20 Oct

Why Canada’s housing sector didn’t collapse

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Globe and Mail Update Published on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009

While it’s tempting to think of a “housing correction” as a continent-wide phenomenon, National Bank Financial says the Canadian and U.S. markets couldn’t be more different.

“The two have absolutely nothing in common,” senior economist Marc Pinsonneault wrote in an economic update Monday. “In Canada, the correction got under way much later and lasted nowhere as long.”

Mr. Pinsonneault said “prudent lending practices” in Canada prevented the housing market from falling as hard as its American counterpart, and pointed out that Canada’s crisis was a side-effect of its recession rather than its cause.
Here are four ways the markets have differed:

Duration of slowdown
The Canadian market began to slide in October, 2008, while the American slump has lasted 2 1/2 years.

“People wishing to sell their homes either cut their asking price or quite simply took their property off the market,” he said of the Canadian market. “Lower interest rates, lower home prices and renewed consumer confidence led to a quick recovery in sales, so much so that as early as last May, these had surpassed pre-recession levels.

Price declines
According to Teranet, Canadian home prices fell 8.9 per cent from their August, 2008, highs to their recessionary lows eight months later. In the U.S., the S&P/Case Shiller index shows prices slid 33 per cent in 33 months.

Delinquency rates
Canadian banks have seen delinquency rates climb to 0.4 per cent, compared to the 0.65 per cent high reached in 1992. The number is far greater in the U.S., at 3.67 per cent.

Consumer spending
When home prices are under pressure, consumers tend to reel in the spending.
“According to Statistics Canada, from the end of Q3 2008 to mid-2009, the value of household real estate wealth sagged only 1.1 per cent,” he said. “The impact of this impoverishment on consumer spending has been negligible.”

In the U.S., the value of household real estate wealth dropped 18.2 per cent. The Federal Reserve estimates that for each dollar lost in housing wealth, consumer spending pulls back up to 15 cents.
Steve Ladurantaye

20 Oct

Prime Remains at 2.25%

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Bank of Canada maintains overnight rate target at 1/4 per cent and reiterates conditional commitment to hold current policy rate until the end of the second quarter of 2010

OTTAWA – The Bank of Canada today announced that it is maintaining its target for the overnight rate at 1/4 per cent. The Bank Rate is unchanged at 1/2 per cent and the deposit rate is 1/4 per cent.

Recent indicators point to the start of a global recovery from a deep, synchronous recession. Global economic and financial developments have been somewhat more favourable than expected at the time of the July Monetary Policy Report (MPR), although significant fragilities remain.

A recovery in economic activity is also under way in Canada. This resumption of growth is supported by monetary and fiscal stimulus, increased household wealth, improving financial conditions, higher commodity prices, and stronger business and consumer confidence. However, heightened volatility and persistent strength in the Canadian dollar are working to slow growth and subdue inflation pressures. The current strength in the dollar is expected, over time, to more than fully offset the favourable developments since July.

Given all of these factors, the Bank now projects that, relative to the July MPR, the composition of aggregate demand will shift further towards final domestic demand and away from net exports. Growth is expected to be slightly higher in the second half of this year than previously projected but to average slightly lower over the balance of the projection period. The Canadian economy is projected to grow by 3.0 per cent in 2010 and 3.3 per cent in 2011, after contracting by 2.4 per cent this year. This is a somewhat more modest recovery in Canada than the average of previous economic cycles.

The Bank now expects that the output gap will be closed in the third quarter of 2011, one quarter later than it had projected in July. Correspondingly, inflation is also expected to return to the 2 per cent target in the third quarter of 2011, one quarter later than in July’s projection.

While the underlying macroeconomic risks to the projection are roughly balanced, the Bank judges that, as a consequence of operating at the effective lower bound, the overall risks to its inflation projection are tilted slightly to the downside.

Conditional on the outlook for inflation, the target overnight rate can be expected to remain at its current level until the end of the second quarter of 2010 in order to achieve the inflation target. Consistent with this conditional commitment, the Bank will continue to conduct longer-term Purchase and Resale Agreements based on existing terms and conditions and according to the accompanying schedule: http://www.bankofcanada.ca/en/notices_fmd/2009/notice_fad201009.pdf.

