Canadian real estate values are soaring, but owners don’t want to sell to tap that windfall. Instead they’re taking out loans against the equity — big loans. Regulatory filings reveal a surge in home equity line of credit (HELOC) debt in April 2022. However, HELOC debt is just a part of the total for home equity loans. Including similar loan products, the size of debt nearly doubles. They’re also growing at one of the fastest rates in history, despite higher interest rates.
Canadian HELOC Debt Is Rising At The Fastest Rate Since 2013
Canadian HELOC debt is climbing after sliding in popularity for a few months. The outstanding balance reached $168.8 billion in April. This is an increase of 0.9% ($1.6 billion) from the month before and 1.8% ($3.1 billion) higher than last year. HELOC debt has generally been on the decline since 2010, but the trend is now reversing direction.
Canadian HELOC Debt
The outstanding balance of Canadian home equity line of credit held by institutions.
Source: OSFI; Better Dwelling.
Growth might sound small, but there’s been a shift in the trend that’s worth noting. At just 1.8% annual growth in April, the rate is the highest since April 2013. Outstanding HELOC debt only recently returned to positive growth in February. Prior to that, only about 1 year in the past 9 showed positive momentum.
Canadian HELOC Growth
The annual growth rate for Canadian HELOC debt.
Source: OSFI; Better Dwelling.
No, that doesn’t mean Canadians haven’t been tapping their home like an ATM. Quite the opposite. The difference is the regulator has decided to place a hard definition on HELOC products. Similar types of products are no longer included in the outstanding balance. For instance, if you have a home equity loan with fixed terms, it’s not a HELOC. It requires variable rates.
That last point might provide a little insight into why HELOC loans are all of a sudden growing. Variable rates weren’t popular during the past decade’s low rate era. Why not lock in your cheap debt just in case something happens? Now that fixed rates are rising, borrowers are often looking to variable rate loans. They save a little money, likely doubting variable rates will rise to the fixed offering soon.
Now, if we include the other types of home equity loans, we see a big jump in debt. Not just the balance of loans being secured by housing, but the growth rate as well.
Canadians Owe $295 Billion In Debt Secured By Home Equity
The combined balance of all home equity secured loans is much higher. The outstanding balance reached $294.9 billion in April, a new record. It grew 1.3% ($3.8 billion) from a month before and is 8.0% ($21.9 billion) higher than last year. Annual growth was also a new record.
Home equity debt is growing at a breakneck speed, as owners tap their windfall for spending. This most likely provided a big boost to consumer consumption. In other words, much of the spending or investing we’ve seen is based on borrowing recent gains.
This is a part of the issue with letting home price growth run wild for years. Economic growth is slowly becoming more dependent on borrowing non-productive asset gains. The longer this occurs, the bigger the impact when the economy needs to shift back to real gains driven by productivity instead of non-productive asset price growth.