Economic Insights – Canada Real Estate Market.
The biggest surprise recently has been the unexpected interest rate hike by the Bank of Canada. While the April inflation headline did tick up, and Q1 GDP data came in at a stronger-than-expected 3.2%, the April labour force data showed some easing in the jobs market.
The ratio of unemployment-to-job vacancies is now rising. Rather than signaling a rate hike before the announcement on June 7, the Bank chose to pre-empt any additional economic indicators.
Ironically, the May jobs data, released later that week, showed a rise in the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the first increase since before rate hikes began in March of last year. The Bank of Canada was particularly disturbed by the resurgence in home sales and prices in April. They argued that interest rates needed to be higher if the most interest-sensitive of all spending was rising.
That move by the central bank spooked the housing market, causing many to question their decisions to purchase. Expectations of any declines in the overnight policy rate this year vanished, and markets now expect at least one more hike this year.
Consumer spending does remain robust, as evidenced by the solid retail sales data for April. Moreover, many households have turned to credit cards to finance their spending—bolstered by inflation—and delinquency rates have risen.
Wage inflation remains strong, core inflation ticked up in April, and food inflation, though down from double-digit levels, is still far higher than a 2% inflation target would warrant.
The bank watchdog, OSFI, warned that the rising level of remaining amortizations of variable rate mortgages is a warning sign of continued risk for households that went into VRMs in droves when interest rates plunged in the first two years of the pandemic. New originations over that period were at rock-bottom rates, and variable mortgage rates were far below fixed. The situation has reversed today, and 3-to-4-year fixed mortgages dominate new mortgage originations.
Many VRM borrowers have hit their trigger points, where their monthly payments are no longer covering their interest costs—hence the negative amortizations of these loans at some Big Six Banks. OSFI is warning banks to address this immediately as renewals will mean at least a 30% rise in monthly payments if mortgage terms revert to 25- or even 30 years. OSFI has also increased the mandatory level of Tier One common equity relative to risk-weighted assets by 50 basis points. Currently, all the large Canadian banks fulfill this requirement.
Another significant milestone last month dramatically impacted the Canadian housing market. International migration to Canada spiked in 2022, taking population growth to 2.7%, the highest in the developed world and the strongest since the top of the Baby Boom in 1957. As of mid-June, Statistics Canada announced that the population is 40 million. The housing shortage is mounting, and housing starts are falling. Despite higher interest rates, demand for housing for rent or purchase has never been more robust.
While the federal government announced last year that they want to double housing construction to improve affordability over the next decade, Trudeau’s goal appears unachievable. This will continue to put upward pressure on rents and home prices over the longer term.
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