Time for your cheat sheet on this week’s most important stories.
Canadian Real Estate
Canada’s central bank didn’t just dismiss concerns about the hot real estate market, but welcomed them. Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem dismissed the need for cooling measures during a media Q&A . Macklem said, “I think right now the economy is weak… I think we need the support.”
The governor repeated, “we need the growth we can get [from real estate].” In other words, Canada’s economy has become so dependent on real estate, it has no choice but to embrace the issue.
Bonds are normally boring, but a big swing makes this an exception – especially for real estate. The Bank of Canada’s 5-year benchmark bond influences 5-year fixed mortgage rates. The yield of that bond reached 0.94% on Thursday, increasing a whole 20 bps from a day before. Yields are now up 59.15% from a week before, and double a month before. They’re also about 3x from last year’s lows in August.
How does that influence mortgage rates? The 5-year fixed mortgage competes for the same capital. If the 5-year benchmark rises, mortgage rates are likely to rise as well. Rising bond rates also tend to reflect increased inflation risk. This could send other types of mortgage rates higher as well. Just in time to provide a cooling measure for the spring market.
The pandemic is slowing Canada’s population growth, but builders are still on time with deliveries. Builders delivered an unprecedented 18.41 homes per person the population grew by in Q4 2020. This is up from a record quarter of 2.26 homes per person in the previous quarters.
Over the past year, there was a new home completed for 95% of the population growth. Considering homes on average are occupied by 2.9 people on average, it’s a lot of supply. Pressure on home prices to rise should be released, but it’s not. It’s actually accelerating. That would be because once prices are no longer based on fundamentals, they no longer respond to them.
Canada’s consumer price index (CPI) is much higher when mortgage interest is excluded. CPI increased 0.58% in January, up 1.02% from a year before. When excluding mortgage interest, it rises 0.72% for the month, and is 1.30% higher. CPI has been extremely volatile during the pandemic, and this is just another example. If you didn’t refinance your home in the past year, your cost of living is 30% higher than the government thinks it is.
Canadian home equity lines of credit (HELOC) balances saw minor growth. The outstanding balance reached $2.59 billion in December, up 1.58% from a year before. The monthly drop was the biggest for the segment since 1992, and annual growth was the slowest since 2015. Great for households to minimize credit growth during a period of uncertainty. Bad for the economy, since it’s become so heavily dependent on credit growth to operate.
Canadian mortgage debt is growing at the fastest pace in over a decade. The balance of mortgage credit reached $1.66 trillion in December, up 7.67% from a year before. This marks the 22nd consecutive month of annual growth accelerating. This is also the highest rate of growth since 2010, over a decade ago. To put that number in context, mortgage debt over the past 12 months grew by over 6% of GDP.
A few days before our above column on soaring yields, we noticed yields were positioning to climb. The 5-year GOC benchmark bond yield reached 0.59% on February 18, 2021 – an increase of 17 bps from a month before. This was enough to watch the bump. A couple days after this article was written, yields bumped 20 bps higher in a single day. Some mortgage lenders have already announced higher 5-year fixed rates. The rest are likely to follow over the next few days.
Data from Canada’s national statistics agency shows commercial real estate isn’t uniformly impacted. Commercial retail rents have fallen 3.96% in Q4 2020, bringing them 6.14% lower than a year before. Office rents climbed 0.49% in the same quarter, and are now up 1.29% from a year before though. Retail rents are at a multi-year low, while office rents just printed an all-time high. An unusual dynamic, considering office rents are bucking the work-from-home trend, while retail is feeling the full brunt.
Canada’s largest bank widened the spread of their best and worst case scenario. RBC’s best case for real estate is the benchmark price rising 8% over the next 12 months. This is an increase of 2 points compared to the previous quarterly forecast. The downside remained the same though, with a worst case of 29.6% in this scenario. A positive revision across the board would have been a good thing. However, the worst case staying the same means a wider range of outcomes. This means more uncertainty is being considered.
Toronto Real Estate
Greater Toronto new home sales are ripping higher, but the city is being left behind. There are 2,171 new home sales in January, up 4.43% from the same year before. The modest increase was despite a 40% drop in new home sales for Toronto. The suburb of Durham more than picked up the slack, with sales in the region rising 301% from last year, and 876% from a year before. The flight from the city has spread to new homes.
Global Real Estate
New Zealand’s government will require the central bank to consider affordability in policy. The government stated housing is a “critical component of a sustainable and inclusive economy, and promotes the maintenance of a sound and efficient financial system.”
To ensure they can accomplish this, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has requested new tools. One of those tools is the ability to utilize debt-to-income ratio limits. Both the government and central bank didn’t mince words, openly stating these measures are to target investors. The government is expected to announce further measures in the coming weeks.
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