In its conduct of monetary policy at low interest rates, the Bank retains considerable flexibility, consistent with the framework outlined in the April MPR.

 

Information note:
A full update of the Bank’s outlook for the economy and inflation, including risks to the projection, will be published in the MPR on Thursday, 22 October. The next scheduled date for announcing the overnight rate target is 8 December 2009.

19 Oct

Recovery in the works, still a ways to go!

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Most economists say recession is over and recovery is beginning

By Mae Anderson
NEW YORK — More than 80 per cent of economists believe the recession is over and an expansion has begun, but they expect the recovery will be slow as worries over unemployment and high federal debt persist.
That consensus comes from leading forecasters in a survey by the National Association for Business Economics released Monday.
“The survey found that the vast majority of business economists believe that the recession has ended but that the economic recovery is likely to be more moderate than those typically experienced following steep declines,” said association president-elect Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University.
The forecasters upgraded the economic outlook for the next several quarters, but cautioned that unemployment rates and the federal deficit are expected to remain high through the next year. Forecasters now expect the economy, as measured by gross domestic product, to advance at a 2.9 per cent pace in the second half of the year, after falling for four straight quarters for the first time on records dating to 1947. They expect a three per cent gain in 2010.
Still, the federal deficit has ballooned and the jobless rate is expected to lag behind, as employers remain cautious.
The unemployment rate rose to 9.8 per cent in September from 9.7 per cent, the Labour Department said earlier this month, the highest point in 26 years.
Forecasters expect the unemployment rate to continue to rise, to 10 per cent in the first quarter of next year, before edging down to 9.5 per cent by the end of 2010.
The recession, the worst since the 1930s, has eliminated a net total of 7.2 million jobs.
Worries about unemployment are likely to continue to constrain household spending. Personal consumption spending likely began rising in the second half of this year, but is expected to remain low in 2010. Still, Americans aren’t expected to save as much as they have in past decades. The savings rate is expected to be above the 2 per cent average of the past four years, but below the 9 per cent average in the 1970s and 1980s.
The housing recovery is one bright spot. Forecasters expect 2010 to be the first year since 2005 that the housing sector will contribute to overall growth. Home prices are expected to rise two per cent in 2010, but panellists do not believe that will stifle the housing recovery.
Inflation is expected to remain low due to the weak labour market and other factors. Thus, the association panel — which consists of 44 economists surveyed Sept. 2 through Sept. 24 — expects the federal funds rate to remain at its current record low near zero until late next spring, before a gradual rise begins.
“The good news is that this deep and long recession appears to be over, and with improving credit markets, the U.S. economy can return to solid growth next year without worry about rising inflation,” said Reaser.
The Associated Press

19 Oct

HST and homeprices buy before it comes in!

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The BC Harmonized Sales Tax in a Nutshell
– A Quick Overview of the B.C. HST 12% Tax and How It Influences New Home Buyers of Real Estate
1.The Harmonized Sales Tax (also known as the new BC HST) is 12% tax applicable to most goods and services, including new homes, real estate, and property.

2.The new B.C. HST 12% Tax is the combination of the Federal Goods and Services Tax (5% GST) and the Provincial Sales Tax (7% PST).

3.Implementation of the BC Harmonized Sales Tax will take place on July 1, 2010.

4.The BC HST is NOT a 12% real estate tax, but a provincial harmonized tax on most goods, services and consumer products including new homes.

5. Currently, new BC and Vancouver homes are subject to 5% GST (federal tax) in which first time homebuyers or investors can receive GST rebates. This 5% GST will be replaced with the higher 12% B.C. Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a 7% difference in taxes on the total purchase price of a new British Columbia home or property.

6. The B.C. HST program will give partial rebates for new BC homes priced up to $400,000. The government will give these homebuyers a partial five per cent BC HST rebate on the provincial tax side which makes any new B.C. home or Vancouver property $400,000 or less no more expensive than it is today.

