Prices

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7535_nfldfiscalsnapshot-br

Fiscal Future Hinges

on Oil Prices.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

At a Glance

• Due to a dramatic drop-off in world prices, the province finds itself in a difficult fiscal

position that will result in a string of deficits over the near term.

• In order to fill the hole left by oil royalty revenues, the latest budget introduced many

new taxes and a tight spending plan.

• Thanks to a weaker demographic outlook, cost pressures in education will not be

as high as in other provinces, which should allow Newfoundland and Labrador to

balance the books in 2018–19, one year earlier than expected.

BRIEFING NOVEMBER 2015


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Fiscal Future Hinges on Oil Prices

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

Overview

Combating weak economic growth will be the

dominant theme for the Newfoundland and

Labrador government over the next four years

as the province aims to return to a balanced

budget by 2019–20. The province is expected

to remain in recession for the next few years,

the result of the combination of slumping

commodity prices and weak investment. The

government increased taxes in its April budget

in order to help the deficit from ballooning out

of control. (See Chart 1.)

However, even these tax increases will not be enough to bring the

province out of the red if oil prices do not improve as expected. After

being cut in half from their level two years ago, royalty revenues are

expected to manage solid growth over the next three years. In addition

to solid revenue growth, the government will require strict spending

control to return to balance. We expect that weak demographic demand,

especially in education, will make it easier to achieve this than will be

the case for other provinces. On the whole, we expect the economy to

Chart 1

Fiscal Balance in 2014–15, by Province

($ billions)

2

0

−2

−4

−6

−8

−10

−12

N.L. P.E.I N.S. N.B. Que. Ont. Man. Sask. Alta. B.C.

Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; various provincial budgets; Statistics Canada.

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The Conference Board of Canada

outperform the targets put forth in this year’s budget, and with a stronger

estimate of oil production, we expect the province to balance its books

one year ahead of schedule. However, there are still many risks, as oil

prices could remain low or spending control could lapse, which could

push out the balance date further than anticipated.

Budget 2015

The latest budget presented at the end of April included many big

changes with the intent of mitigating the damage caused by the fall in

world oil prices. Even with the new tax measures and a reliance on

a pick-up in royalty revenues, the province does not expect to see a

balanced budget until 2019–20, a full four years later than what was

originally projected only a short time ago in Budget 2014. This is not

surprising, considering that the near-term economic outlook for the

province is not quite as bright as it was just a few years ago thanks to

major projects passing their peak investment periods plus the double

whammy of low prices for oil and metals.

After growing by over 7 per cent in 2013, real GDP declined in 2014

by almost 3 per cent and is expected to stay negative for the next four

years according to the economic outlook found in this year’s budget.

Unlike other provinces that find themselves in deficits, the government

of Newfoundland and Labrador decided to lean less on cost-cutting

measures and more so on revenue-generating tax measures and

program efficiency gains to return to a balanced budget by 2019–20.

The Conference Board has incorporated these revenue measures in its

forecast and has taken as a given the total spending targets in order to

provide a baseline fiscal forecast until 2018–19.

The most significant revenue-generating measure announced in this

year’s budget is the 2 percentage point increase in the harmonized sales

tax (HST). The increase—coming into effect January 1, 2016—will add

$56 million to the bottom line in the current fiscal year ending March 31

and add $224 million when the tax hike is in full effect during subsequent

years. Over and above the HST increase, the residential energy rebate

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Fiscal Future Hinges on Oil Prices

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

(which was introduced in 2011) will be eliminated, adding $35.7 million

to revenues in 2015–16 and $47.5 million in subsequent years. The

elimination of the residential energy rebate will nearly offset the HST

credit (announced in Budget 2015) that will be available for some

municipalities, Inuit community governments, and local service districts

starting next fiscal year. The credit will add $41.1 million to expenses

every year. One final revenue measure of note is the addition of two new

personal income tax brackets. Currently, the maximum taxable rate is

13.3 per cent on those who make over $70,000. Effective July 1, 2015, a

rate of 14.3 per cent will apply to taxable income between $125,001 and

$175,000, and 15.3 per cent will apply to income over $175,000. These

new income brackets will generate approximately $18 million a year for

the province once they are in full effect.

The province also announced a new generations fund, which will

come into effect only once a surplus is reached, which is set to occur

in 2019–20 according to budget estimates. An unspecified amount of

revenues will be put toward the fund. Following Norway’s example, this

fund will grow over time and be a resource for future generations that

do not have the luxury of high oil revenues.

