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BMO Blue Book: Saskatchewan Economy to Remain Steady in 2014 After Solid Growth Last Year

- Jobless rate remains lowest in Canada; population growth fastest in nearly 60 years

REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN -- (Marketwired) -- 05/07/14 -- Saskatchewan's economy continues to perform well, supported by diverse resource and agricultural sectors, and sound finances, according to the BMO Blue Book released today by BMO Capital Markets Economics and BMO Commercial Banking.

Much like the U.S. Federal Reserve's Beige Book, the BMO Blue Book combines the expertise of BMO's economists with information on current business conditions provided to BMO's commercial bankers by local businesspeople.

"Saskatchewan remains one of the country's leading economies - and our commercial customers continue to benefit from the growth," said John MacAulay, Senior Vice President, Prairies and Central Canada Division, BMO Bank of Montreal.

Real GDP grew by a solid 4.8 per cent in 2013 - thanks in part to a record crop year - but is expected to moderate to a more normalized 2.4 per cent this year.

"The agriculture sector was the big story of 2013, with a near-40 per cent jump in crop production, up to a record 38.4 million tonnes," said Robert Kavcic, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. "Although this will be challenging to repeat in the year ahead, the agriculture sector remains a key sector in the region."

Pam Spady, Regional Vice President, Prairies and Central Canada Division, BMO Bank of Montreal, noted the impact of the shortage of grain shipping capacity for the bank's agricultural customers. "The actual level of the impact is difficult to gauge; we know of customers who have remained stable, and others who are in more difficulty. The good news is that grain shipments are starting to move."

Ms. Spady noted that BMO has extended its financial relief program - until the end of June 2014 - to assist commercial customers in British Columbia and the Prairies affected by a grain handling backlog. The program includes: deferral of loan payments, waiver of a new loan application and concessions on renewal fees and a flexible terms on existing and new lines of credit for 2014 (on a case-by-case basis).

Employment growth remains strong in the province, particularly in the private sector - up 4.9 per cent year-over-year in March - while the jobless rate remains the lowest in Canada.

"The population influx in the cities and the corresponding need to build infrastructure is leading to great opportunity," said Mr. MacAulay. "We are seeing new construction for transportation, universities, hospitals and schools, with corresponding benefits for trades and engineering firms. Construction in residential areas also remains solid, in part because of the influx of new residents."

Mr. Kavcic noted that both supply and demand in the housing market remains firm, due in part to steady population growth. "The province's population growth is running at the fastest pace in nearly 60 years, at 1.8 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2014."

In addition, the oil sector continues to expand and now accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the province's real GDP and direct royalties account for 13 per cent of the total revenue for the Saskatchewan government.

Ms. Spady added that BMO is armed with a highly-skilled team of experts that can make lending decisions at the local level to help its commercial clients boost productivity, expand into new markets and make strategic investment decisions that will help propel growth and drive success.

The full BMO Blue Book can be downloaded at www.bmocm.com/economics.

About BMO Financial Group

Established in 1817 as Bank of Montreal, BMO Financial Group is a highly diversified financial services organization based in North America. The bank offers a broad range of retail banking, wealth management and investment banking products and services to more than 12 million customers. BMO Financial Group had total assets of $593 billion and more than 45,500 employees at January 31, 2014.

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