Latest GDP Data Reveals Pandemic’s Ongoing Impact

Last Thursday, Statistics Canada released the latest data on monthly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by industry. The data for August 2020 showed that total economic activity in Canada had recovered, but was not yet back at pre-pandemic levels.

The following analysis uses the January 2020 GDP level as the base against which to compare all other months. January’s GDP is set to 100 for each industry and each subsequent month is shown as a percent of that baseline. This shows how tourism-related industries have been impacted compared to overall economic activity.

Across all industries in Canada’s economy, GDP rose very slightly in February, but in the following two months GDP plummeted compared to January. In March and April, overall GDP was at 92.9% and 82.1% of the baseline level, respectively. In the following months, economic activity rebounded, but still only reaching 95.7% of January’s levels in August.

COVID-19 was proving a significant economic drag even before the second wave began to emerge this fall.

Certain industries were hit quite severely, but have since rebounded. Retail, for example, dropped to 70.9% of the baseline in April, but had fully recovered, at 101.6% of January’s levels. However, this comes with a caveat: the rebound is driven by online shopping—as evidenced by the closure of many brick-and-mortar retail chains—and is not evenly spread across all types of retail establishments. Other industries such as agriculture, finance and insurance, and real estate suffered smaller losses of economic activity in March and April, quickly recovered, and are now operating above January’s baseline in terms of economic activity.

Tourism-related industries have not been so lucky. Amongst all tourism-related industries measured[1], economic activity dropped to 41.8% of baseline levels and had only recovered to 61.7% as of August. The food services industry dropped even lower, down to 37.7% in April, although it recovered somewhat over the summer, reaching 76.2% in August.

The accommodation industry was severely hit in April and May. In those months, economic activity was just over 30% of baseline levels. Some recovery has since occurred, but only to 61.5% in August. Looking ahead, the fall is usually a time of lower economic activity for Canadian hotels, resorts, and campgrounds, as demand driven by summer travellers drops off.

By far the hardest hit tourism-related industry was air transportation[2] when travel was essentially halted. Compared to the January baseline, economic activity fell to 3.5% in both April and May. The rebound—if it can be called that—has been negligible. In August, GDP in the air transportation industry was only at 10.3% of what it had been at the start of the year.

Statistics Canada. Table 36-10-0434-01 Gross domestic product (GDP) at basic prices, by industry, monthly (x 1,000,000)

[1] Accommodation services, Air transportation, Amusement and recreation industries, Automotive equipment rental and leasing, Food services and drinking places, Gambling industries, Motion picture and sound recording industries, Other transit and ground passenger transportation and scenic and sightseeing transportation, Performing arts, spectator sports and related industries, and heritage institutions, Rail transportation, Taxi and limousine service, Travel arrangement and reservation services, Urban transit systems, Water transportation

[2] North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Canada 2012. The air transportation subsector comprises establishments primarily engaged in for-hire, common-carrier transportation of people and/or goods using aircraft, such as airplanes and helicopters.