Month: February 2010
New mortgage rules
Paul Vieira, Financial Post with files from Garry Marr in Toronto
OTTAWA — Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister, says he is targeting “reckless” speculators who buy up multiple condominium units in the country’s biggest cities with new rules introduced yesterday that will make it tougher for Canadians to get a mortgage.
The reforms were submitted after nearly a week of non-stop warnings from people ranging from a prominent money manager to former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge about an impending housing bubble. The concern was that the real estate market was getting ahead of itself, as buyers took advantage of record-low interest rates to acquire homes.
In introducing the tougher mortgage requirements, Mr. Flaherty said there was “no clear evidence” of a real estate bubble in this country, the kind of which sideswiped the U.S. economy and sparked the worldwide financial crisis.
“The measures will not affect the ability of a Canadian family to buy a house. It will affect those who are speculating,” the Finance Minister said. “What we’re getting at is the speculation in multiple condominium units in particular which we see in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and in some other places in Canada.”
Home builders were taken aback by the measures introduced, saying they could result in “severe implications” for the condo and housing markets.
The changes, scheduled to come into effect on April 19, will make it harder for first-time buyers to qualify for government-backed mortgage insurance — from either Crown agency Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. or private-sector providers — which is required if down payments are less than 20% of the property’s value.
Borrowers now have to meet standards for a five-year fixed-rate mortgage, even if the buyer wants a shorter-term, variable rate product.
Some analysts, however, indicate the shift is not as big as it appears. Eric Lascelles, chief economist at TD Securities, said the revamped rule likely means the minimum household income cutoff for Canadian mortgage applicants would be about $5,000 to $8,000 higher.
Further, Ottawa has raised the minimum down payment on rental income properties — where the buyer does not plan to live — to 20% from 5%.
Mr. Flaherty said one goal is to protect Canadians from overextending themselves financially as interest rates are likely to climb from present historic lows. The other, he added, is to root out speculation in real estate, which he suggested was happening with greater frequency based on prebudget consultations.
“I don’t know how that serves the Canadian people and why the government should insure mortgages like that,” Mr. Flaherty said. “People can do it with their own money and if they can find someone who will lend them the money on an uninsured basis. But I just don’t want CMHC and the Canadian people to be in the business of guaranteeing speculative mortgages.”
Derek Holt, vice-president of economics at Scotia Capital, said the condo market could feel the pinch. Industry experts estimate roughly 40% of condo purchases are investment-related, with buyers looking to rent the units for income and perhaps sell them at a later date at a higher price.
“Evidence of the greatest speculative excess has been in the condo segment in the past few years,” Mr. Holt said.
Others weren’t so sure. Ben Myers, executive vice-president of Urbanation, a Toronto firm that tracks the city’s condo market, said the move would have “very little” impact because most condo builders already require down payments of 15% to 20% for their units once they are occupied.
Still, home builders were shocked by Mr. Flaherty’s contention that the real estate market was at the mercy of speculators.
“I don’t know if they have thought this through as to who a speculator is,” said Peter Simpson, chief executive of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association. “Just because someone buys a second property doesn’t make them a speculator.”
He added that these new regulations, combined with the coming harmonized sales tax in British Columbia on July 1, could lead to a “perfect storm” that hits the province’s housing market.
The chief operating officer of the Canadian Home Builders Association, John Kenward, said the rule aimed at condo speculation came as a surprise to his members.
“It had not been the subject of conversation [between the government] and the industry,” said Mr. Kenward. “It could have serious implications going forward. We don’t know why it was introduced.”
Overall, Mr. Lascelles said, the economic implications from the proposed moves “are unlikely to be severe, and we expect the housing market to slow its ascent without crashing back down to Earth.”
SUMMARY OF CHANGES
*Borrowers must qualify for a five-year fixed rate mortgage instead of a three-year loan when calculating gross debt service and total debt service ratios.
*Refinancing will be capped at 90% for government-backed high-ratio mortgages versus 90% previously.
*A down payment of 20%, instead of 5%, will be required for government-backed mortgage insurance on non-owner-occupied properties purchased for speculation.
WHAT CHANGES MEAN FOR A $337,000 HOUSE
*The difference between a three-year mortgage rate and a five-year mortgage rate is currently in the range of about 50-100 basis points. The average house in Canada costs $337,000, which means that this change will require that mortgage applicants have the capacity to absorb an extra $2,500 per year in mortgage costs than in the past, according to calculations by Eric Lascelles at TD Securities. Effectively, the minimum household income cut-off for Canadian mortgage applicants is now about $5,000-8,000 higher than it was previously, to fulfill the new rule.
To hear more tune into The Mortgage Show with AMP of the year Angela Calla on CKNW AM980 Saturdays at 7pm
MORTGAGE INSURANCE RULES ANNOUNCEMENT
This morning, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced prudent changes to mortgage insurance rules intended to come into force on April 19, 2010. CAAMP and it’s members was actively engaged in the discussions around these changes which are as follows:
1. All borrowers must meet the standards for a five-year fixed rate mortgage even if they choose a mortgage with a lower interest rate and shorter term;
2. The maximum amount one can withdraw in refinancing their mortgage will be reduced to 90% from the current 95% of the value of one’s home;
3. Non-owner occupied properties will require a minimum down payment of 20%.
There were no changes to down payment requirements or length of amortizations for owner-occupied residences.
