Canadian Home Builders scramble to meet demand

General Angela Calla 10 Nov

Canadian home builders scramble to meet demand

Garry Marr, Financial Post 

The Canadian housing market’s surprising turnaround is spreading to new home construction as developers scramble to respond to a supply shortage that has sent pricing soaring for existing homes.

But any increase in construction on the new home side will likely not surface fast enough to feed the demand for housing that continues to be spurred on by record low interest rates.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Monday there were 157,300 units constructed last month on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, a 5.4% increase from a month earlier. Annualized starts at dropped as low as 118,500 in April.

“There is not a lot of inventory around,” said Gary Friend, president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, adding his industry has been careful not to speculate. “We have to watch our Ps and Qs, as we try to meet this demand.”

Any increase in supply would be welcomed as a shortage of new listings has lead to a spike in prices. The Canadian Real Estate Association said last month existing home prices across the country were up 13.6% in September from a year ago as a supply problem was evident in almost every city.

The shortage has yet to ease despite the suggestion higher prices would coax homeowners to sell. This month the Toronto Real Estate Board reported sale prices in October were up 20% from a year ago.

“The existing homes market is in short supply so we’ve gone from a buyer’s market to seller’s market. The way it gets linked is you get some spillover into the new homes market and that’s starting to happen,” said Bob Dugan, chief economist with CMHC.

The agency has already upped its forecast for new home construction for 2010 from 150,300 to 164,900. Even at that level though, construction is still well off the 211,000 new starts recorded in 2008.

Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist with the Royal Bank of Canada, said “at the margins” new home construction could help ease the housing crunch. “Builders are aware and will contribute where they can to advance construction activity but no they can’t turn on a dime.”

Canadian Businesses Confidence Highest Since 2007

General Angela Calla 5 Nov

Optimism returns to Canadian businesses, confidence highest since 2007   By Julian Beltrame        OTTAWA — Canada’s business leaders are turning bullish about the economy after a year of doom and gloom, a new survey suggests.

The Conference Board of Canada’s fall business confidence survey finds corporate leaders believe the recession is finally over and that the economy will rebound in the next six months.

The mood of confidence is particularly strong considering that recent indicators, particularly gross domestic product data for July and August, were disappointing.

Yet 63 per cent of business leaders surveyed said they expect the economy to improve over the next half-year, as opposed to only seven per cent who thought it will deteriorate.

Significantly, about a year ago the responses were almost exactly reversed.

The 16-point surge in the fall survey brought the confidence index to 97.8, the highest level since 2007.

The survey of about 2,000 representative firms from across the country was conducted between Sept. 14 and Oct. 22.

“After a year of despondency, Canadian business leaders are sensing an end to the deepest recession in a generation,” the Conference Board said about the results.

“Respondents appear very encouraged by signs of nascent recovery. More than half the respondents believe the present is a good time to expand their stock of machinery and equipment.”

Despite the apparent optimism, business still said they were concerned about under-utilization in their production levels, with 29 per cent describing their operations as substantially below capacity.

As well, leaders said they were concerned about the impact a strong dollar will have on their sales, the still weak demand, and about the ease of obtaining financing.

But it is in the forward indicators that business leaders were decidedly optimistic.

Almost 61 per cent said they expected their financial position to improve in the next six months, and more than half expect better profitability.

As well, more than half said it was a good time to expand, with 16 per cent saying they expected to increase their level of capital spending by more than 20 per cent in the next six months.

The Conference Board’s survey is roughly in line with results obtained by the Bank of Canada in September. The central bank’s survey of businesses showed 69 per cent of large firms optimistic their sales would increase in the coming year, and 42 per cent saying they expected to shift to hiring.

Canada’s Quiet Economic Growth

General Angela Calla 4 Nov

Full Post
Posted Tuesday, November 03, 2009 12:06 PM

Canada’s Quiet Economic Strength

In the past year, distance from the U.S. has proved a great insulator from economic pain. China and Australia, literally on the other side of the globe, are humming along, while Mexico is suffering from a decline in U.S. imports. But our NAFTA neighbor to the north, Canada, has emerged from the morass in better shape than any developed economy. Since its brief recession ended this summer, Canada has been creating jobs (31,000 in September). The Canadian dollar–the loonie–is soaring against our dollar. “There is a buzz in Canada right now, which is as far apart as you could ever be from what’s happening south of the border,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist of Toronto-based asset manager Gluskin Sheff. 