7. Homebuyers looking to buy new Vancouver property over $400,000 will receive a maximum BC HST rebate of $20,000, but will see the purchase price above that level subject to the extra five per cent tax rate system.

8. The British Columbia Harmonized Sales Tax of 12% HST is also applicable to any costs and fees associated with your property/home purchase including legal/notary fees, commissions and other closing costs.

9. The BC HST transition rules are unclear at this time. It is unknown whether new Vancouver home sales contracts written before July 1, 2010 but completed after the harmonized sales tax HST launch date will be subject to the current 5% GST only or the entire 12% HST new tax.

10. The cost of new home ownership will increase significantly in British Columbia due to the new BC HST tax of 12%. Not only will your new home or real estate cost more up front, but the 12% HST harmonized sales tax is also applicable to such things like strata fees, residential heating fuel, commercial rents, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, repairs, cable TV, internet, electricity, gas, renovations, painting and other professional services.

Some BC Real Estate HST Numbers and How It Affects You

Scenario 1: Based on a purchase price of $600,000 for a new BC or Vancouver home, the homebuyer would pay a total of $72,000 in BC HST taxes (12% on $600,000). With the homebuyer HST rebate for purchases above $600,000, the homebuyer would receive the $20,000, thus reducing their purchase cost to $52,000 in taxes for a total of $652,000. Currently, the 5% GST applicable to the same home would cost only $30,000 (a difference of $22,000). *This does not include the HST applicable to closing fees.

Scenario 2: If a BC homebuyer wanted to purchase a new Vancouver home costing $800,000, the total 12% HST hit would be $96,000. The partial HST rebate of $20,000 (maximum allowed) will reduce this to $76,000, making the final purchase price at $876,000 plus property transfer taxes and other closing costs. Before July 1, 2010, a new home would be subject to only 5% GST which is $40,000 on a $800,000 property. With the new BC harmonized sales tax, a BC homebuyer would pay $36,000 more for the same home after implementation of the HST tax. *This also does not include the HST applicable to closing costs.

The B.C. Harmonized Tax – BC HST Will Raise New Home PricePlease comment on this blog post regarding your opinion and thoughts on how the new BC HST will influence the British Columbia and Greater Vancouver real estate home prices next year. Announced in August 2009, the BC HST will come into effect July 1st, 2010. The BC Harmonized Tax is simply the combination of the two current sales taxes: the 7% provincial BC sales tax and the 5% federal goods and services tax. The BC HST is 12% (twelve per cent) and will be added to the purchase price of new BC homes and Greater Vancouver real estate. In addition to applying 12% on new home prices, the BC HST will also be applicable to real estate closing costs and fees, which will in turn increase the price of any new home in British Columbia and throughout the Greater Vancouver property market. Currently, new homes in BC and Greater Vancouver are only subject to the 5% GST federal tax (and not the 7% provincial sales tax) Some analysts say that as the BC real estate markets start their long recovery from the global economic crisis and housing bubble of 2008-2009, the introduction of the BC HST 12% tax on new homes in Vancouver and the province of BC will halt first time homebuyers from making the largest purchases of the life. In addition, the 12% HST will also affect Greater Vancouver housing affordability, which is already the highest of any city in Canada. Overall, BC housing affordability is also the highest in Canada, which means that British Columbians and Vancouverites spend the most after tax dollars on their homes and real estate purchases. The introduction of the BC HST on new Vancouver homes for July 1st, 2010 will likely damper the sales volume of new real estate in the city in addition to making property more unaffordable for first time homebuyers while making it that much more expensive for current homeowners looking to upsize into larger new Vancouver homes. The other thing to keep in mind is that many retirees are getting to retirement age, and the addition of the 12% BC HST will likely influence what these empty nesters can afford to purchase if they are looking for a new home in BC or Greater Vancouver real estate markets.
Overall, the combination of the PST and GST into the British Columbia HST new Harmonized Sales Tax will ultimately affect the majority of the BC population looking to purchase new homes and real estate property, including those Vancouver condo home buyers. On average, a consumer looking for new BC property will end up spending 7% more because of the difference between the 12% HST harmonized sales tax versus the current 5% GST goods and services tax that are applied to new property. British Columbia already has the award for the most expensive real estate in Canada. The Okanagan region, Victoria and Greater Vancouver also all fit within the top ten most priciest property markets in the country.
The integration of the new provincial BC HST of 12% on new real estate will further increase and bump up the price for new homes in the province, thereby decreasing affordability throughout the region.

