Fixed vs Variable Rate Debate
I have received a lot of questions regarding the difference between fixed and variable rates. What are they based on? Do they both move at the same time? Why is it harder to qualify for a variable? All great questions, and all questions that you need to be clear on before signing into a mortgage contract. Fixed mortgage rates follow the pattern of Canada Bond Yields, plus a spread, where bond yields are driven by economic factors such as unemployment, export and inflation. Variable mortgage rates are driven by the same economic factors, except variable rates fluctuate with movements in the prime lending rate, the rate at which banks lend to their most credit-worthy customers. Variable mortgage rates are typically stated as prime plus/minus a percentage discount/premium. For example, a variable rate could be quoted as prime - 0.8%. So, when the prime rate is, say, 5%, you will pay 4.2% (5%-0.8%) interest.The Bank of Canada adjusts the prime rate depending on the state of the economy, as determined by the economic factors introduced above. Together, combinations of unemployment, export, and manufacturing values shape the inflation rate. Generally speaking, when inflation is high, the Bank of Canada will increase the prime rate to make the act of borrowing money more expensive. Conversely, when inflation is low, the Bank of Canada will decrease the prime rate to stimulate the economy and improve the attractiveness of borrowing.In terms of the discount/premium on the prime rate applied to variable rates, mortgage lenders set this based on their desired market share, competition, marketing strategy and general credit market conditions. These are the same factors that drive the spread between lenders' fixed mortgage rates and bond yields.Qualifying for fixed and variable rates has changed over the last couple of years. Before I break down the differences in qualifying, let's talk about the Benchmark rate in Canada. The benchmark rate is a rate that lenders are required to use to qualify mortgage borrowers in Canada who want a variable rate mortgage or a fixed mortgage term of less than 5 years.The purpose of using a qualifying benchmark rate is to ensure that those who qualify for a mortgage in Canada can qualify with breathing room. In the event of a downturn in the economy or increase in rates down the road, this prevents Canadians from becoming orphaned homeowners without a lender willing to assist them. We are in an era of all-time low interest rates, so the sad reality is they have nowhere to go but up. Purchasing a home at a rate of 2.99% looks amazing today, but the payments can be substantially higher when you renew in five years at 5.5%. This is something referred to as 'Payment Shock'. (To be discussed in an upcoming newsletter... hint hint, watch for it!) Our Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, deemed it necessary that all fixed 1, 2, 3, and 4 year, and all variable mortgages qualify at the benchmark rate. The benchmark rate in Canada is currently set at 5.34%. This translates to buyers affording less because of inflated interest rates that act as a safety net.The only way to avoid qualifying at the Benchmark rate is to opt into 5 to 10 year fixed terms. These terms allow you to qualify at the contract rate (the rate being offered by your Mortgage Advisor). The difference in the contract rate and the benchmark rate can be very significant. Here is an example:Suzie and Charlie want to purchase their first home. After speaking with their Mortgage Advisor, they are given two options:1. $400 000 with the 5 year fixed at 3.59%, or2. $335 000 with the 5 year Variable at Prime-0.4% (2.6%)Even though option 2 has a lower interest rate, it needs to be qualified using the Benchmark rate (5.34%), so their purchase becomes noticeably less.To sum this up, fixed rates and variable rates are two completely different products and are actually very independent of one another. I understand this can be a very confusing topic, so don't hesitate to contact me with your questions!
Weakness in Toronto and Vancouver after seasonal adjustment
In August the TeranetNational Bank National Composite House Price IndexTM was up 0.2% from the previous month. Removing normal seasonal patterns (seasonal adjustment), the index would have been virtually flat, following retreats in June and July. In other words, after seasonal adjustment, the downtrend of June and July did not turn around in August.
Individual market indexes were up in eight of the 11 metropolitan markets surveyed. Seasonally adjusted, they would have been up in only four. The published (non-seasonally-adjusted) indexes were up strongly under any respect in Ottawa-Gatineau (1.4%), Hamilton (1.4%), Montreal (1.2%) and Quebec City (0.5%). However, gains in Toronto (0.3%), Edmonton (0.2%), Victoria (0.1%) and Winnipeg (0.1%) only reflected usual seasonal pressures. After seasonal adjustment, these indexes would have dropped or be flat. Indexes were down for Halifax (0.6%), Calgary (0.3%) and Vancouver (0.4%).