While housing prices in Canada grew exuberant, lending standards never did. Canadian home buyers had to make down payments, funky interest-only loans were nowhere to be seen, and banks kept their leverage ratios in check. The result: mortgage default rates have been low, and no large Canadian bank has failed. The World Economic Forum ranks Canada’s as the world’s most sound banking system. And while exports of manufactured goods to the U.S. have been hit, Canada’s huge resource industries–oil, natural gas, agriculture, metals–have benefited from China’s continued growth. The exposure of Canada’s economy to the commodity sector is three times more intense than America’s. Add in robust capital inflows and a recovering housing market, and, strange as it seems to say, Canada is hot.

CMHC forcasts continued new housing rebound

General Angela Calla 3 Nov

CMHC forecasts continued new housing rebound

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The national housing agency is reporting that housing starts have started to recover and it expects the recovery to continue.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. predicts starts will reach 141,900 this year and increase to 164,900 in 2010.

The CMHC’s fourth-quarter market outlook forecasts housing markets will continue to strengthen over the next year as economic conditions improve.

It says demand for existing homes has rebounded and both new and existing home markets are characterized by lower inventory levels.

However, the national housing agency says the strong pace of sales in the second and third quarters partly reflects delayed activity and is not likely to be sustained.

The CMHC says it expects the level of sales to move back closer in line with anticipated economic conditions.

It predicts existing home sales will reach 441,300 units in 2009 and increase to 445,150 units in 2010, while the average price is expected to be $312,950 in 2009 and $324,500 in 2010.


Weekly Market Insight

General Angela Calla 2 Nov

October 30, 2009

Q. What can the Bank of Canada do about the value of the dollar?

A. Usually the Bank can use monetary policy to impact the value of the dollar. But given that the bank rate is already as low as it can go; the Bank cannot use monetary policy to weaken the dollar. But the Bank can intervene directly in the FX market by buying American dollars and selling Canadian dollars. History suggests that such intervention can be useful—at least to a degree. So far, the Bank is not talking about it but if the dollar regains upward momentum in the near future, such an action from the Bank is a real possibility.

Q. Will rising real estate prices force the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates?

A. It is very clear that the recent increase in house prices in Canada reflects a dramatic improvement in affordability. But is it too much of a good thing? The problem with any kind of a bubble is that, in most cases, you know that it’s happening, but you are not sure what do about it. Some argue that the Bank of Canada should raise interest rates in order to make housing less affordable. While this policy makes sense in a booming economy, it does not make sense in an economy that is still trying to find its poles.

The Bank will not raise rates just to deal with the housing market while sacrificing the rest of the economy and risk an even stronger Canadian dollar. So what to do? So far, the Bank is doing nothing, with the hope that we are simply stealing activity from next year. If that is the case then there is no urgency to do anything at this point. But if in the coming six months, house prices continue to rise at current rates and the economy is still in an early recovery mode, the market will start speculating about some direct intervention by the Bank/government in the housing market by altering current regulations regarding insurance and securitization.

Q  How sustainable is the economic growth in the US in the last quarter

A. The 3.5% third quarter GDP growth in the US is clearly unsustainable. Most of the increase was temporary in nature and reflects government spending and a short-lived improvement in the auto sector. My focus at this point is on US business investment which is still falling. That is important given that integral element in formatting the market’s current view is that the Fed will start hiking rates in the second half of 2010 and by that time, business capital spending in the US will be rising by no less than 5% on an annual basis. Given that business spending has been a huge contributor to the US GDP recession, the timing of its rebound will be critical to the timing of a turn to monetary tightening.

The conventional wisdom was that the US recession in the past year was consumer-led, as opposed to the investment-led recession of 2001. But the reality is that the current slump in capital spending is, infact, steeper than the IT meltdown. Back then, the burst of the bubble meant a 12% drop in real capital spending over a two-year period. Currently, as of the third quarter of 2009, and only a year removed from its peak, capital spending is already down by no less than 20%, qualifying it as the steepest slump in business spending in the post-war era. Even as a share of GDP, capital spending is already down to the

Another misconception is that the current decline in US business spending is largely due to the weak state of the American commercial real estate market. But the reality is that, so far, the largest slump in spending was in the machinery and equipment category, which is now down by 21% since the beginning of the recession, compared to a 15% decline in the non-residential real estate component.