19 Oct

Who is driving housing demand??

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Immigrants Driving Housing Demand,
according to Scotia EconomicsTORONTO, July 9 /CNW/ –

Canadian immigrants are narrowing the homeownership gap with their Canadian-born counterparts, according to the latest Real Estate Trends report released today by Scotia Economics. The most recent census data available show that in 2006, almost 72 per cent of immigrants lived in a dwelling owned by a household member, up from 68 per cent in 2001. The comparable share for the Canadian-born population rose a more modest two percentage points over this period, from 73 per cent to 75 per cent. “Homeownership tends to increase the longer one has lived in Canada, with the majority of new arrivals first settling in rental accommodation,” said Adrienne Warren, Senior Economist, Scotia Economics. “Over time, immigrant families eventually make the move to homeownership, at rates similar to the Canadian-born population. However, between 2001 and 2006, the homeownership rate rose for all immigrant groups, regardless of how long they had resided in Canada. The biggest increase was among those living in Canada for less than 10 years. “As recent immigrants to Canada make the transition from renter to owner, they will increasingly drive housing demand,” states Ms. Warren. According to the report, the faster transition to homeownership has been supported in part by strong labour markets. The employment rate for core working-age recent immigrants jumped 3 1/2 percentage points between 2001 and 2006 (to 67.0 per cent). This was faster than the 1 1/2 percentage point gain among their Canadian-born counterparts (to 82.4 per cent). The employment rate for all immigrants also increased over this period, but by a more modest one percentage point (to 77.5 per cent). “The better labour market performance of recent immigrants may reflect a favourable skills mix, with many employed in high-growth industries such as engineering, construction and skilled trades. It may also reflect a greater geographic mobility to meet shifting regional labour requirements,” said Ms. Warren.The report also states that, of the more than one million immigrants that came to Canada between 2001 and 2006, 69 per cent settled in the three largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs) – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – and their surrounding municipalities. Meanwhile, a growing proportion (28 per cent) of immigrants settled in smaller CMAs, most notably Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Kitchener. Less than three per cent chose to live in a rural area. “Given Canada’s aging population and relatively low fertility rates, longer-term household formation and housing needs will be largely determined by immigration,” concluded Ms. Warren. “Using standard assumptions regarding immigration, fertility and mortality rates, the share of Canada’s population growth coming from immigration could rise to three-quarters a decade from now, up from 60-65 per cent today and almost all by 2030. Most of this growth will be in Canada’s urban areas.” Scotia Economics provides clients with in-depth research into the factors shaping the outlook for Canada and the global economy, including macroeconomic developments, currency and capital market trends, commodity and industry performance, as well as monetary, fiscal and public policy issues.

19 Oct

Improved Affordability = Great time to buy

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Improved affordability helps spur Canadian housing market, says RBC Economics
Every major city in Canada enjoying a housing market resurgence

TORONTO, July 8 /CNW/ – Home affordability in Canada recorded some of the biggest quarterly improvements on record in the first quarter of the year, with aggressive economic policy and softening home prices drawing buyers back into the market, according to the latest housing report released today by RBC Economics.

“With the turmoil in financial markets partially subsiding and the flow of credit increasing, home resale activity has rallied impressively since the late-winter,” said Robert Hogue, senior economist, RBC. “What’s most impressive is how widespread this rebound has been, with all major cities in Canada experiencing a revival.”

Declining costs of home ownership during the last year were driven by significant cuts in mortgage rates along with the federal government taking an active role in supporting the mortgage securities market. In the first quarter, monthly payments on a typical detached bungalow in Canada had decreased by close to 17 per cent from a year earlier.

