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CANADA HOUSING MARKET and new stress test
Canadian home sales took a turn in April 2021, declining by 12.5% (sa m/m) from the highest level on record in March 2021. Listings followed suit, falling by 5.4% (sa m/m). While both sales and listings decreased in April, the smaller decline in listings further eased the national-level sales-to-new listings to 75.2% from record high readings earlier this year (the highest being 91% in January). While this is a move in the right direction towards a better supply-demand balance, the ratio is still significantly higher than its long-term average of 54.5%. As a result of this persistent tightness in the housing market, the composite MLS Home Price Index (HPI) rose by 2.4% (sa m/m). This is a deceleration in price gains from paces observed over the last two months, owing in the most part to a slowing in prices for single-family homes and townhouses. Apartments, which had remained relatively close to pre-pandemic levels before accelerating earlier this year have maintained momentum in April.
Movements in the housing market this month continued to be broad-based rather than market-specific, as declines in sales were spread out across much of the country.
The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) also announced that, effective June 1, the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages (i.e., residential mortgages with a down payment of 20 percent or more) will be the greater of the mortgage contract rate plus 2 percent or 5.25 percent.
Scotiabank: Why Canada needs to focus on ways to encourage more home building
The recent run-up in housing prices, and the attendant worries about affordability and accessibility, have many stakeholders scrambling to find quick solutions. While understandable, those approaches are likely to have only minimal impacts on Canadas housing situation and its consequences for people looking for a reasonably priced place to live. Focusing on interest rate policy or macroprudential instruments, such as stricter mortgage stress tests, draws attention away from the underlying cause of the problem: the inability of supply to meet demand. Put simply, this country doesnt build enough housing. We should not be surprised by this. Canada has increased immigration dramatically in recent years to tremendous benefit to the economy, but we failed to pro-actively address the housing challenges the consequent population boom was sure to bring. Policy efforts must focus far more on anticipatory, collaborative, multistakeholder and very specific solutions to the housing situation rather than on the short-term and ultimately ineffective macroprudential Band-Aids applied in recent years. Scotiabank Economics is publishing research this week looking at the increase in Canadas housing stock relative to the increase in population over the past several years to get a sense of how effective we have been in creating new units. The numbers are not encouraging. One way to look at it is by using the ratio of new housing to population growth. By that measure, construction has been well below its historical average since mid-2017. That is perhaps not surprising, given that Canada has seen an immigration-fuelled population boom since 2015. In the three years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, population grew nearly twice as fast as new housing units were being built. That ratio improved somewhat with the COVID-related stall in immigration, but it is likely to reverse course once immigration returns to planned levels.
Dan Rees is group head, Canadian banking at the Bank of Nova Scotia. Jean-Franois Perrault is Scotiabanks chief economist