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Manitoba inflation highest in Canada

Biggest month-to-month price increases, too

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The cost of living in Manitoba increased at the fastest pace in the country between March last year and March this year, Statistics Canada said.

The agency said Manitoba's annual inflation rate in March was 2.3 per cent, by far the highest annual rate in the country and more than double Canada's 1.0 rate.

Higher prices at the gas pump were singled out as one of the biggest contributors to rising consumer prices in Manitoba. Statistics Canada said they increased 4.9 per cent during the 12-month period.

Other notable contributors were passenger-vehicle registration fees (up 29.4 per cent) and home and mortgage insurance (up 13.6 per cent).

Those two items were also significant contributors to February's high annual inflation rate of 2.2 per cent in Manitoba. Those items were costlier than a year earlier due to the Selinger government's decision in last year's provincial budget to boost vehicle registration fees $35 and extend the provincial sales tax to include a number of previously exempt items, including home and mortgage insurance.

In addition to having the highest annual inflation rate in March, Manitoba had the biggest month-to-month increase in consumer prices at 0.6 per cent, triple the national average.

Though inflation is an issue in Manitoba, analysts said Canadian consumers can expect only moderate, if any, price increases across the broad spectrum of goods and services in the foreseeable future.

Canada's annual inflation rate fell to 1.0 per cent in March and the month-to-month rise was a tame 0.2 per cent. That follows a wild February that saw the annual rate climb 0.7 points and prices jump 1.2 per cent in one month.

But that was an aberration caused by a sharp rise in gasoline prices. Gas prices reversed course in March and have fallen further still so far in April, pointing to an even lower rate when the numbers come out next month.

"Canadian inflation is showing its true colours again -- bland," said Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter. "Prices in almost all regions and almost all categories are currently running at well below a two per cent annual pace, and the near-term outlook is lower. We remain in a world where both growth and inflation are scrambling to stay above one per cent."

TD Bank economist Francis Fong called the lack of inflationary pressure par for the course, given the anemic Canadian economy, which grew less than one per cent in the last six months of 2012 and appears to have picked up only modestly so far in 2013.

Fong said he expects inflation to remain in the slow lane for some time but not to veer into deflationary territory, which would concern the Bank of Canada. "We do not expect the first hike in the overnight rate to occur until the end of next year," he said.

In Tuesday's update on the economy, the Bank of Canada said the weak price pressures are consistent with excess production capacity in the economy, meaning producers have little leverage to push for higher returns.

It also cited the increased presence of big-box stores in Canada, including the recent arrival of U.S. giant Target, as well as growth in online and cross-border shopping.

It predicted inflation would remain near one per cent through much of 2013 and only return to the bank's preferred two per cent target in mid-2015.

The key contributor to March's lower rate was a 0.3 per cent decline in the price of gasoline from a year ago, following February's 3.9 per cent increase. Statistics Canada said gasoline prices declined in seven of the 10 provinces.

Overall, six of the eight major components that go into the inflation rate rose, but all by less than two per cent. As a result, core inflation, which excludes volatile items such as gasoline and fresh fruit, also remained in check, staying unchanged at 1.4 per cent.

-- staff / Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 B9

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