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Housing affordability: First improvement in over 2 years
For the first time in 9 quarters, housing affordability improved in Canada. Not only was it the largest improvement in over 3 years, but it also ended the longest sequence of declining home affordability since the 1986-89 episode. Still, that is not to say that the median home is now affordable in Canada as the mortgage payment as a percentage of income (MPPI) registered at 64.6%, the second highest level since 1981. Feeding into the refinement, home prices declined for a second consecutive quarter and did so at the fastest pace since 1990. Although our 5-year benchmark mortgage rate used to calculate affordability rose by 17 bps in the fourth quarter, that was more than compensated for by falling prices and still rising incomes. The slight rise in rates nonetheless brought the benchmark rate to its highest level since 2008. Preliminary data for the first quarter of 2023 as well as our outlook for monetary policy in Canada suggest that we may be peaking in terms of mortgage interest rates. The current level for interest rates is restrictive and signals that home price declines are not over yet. Moreover, incoming data for the first quarter of 2023 confirms that prices have weakened while resale market data from CREA indicates that sales have significantly declined with listings concurrently increasing. Given our view for further declines in home price and decreasing mortgage rates, we expect affordability to improve in the coming quarters.
Canadian housing affordability improved for the first time in 9 quarters in Q422. The mortgage payment on a representative home as a percentage of income (MPPI) declined 2.1 points, a pullback from the 4.0-point increase in Q322. Seasonally adjusted home prices decreased 3.9% in Q422 from Q322; the benchmark mortgage rate (5-year term) rose 17 bps, while median household income rose 1.0%.
Affordability improved in 8 of the ten markets covered in Q4. On a sliding scale of markets from best improvement to deterioration: Victoria, Hamilton, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Montreal, Winnipeg, Quebec, Edmonton, Calgary. This was the first time in 9 quarters that a majority of markets improved. Countrywide, affordability improved 0.6 pp in the condo portion vs. a 2.9 pp improvement in the non-condo segment.
Bank of Canada maintains policy rate, continues quantitative tightening
The Bank of Canada today held its target for the overnight rate at 4%, with the Bank Rate at 4% and the deposit rate at 4%. The Bank is also continuing its policy of quantitative tightening.
Global economic developments have evolved broadly in line with the outlook in the January Monetary Policy Report (MPR). Global growth continues to slow, and inflation, while still too high, is coming down due primarily to lower energy prices. In the United States and Europe, near-term outlooks for growth and inflation are both somewhat higher than expected in January. In particular, labour markets remain tight, and elevated core inflation is persisting. Growth in China is rebounding in the first quarter. Commodity prices have evolved roughly in line with the Banks expectations, but the strength of Chinas recovery and the impact of Russias war in Ukraine remain key sources of upside risk. Financial conditions have tightened since January, and the US dollar has strengthened.
In Canada, economic growth came in flat in the fourth quarter of 2022, lower than the Bank projected. With consumption, government spending and net exports all increasing, the weaker-than-expected GDP was largely because of a sizeable slowdown in inventory investment. Restrictive monetary policy continues to weigh on household spending, and business investment has weakened alongside slowing domestic and foreign demand.
The labour market remains very tight. Employment growth has been surprisingly strong, the unemployment rate remains near historic lows, and job vacancies are elevated. Wages continue to grow at 4% to 5%, while productivity has declined in recent quarters.
Inflation eased to 5.9% in January, reflecting lower price increases for energy, durable goods and some services. Price increases for food and shelter remain high, causing continued hardship for Canadians. With weak economic growth for the next couple of quarters, pressures in product and labour markets are expected to ease. This should moderate wage growth and also increase competitive pressures, making it more difficult for businesses to pass on higher costs to consumers.
Home sales continue their downward trend in January
On a seasonally adjusted basis, home sales decreased 3.0% from December to January, a second monthly decline in three months. As a result, sales slipped to their lowest level since August 2010 (excluding the pandemic). As the Bank of Canada raised its policy rate in January and is expected to keep monetary conditions restrictive for most of 2023, the resale market could experience further declines in the months ahead and remain at a level of activity well below its historical overage. Adding to the weakness of the report, the decrease in sales was widespread across provinces, with only Ontario (+0.4%) and PEI (+6.0%) registering increases.
On the supply side, new listings were up 3.3% in the month, a first increase in three months and the fastest one since February 2022. Still, we continue to see that there is a high proportion of sellers who are changing their minds, as we estimate that about one in five listings are withdrawn during the month. Despite this, the increase in listings combined to the low level of sales is allowing supply to rise in Canada as testified by the number of months of inventory increasing from 4.1 to 4.3 in January. This is up from the trough of 1.7 reached in the pandemic but remains low on a historical basis. As a result, the active-listing to sales ratio is easing but is still tighter than its historical average in the majority of Canadian provinces, with only B.C. and Manitoba indicating a ratio above average.
On a year-over-year basis, home sales were down 39.4% compared to the second-strongest month of January in history last year. Sales were down in every province on a year-over- year basis, with the largest decline observed in B.C. (-49.0%) and the smallest in Newfoundland (-13.5%).