We will continue to monitor developments including transition rules and update you accordingly
If you or anyone that you care about could benifit from being updated or have additional questions, please introduce us over an email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-802-3983
Garry Marr, Financial Post
Canadian real estate sales and prices are poised to set records this year, according to a new forecast that is bound to reignite calls in some quarters for tighter lending rules.
The Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents 100 boards across the country, said Monday it expects existing-home sales to reach 527,300, a 13.3% increase from a year ago and a 1.2% increase from the record high set in 2007.
The new-home market appears to be picking up steam, too. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said there were 186,300 starts in January on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, the highest level of new construction since October 2008.
Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has warned about rising levels of household debt, which is reaching record levels. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has suggested he is prepared to tighten mortgage requirements and continues to monitor the market.
“One of the legitimate concerns of the Finance Minister might be if you make qualifying for mortgage default insurance prematurely restrictive that it will quell housing activity even as erosion in affordability continues,” said Gregory Klump, chief economist with CREA.
There are have been some rumblings that the government is considering new rules that would require buyers who need mortgage insurance to have at least 10% down and amortize their mortgage over just 25 years instead of the current 35 years.
Anybody with less than a 20% downpayment must get mortgage insurance, if they are borrowing from a financial institution governed by the Bank Act.
Mr. Klump’s group contends the market is going to correct on its own in the second half of 2010. CREA has called for sales to drop 7.1% in 2011. The group says that while prices will rise by 5.4% in 2010, to a record high of $337,500, they will drop by 1.5% in 2011.
That view of the housing market is not out of step with some economists, who say that once interest rates rise and inventory levels increase, price increases will shrink. Year-over-year price increases in some markets, such as Toronto, have been around 20% for the past few months.
“There is still a sense of urgency to get into the market. The market will continue to be strong over the next few months,” said Benjamin Tal, senior economist with CIBC World Markets, adding he could see new construction also touching 200,000 starts before beginning to fall.
Part of that urgency in the housing sector is being driven by the introduction of the harmonized sales tax in Ontario and British Columbia on July 1. The tax would apply to real estate services and could increase the cost of buying a home by a few thousand dollars.
“It’s a factor fuelling a higher level of activity in Ontario and British Columbia,” Mr. Klump said. “What’s more Canadian than avoiding taxes?”
Elton Ash, vice-president of Re/Max of Western Canada, said he thinks the forecast put out Monday was a little optimistic for 2010, specifically the 4.2% price increase for British Columbia. “But I also think the market will be better in 2011 [than CREA].”
Mr. Ash is actually in favour of some measures to cool the market, like reducing the amortization period back to 25 years. But he wonders whether increasing the downpayment will take some people out of the housing market.
“I think leaving it at 5% would be okay,” Mr. Ash said.
Looks like a V shaped recovery afterall
OTTAWA — Despite all the angst in financial markets over sovereign debt and the populist influence on banking reform proposals, the economies in the United States and Canada have chugged along the road to recovery at a pace that’s surprising even the most skeptical of analysts.
Data released Friday indicate U.S. GDP grew in the fourth quarter, an estimated 5.7%, at its fastest pace in six years. Meanwhile in Canada, data show November growth was stronger than expected, at 0.4%, while revisions to September and October figures indicate the economy was much stronger than earlier thought.
“It couldn’t have been that easy, could it?,” asked Stewart Hall, economist at HSBC Securities Canada, who in previous notes had expressed caution about a slow, uneven recovery. “Yet charting out the month over month GDP looks an awful lot like a “V” shaped recovery.”
Prior to the release of this data, markets had been consumed with worries in the aftermath of the financial crisis, be it the debt levels of industrialized countries; a slowdown in Chinese growth as Beijing looks to tighten credit conditions, and measures proposed by the U.S. White House that could scale back the size of U.S. banks, leading them in the meantime to restrict credit growth as given their uncertain future.
“One of the important lessons of the crisis was that it was often helpful to focus squarely on more comprehensible macro-cyclical dynamics than on the noise and complexity of these other areas,” Dominic Wilson, director of global macro and markets research for Goldman Sachs, said in a note this week.
“The latest focus on the banks might inadvertently restrict credit or tighten financial conditions in ways that do alter the macro path. But we think it makes sense to stay more focused on the economic news rather than shifting views too much on the basis of handicapping the twists and turns of possible legislation and the inevitable news from Washington.”
As for the nuts and bolts of the data, analysts had mixed views.
In the U.S., economists at Capital Economics argued the big estimated headline gain was largely due to inventory rebuilding – hence, there’s some skepticism that will kickstart a self-sustaining recovery.
But Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said the U.S. data suggest “the consumer, after being in hiding the previous-six quarters, re-emerged in the second-half of 2009. … This was a reflection of rising confidence that the recession was ending, the effect of government programs and a very low interest rate environment. Going forward, we expect that consumer spending will remain positive but that increases will be moderate as the hangover from the buying binge in previous years constrains activity.”
It is not just the consumer. Business investment also surprised on the strong side, with growth of 2.9% after a 5.9% drop in the previous quarter. Investment in equipment and software jumped 13.3%, well above the 1.5% expansion in the third quarter. Net exports also added to U.S. GDP, in a sign that the country is beginning capitalize on its weaker currency and stellar productivity when it comes to trade.
In Canada, the surprisingly strong November data – and upward revisions to September and October – have economists indicating that the recovery is for real, with some now penciling in growth of at least 4% for the fourth quarter, or above the Bank of Canada’s own projections. And remember, the central bank’s forecast is at the upper end of market projections.
“This is one of the most convincing signs so far that the Canadian recovery is for real, and neatly dovetails with the robust U.S. GDP result,” said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.