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DECODING THE MORTGAGE MARKET Mortgage rates today are way below normal. Or are they?
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called Canada’s low interest rates an “anomaly” last week, echoing warnings that other government officials have been making since 2009. But one of the country’s best-known economists believes today’s rates are closer to normal than many think.Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC, caught viewers off guard in a recent webcast with a mortgage company TMG The Mortgage Group. Whereas most economists have been calling for the Bank of Canada to lift its 1 per cent key lending rate back to a more normal 3 per cent, Mr. Tal thinks that these days, “normal” is significantly less.“The speed limit of the economy has been permanently reduced,” Tal said. Inflation, the key rate threat, is extraordinarily low at 1.1 per cent. And the pace of economic growth is in a long-run downtrend, with few signs of bucking that trend.Consequently, “The new normal is much lower interest rates than there used to be…The new normal would be maybe another 100-125 basis points (above today), not more than that.”If true, this would suggest that prime rate - the basis for variable mortgage rates – will average just 4 to 4.25 per cent over the long term, a big departure from the roughly 5 per cent prime rate that most economists forecast as “normal.”Saving ¾ of a percentage point, over the long-term, would have enormous impact on the finances of regular Canadians. Over five years alone, it would put $11,000 of interest back in people’s pockets on the average home purchase, with 20 per cent down. If you’re financially secure, that makes shorter-term and variable-rate mortgages worth a close look.In an email with Mr. Tal about his call, he was careful to point out that “the new normal is a theoretical rate.”“There is a big difference between the actual and theoretical rate,” he said. “In practice, rates tend to overshoot or undershoot. So it is possible that rates will rise by more than that, possibly to 3 per cent.”Presumably, if his model is correct, rates would then revert back down to the mean and cycle around that 4.25 per cent prime rate number.Regardless of how accurate Mr. Tal’s forecast proves to be, the odds are decent that the prime rate will remain almost two percentage points below its 6.89 per cent 30-year average. That’s in keeping with the Bay Street consensus. But more importantly, it’s reflective of Canada’s new realities: contained inflation and modest economic growth.“Variable will probably do better in this environment...if you have a five-year time horizon.” But long-term interest rates will be “permanently higher” five years from now, Tal predicts.If Mr. Tal’s estimate of a 4 to 4.25 per cent prime rate does pan out, variable rates could save people more than fixed rates over the long-run, as they have for decades. And even if “normal” turns out to be a 5 per cent prime rate (which is closer to most economic forecasts), variables should still come out on top over the long term.The question is, what happens between now and the time that rates “normalize.”Today you can find variable rates at prime – 0.5 per cent (i.e., 2.5 per cent) and five-year fixed rates at 3.49 per cent. Let’s assume that rates shoot up in 2015 as economists expect (an expectation that changes with the wind) and that they increase two percentage points over the two years that follow.In the hypothetical scenario laid out above, those of you shopping for a mortgage may find extra value in two particular terms:A three-year fixed mortgage: If you can find one in the 2.75 per cent range or better, it’s a compelling option. It gives you meaningful savings for three years (when compared to terms of four years or more). It also provides insulation from rate increases for three years. Compared to a five-year fixed mortgage, rates would have to be 2.25 percentage points higher at renewal for you to lose on this strategy. That assumes you make equal payments in all cases and renew into a two-year fixed (which adds up to five years total). Betting against a 225 basis point hike in three years is a wager that most strong borrowers should make.A hybrid (50/50) mortgage: Despite our personal beliefs, rates are impossible to foretell with accuracy. A hybrid mortgage removes the guesswork, cuts your risk of rising rates in half and lets you participate in today’s low variable rates. This strategy involves putting 50 per cent of your mortgage in a five-year variable and 50 per cent in a five-year fixed, netting you a starting rate under 3 per cent. It also gives you more flexibility than a five-year fixed by letting you refinance early with a lower potential penalty, and letting you lock in the variable rate at any time.Keep in mind, these strategies are primarily based on hypothetical interest cost. They’re also suited mainly to well-qualified borrowers with sound finances, stable employment and a five-year time horizon. Your situation may be different so as always, make sure to do your own research on what works best for you.Robert McLister is the editor of CanadianMortgageTrends.com and a mortgage planner at VERICO intelliMortgage, a mortgage brokerage. You can also follow him on twitter at @CdnMortgageNews.Source:ROBERT MCLISTERSpecial to The Globe and MailPublished Sunday, Nov. 10 2013, 10:47 PM ESTLast updated Monday, Nov. 11 2013, 10:32 AM EST
The Teranet-National Bank House Price Index ticked down 0.1% in February
In February the TeranetNational Bank National Composite House Price Index(tm) retreated 0.1% from the previous month, following December and January rises that had interrupted a downtrend. It was the first February decline since 2013. The index was up in only three of the 11 metropolitan markets surveyed, the fewest since October 2014: Vancouver (+0.4%), Hamilton (+0.2%) and Halifax (+0.8%). The index for Victoria was flat on the month and the other seven component indexes were down: Toronto 0.1%, Montreal 0.3%, Ottawa-Gatineau 0.7%, Edmonton 0.8%, Calgary 0.8%, Winnipeg 1.0%, Quebec City 1.5%.
For Vancouver it was the 12th rise in 14 months, taking its index to a new record. However, this markets raw (unsmoothed) index* was down 1.3% on the month, a retreat coinciding with a cooling of home sales as reported by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. The raw index for Toronto declined after three consecutive rises. In previous months observers had noted a certain haste on the part of buyers to beat the entry into effect of tougher conditions for obtaining an uninsured mortgage. The advance of the Hamilton index interrupted a run of five declines. The retreat of the Montreal index was the first in 14 months. This is not a concern, since the Greater Montral Real Estate Board reported the strongest sales in six years for the first two months of a year.
Canadian Income Survey, 2016
Canadian families and unattached individuals had a median after-tax income of $57,000 in 2016. Median after-tax income increased from 2011 to 2014, but held steady in 2015 and 2016. The slower growth in 2015 and 2016 was associated with the resource price slowdown, which began in the second half of 2014.
After-tax income is comprised of income from market sources and government transfers. Market income includes employment income, retirement income and income from investments, while government transfers include benefits to seniors, child benefits,
Employment Insurance benefits, social assistance and other benefits. While growth in overall median after-tax income slowed in 2015 and 2016, there was also a significant increase in government transfer income. Median income from government transfers rose from $5,800 in 2014 to $7,400 in 2016. About half of this rise was due to increased child benefits, which became a larger source of income for families with children.
In 2014, the median child benefit received by couple families with children were $2,500. This rose to $3,400 in 2015, and to $4,000 in 2016. For a lone-parent family, the median benefits rose from $5,100 in 2014 to $5,800 in 2015, and then to $6,400 in 2016.