BMO Experts Look Ahead to 2008 with Economic and Market Analysis



    TORONTO, Dec. 19 /CNW/ - As the New Year approaches, BMO has assembled a
group of leading experts to summarize some of the biggest market and economic
trends they anticipate will take hold in 2008. This group of economists,
investment experts, dollar trading specialists and equity and debt market
analysts can also share insights on key developments that shaped 2007.

    
    Experts are available this week to provide outlooks for the:

    -   Economy
    -   Equity and debt markets
    -   Canadian dollar and foreign exchange

    Economic Outlook

    Doug Porter, Deputy Chief Economist, BMO Capital Markets, zeroes in on six
of the biggest themes expected to dominate in 2008:

    -   The U.S. Presidential election - The U.S. Presidential election will
        increasingly dominate market attention as the year progresses.
        Current polls suggest that the Democrats are well-positioned to
        take control of both sides of Congress, and possibly the Presidency
        as well. Given the large and seemingly sticky bilateral trade deficit
        with China (US$255 billion in the past year), protectionist rumblings
        aimed at that country could become louder. If the U.S. economy slips
        into recession next year - a distinct possibility, which would be the
        first election year downturn since 1980 - this would only strengthen
        the protectionist pressures.

    -   Possibility of a Canadian federal election - Canada may also face a
        federal election, potentially early in the New Year, with the
        minority government approaching its two-year anniversary in January.
        Economic issues are unlikely to be a major focus of the opposition
        parties, since unemployment is below 6 per cent, inflation is close
        to 2 per cent and the dollar remains near par. Instead, the
        environment may be a battleground, especially with the negotiations
        on climate control emerging from the Bali meetings likely to be a
        major focus in the year ahead.

    -   Leadership change at the Bank of Canada - The Bank of Canada will get
        a new governor at the start of February, as Mark Carney takes over
        from David Dodge after seven years at the helm. The new governor will
        be quickly faced with the challenge of a soft U.S. economy and a
        strong Canadian dollar on the one side, and a tight labour market and
        a hot housing market on the other side.

    -   Can growth in the rest of the world hold up in the face of slower
        U.S. activity? - The "decoupling" theory for the global economy will
        face a stiffer test in 2008. This year did not really give a proper
        test, as U.S. GDP growth was still reasonably healthy at more than
        2 per cent. A drop well below that pace would be much more of a
        challenge to the global economy, especially if much of that growth is
        due to rising exports. The good news is that the U.S. trade deficit
        may be poised to finally begin narrowing in a meaningful way, thanks
        to slower U.S. spending, stronger exports and a low US dollar.

    -   The Beijing Olympics - The Beijing Olympics will put an even brighter
        spotlight on China's remarkable ascent in the past decade. The
        question is whether the economy will face a post-games slowdown? A
        serious pullback would undercut commodity prices, and thus the
        Canadian dollar.

    -   U.S. Housing Market - U.S. adjustable-rate mortgage resets will crest
        in the early spring, which will likely coincide with the maximum
        pressure on the U.S. economy. After that point, U.S. housing is
        expected to eventually hit bottom, helping the economy to gradually
        stabilize and improve over the second half. This could also set the
        stage for a firming of the US dollar after a six-year stretch of
        almost continuous decline.

    Canadian Equity Market Outlook

    Ben Joyce, Managing Director, Portfolio Strategy, BMO Capital Markets, on
highlights of his recently published report entitled, "Riding the (Financial
Shock) Waves":

    -   Is the bull market over? Will 2008 be a mediocre year for stocks? -
        We are persuaded that the predicament is more a crisis of confidence
        in the financial system, similar to 1998, than a prelude to a
        recession and a bear market. North American stock markets pulled off
        a bungee jump in 1998, plunging 20-25 per cent in three months before
        staging an impressive recovery. Because of the difficulties in
        sorting out the subprime securitization issues, the current
        correction is evolving as shallower, but more prolonged. While
        central bank rhetoric remains hawkish, their actions have been
        accommodative, and we expect interest rates to fall below 4 per cent
        by early next year. This easing should help limit the economic
        fallout from the credit crunch to a global slowdown rather than a
        recession.

    -   What sectors should investors emphasize as 2008 begins to unfold? -
        As we head into 2008, we expect the following sectors to perform
        strongly: Auto Parts, Capital Goods (ex. Aerospace), Chemicals and
        Fertilizers, Golds, Integrated Oils and Refining, Media and
        Transports. In guarding against the potential for further structured
        product writedowns, we remain cautious on the banks. Persistent
        oversupply in North American markets also leads us to limit exposure
        to the natural gas sector.

    -   Small-cap performance next year versus large caps - Small cap stocks
        have performed well, although they lagged the large cap market
        slightly in 2004-2006. This year, small caps are flat to down. They
        are lagging more than 10 per cent behind the S&P/TSX 60 Index.
        Given our expectation of slowing economic growth over the coming
        quarters, history would suggest that small caps are unlikely to
        outperform until the economy begins to perk up again.

    -   Is the near-term risk in the commodity sector on the rise? - The
        resource sector faces risks from both cyclical weakness and cost
        pressures, particularly energy and base metals. With global leading
        economic indicators pointing to slower growth, the near-term risk in
        the commodity sector is on the rise.

