Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feds don't do happy dance over surplus

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OTTAWA -- The federal government recorded a rare budgetary surplus in June, but cautioned the result does not signal a major turning point in the battle to eliminate the deficit.

The Finance Department's monthly fiscal monitor showed a surplus of $158 million for the month after a $2.4-billion deficit in May.

But the department attributed the unusually large gap between the two months to timing factors that counted some of May's tax receipts in the following month, resulting in an outsized 10.1 per cent gain in June revenue, $2.1 billion more than in June last year.

A clearer picture of the government's fiscal position could be found in the results for the first quarter of the 2013-14 fiscal year, which showed a year-to-date deficit of $2.55 billion, only slightly better than the $2.8-billion shortfall posted at the same point last year.

"The financial results for the April-to-June 2013 period and recent economic developments suggest that the fiscal projection presented in Economic Action Plan 2013 is on track," the department said

The government estimated in the March budget the year's deficit would fall to $18.7 billion from the $25.9-billion shortfall recorded last year.

Despite what had been discouraging results at the start of the fiscal year, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty insisted last week he would meet the goal of fiscal balance in the 2015-16 fiscal year, meaning in two years.

TD senior economist Sonya Gulati said if the first-quarter numbers hold for the whole year, the federal deficit would come in at roughly $12 billion, well below the budget estimate.

For the government to significantly better its budget projections, the economy will need to improve markedly during the second half of 2013 and early into 2014.

Growth in the first half of the year has come at slightly below two per cent, better than the budget expectation of a 1.6 per cent pace for 2013. But nominal growth -- which includes inflation and is more directly tied to revenues -- has been weaker.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 B19

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