TORONTO - As the loonie flirts with parity for the second time this year, Canadians are becoming increasingly familiar with the effects of a higher dollar and are finding creative ways to take advantage of it.
The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.18 of a cent at 99.7 cents US near midday Thursday, backing off a gain that briefly saw it pass parity with the greenback for the first time since April.
Earlier in the morning it traded as high as 100.14 cents US.
The loonie has been gaining traction on weakness in the U.S. dollar and strength in commodity prices. Since last reaching parity in April, the dollar has approached the psychological barrier several times, only to fall back.
A high dollar has become part of everyday life for Canadians, and people are learning to get the most out of it.
Tim Kropp owns a UPS store in Lewiston, N.Y., bordering the Niagara region of southern Ontario. He said the vast majority of his customers are Canadians who have discovered they can get good deals by ordering goods online from American stores and having them shipped to an American post office box.
Having a mailbox south of the border not only allows Canadians to save on shipping costs and possibly customs duties, but also lets them order items from American stores where they are often less expensive. That's because as the loonie moves higher, price drops often don't keep pace in Canada, making it cheaper for Canadians to go cross-border shopping.
"We get a lot of Canadians ordering from Amazon.com, and I asked them: 'Don't they have Amazon.ca?'" Kropp said.
"But they said you either can't get the item or the price difference makes it worth it to drive down and pick it up."
Book prices, which are determined at the time of publication, can appear out of date when compared to the value of the loonie, which fluctuates on a daily basis. This is why there can be such a big discrepancy between the U.S. and Canadian prices listed on a book jacket, even when the dollar is at par.
But it isn't just books Kropp is seeing delivered to his store.
"I just had a customer from Toronto the other day. She bought a big popcorn machine and she said it was $1,300 cheaper (to order it from the States)," he said.
Of the 150 mailboxes in Kropp's store, only two of them aren't used by Canadians.
"It's definitely a trend we're seeing at all the UPS stores along the border," he said, adding that he's seen his Canadian customer base increase by about 50 per cent since the dollar began to creep higher.
"We contacted UPS about a location, what's available, and their whole main reason of telling us Lewiston was available was because they knew, based on what the other store up in Niagara Falls is doing, that they needed another location just to handle the Canadian customers."
Economists say the dollar could hover near parity for a while, as signals mount that the U.S. economy is going to remain weak.
The American dollar has been pressured by speculation that the U.S. government will start injecting more money into the economy to give it another boost.
The most recent appreciation in the loonie followed the release of minutes from a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting which suggested the American central bank will further ease conditions through buying Treasury bills — so-called quantitative easing.
Quantitative easing is a way for the central bank to inject more liquidity into the economy without lowering interest rates, which are already as low as they can go in the United States.
That suggests U.S. central bankers are worried about the slow pace of the U.S. recovery and want to provide more cash to help jump-start stronger growth.
A stronger loonie will make Canadian exports of everything from auto parts and furniture to newsprint and lumber more expensive for American customers. But it will also cut the cost of imported goods and make it cheaper to travel abroad.