While these tax changes will certainly help in making up for some of

the lost royalty revenues, the budget still relies heavily on an increase

to oil prices that will return oil revenues closer to the highs that were

seen from 2008 to 2014. If oil prices and royalty revenues do not recover

as predicted, the province will be stuck in the red well beyond the

current outlook.

On the spending side, the budget presented its overall spending targets

out to 2020–21, but provided few details on the individual spending

categories beyond the current fiscal year (2015–16). Unlike the strategies

of other provinces that find themselves in deficit, this budget does not

rely upon heavy program spending cuts. While a target annual average

growth rate of around 1 per cent over the budget forecast period

may seem daunting, it shouldn’t be as difficult to achieve as it would

elsewhere in Canada. This is due to the demographic slack that leaves

less pressure on spending, particularly in education. The population

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of school-aged children is falling every year, easing the burden on

education costs. Even with the proposed increase in spending that will

occur with the transition to full-day kindergarten in September 2016,

education costs are not expected to provide as much strain as they

do in other provinces with younger populations. Health care will be

the main driver of costs for the province in the future, and the budget

addressed ways of containing the rising pressure of the aging population.

The budget mentions that cost containment will be achieved through

efficiency gains in government spending, as well as through attrition in

government agencies to shrink the size of government.

With the new tax measures, controlled spending, and the oil price

pick-up, the April budget forecasts deficits of over $1 billion this fiscal

year, $889 million in 2016–17, $490 million in 2017–18, and $195 million

in 2018–19 before returning to small surpluses of $3 million and

$89 million in the final years of the forecast.

Economic Outlook

After experiencing a number of years of strong growth—in large part

due to high commodity prices and large production increases in the

offshore oil industry—Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy took a

hit in 2014, dropping nearly 3 per cent. This was the worst performance

of any province in the country and was almost entirely the result of the

falling oil and mineral prices that hurt exports. Unfortunately, positive

(albeit weak) economic growth is not expected to return until 2017 due to

continued low oil and mineral prices (leaving little incentive to ramp up

production), as well as several major mining projects winding down. As is

typical of a smaller province that has many mining projects either under

development or near completion, there can be large swings in economic

growth due to the construction timing of projects of this nature. Overall,

we expect the economy to barely grow between 2014 and 2018. But at

an average annual rate of 0.1 per cent over the period, it will be a full

percentage point higher than the dismal average growth rate projected

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Fiscal Future Hinges on Oil Prices

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

in the budget over the same period. Furthermore, positive growth

should return in a big way in 2019 with the large Hebron offshore field

coming online.

The main drag on the economy is weak investment caused by the poor

outlook for commodity prices weighing heavily on production decisions.

This will undoubtedly have an impact on the labour market over the near

term. The unemployment rate will rise in 2015, although it is unlikely

to climb much higher due to a drop in the participation rate. With the

slack in the labour market, household consumption will suffer, which

won’t help tax collection in the province. As well, this weakness in the

labour market will not be kind to home buying, and residential investment

will suffer. Despite all of these problems dragging the economy down,

there is a lone bright spot in manufacturing, which—thanks to the Long

Harbour hydromet facility processing nickel, copper, and cobalt—will

help offset some of the effects brought on by the lower oil production

and construction sector.

Revenues to Take a Major Hit

The Conference Board’s fiscal forecast calls for provincial government

revenues to edge up by a meagre 0.8 per cent in 2015–16. This

projection includes only a portion of the new tax initiatives announced

in this year’s budget, particularly the 2 percentage point increase in

the HST (effective January 1, 2016) and elimination of the residential

energy rebate (effective July 1, 2015). Without the partial impact of the

tax measures, revenues would have fallen by 0.8 per cent this year.

The forecast revenue growth in 2015–16 may seem small, but it is a

considerable improvement over the previous year in which revenues

are estimated to have fallen by 7 per cent. 1 Last year, revenues were hit

hard by the double whammy of a large drop in oil royalties and corporate

profits plummeting.

1 The final numbers have yet to be posted by the province; however, the majority of the year

was available at the time of the budget release, thus the Conference Board used these

budget estimates for 2014–15.

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Beyond 2015–16, revenues will be buoyed by oil royalties quickly

picking up steam after the drubbing they took in the recent oil price

collapse. (See Chart 2.) Over the next three fiscal years, oil revenues

are expected to improve drastically. According to Conference Board

projections, royalty revenues will be nearly double their 2015–16 level

by 2018–19. This projection of oil revenues is slightly more optimistic

than that presented in this year’s budget. Compared with the budget

forecast, the Conference Board’s forecast for royalty revenues by

2018–19 is $116 million higher. This is based on the Conference Board’s

higher assumptions for production (as our projections for oil prices are

slightly below those of the budget). The production forecast for 2016–17

and 2017–18 is higher than that of the budget due to our assumptions

regarding a quicker ramp up in production at Hebron.

