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Canada business optimism at near-record highs, central bank survey shows

Overall business optimism among Canadian companies weakened in the third quarter but still stood at near-record highs with upbeat outlooks on sales, foreign demand and investment plans, according to results of a new Bank of Canada quarterly survey.

The central bank's latest Business Outlook Survey indicator fell to a reading of 2.83 in the third quarter from 3.07 in the previous three-month period. The survey was conducted among 100 companies from Aug. 23 to Sept. 17, ahead of the announcement of a new pact replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Following an increase in the summer survey, the Business Outlook Survey indicator remains at almost record levels, consistent with widely held positive views on most indicators," the central bank said.

The indicator of future sales growth increased quarter on quarter, supported by strong domestic and foreign demand, according to the BoC.

"Firms continue to be optimistic about export demand, with businesses, on balance, expecting foreign sales to grow at a greater rate over the next 12 months," the bank said.

The measure for investment plans rebounded robustly in the third quarter following a decline in the prior quarter, with many firms increasing their investment spending in response to expected high demand and capacity pressures.

On the downside, the BoC survey results showed that more companies faced labor shortages in the third quarter, and that the intensity of such shortages rose to a near-record high.

On prices, more than half of the surveyed firms expect the annual inflation rate over the next two years to be at 2% to 3%. Companies said inflationary pressures are due to rising labor costs, strong economic growth and higher tariffs.

The BoC released the quarterly survey results ahead of its next interest rate announcement on Oct. 24.

"An October rate hike was already fully priced heading into today's data, but the broadly positive survey suggests that the economy may not have quite as much slack as the Bank had believed," analysts at TD Securities wrote in the research note.

"Governor [Stephen] Poloz won't abandon his gradual approach, but this will lower the hurdle to a follow up hike in January," the analysts added.