    Canadian Equity Market Outlook

    Paul Taylor, Chief Investment Officer, BMO Harris Private Banking,
discusses trends in the equity market in 2008 and implications for investors:

    -   Focus portfolios on earnings visibility in 2008 (S&P/TSX earnings to
        disappoint) - Analyst expectations are not achievable in 2008. The
        bottom-up consensus forecast for earnings growth for the S&P/TSX
        index companies is approximately 14 per cent for 2008. This is not
        consistent with an economic environment where the U.S. Federal
        Reserve Board is committed to a series of interest rate eases aimed
        at ensuring that the U.S. economy does not dip into a consumer
        recession. It is much more likely that Canadian earnings will expand
        modestly, perhaps at a mid single-digit pace.

    -   Overweight Defensive Sectors - It would be surprising for the more
        economically sensitive sectors (such as Consumer Discretionary,
        Information Technology and Materials) to outperform in 2008. If the
        U.S. economy does slow meaningfully, as we predict, it is more likely
        that the non-cyclical Consumer Staples, Telecommunications and
        Utilities sectors will outperform. Our recommendation, therefore, is
        to de-emphasize portfolio beta, over-weighting low beta stocks.

    -   Focus on stock selection - regardless of the market environment,
        there will still be big winners - While overall market direction
        should reflect the modest earnings growth outlook, opportunity exists
        for firms with sustainable competitive positioning to meaningfully
        increase revenues and net income. Examples include firms such as Sino
        Forest (the largest supplier of wood products to mainland China),
        Potash Corp. (the world's leading potash producer), Urbana (a
        diversified portfolio comprised of holdings of the world's stock
        exchanges) and finning (one of the world's largest distributors of
        Caterpillar products).

    -   Overweight the Fertilizers - Expect renewed price acceleration for
        all fertilizer nutrients (phosphate, nitrogen and potash). This will
        occur as we begin 2008 with depleted fertilizer inventories, with
        higher natural gas costs and with increased demand throughout the
        wheat producing regions of the world. This bodes well for Canada's
        fertilizer stocks, notably Potash, Agrium and Mosaic.

    Canadian Debt Market Outlook

    Jason Parker, Managing Director, Corporate Debt Research, BMO Capital
Markets, on highlights of his recently published report entitled: "The Coldest
Winter in 15 Years; Can Spreads Emerge from the Deep Freeze?":

    -   More fallout from U.S. sub-prime and synthetic instrument exposure
        expected
    -   Uncertainty surrounding the non-bank ABCP market in Canada likely to
        persist through the first part of 2008
    -   Maple Bond market will be challenged to approach new issuance levels
        reached in 2007
    -   Anticipated heavy new issuance schedule from financial sectors likely
        to continue weighing on corporate spreads in Canada
    -   Typical risk-taking to start off the year may place initial bid
        behind corporate spreads
    

    Moving into 2008, we believe the Canadian corporate debt market remains
vulnerable to above-average event risk, and that spreads may move past the
high levels of their recent range. At the very minimum, we suggest a
cautionary stance is still prudent in the current environment of uncertainty,
as the global markets determine if sub-prime lending issues in the U.S. have
more legs to run and if the impairment of liquidity in the high-yield markets
is transitional or the start of a fundamental shift in risk tolerance.
    Nonetheless, we expect new debt issuance from financials in Canada to
resume its hectic pace in early 2008. We believe a significant debt maturity
schedule and rising funding requirements emanating from the need to feed
growing balance sheets will likely continue to weigh on sector spreads, and
hence the market in general.
    We continue to believe the credit issues affecting the lower-rated
sectors have not abated (e.g., escalating competition in Retail and Telecom).
We also maintain our belief that there is an elevated risk of more
equity-friendly asset allocation decisions, in part as a potential economic
slowdown may encourage companies to seek alternative mechanisms for enhancing
shareholder value to offset any reduction in earnings growth momentum. We
still believe investors should pursue higher-quality sectors such as
Infrastructure and higher-grade Utilities. Although the Financials have
experienced significant spread widening, we believe their credit quality
remains fundamentally sound.

    Canadian Dollar

    Firas Askari, Head of Canadian Dollar Trading and CJ Gavsie, Managing
Director, Corporate & Institutional Foreign Exchange Sales, BMO Capital
Markets, look at the miraculous climb of the Canadian dollar and expectations
for the lofty loonie in 2008:

    The Canadian dollar reached a multi decade high versus the US dollar
(hitting a high of 0.9059 in US dollars terms during September) and ranked as
the top performer against all G10 currencies in 2007. The loonie benefited
from historically high M&A inflows (over 100 Billion CAD), continued global
demand for commodities and a moderately sidelined Central Bank (which narrowed
the overnight funding gap from 100 basis points to 0 over the course of the
year).
    In our opinion, the same factors that supported the Canadian dollar rally
have not all together disappeared for 2008; however, the Canadian dollar could
face some headwinds which could force a lackluster performance for the loonie.

    
    We anticipate the 2008 key Canadian dollar drivers to be:

    -   Global economic growth (which directly correlates to commodity
        pricing)
    -   Global diversification into non-USD denominated assets, US and
        Canadian monetary policy (which relates to North American
        inflationary factors)
    -   Overall health of the global financial system, and the ability of the
        economy to overcome the current poor credit environment and
        geopolitical factors such as the upcoming US election.
    

    Please call to arrange a print and/or broadcast interview. Copies of
published reports can be emailed upon request.





For further information:

For further information: Media Relations Contacts: Kim Hanson,
kim.hanson@bmo.com, (416) 867-4924; JoAnne Hayes, joanne.hayes@bmo.com, (416)
867-4914; Peter Scott, petere.scott@bmo.com, (416) 867-4711


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