Update: Bank of Canada holds interest rate, suggests future hikes will come at a more cautious pace

The Bank of Canada left its benchmark interest rate unchanged Wednesday following two straight hikes but suggested future increases are still likely, albeit at a more gradual pace.

In its scheduled announcement, the central bank said it held off this time in part because it expects the recent strength of the Canadian dollar to slow the rise in the pace of inflation.

To make its case, the bank also pointed to the substantial, persistent unknowns around geopolitical developments as well as U.S.-related fiscal and trade policies, such as the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Governor Stephen Poloz has introduced two rate hikes since July -- at consecutive policy meetings -- in response to the economy's impressive run over the last four quarters. The increases removed the two rate cuts introduced in 2015 as insurance following the collapse in oil prices.

The bank suggested Wednesday that it will stick to its rate-hiking trajectory, although at perhaps a more-tentative pace.

"While less monetary policy stimulus will likely be required over time, governing council will be cautious in making future adjustments to the policy rate," the bank said in a statement.

The bank stressed it will pay particular attention to incoming data to assess four areas: the unfolding impact of higher interest rates on indebted households, the evolution of the economy's capacity, wage growth and inflation. Its next rate announcement is set for Dec. 6.

Later Wednesday, Poloz told reporters that almost any departure from the bank's projections on these four issues would be fodder for deeper discussion about the trend-setting rate.

"We must be open. We can be surprised in either direction relative to our forecast," Poloz said. "But we need to be extremely interpretive of those movements."

Poloz reiterated his recent comments that each policy meeting is "live."

The central bank also released updated projections Wednesday that forecast economic growth to moderate after Canada's powerful performance, particularly since the start of the year.

It now expects real gross domestic product to slow from its robust annual pace of 3.1 per cent this year to 2.1 per cent in 2018 and 1.5 per cent in 2019.

The economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.7 per cent in the first three months of 2017 and 4.5 per cent in the second quarter. The bank's latest outlook now predicts real GDP to grow at an annual rate of 1.8 per cent in the third quarter and 2.5 per cent in the final three months of 2017.

"Real GDP growth is expected to moderate to a still-solid pace close to two per cent ... over the second half of the year," the bank said.

The bank forecasts declining contributions from residential investment and consumption, which largely fuelled Canada's recent growth spurt. These changes will largely be consequences of higher borrowing rates, higher household indebtedness and policy measures aimed at cooling hot real estate markets, the report said.

The bank provided an estimate for the economic impact of incoming guidelines to reinforce mortgage underwriting practices, which were announced recently by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. The changes, which will take effect next year, are expected to trim 0.2 per cent from GDP by the end of 2019, the bank said.

Moving forward, the bank said economic activity will advance on a "more-sustainable" trajectory led by rising foreign demand, recent increases in commodity prices, still-low borrowing rates and government infrastructure spending. It also projects steady growth in business investment, which rebounded in early 2017.

The weaker-than-expected rollout of federal infrastructure spending will provide a smaller boost for the economy in 2017 than the bank had anticipated. The commitments, however, are expected to lift growth over the coming quarters, the report said.

Poloz was asked Wednesday about the potential economic impacts of the Trudeau government's announcement this week that it would enhance its child-benefit program so payments to families with kids start rising with the cost of living next July, two years earlier than the federal government had initially promised.

The change will lower government revenues by $5.6 billion over five years, the government estimates.

Poloz declined to comment on the specifics of the government's announcement, but he did credit the introduction of the original program last year as a "significant contributor" to the economy. He said the child benefit lifted GDP growth for a year by 0.5 per cent.

"As for the change, at the moment, it doesn't sound anywhere near as large as what was done last year," said Poloz, who added the bump in growth from the child benefit was likely only felt in the program's first year.

"In real terms, it's maintaining it."