The RBC Housing Affordability measure captures the proportion of pre-tax household income needed to service the costs of owning a home. During the first quarter of 2009, the RBC Affordability measure at the national level improved across all housing segments, as the benchmark detached bungalow moved to 39.4 per cent, the standard townhouse to 31.9 per cent, the standard condo to 27.1 per cent and the standard two-storey home to 44.7 per cent respectively.

The report found that rates of housing affordability improved at the national level from 2.8 percentage points for standard condominiums and 5.0 percentage points for two-storey homes, marking the third consecutive quarterly decline in home ownership costs.

“Housing markets generally appear to be on the mend in Canada but the road to full recovery still has obstacles,” added Hogue. “With property values stabilizing and the effect of the steep drop in mortgage rates likely behind us, further improvement in affordability will depend on greater gains in family income. Those gains will be dictated by the speed of the economic recovery expected during the second half of this year.”

RBC’s Affordability measure for a detached bungalow for Canada’s largest cities is as follows: Vancouver 62.6 per cent, Toronto 45.9 per cent, Ottawa 39.1 per cent, Montreal 36.5 per cent and Calgary 35.1 per cent. The property benchmark for the Housing Affordability measure, which RBC has compiled since 1985, is based on the costs of owning a detached bungalow. Alternative housing types are also presented including a standard two-storey home, a standard townhouse and a standard condominium. The higher the reading, the more costly it is to afford a home. For example, an Affordability reading of 50 per cent means that homeownership costs, including mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes, take up 50 per cent of a typical household’s monthly pre-tax income.

Highlights from across Canada:

– British Columbia: In the first quarter, housing affordability in B.C. showed the sharpest improvements since 1991. Sales of existing homes have picked up vigorously since the November-January lows, prices appear to be leveling off and more balanced supply and demand conditions are expected to emerge in coming months.
– Alberta: The drop in mortgage rates and sinking home prices have fully restored homeownership affordability in the province. Sales of existing units have rebounded smartly this spring from earlier depressed levels and market conditions have tightened. Alberta’s housing market is likely at the point of turning the corner.
– Saskatchewan: Significant improvement in affordability has helped the Saskatchewan housing market pick up pace again after bottoming at the start of the year. Moderately stronger sales of existing homes this spring and a slower pace of home sale listings have restored some balance into the market.
– Manitoba: Supported by relatively favourable affordability rates, Manitoba’s market continues to be among the most resilient in the country. A relatively robust economy, steady population growth and recent improvement in affordability should support housing demand in the period ahead.
– Ontario: Spring resales figures show a surprising amount of activity in Ontario, with average prices for existing homes climbing back to where they were mid-2008. Much of this resurgence in the province is due to greater affordability, with homeownership costs for detached bungalows and condominiums dropping below long-term averages.
– Quebec: Resale activity has rebounded quickly in Quebec, reflecting a homeownership market that is now more accessible than has generally been the case in the province since the mid-1980s. Home prices have generally stayed their upward course, even through the period of weaker resale activity earlier this year.
– Atlantic region: The costs of owning a home in Atlantic Canada continue to improve, with housing affordability rates among the best in the country. Favourable affordability levels in Atlantic Canada have given the region some protection against the housing storm with minimal declines in property value.