Chart 2

After Being Hit Hard, Revenues Should Return Strong

(total revenues, $ billions)

9

Forecast

8

7

6

5

4

2006–07 07–08 08–09 09–10 10–11 11–12 12–13 13–14 14–15f 15–16f 16–17f 17–18f 18–19f

f = forecast

Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Finance; Statistics Canada.

One interesting development that is projected to occur as a result

of the three expected years of negative economic growth is that the

province will shift back to being a “have-not province” after enjoying

nearly a decade of being a have province. Equalization payments are

based on a province’s fiscal capacity, and are largely determined by

a province’s average economic growth over the three previous years.

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Fiscal Future Hinges on Oil Prices

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

Due to the abundance of offshore-oil revenues, the province stopped

receiving equalization payments in 2008–09. However, owing to the

negative growth that is expected to occur in the province over 2014 to

2016, the moving-average calculation that makes up a large portion of

the equalization calculation determines that the province will start to

receive equalization payments in 2017–18—albeit very small payments

compared with those received by other provinces. As well, the payments

may be only temporary if the economy sustains strong growth outside of

our forecast window.

Once tax measures have been fully implemented and oil royalties pick

up steam, revenues are set to grow steadily at a clip of 7.9 per cent

over the forecast period (2016–17 to 2018–19). The Conference Board

forecasts that by 2018–19, revenue will be $556 million higher than what

has been set out in the budget. This is due to our stronger forecast for

the economy (which drives up personal income tax revenues), as well

as our more optimistic outlook for oil production, which will boost royalty

revenues over the forecast period. (See Chart 3.)

Chart 3

Revenue Growth Supported by Comeback in Oil Royalties

(oil royalties, $ billions)

3

2.5

2

1.5

1

0.5

0

Forecast

2006–07 07–08 08–09 09–10 10–11 11–12 12–13 13–14 14–15f 15–16f 16–17f 17–18f 18–19f

f = forecast

Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Finance; Statistics Canada.

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Spending Restraint Will Be Crucial

Newfoundland and Labrador does not face the same spending pressures

(particularly in education) as other provinces such as Ontario or Quebec.

With that said, the province still spends more on a per capita basis than

any other province, which suggests that efficiencies can be made in

the future. The province has laid out a spending plan that will restrain

spending at an annual average growth rate of 1.2 per cent over the

period 2014–15 to 2018–19, with outright cuts transpiring only in 2017–18.

In order to achieve its targets, the government will have to focus its

efforts on containing health care spending—which eats up over 43 per

cent of the provincial revenues. The Conference Board has developed

and maintains a demographically driven model for health care and

education, and this model helps us to highlight the spending-control

challenge facing the province.

For health care expenditures, we can use the model to project the

costs of a constant level of service. The model projects real health care

spending across age and gender cohorts, reflecting both population

growth and changes in demographic composition. These estimates are

then combined with our projections for health cost inflation, including

rising wage and drug costs.

Our projection suggests that health care spending in Newfoundland

and Labrador would have to grow at an average of 3.7 per cent per

year over the next four fiscal years to keep pace with expected inflation

and demographic changes (absent structural changes to how health

care is delivered). Furthermore, ongoing factors—such as new services

or products, new drugs or innovative breakthroughs, and increased

utilization—could add another 0.4 per cent, bringing annual growth in

health spending to 4.1 per cent.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government currently plans to cut

health care spending in 2015–16 by 0.7 per cent. Similar cuts to

spending will be difficult to maintain in the future. This is addressed in

Budget 2015, which mentions that cost cutting is not sustainable, and

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Fiscal Future Hinges on Oil Prices

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

instead focuses on how costs can be contained. One way the province

plans on achieving this is by consolidating administrative functions

among regional health authorities, which should improve efficiency.

Also, the government plans to use attrition as a tool for shrinking the

health care sector, by not filling certain positions that have been recently

vacated. These methods should improve the province’s standing as

the highest per capita health care spending province in Canada when

standardizing for age and sex to the national average. 2 (See Chart 4.)

Chart 4

Provincial/Territorial Government Sector Health Expenditure

Standardized by Age and Sex to the National Average, 2013

($ per capita)

6,000

5,000

4,000

3,000

2,000

1,000

0

N.L. P.E.I N.S. N.B. Que. Ont. Man. Sask. Alta. B.C. Canada

Sources: Canadian Institute for Health Information; The Conference Board of Canada.

