In March, the global economy was focused on systemic risk in the banking sector.
Following three bank failures in the U.S., markets were roiled again by the forced sale of Credit Suisse to UBS.
Interest rates have plummeted as demand for the haven of government bonds has increased sharply. Consequently, five-year fixed mortgage rates have fallen roughly 30 basis points as the Fed pondered its next move.
Inevitably, failed banks and fears of additional losses have led many financial institutions to tighten their provision of credit. Although interest rates have fallen worldwide, more cautious lending will slow economic activity, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, ground zero for bank failures.
For that reason, many expected the Fed to pause to assess the situation further. The Fed raised its overnight policy rate 25 bps to a range of 4.75% to 5.0%, now above the overnight rate in Canada.
Just over two weeks ago, Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified to Congress that inflation pressures warranted higher-than-expected interest rates. With the bank failures, the Fed suggests that the target level might be only one or two moves away. However, even with that, the U.S. central bank reasserted that interest rates determined by the Fed will not be reduced until next year.
Market-determined yields have fallen sharply, especially at the short end of the yield curve—increasing the inversion in the yield curve. An inverted yield curve portends a more aggressive economic slowdown, reflected in the fall in oil and gas prices.
Canada’s yield curve moved almost as much as in the U.S. Good news on the inflation front affirmed the Bank of Canada’s decision to pause. Consumer price inflation fell last month from 5.9% to 5.2%. The Bank will likely pause again at its next meeting in April.
Canadian bank stocks fell quite a bit, mirroring global trends. Our banks are in no danger of failing. Like the 2008 Financial Crisis, Canadian banks have proven to be very soundly regulated.
Lower mortgage rates are great news for the coming Spring season. While it won’t measure up to the 2021 boom, a rebound in sales and new listings will be great for the industry.
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