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Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Economic activity has slowly and steadily grown since April of 2020.
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The Canadian economy posted its worst showing on record in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, shutting down businesses and putting millions out of work.

Statistics Canada says real gross domestic product shrank 5.4 per cent in 2020, the steepest annual decline since comparable data was first recorded in 1961.

The drop for the year was due to the shutdown of large swaths of the economy in March and April during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that crushed the economy.

Since then, economic activity has slowly and steadily grown.

Statistics Canada says the economy grew at an annualized rate of 9.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, down from an annualized growth rate of 40.6 per cent in the third quarter.

That was higher than expected, with the average economist estimate at 7.5 per cent, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

However, despite the better-than-expected result for the quarter as a whole, December eked out a 0.1 per cent increase, which followed a 0.8 per cent increase in November.

Statistics Canada noted that total economic activity in December was about three per cent below the pre-pandemic level in February 2020.

Looking ahead to January, Statistics Canada said its early estimate was for growth in the economy of 0.5 per cent. 

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld wrote in a note that the early January figure should set aside fears of an outright downturn in the first quarter.

Statistics Canada said wholesale trade, manufacturing and construction sectors led the increase, while retail trade fell to start the year.

BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said the economy soldiered through second-wave restrictions better than anticipated, and may signal a better-than-anticipated quarter, and potentially year overall.

"Look for new growth drivers to kick into gear as the economy re-opens in stages through this year, leading to roughly (six-per-cent) growth  — a nice mirror image to last year's deep dive," he wrote in a note.

"It's not precisely a V-shaped recovery, but it's very close."

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