B.C. employment slips slightly in October

Employment softened for a fourth straight month in October, cooling B.C.’s labour market to a simmer following a smoking-hot first half. Nonetheless, conditions remained tight with the lowest unemployment rate in the country and high labour force participation.

Extending a recent pattern, average employment eased 0.2%. That said, full-time employment rose for a second straight month, which largely offset a decline in part-time work, pointing to improvement in job quality and more hours worked in the economy. Year-over-year employment growth remained strongest among provinces at 2.7%, while year-to-date growth was a robust 3.7%, representing 88,200 jobs. The latter compared with a 1.8% national gain.  Among industries, there were a few notable changes from September despite the flat headline number. Employment in agriculture rose 10%, while other resource extraction declined 5.6% and construction rose 2.6%. Changes in service-sector employment were generally insignificant. Strong household demand, housing construction and export-oriented growth have generated broad growth among industries over the past year.

Unemployment remains lowest in the country at 4.9% and is at its lowest levels since 2008.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Commerce has issued its final tariff determinations on imports of Canadian lumber and other wood products.

Tariffs were set below preliminary duties from earlier this year but remained substantial, averaging near 21%, with higher duties on larger industry leaders, particularly in B.C. The duties will come into effect in late December, assuming the United States International Trade Commission makes a determination of injury. Duties were not a surprise, underscore protectionist sentiment in the U.S. and suggest a slow resolution to the ongoing softwood lumber dispute. While duties are generally negative for Canadian producers and have effectively eliminated Canada’s exchange rate advantage, they haven’t been nearly as harmful as anticipated.

The U.S. is unable to supply domestic demand on its own. Tariffs are being absorbed by the end-consumer and the building industry rather than by producers through higher prices.

The Random Lengths framing lumber composite price index surged 23% from the beginning of the year to $438 per 1,000 board feet in October in anticipation of tariffs. More price gains are likely as demand ramps up with rebuilding efforts following the coastal hurricanes. •

Bryan Yu is deputy chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.