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Historic decline in Canadian living standards continues into 2024

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From the Fraser Institute

By Grady Munro and Jake Fuss

Statistics Canada on Friday released its estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2024, and once again while the Canadian economy is technically growing, the living standards of Canadians themselves are continuing to fall.

The new numbers reveal that inflation-adjusted GDP—the final value of all goods and services produced in the economy and the most widely used measure of overall economic activity—grew by 0.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2024. But at the same time, inflation-adjusted GDP per person—a broad measure of individual living standards—actually fell 0.2 per cent during the first quarter of 2024, down to $58,028.

This apparent disconnect between overall economic growth and individual living standards is the result of Canada’s changing population. The reason the economy is growing while living standards are falling is because the rate of economic growth is not fast enough to account for all the new people in Canada (whether through birth or immigration). During the first three months of 2024, the economy grew by 0.4 per cent while the population grew by 0.6 per cent.

A single quarter of declining per-person GDP is not particularly concerning in and of itself, but unfortunately for Canadians, these new data are simply the latest evidence of a prolonged decline in individual living standards.

A recent study measured inflation-adjusted per-person GDP over the last 40 years (1985 to 2023) and found that from the middle of 2019 (well before COVID) to the end of 2023, per-person GDP fell from $59,905 to $58,134. This 3.0 per cent drop over four and a half years was the second-longest and third-deepest decline in living standards over the entire period—only exceeded in both length and depth by the more than five-year decline that began mid-1989 and lasted until living standards recovered in the third quarter of 1994, and which saw inflation-adjusted GDP per person fall by 5.3 per cent.

If we factor in the new data for the beginning of 2024, we see that the current ongoing decline is worsening. Inflation-adjusted per-person GDP now sits 3.1 per cent below the level it was in mid-2019, and the decline is approaching five-years in length. In other words, Canada is approaching the milestone of experiencing the longest decline in individual living standards of the last 40 years.

Weak economic growth combined with a fast-growing population over the last several years have resulted in Canadians experiencing a marked and prolonged decrease in living standards. With new data showing no sign of improvement, Canadians and governments across the country should realize that the status quo cannot continue.

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Business

No reliable evidence that ESG investing produces above-average returns

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From the Fraser Institute

By Steven Globerman

Despite growing skepticism among investors, as evidenced by their withdrawal of billions of dollars from ESG equity funds so far in 2024, many finance industry leaders continue to claim that ESG-focused investing produces above-average returns.

But is that true?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a movement designed to pressure businesses and investors to pursue larger social goals. According to ESG theory, firms that receive poor ratings from ESG rating agencies should lose investment dollars. Yet the claim that ESG-focused investing can help investors do well by doing good has received surprisingly little empirical support from academic studies.

However, according to a new study published by the Fraser Institute, which tracked 310 companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange from 2013 to 2020, neither ESG rating upgrades nor downgrades were related in a statistically significant way to the stock market performance of companies.

Moreover, because the study finds that ESG ratings changes—which, when released, are effectively new information for investors—are not consistently related to financial returns, ESG ratings are likely not relevant to the expected future profitability of publicly listed companies in Canada.

This of course raises the question—if new information (i.e. ratings changes) about a company’s ESG-related practises is not statistically related to equity returns from investing in that company, why do money managers pay for the services of ESG rating companies?

One possible reason is that managers pass a substantial share of the costs along to customers who are willing to sacrifice financial returns (due to higher management fees) to express their commitment to environmental sustainability and other social causes. Another possible reason is that promoting ESG-focused investment alternatives appears to have been, at least until recently, an effective marketing tool.

But again, the empirical evidence suggests there’s no reliable statistical relationship between ESG-focused investing and the risk-adjusted returns earned by investors. And since asset managers typically charge higher fees for ESG-focused mutual funds, ESG investment strategies are more likely to underperform than overperform conventional investment strategies.

