U.S. cents)
The loonie has taken flight in financial markets, soaring from an annual average of 63.7 American cents in 2002 to 101.1 American cents in 2011.
Yet the OECD calculates that, in 2011, a Canadian dollar bought only as much in Canada as 81.3 American cents bought in the U.S. Strikingly, that ratio was exactly the same back in 2002. In other words, the loonieâ€™s ascent has delivered no apparent improvement in purchasing power.
When the Canadian dollar reached parity with the U.S. dollar in 2007, many commentators cautioned that it could take time for the savings to be passed through to Canadian consumers. However, the loonie has now been near parity for four of the past five years.
Having Canadaâ€™s exports priced at this less competitive exchange rate has pushed many exporters out of business or out of the country. Canadians have lost more than half a million manufacturing jobs since 2002, but are still waiting for the promised benefits of a high-flying loonie.