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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
Canadian home sales edge down from December to January
According to statistics released today by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national home sales were down slightly in January 2017 on a month-over-month basis.
- National home sales declined 1.3% from December 2016 to January 2017
- Actual (not seasonally adjusted) activity in January was up 1.9% from a year earlier
- The number of newly listed homes dropped 6.7% from December 2016 to January 2017
- The MLSHome Price Index (HPI) in January was up 15.0% year-over-year (y-o-y)
- The national average sale price was little changed (+0.2%) y-o-y in January
Sales activity was down from the previous month in about half of all local markets, led by three of Canadas largest urban centres: the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Greater Vancouver, and Montreal.
Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity was up 1.9% compared to the same month last year. While sales were up from year-ago levels in about two-thirds of all local housing markets including in the GTA, Calgary, Edmonton, London and St Thomas, and Montreal, they were down significantly in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
The number of newly listed homes dropped 6.7% in January 2017, the second consecutive monthly decline. New listings were down in about two-thirds of all local markets, led by the GTA and environs across Vancouver Island.
With the monthly decline in new listings surpassing the decline in sales, the national sales-to-new listings ratio jumped to 67.7% in January compared to 64.0% in December and 60.2% in November.
The ratio was above 60% in about half of all local housing markets in January, the vast majority of which are located in British Columbia, in and around the GTA and across southwestern Ontario. A monthly decline in newly listed homes further tightened housing markets that were already in sellers market territory.
There were 4.6 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of January 2017 unchanged from December 2016 and a six-year low for the measure.
The imbalance between limited housing supply and robust demand in Ontarios Greater Golden Horseshoe region is without precedent (the region includes the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Oakville-Milton, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, the Niagara Region, Barrie and nearby cottage country). The number of months of inventory in January 2017 stood at or below one month in the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Oakville-Milton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford and Guelph.
In the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver, prices have receded from their peaks posted in August 2016. That said, home prices in these regions nonetheless remain well above year-ago levels (+24.9% and +15.6% respectively).
Meanwhile, benchmark prices continue to climb in Victoria and elsewhere on Vancouver Island together with Greater Toronto, Oakville-Milton and Guelph. Year-over-year price gains in these five markets ranged from about 18% to 26% in January.
By comparison, home prices were down 2.9% y-o-y in Calgary and by 1.0% y-o-y in Saskatoon. Prices in these two markets now stand 5.9% and 4.3% below their respective peaks reached in 2015.
Home prices were up modestly from year-ago levels in Regina (+3.8%), Ottawa (+3.7%) and Greater Montreal (+3.1%). In Greater Moncton, home prices for the market overall held steady (-0.2%), reflecting an increase in townhouse row units prices (5.8%) that was offset by a decline in prices for one-storey single family homes (-1.0%).
The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in January 2017 was $470,253, almost unchanged (+0.2%) from where it stood one year earlier.
The national average price continues to be pulled upward by sales activity in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, which remain two of Canadas tightest, most active and expensive housing markets.
That said, Greater Vancouvers share of national sales activity has diminished considerably over the past year, giving it less upward influence on the national average price. The average price is reduced by almost $120,000 to $351,998 if Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto sales are excluded from calculations.
Canadian Housing Starts Trend Increased in January
The trend measure of housing starts in Canada was 199,834 units in January compared to 197,881 in December, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The trend is a six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rates (SAAR) of housing starts.
CMHC uses the trend measure as a complement to the monthly SAAR of housing starts to account for considerable swings in monthly estimates and obtain a more complete picture of the state of Canadas housing market. In some situations analyzing only SAAR data can be misleading, as they are largely driven by the multi-unit segment of the market which can vary significantly from one month to the next.
The standalone monthly SAAR for all areas in Canada was 207,408 units in January, up from 206,305 units in December. The SAAR of urban starts increased by 1.0per cent in January to 189,688 units. Multiple urban starts increased by 4.2per cent to 125,886 units in January and single-detached urban starts decreased by 4.6 per cent, to 63,802 units.
In January, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, but decreased in British Columbia, the Prairies and Quebec.
Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17,720 units.