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Manitoba economy looking strong: RBC economist

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A strong housing sector, possible record automobile sales and growing exports to the U.S. have Manitoba positioned as one of the strongest economies in Canada through to the end of 2014, says Canada's biggest bank.

Robert Hogue, Toronto-based senior economist at RBC, predicts the Manitoba economy will churn out 2.5 per cent GDP growth this year, compared with 1.7 per cent for all of Canada, with only a slight slowing for 2014.

"The housing sector in Manitoba has been very robust over the last few years and this year it continues to be a major generator of economic activity. It's not just construction, there are other spinoffs, too. Think of retail with furniture. (Housing) is a big component of a relatively good economy that's growing at a cruising speed of 2.5 per cent," he said.

The continuing recovery of the U.S. housing sector also bodes well for Manitoba, as it will spur exports of lumber and other goods, he said.

Sales of new automobiles have been strong in North America of late and Hogue thinks after narrowly missing a record for new sales last year, a new high will be set this year.

Many people put off buying a new car or truck in the wake of the 2008 recession and now with the average age of vehicles nearing an all-time high, they're preparing for a major purchase.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand there," he said.

Manitoba's unemployment rate will continue to be well below the national average, too. Hogue said the bank's prediction for the province is 5.5 per cent this year, compared with 6.8 per cent nationally, with a slide to 5.1 per cent in 2014.

The health of the economy and the number of jobs available in the province continues to have a positive effect on immigration, both internationally and inter-provincially, he said.

"The natural flows are from areas where unemployment is higher, such as Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. The bigger part is international immigration, with more people coming to Manitoba from the Philippines and Eastern Europe," he said.

Hogue was in town Wednesday to attend a Manitoba Home Builders 'Association Housing Forum.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 B4

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