We also use our demographically driven model to assess trends in

education spending, similar to what we do for health care. In this case,

the model used real spending per student over the past 20 years,

enrolment projections, and expected inflation in the sector to project total

education spending. This revealed an interesting trend for the province

in that the school-age population is shrinking almost every year, putting

less pressure on education spending than in other provinces. As a result,

spending is expected to remain relatively flat over the forecast period.

2 Canadian Institute for Health Information, National Health Expenditure

Database (NHEX) Metadata. www.cihi.ca/CIHI-ext-portal/internet/en/document/

spending+and+health+workforce/spending/spending+by+geography/nhex_metadata

(accessed October 30, 2015).

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As no details were given on any of the spending areas for the years

after 2015–16 of the provincial budget forecast, we used our models to

project the costs of a constant level of service for health, education, and

social services. To achieve its overall expenditure target, the government

would have to cut other program spending (spending outside of health

care, education, and social services) or find other savings or additional

revenues equal to $200 million in 2017–18, and sustain these savings the

following year. If the government follows through on its spending plan,

the province can balance one year ahead of schedule. There is some

room for spending to lapse due to our higher projections for revenues,

which could still result in the province balancing on time.

Outlook for the Deficit

The expenditure projection described above, along with our higher

outlook for revenues, makes it reasonable that the Newfoundland and

Labrador government will succeed in balancing its books by 2019–20

without implementing additional measures. There is even a decent

chance that balance will be achieved one year earlier, in 2018–19;

however, this date (as with the budget’s estimated date) is strictly

contingent on oil royalties making a comeback over the next few years.

Our economic projections suggest that revenues will be approximately

$556 million above what the government has projected for 2018–19,

meaning that there may be some wiggle room for oil royalties to fall short

or spending to lapse and still meet the balanced budget deadline.

In particular, we project Newfoundland and Labrador’s deficit to rise

from its current $924 million in 2014–15 to $1 billion in 2015–16, but then

gradually fall until a surplus of $384 million is achieved in 2018–19. 3

3 Our forecast does not include any money set aside for the newly announced generations

fund. This is because the budget does not specify the percentage of revenues that will be

set aside once the surplus is achieved. This makes it likely that the surplus of $384 million

reported in our forecast would be smaller.

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Fiscal Future Hinges on Oil Prices

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

Newfoundland and Labrador’s net public debt is expected to rise steadily,

this year and next—the result of big deficits occurring in 2014–15 and

2015–16. Debt as a percentage of nominal GDP is expected to reach

36 per cent in 2016–17, up from 28 per cent today. However, net debt

should level off in 2017–18 and fall in the final year of the forecast as the

province achieves a balanced budget. This rise in net debt will increase

debt charges steadily over the forecast period, with the pace slowing

with the net debt. The province’s fiscal health remains in the hands of oil

revenues, as a shortfall could mean bigger deficits and larger debt (and

debt charges). However, if oil royalties recover as expected, the province

should be in good shape after a few tough years.

Provincial Comparisons

Newfoundland and Labrador has the third-highest net debt per person

in the country, behind only Quebec and Ontario. And while net debt is

expected to increase steadily over the next few years as the province

struggles with the oil price shock, it should start to level off by the end of

the forecast period. Debt charges consumed 11.6 per cent of provincial

revenues in 2014–15—the highest percentage among the provinces.

Debt charges as a share of revenues are expected to reach 12.7 per cent

this fiscal year before slowly falling over the remainder of the forecast

period to around the level seen in 2014–15.

Program spending per person in Newfoundland and Labrador is the

highest in the country. (See Chart 5.) This is mostly due to health care

spending, which consumes 43.6 per cent of the provincial budget and

is the highest in Canada on a per capita basis. 4 In terms of taxation,

Newfoundland and Labrador, like most Atlantic provinces, has higher

tax rates than the Canadian average. A 2 percentage point increase

in the retail sales tax rate will make the province’s rate the highest in

the country. Small businesses, however, have seen improvements, as

4 Canadian Institute for Health Information, National Health Expenditure

Database (NHEX) Metadata. www.cihi.ca/CIHI-ext-portal/internet/en/document/

spending+and+health+workforce/spending/spending+by+geography/nhex_metadata

(accessed October 30, 2015).

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corporate income tax rates have been lowered recently, making the

province more competitive in Atlantic Canada by having the lowest small

corporate tax rate in the area. As well, the latest budget increased rates

on higher income earners, but the province still has lower personal

income tax rates compared with most other provinces in Canada.

Chart 5

Program Spending per Person in 2014–15

($)

14,000

12,000

10,000

8,000

6,000

4,000

2,000

0

N.L. P.E.I N.S. N.B. Que. Ont. Man. Sask. Alta. B.C.

Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; various provincial budgets; Statistics Canada.

Final Thoughts

Newfoundland and Labrador finds itself in a tough fiscal situation. The

province has suffered significant erosion in its revenue base thanks

to a large drop-off in commodity prices hurting royalty revenues.

The situation is worsened by the timing of investment-heavy projects

coming to a close or of full-scale construction being in the early stages.

Moreover, an aging population has fuelled health care spending over

the past decade. Looking ahead, as the population ages more rapidly,

the province will have to try to reduce real per person spending without

sacrificing quality of care through efficiency gains. On the revenue side,

there is a significant risk that oil royalties do not come back as expected,

leaving a major shortfall for the province to fund its programs. With the

province continuing to be dependent on natural resources, it will have to

think of efficient ways of dealing with big commodity price booms and

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Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot

busts. The recent announcement of the generations fund is one such

example; more initiatives like this will be needed for the future fiscal

health of the province.

Table 1

Key Indicators

(forecast completed October 30, 2015)

2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15f 2015–16f 2016–17f 2017–18f 2018–19f

Real GDP (by fiscal year, 2007 $ millions) 28,620 28,097 29,418 28,731 28,509 28,413 28,491 29,387

0.4% –1.8% 4.7% –2.3% –0.8% –0.3% 0.3% 3.1%

GDP (by fiscal year, $ millions) 33,481 33,271 36,104 36,433 33,906 34,608 35,563 37,848

10.8% –0.6% 8.5% 0.9% –6.9% 2.1% 2.8% 6.4%

Employment (000s) 234 243 242 237 236 235 234 233

3.3% 3.9% –0.3% –2.1% –0.3% –0.7% –0.4% –0.4%

Unemployment rate (per cent) 12.6 12.1 11.6 12.1 12.9 12.5 12.0 11.5

Total revenue ($ millions) 8,812 7,505 7,487 6,965 7,017 7,531 8,221 8,802

8.3% –14.8% –0.2% –7.0% 0.8% 7.3% 9.2% 7.1%

Own–source revenue ($ millions) 7,217 6,513 6,467 5,859 5,869 6,335 6,979 7,504

13.2% –9.8% –0.7% –9.4% 0.2% 8.0% 10.2% 7.5%

Federal transfers ($ millions) 1,594 992 1,020 1,106 1,149 1,196 1,242 1,297

–9.6% –37.8% 2.8% 8.4% 3.9% 4.1% 3.9% 4.4%

Total program spending ($ millions) 7,048 6,921 7,025 7,082 7,182 7,418 7,328 7,423

5.1% –1.8% 1.5% 0.8% 1.4% 3.3% –1.2% 1.3%

Health spending ($ millions) 2,846 2,844 2,869 3,036 3,015 3,141 3,257 3,373

6.8% –0.1% 0.9% 5.8% –0.7% 4.2% 3.7% 3.6%

Education spending ($ millions) 1,902 1,893 1,917 2,066 2,078 2,092 2,094 2,094

4.9% –0.5% 1.3% 7.8% 0.6% 0.7% 0.1% 0.0%

Other program spending ($ millions) 2,300 2,184 2,239 1,979 2,089 2,186 1,977 1,956

3.2% –5.0% 2.5% –11.6% 5.5% 4.6% –9.5% –1.1%

(continued …)

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Table 1 (cont’d)

Key Indicators

(forecast completed October 30, 2015)

2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15f 2015–16f 2016–17f 2017–18f 2018–19f

Debt charges ($ millions) 789 780 851 807 888 899 975 995

-5.7% -1.2% 9.1% -5.1% 10.0% 1.3% 8.4% 2.1%

Balance ($ millions) 974 -195 -389 -924 -1,053 -786 -82 384

64.1% -120.0% 99.2% 137.8% 13.9% -25.3% -89.6% -568.9%

Net debt ($ millions) 7,837 8,348 9,085 10,260 11,528 12,495 12,762 12,568

f = forecast; italics indicate percentage change

Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; Statistics Canada; Newfoundland and Labrador Budget 2015.

-5.1% 6.5% 8.8% 12.9% 12.4% 8.4% 2.1% -1.5%

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Insights. Understanding. Impact.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot: Fiscal Future Hinges

on Oil Prices

Daniel Fields

To cite this briefing: Fields, Daniel. Newfoundland and Labrador Fiscal Snapshot: Fiscal Future Hinges

on Oil Prices. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2015.

©2015 The Conference Board of Canada*

Published in Canada | All rights reserved | Agreement No. 40063028 | *Incorporated as AERIC Inc.

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