19 Oct

Renovation Tax Credit a hit with consumers

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Monday, June 29, 2009

OTTAWA–A new poll suggests more than one in three Canadians plan to take advantage of the federal government’s home-renovation tax credit.
More than eight in 10 questioned in the Harris-Decima/Canadian Press survey said they were aware of the program, under which eligible applicants can receive a tax rebate of as much as $1,350 if they invest up to $10,000 in renovations on their home.
“Unlike many new tax policies, which only get noticed by accountants and actuaries, the government of Canada has successfully communicated the introduction of the home-renovation tax credit to Canadians,” said Harris-Decima’s senior vice-president, Jeff Walker.
“This program appears to be helping stimulate the economy as well.”
Nationally, 82 per cent of respondents were aware of the home-renovation tax credit, while 17 per cent said they were unaware. Those under age 35 and those with annual incomes below $60,000 were least likely to know of the tax credit.
Overall, 35 per cent of respondents said they planned on taking advantage of the program, while 60 per cent said they would not.
The ratio of those who planned to take advantage of the program increased with income.
More than half of those earning more than $100,000 a year (51 per cent) responded positively, compared with 41 per cent of those making between $60,000 and $100,000 and just 27 per cent of those earning less than $60,000.
Respondents west of Ontario were the most likely to be taking advantage of it.
Some 1,000 Canadians were surveyed June 18-21, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

19 Oct

Rates, Inflation….what does this mean?

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Friday, June 19, 2009

Recently a reader of my blog asked me to comment further on the relationship between interest rates and inflation, and the performance of the market.

With respect to the first part on how interest rates and inflation are related you need to understand that there are economic laws at play with these two itmes. Inflation ALWAYS affects both short term AND long term interest rates in two very different ways.

With respect to long term rates, you need to remember what drives long term rates, that is long term bonds. Therefore one needs to know that as inflation rises bond yields ALWAYS go up. When bond yields go up (as they have been steadily for the past 6 weeks) then fixed rates ALWAYS go up. As for how that affects the stock market, TRADITIONALLY as bond yields rise people flee the stock market which then does bring the stock market down in lockstep as bonds rise. Couple this with the expectation that there will be periodic profit taking from the stock market as there has been recently and you can wit certainty predict that the stock market will continue to be volatile for 12-18 months as we navigate inflation rising.

With respect to short term rates remember that variable rates are priced off short term t-bills or Bankers Acceptance rates. Those rates are determined solely by the central banks overnight rate. TRADITIONALLY, the central banks ONLY weapon against inflation is to raise the overnight rate. As this happens of course then variable rates go up.
What does all this mean with respect to the real estate market then?
Well, first we would all do well to understand and accept that the ONLY reason we have seen a quicker recovery to the real estate market is SOLELY based on the fact that both long and short term interest rates are at significantly historical lows. That means readers would say “based on what Angela said above if inflation rises (which EVERYONE expects that it will) then interest rates will rise respectively, which will cool the recent rebound in real estate.”

The answer to this is “not necessarily”. Let me explain in point form below:

1) Short term rates may not go up as fast as inflation this time around
There are two reasons for this, number one is that the Bank of Canada has repeatedly said recently that they are not going to touch the overnight rate until June of 2010. However they have also been adding the caveat recently that they may change this stance if inflation surges out of control. My guess is that they will let inflation get slightly ahead of their comfort zone, and then attack it, which means we will get a the rest of this year and maybe Q1 of 2010 at these unbelievably low variable rates.

The second reason is that as the banks cost of funds continue to drop and they start reducing the risk premium they have been attaching to their loan pricing they will drop their premiums over prime to gain more market share. This has already been happening as a few months ago the best deal you could get was Prime +.80% and today you can get Prime +.45%. Look for this premium to be dropped all together in the coming months, and likely we will be back into Prime Minus within a year or so.

2) Interest rates are sooo low now

What I mean here is that even if interest rates were to rise by 1 to 1.5% in the coming year we would STILL be below “normal” historically. Therefore how much would this cool the real estate market?

3) Never bet against momentum

As interest rates start their slow climb back to normal levels many people will panic and get into the market to buy “before rates go higher” this momentum will gain steam as it goes. We will likely continue to see a strong real estate market with strong demand as rates rise. Of course as rates rise above say the 5% level again then affordability becomes an issue. If strong demand causes a bigger then expected rise in average price, coupled with a decline in affordability then remember what we learned in the last crash as soon as average home prices start to overshoot our growth in family income then you can absolutely predict with certainty a real estate correction. This time we will be ready.
With Oil rising quietly lately and the fact that it will likely be over a $100 or close to it by years end and the fact that the US money multiplier will rise (more of the billions they printed to get out of the banking crisis enter the market) you can count on inflation. But don’t count on that shutting down the real estate market in the short run. It will be a few years before we will see a cooling or an outright correction. Tread carefully.