Note that the descent in non-residential investment began 6-8 months after spending on machinery and equipment started its nosedive. This suggests that the adjustment in non-residential real estate investment is still in its early stages. Add to it the high correlation of this business investment category with employment growth and the fact that the industrial vacancy rate is now at a dazzling 12%—a record high and a full five percentage points above levels that in the past signaled a recovery, and it becomes painfully clear that any hopes of a turnaround in non-residential real estate investment by mid-2010 are nothing more than wishful thinking.

So, the continuing decline in business investment next year will leave the market’s overall US economic growth expectations light on fuel. While talk in some quarters of a double-dip recession looks to be too gloomy given the huge stimulus still flowing next year, the long wait for a capital spending turn will keep overnight rates at highly stimulative levels for longer than the market now thinks.

Q. To what extent monetary and fiscal policies are coordinated?

A. Officially the Bank of Canada is independent, but it does not mean that it does not take fiscal policy into account while making decisions regarding interest rates. And given the fact that by 2011, fiscal policy will act as a negative for the economy as government will stop spending and start looking for ways to reduce the deficit, it is highly possible that this situation will work to postpone the first hiking move by the Bank, or at the minimum, limits the magnitude of the tightening cycle.


Senior Economist



Canada’s Economy

General Angela Calla 2 Nov

Canada’s economy still sputtering

October 30, 2009

OTTAWA —Canada’s economy unexpectedly went into reverse again in August, adding new uncertainty about the strength and sustainability of the recovery.

The country’s real gross domestic product slipped 0.1 per cent in August — the first outright decline in three months — in a broad set-back led by oil-and-gas extraction, mining, utilities, mining and manufacturing.

The markets reacted strongly to today’s news, led by the Canadian dollar’s one-cent dive to the mid-92-cent level.

Economists said the negative reading, after a flat July that was not revised upwards as some had hoped, will make it very difficult for the economy to match the Bank of Canada’s newest forecast announced last week that growth would average two per cent in the third quarter.

With only the September data remaining, it would take a massive bounce to meet the expectation.

If it’s a recovery, “it’s a pretty wimpy start of a recovery,” said Scotiabank senior economist Derek Holt.

With the strong dollar likely having cut into exports and boosted imports in September, Holt said it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the quarter as a whole could turn in a negative performance — which would mean the recession, technically, did not end.

“I don’t rule out a negative (reading) at all,” he said.

That is still not the base-case scenario envisioned by economists, however. Most, including Holt, believe the third quarter will show modest growth, but not enough to boost confidence and far behind the 3.5-per-cent pace set by the U.S. for the corresponding period.

The two-country comparison appears to support a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives this week that argued the United States had done a far better job of rolling out stimulus spending than Ottawa. The report estimates the President Obama administration has outspent the Harper government seven-to-one so far.

About half of the gross domestic product jump in the U.S. during the third quarter was attributed to the wildly popular cash-for-clunkers program and government incentives for new home buyers, both of which have ended.

“We now put more hope in a strong quarter four, but there is no doubt that the Canadian economy has been slower out of the recessionary gate that we had initially expected,” said Meny Grauman, an economist with CIBC.

Grauman said the Bank of Canada is now likely to keep interest rates at the lowest practical level of 0.25 per cent until the end of 2010, well beyond the conditional commitment of next summer.

That changes the picture of the loonie going forward and puts into question earlier expectations it would reach parity by the end of the year, and possibly rise above next year.

The August fall-back was almost entirely due to continued weakness in the critical goods producing part of the economy, with consumer-generated activity remaining strong.

Oil-and-gas extraction fell 2.3 per cent, as maintenance work at some crude petroleum facilities on the East Coast slowed production. Natural gas production also retreated.

The output of the mining sector excluding oil and gas extraction declined 1.4 per cent.

Manufacturing activity decreased 0.7 per cent, with eight of the 21 major groups retreating. Wholesale declined 0.5 per cent, reflecting weakness in foreign and domestic demand.

Meanwhile, retail sales increased 0.3 per cent, the public sector advanced 0.4 per cent, construction gained 0.2 per cent, and the level of activity of real estate agents and brokers remained high for a third straight month.

The output of utilities also rose, 1.8 per cent, as natural-gas distribution and the production of electricity increased.

The Canadian Press