Canoeing in the (economic) wilderness

To pass the time this past week on a return flight from Toronto I stumbled upon Henry David Thoreau’s Canoeing in the wilderness in iBooks in the hopes of escaping for a few hours from the grind and worries of the day. (With my beloved Leafs and Oilers virtual train-wrecks, my Bills not making the playoffs, MLB spring training still a month away and having no interest in what’s happening in the lives of the Kardashians one is left with limited choices).   Written over 150 years ago it is amazing to conclude, upon as shallow a reflection as I can muster, the infallibility of human nature.  Times and circumstances may change but human nature, by its own nature, is a constant.

As we watch the new economic calamities befalling our economy over the last couple of months, some of which we wrote about recently (here) the following passage from Thoreau hit me like a slap in the face by my grandmother;

How much more respectable is the life of the solitary pioneer or settler in these, or any woods—having real difficulties, not of his own creation, drawing his subsistence directly from nature—than that of the helpless multitudes in the towns who depend on gratifying the extremely artificial wants of society and are thrown out of employment by hard times!

All Excerpts From

Henry David Thoreau. “Canoeing in the wilderness.” iBooks.

It appears I am not alone in my concerns as a Provincial Economic Forecast by TD Economics (click here) released January 26, 2015 projects that economic activity in Alberta will grind to a virtual standstill in 2015 due to depressed oil prices.

“This oil price downgrade is expected to translate into a sharp widening in economic performances between the major oil-producing provinces of Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan and other regions,” it said.

“Real GDP in Alberta (1.1 per cent) is projected to grow at roughly half the pace of the national average over the 2015-16 period, sliding down the growth charts from third place in December to ninth.

“Recently, a slew of downbeat operational plans coming out of the oilpatch have pointed to a pullback in hiring and lower capital outlays in the oilsands in 2015,” said the report. “Oil production is still on track to expand this year; however, housing activity will be adversely affected by the economic slowdown. Weaker employment and income gains are expected to translate into a downturn in the resale market, which is estimated to lead to a pullback in new residential construction activity.”

The slowdown in the Alberta economy will have ripple effects.

The TD report said employment will increase by only 0.2 per cent in 2015 and 0.8 per cent in 2016 following a nation-leading 3.0 per cent hike in 2014. The unemployment rate is expected to jump from 4.6 per cent in 2014 to 5.3 per cent in 2015 and 5.6 per cent in 2016.

Alberta led the nation with retail sales growth of 8.3 per cent in 2014 but that will drop to 1.0 per cent and 3.4 per cent in the next two years.

Alberta also led the country with a 12.6 per cent jump in housing starts in 2014, but TD is forecasting starts to drop by 17.4 per cent this year and by 3.6 per cent next year.

Existing home sales in the province, which are up by 8.6 per cent in 2014, are expected to fall by 20.8 per cent in 2015 and by 2.2 per cent in 2016, while the average home price will fall by 3.5 per cent this year and by 1.3 per cent next year following a gain of 5.2 per cent in 2014.