Family visits the Royal B.C. Museum as it reopens after pandemic closure, July 7, 2020. B.C.’s economic forecasts depend on how quickly business and customers have confidence to recover activities and spending. (B.C. government)

B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit could go deeper than $12.5 billion

Scenarios suggest $15 billion or ‘more optimistic’ $10 billion

The B.C. government’s deficit due to coronavirus economic effects has been estimated at $12.5 billion, but it could be 20 or even 30 per cent per cent worse than that, Moody’s Investor Services calculates.

Moody’s issued an update July 20 after B.C. Finance Minister Carole James released the province’s economic outlook, with a mid-range scenario for steep decline and recovery in 2021. This “base case” scenario of a deficit equal to 23 per cent of provincial revenue is “credit negative” but does not affect B.C.’s “AAA stable” credit rating, Moody’s said in a statement.

The $12.5 billion deficit is the middle of three projections, along with a “less optimistic” and “more optimistic” outlook, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic persists and how well business and employment adapt and recover.

“In addition to its main economic and fiscal scenario, the province presented two alternative scenarios for faster or slower economic recovery,” Moody’s said. “Although the province does not present an estimate of the fiscal effects of its alternative scenarios, we forecast that they could result in a 20-30 per cent improvement or deterioration relative to the projected $12.5 billion 2020-21 deficit.”

Using the more cautious 20 per cent estimate, the “less optimistic” scenario yields a one-year deficit of $15 billion, while the “more optimistic” deficit would be $10 billion.

The massive deficits triggered by COVID-19 have hit credit ratings. In March, Moody’s downgraded Alberta’s credit rating for the second time in four months, from AA to AA Low on the petroleum-dependent province’s long-term debt.

And in June, Fitch Ratings downgraded Canada’s credit rating from AAA to AA+, with Canada’s expected deficit leading industrialized countries at $343 billion and its overall debt set to reach the $1 trillion mark.

RELATED: B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5B as spending soars

RELATED: $343 billion deficit seen in Canada fiscal ‘snapshot’

B.C. has changed its balanced budget legislation to permit three years of deficits, and Moody’s notes that the Bank of Canada commitment to keep interest rates a historic lows will ease the burden of beginning to repay the fast-accumulating debt.

B.C.’s “base case” economic scenario projects a 36.4 per cent drop in corporate profits compared to the February 2020 budget, a 15.9 per cent drop in retail sales and a 27.6 per cent decline in housing sales. All are key tax revenue sources for the province.

Under the “less optimistic” scenario, corporate profits drop 45.3 per cent, retail sales would be down 19.6 per cent and housing sales would be down 36.2 per cent. The “more optimistic” scenario is a 25.6 per cent drop in corporate profits, 9.6 per cent lower retail sales and 14 per cent lower housing sales.

“If local and global health conditions worsen significantly, households and businesses may remain cautious in their decisions for longer, and international trade may be further disrupted,” the finance ministry said in its July 14 economic and fiscal scenario document.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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