As a final note, PLEASE anyone taking a new mortgage today, or any of my colleagues selling mortgages today, make sure you can afford the house you are contemplating if interest rates were in the 5 to 5.5% range. better yet, set your payments today as if the rate WAS 5.5%. Why?
because when you renew five years from now, count on the fact that it will be that or maybe higher, and that you will likely have moderate equity gain in that time period and you will not be able to count on a refinance to bail you out.
Let’s not repeat our past mistakes, gluttony is a cardinal sin remember.

19 Oct

Do not handcuff your mortgage

General

Posted by: Angela Calla

Post Date: Monday, June 15, 2009

Don’t handcuff your mortgage
Gary Marr, Financial Post Published: Saturday, June 13, 2009
Would you like to pay an extra $300 per month on your mortgage? Not likely.
That hasn’t stopped a number of Canadians, with the deal of a lifetime on a variable-rate mortgage, from switching over to a more expensive fixed-rate product and paying the extra freight.
A fear of rising rates is driving the rash decision. But if you’ve finally managed to pin your banker to the ground, why on Earth would you let him off the mat?
More than 28% of Canadians have a variable-rate product tied to prime, according to the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP). If you negotiated a deal before October of last year, chances are you are now borrowing money for as little as 1.35%. That’s based on deals that at one point saw the banks giving 90 basis points off prime. Prime is now 2.25%.
The average sale price of a home last month in Canada was $306,366. Based on a 25% downpayment and a 25-year amortization, your monthly payment would be $962.61 at 1.35%. Convert that to a five-year fixed-rate term and you’re probably going to have to consider a 4% mortgage rate and a monthly payment of $1,289.04.
Rates are rising fast. Most major banks upped their five-year rate by 40 basis points this week, although discounters were still offering 4% this past week.
“It’s not a mass rush yet, but we are starting to see … people locking in. But variable rates are still so good,” says Joan Dal Bianco, vice-president of real estate-secured lending, TD Canada Trust. She stops short of questioning why a consumer would pull out of these “deals” that are no longer available on the market.
Try to get a variable-rate mortgage today and the best you can probably hope to get is 60 basis points above prime, or 2.85%.
The landscape changed dramatically in October during the credit crunch. As the Bank of Canada lowered rates, the major banks reluctantly lowered prime because of the massive amount of customers with variable-rate products negotiated under the old, higher terms.
“Bonds yields are going up rapidly and people are starting to realize the rates are going to go up,” Ms. Dal Bianco says. Throw in the fact the Bank of Canada used the weasel word “conditional”(on inflation rates)when it promised not to raise rates until June, and you can understand why some people think today’s record-low prime rate might not hold.
But if you’re someplace between 60 to 90 basis points below prime, the rate is going to have to go up pretty fast to justify locking in today at 4%, even though that is just slightly above the all-time low hit last month for a five-year term.
“I don’t understand why you would lock in,” says Jim Murphy, chief executive of CAAMP. “Sure, if they start to rise, but [Bank of Canada governor Mark] Carney says they won’t rise, so you’ve got another year at that prime-minus rate.”
Don Lawby, chief executive of Century 21 Canada, says even when rates do start to increase, they are not going to jump significantly right away. You are not going to get 4% on a fixed rate again, but double-digit rates seem unlikely. “The only logic two locking in would be for someone very sensitive to any rate change and they just want to be secure,” Mr. Lawby says.
But at what price? If you’re using the “feeling secure” logic, why not go for the 10-year fixed-rate product? Rates on that product can be locked at 5.25%, ridiculously low by historical standards. Yet fewer than 10% of Canadians consider a 10-year product.
There are some compromises you can make. For starters, there is nothing to prevent consumers from having a blended mortgage at most Canadian banks. Some banks will let you take half your outstanding debt and lock it in. Diversity is preached for stock portfolios, but few people seem to adhere to the same philosophy when managing their debt.
