Prime Drops to 2.85%

Following the Bank of Canada’s reduction of the overnight rate from 1.00% to 0.75%, discussed on January 21, there has now – at last – been a move by the banks to cut prime:

Canada’s biggest banks have started passing on some – but not all – of the Bank of Canada’s recent rate cut, lowering the interest charged to borrowers with loans and mortgages tied to the prime rate.

Royal Bank was the first to cut its prime rate when it announced it would go down to 2.85 per cent from three per cent, effective Wednesday.

The move was quickly matched by the Bank of Montreal, TD Bank and CIBC.

However, the big banks had been slow to match the cut with a reduction in their prime rates.

Spin Mortgage co-founder Steve Pipkey says the prime lending rate offered by Canadian banks usually moves in lockstep with the central bank’s overnight lending rate and it’s unusual for banks to only partially pass on the savings to consumers.

The most recent exception was in December 2008, when the central bank cut its key interest rate by 75 basis points. The banks responded at the time with a 50 basis point reduction to their prime rates.

Doug Alexander of Bloomberg comments:

There have been exceptions to the general rule of banks following the Bank of Canada. In December 2008, the Bank of Canada cut its overnight rate 75 basis points to 1.5 percent while the six large lenders cut their prime 50 basis points to 3.5 percent, creating a 2 percentage point margin between the two rates.

If today’s gap of 2.1 percentage point persists it would be the highest on a consistent basis since the Bank of Canada started shifting to the overnight rate as its target in 1994, according to Bloomberg data.

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