The published Toronto index was up for a fifth straight month. But it is the opposite after seasonal adjustment as the index would then have been down for a fifth straight month. For Vancouver and Victoria it was a third straight month of decline after seasonal adjustment.
In August the composite index was up 1.4% from a year earlier, the smallest 12-month rise since November 2009. This weakness is partly attributable to a peak in August 2017 from which the index declined in following months. For this reason the 12-month rise is likely to accelerate in the months ahead. August 2018 indexes were down from a year earlier in Toronto (3.3%), Hamilton (0.7%), Calgary (0.5%) and Edmonton (0.3%). They were up from a year earlier in Winnipeg (1.3%), Quebec City (1.4%), Halifax (4.6%), Montreal (4.8%), Victoria (5.0%), Ottawa-Gatineau (5.2%) and Vancouver (7.6%).
Besides the Toronto and Hamilton indexes included in the composite index, indexes exist for the seven other urban areas of the Golden Horseshoe. In July, two of these, Barrie and Oshawa, were, like Toronto and Hamilton, below their peaks of Q3 2017. Indexes not included in the composite index also exist for seven markets outside the Golden Horseshoe, five of them in Ontario and two in B.C. The 12-month rise of these indexes varied widely, from 1.5% for Sudbury to 14.3% for Abbotsford-Mission.
 Note on methodology: The current-month data used to calculate the index are those of closed sales entered in the provincial land registry. To illustrate the home price trend, the published indexes of the 11 metropolitan markets entering into the TeranetNational Bank Composite House Price Index present moving averages of the last three months of raw indexes, a procedure that evens out month-to-month fluctuations. For our full methodology, please visit www.housepriceindex.ca
Bank of Canada maintains overnight rate target at 1 ½ per cent
The Bank of Canada today maintained its target for the overnight rate at 1 per cent. The Bank Rate is correspondingly 1 per cent and the deposit rate is 1 per cent.
CPI inflation moved up to 3 per cent in July. This was higher than expected, in large part because of a jump in the airfare component of the consumer price index. The Bank expects CPI inflation to move back towards 2 per cent in early 2019, as the effects of past increases in gasoline prices dissipate. The Banks core measures of inflation remain firmly around 2 per cent, consistent with an economy that has been operating near capacity for some time. Wage growth remains moderate.
Recent data on the global economy have been consistent with the Banks July Monetary Policy Report (MPR) projections. The US economy is particularly robust, with strong consumer spending and business investment. Elevated trade tensions remain a key risk to the global outlook and are pulling some commodity prices lower. Meanwhile, financial stresses have intensified in certain emerging market economies, but with limited spillovers to other countries.
The Canadian economy is evolving closely in line with the Banks July projection for growth to average near potential. Following growth of 1.4 per cent in the first quarter, GDP rebounded by 2.9 per cent in the second quarter, as the Bank had forecast. GDP growth is expected to slow temporarily in the third quarter, mainly because of further fluctuations in energy production and exports.
While uncertainty about trade policies continues to weigh on businesses, the rotation of demand towards business investment and exports is proceeding. Despite choppiness in the data, both business investment and exports have been growing solidly for several quarters. Meanwhile, activity in the housing market is beginning to stabilize as households adjust to higher interest rates and changes in housing policies. Continuing gains in employment and labour income are helping to support consumption. As past interest rate increases work their way through the economy, credit growth has moderated and the household debt-to-income ratio is beginning to edge down.
Recent data reinforce Governing Councils assessment that higher interest rates will be warranted to achieve the inflation target. We will continue to take a gradual approach, guided by incoming data. In particular, the Bank continues to gauge the economys reaction to higher interest rates. The Bank is also monitoring closely the course of NAFTA negotiations and other trade policy developments, and their impact on the inflation outlook.
The next scheduled date for announcing the overnight rate target is October 24, 2018. The next full update of the Banks outlook for the economy and inflation, including risks to the projection, will be published in the MPR at the same time.