The Alberta Economy Isn’t Like it Used to Be. Has Your Business Adapted?

If you only know one thing about the Alberta economy, it’s probably the phrase “boom and bust.” And, if you run a business in Alberta, you’ve had to adjust to this reality. It’s the cost of doing business. If you’re lucky, the highs balance out the lows.

Yet no two booms or busts are identical, and every time the economy goes through the cycle again it comes out a little different. That’s why businesses need to understand where the economy is at right now and what that means for things like labour availability and consumer spending. It’s not the Alberta economy of 2013 – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here’s what you need to know for the road ahead.

Alberta isn’t growing like it used to

According to CBC, total incomes of businesses, workers and government in Alberta fell by 20 per cent between 2014 and 2016, thanks largely to the drop in oil prices. That’s $75 billion less every year in the economy, which means a tighter job market for workers and less available capital for Alberta businesses.

Since the oil price crash of 2014, Alberta has stabilized, but it hasn’t returned to the highs of $100 oil and all the investment that came with it. Therefore, for both workers and businesses, incomes haven’t returned to their old heights. There just isn’t the same amount of money circulating. If your business is relying on a return to the boom times, you might want to temper your expectations.

Albertans aren’t spending like they used to, either

If you’re in the business of selling consumer goods, you should also know that Albertans are buying fewer of them compared to before the recession. According to ATB Financial, new vehicle sales have significantly dropped over the last five years: the number of new cars and trucks sold in Alberta was 15 per cent lower in May 2019 than in May 2014 before the recession took hold.

Albertans are buying fewer houses, too, as home sales dropped to their lowest level in more than six years in February, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).

If you’re not selling cars or houses, this might not seem like a big deal. But they’re indicators of consumer confidence and reflect broader spending patterns. If Albertans are buying fewer cars and houses, they’re likely buying fewer consumer goods overall. The statistics bear this out: As ATB Financial reported, annual retail sales in Alberta in 2018 were down from the year prior, even adjusted for inflation. In fact, retail sales in 2018 were down more than $2 billion from 2014.

Alberta is expected to enter a recession in 2019

There are only a few months left in 2019. If your business has had a rough year, that’s good news, because when the year is over and the books are closed, the Conference Board of Canada expects that 2019 will have seen the Alberta economy shrink, if only by 0.1 per cent. (It had previously expected it to grow by 1.3 per cent.) ATB Financial cut its 2019 growth forecast in half from March, and RBC also revised down its estimated growth rate.

If 2019 hasn’t been rough on your business, consider yourself lucky. But don’t get too comfortable – again, there are still a few months left.

Good news is on the horizon

The Conference Board of Canada expects Alberta to bounce back in 2020. With new construction projects beginning and oil production cuts expected to be lifted, it’s predicting growth of 3.5 per cent. That would take Alberta from being the lowest-growth economy in Canada to the highest-growth economy.

Plus, the recent corporate tax cut from 12 to 8 per cent may help Alberta businesses balance out decreases in revenue from 2019 and provide flexibility around capital spending.

Here’s what you can do

In the meantime, there is plenty your business can do to make sure you weather the boom and bust. It’s never a bad time to work on business development, like looking for new clients or diversifying your products and services. You can review your pricing – you might find that lowering your prices will get you through slow periods. And, finally, don’t be scared to diversify. Periods of low growth can be an opportunity to reflect on your mission and how you’re achieving it. When things get busy again, you’ll have your hands full. And, this being Alberta we’re talking about, you can be sure they’ll get busy again.

If you want expert advice on the options available for your business, set up and appointment with one of our corporate recovery team members today!