Certainly, if some percentage of investors choose to pursue ESG-related investment strategies, even at the cost of lower risk-adjusted investment returns, there should be no legal or regulatory restrictions on doing so. However, securities regulators should closely monitor the investment industry to ensure it provides reliable and up-to-date information about the financial performance of ESG-focused investment products that portfolio managers market to the public.

At the same time, when ESG advocates push for more government-mandated ESG disclosures from companies in Canada, policymakers should be wary of any claims that greater disclosure mandates will improve the financial performance of companies.

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Economy

Returning Trump To The White House Would Reverse Biden’s ‘Energy Ideocracy

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation

By DAVID BLACKMON

With a second term for former President Donald Trump suddenly seeming far more likely in the wake of President Joe Biden’s shocking debate performance, the decision by a Louisiana federal judge Monday to place a hold on the Biden Energy Department’s bizarre “pause” on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) permitting highlights a clear example of how energy policy would shift with a Trump win in November.

In rendering his decision, Federal District Judge James Cain, Jr. called the justifications for the paus offered by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and DOE staff “completely without reason or logic and is perhaps the epiphany of ideocracy.”

Oof. Of course, that is pretty much what I wrote here about it back in February after the policy was put in place, though I did leave out the part about “ideocracy.”

Simply put, a second Trump presidency would put a quick end to interventionist efforts by the federal government to pick winners and losers in the energy space. Such ideocratic efforts have throughout history most often created unintended consequences that do great damage to impacted industries and the overall economy.

Indeed, Biden’s ideocratic efforts to force adoption of electric vehicles on an increasingly reluctant American public are already doing great damage to the domestic auto industry.

Last month, Fisker became the latest in a succession of pure-play EV makers to go into bankruptcy. Peer company Rivian was teetering on the brink of having to make a similar move before it was bailed out by angel investor Volkswagen’s pledge to pour $5 billion of new capital into its operations in the coming years.

Ford Motor Company has struggled in its own efforts to mount a successful line of EVs, reporting billions of dollars in losses in the process. Investor pressures became so intense after the company lost $132,000 on every unit sold in Q1 2024 that management announced a move to delay and cancel billions in planned additional EV investments in favor of shifting focus to hybrid cars instead.

Biden’s and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s similarly ideocratic efforts to subsidize massive wind developments off the North Atlantic shores of New England have predictably produced similarly damaging results. A parade of planned projects by major wind developers like Equinor, Orsted, and BP have been cancelled as Biden-induced inflation caused their costs to mushroom. A few have been renewed, but with renegotiated power supply rates that will cause utility customers’ bills to explode. Add to that the fact that at least 98 marine mammals — some listed as endangered species — have washed up dead on the beaches of New Jersey alone as wind development has ramped up. You can also add ecological disaster to the economic damage related to this ideocratic pursuit.

Economic and other displacements related to Biden’s ideocratic subsidies for wind and solar industrial installations onshore have become so noticeable and impactful that they are now being opposed in local communities all over the country, with many being rejected outright. Energy Analyst Robert Bryce keeps an excellent comprehensive database of these rejections at his own website.

Even with the local pushback, though, many more proposed wind and solar sites have been approved and developed while benefitting from an array of federal and state subsidies and tax incentives. Unfortunately, the flooding of power grids in Texas and across the rest of the country with unpredictable intermittent generation has had the ideocratic impact of dramatically reducing the stability and reliability of electricity service across the country.

The simple truth is that, in describing the Biden/Granholm LNG permitting pause as “perhaps the epiphany of ideocracy,” Judge Cain could have just as well have been describing the entirety of the administration’s energy policies.

I am asked every day by friends, family and readers alike what changes a second Trump administration would bring to energy policy. It is a question I have always struggled to answer in 50 words or less.

But now, thanks to Judge Cain, I will have a ready answer: “Trump would reverse Biden’s energy ideocracy.”

David Blackmon is an energy writer and consultant based in Texas. He spent 40 years in the oil and gas business, where he specialized in public policy and communications.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Featured Image Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

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