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Lower Manitoba growth forecast still 'pretty good,' board says

THE Conference Board of Canada has downgraded its economic forecast for Manitoba, but still predicts it will be one of the country's best performers in 2012 and will also enjoy solid growth in 2013 and 2014.

In its Autumn 2012 Provincial Outlook report released Monday, the Ottawa-based think-tank predicts Manitoba will post the third-strongest economic growth rate in the country this year, at 2.5 per cent.

It expects growth to slow in 2013 and 2014, but predicts a healthy 2.1 per cent and 2.3 per cent growth, respectively, in each of those years.

"I think anything above two per cent in this environment is still a pretty good forecast," Marie-Christine Bernard, associate director of the board's Provincial Outlook report, said in an interview.

In its July forecast, the board predicted Manitoba would post the second-strongest growth in the country in 2012 at 2.9 per cent and would follow that with 2.4 per cent growth in 2013.

Bernard said a combination of factors prompted the board to downgrade its Manitoba forecast. They included a weaker-than-expected performance by the Canadian economy, which hurt interprovincial sales of Manitoba products, weaker-than-expected consumer demand, which took a bite out of retail sales, and a sluggish U.S. economic recovery, which has weakened export sales.

On the bright side, the province's agriculture sector enjoyed a big rebound from 2011's flood-plagued performance, with a projected 27 per cent increase in output, Bernard said, and the board is forecasting a further 3.7 per cent growth in 2013.

Manitoba's manufacturing sector also should benefit next year from a strengthening demand for transit buses and aerospace products and services, she said. Retail sales and commercial services are expected to grow more than three per cent.

Nationally, the board predicts 2.3 per cent growth in 2013 and 2.6 per cent in 2014, up from this year's 1.8 per cent.

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