Consumers might want to take their cue from business. Few companies would want all of their debt coming due at the same time — it presents too much risk. The other option is knocking down principal: Make payments based on a 4% rate and have that extra $300 go straight to your principal every month.
The bottom line is if you’ve got a deal on your mortgage, why would you give it back?
Dusty wallet Double check your credit card statements. DW is in a bit of a skirmish with Visa over a taxi cab bill. Of course, DW is too cheap to use cabs, but does succumb to them to get to and from airports on vacation. Last trip, the family took an airport limousine and paid the $56 charge. Guess what? The same amount was billed a month later. So far, the taxi cab company has yet to produce a second receipt. In the interim, DW had to pay the second $56 charge.
gmarr@national-post. Com
Fed not likely to raise rates
Peter Hodson, Financial Post
Recently, there has been some loud talk about inflation and how the U. S. Federal Reserve is going to have to start raising interest rates soon in order to nip inflation in the bud.
When first confronted with this news, you may have said, “Hogwash! No way in this economic backdrop could the Fed raise rates, slow down growth and risk sending us into a steep ‘double-dip’ recession.”
That certainly would be my view. It’s unclear at this point even if we are coming out of recession, so it really would be premature to slow things down at this point before any growth traction has been achieved.
However, let’s not just make assumptions. Let’s delve into history to see what the Fed has done in prior cycles.
The last U. S. recession was from March, 2001, to November, 2001, a period of eight months. The Fed funds rate was 6.5% from June, 2000, to January, 2001. In January of that year, the Fed lowered the rate to 6%, then went on a 12-month lowering frenzy during the recession and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. By year-end 2001 the Fed funds rate was 1.75%, with the Fed still maintaining an easing bias.
Despite the official ending of the recession in November, 2001, the Fed maintained very low interest rates for almost three more years. In fact, it kept lowering rates, down to 1% from June, 2003 to May, 2004. This strategy of keeping rates low despite no recession is now widely blamed as the reason for the creation of the housing bubble that popped in 2007. The Fed finally raised rates in June, 2004, a full 30 months after the recession had ended.
In the recession of July, 1990 to March, 1991 (eight months) the Fed had been easing or maintained a neutral bias since February, 1989. At the start of that recession, the Fed funds rate was 8.25%. By the end of the recession, it was down to 6%. Again, despite the recession being over, the Fed kept jamming rates lower, all the way down to 3% in December, 1993. The Fed didn’t raise rates again until February, 1994. In that recession, again the Fed kept lowering rates for 30 months after the end of the recession.
Going back further into history, in the recession of July, 1981 to November, 1982 (16 months) the Fed acted a little more quickly. In May, 1981 the Fed rate was 20.0%. By December of that year, the Fed had moved rates down to 12%. In the spring of 1982, though, rates were back to 15%. But, showing signs of confusion, by the end of the summer 1982, rates were much lower, at 9.5%. The Fed was tightening rates again by September, 1982, and for a period of time investors had no idea what to expect, as the Fed moved rates up or down seemingly at random for a period of 18 months.
In the energy crisis of the early 1970s, the recession lasted from November, 1973, to March, 1975 (16 months). In November, at the start of the recession the Fed funds rate was 9.00% but by May, 1974, because of inflation fears the Fed had already raised the rate to 13%. Recession fears, however, ultimately ruled the day, and by year-end 1975 the Fed rate had been cut in half, to 4.75%. The tightening began anew, however, in April, 1976, 13 months after the official end of the recession.
What can we conclude? One, it seems sometimes that the Fed is just winging it, moving rates at random in response to short-term events. But it does seem the Fed is unwilling to raise rates too quickly after any recession.
Based on the severity of this economic downturn, you would have to conclude the Fed is unlikely to risk a double-dip recession, and will keep the Fed funds rate very low (now 0% to 0.25%) for a long time.
This may, of course, cause inflation, but for the time being, that is still better than a giant de-leveraging economic death-spiral.
peter@sprott.com— – Peter Hodson is a senior portfolio manager at Sprott Asset Management.