House price growth in Toronto poses quite a problem for Canada

One of the economic themes of these times has been the boom in asset prices caused by ultra easy monetary policy and the way that establishment’s present this as “wealth effects” leading to economic growth when in fact some and often much of this is in my opinion inflation. For example those investing in government bonds have benefited from rises in prices and this is presented as a “wealth effect” but on the other side of the coin someone taking out an annuity faces much lower yields and much lower income from a set sum. Yet the “wealth loss” for them is not counted. There is also the issue of house prices where again rises are presented as an economic benefit which for some they are but both first-time buyers and those wishing to trade up in the market face higher prices.

The house price issue is one which has dogged economic comment about Canada and merited a substantial mention by the Bank of Canada last week. This is significant because central banks  look away from such matters until they feel they have no other choice. The emphasis is mine.

Housing activity has also been stronger than expected. We have incorporated some of this strength in a higher profile for residential investment, although we still anticipate slowing over the projection horizon. The current pace of activity in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and parts of the Golden Horseshoe region is unlikely to be sustainable, given fundamentals. That said, the contribution of the housing sector to growth this year has been revised up substantially. Price growth in the GTA has accelerated sharply in recent months, suggesting that speculative forces are at work. Governing Council sees stronger household spending as an upside risk to inflation in the short-term, but a downside risk over the longer term.

What is happening to house prices in Toronto?

Canada Statistics has an index for the price of new houses.

On the strength of price increases for new houses in Toronto, the NHPI rose 3.3% over the 12-month period ending in February. This was the largest annual growth at the national level since June 2010.

Chart 2 Chart 2: The metropolitan region of Toronto posts the highest year-over-year price increase
The metropolitan region of Toronto posts the highest year-over-year price increase

Chart 2: The metropolitan region of Toronto posts the highest year-over-year price increase

Toronto recorded an 8.6% year-over-year price increase, the largest among the metropolitan areas surveyed, followed by Victoria (+6.3%), St. Catharines-Niagara (+6.2%), and Windsor (+6.2%). The gain for Windsor was the largest reported since January 1990.

Care is needed with such measures as for example the UK has hit trouble. So let us look further, the editorial of the Toronto Sun told us this yesterday.

house prices are skyrocketing in Toronto (the price of an average detached home is now over $1 million and has risen 33% in the past year)

The Toronto Life has something that is even more eye-catching.

Sale of the Week: The $2.7-million house that proves asking prices are meaningless in Summerhill

Ah too high eh? Nope.

The listing agents say they priced the house at what they thought was market value. Eight offers came in, after which the agents gave everyone the chance to improve. Seven did, and the sellers accepted the offer with the fewest conditions and best price, for more than $750,000 over asking. This may not have been a complete fluke: two other houses on Farnham Avenue have sold in the $2.5-million price range in the past year.

You have to question the listing agents there of course but it is an interesting price for a house which is very smart inside but does not look anything special from the front. We do get perhaps more of a realistic perspective from yesterday’s “sale of the week” as we have a comparison.

Previously sold for: $659,000, in 2007

Okay and now.

The sellers made the easy decision to go with the highest offer, at more than $400,000 over asking, $1,656,000.

Yesterday the Royal LePage house price survey told us this.

In the first quarter, the aggregate price of a home in the Greater Toronto Area increased 20.0 per cent to $759,241, while the price of a home in the City of Toronto rose 17.0 per cent to $763,875. Home prices also increased significantly in the surrounding GTA regions, with suburbs such as Richmond Hill, Oshawa,Vaughan, Markham and Oakville posting increases of 31.5 per cent, 28.2 per cent, 25.8 per cent, 23.2 per cent and 23.1 per cent to $1,209,741, $500,105, $985,534, $970,216 and $987,001

What about monetary policy?

According to the Bank of Canada it is very expansionary or loose.

The neutral nominal policy rate in Canada is estimated
to be between 2 .5 and 3 .5 per cent, 25 basis points
lower than previously estimated

If we maintain a straight face at the chutzpah and indeed fantasy that they know that to that degree of accuracy we can see that with an official interest-rate of 0.5% they are some 2.5% below neutral.

If we look at the exchange-rate then there was another boost as the trade-weighted Loonie or CERI fell from the low 120s in 2011/12 to a low of 89 as 2016 opened. It then rallied a little and over the year from March 2016 has in fact started at 95 and ended there. There are two issues here that need to be noted. Firstly this is an effective exchange rate with an elephant in the room as the US Dollar is 76.2% of it! Secondly due to its plentiful stock of raw materials the currency is often at the mercy of commodity price movements.

Moving to the money supply we see that the taps are open pretty wide. The broad measure has seen its annual rate of growth rise from the 4.5% of late 2010 to 7.7% in February of this year. There was a dip in narrow money growth in March but it is still increasing at an annual rate of 9%.

Household debt

Canada Statistics tells us this.

Total household credit market debt (consumer credit, and mortgage and non-mortgage loans) reached $2,028.7 billion in the fourth quarter. Consumer credit was $596.5 billion, while mortgage debt stood at $1,329.6 billion.

If we compare to incomes we see this.

Household credit market debt as a proportion of adjusted household disposable income (excluding pension entitlements) edged up to 167.3% from 166.8% in the third quarter. In other words, there was $1.67 in credit market debt for every dollar of adjusted household disposable income.

On the other side of the ledger that was something to please the Bank of Canada.

National wealth, the value of non-financial assets in the Canadian economy, rose 1.4% to $9,920.0 billion at the end of the fourth quarter. The main contributors to growth were real estate and natural resources. The value of real estate grew by $93.0 billion while the value of natural resource wealth increased $29.4 billion.

Although the rest of us will wonder how much of that $93 billion is from the Toronto area?

Comment

There is a lot to consider here as whilst the word bubble is over used it is hard to avoid thinking of it as we look at Toronto and its housing market. If we look at wages growth it has been slowing from around 3% to 0..9% in Canada in terms of hourly wages so it is not any sort of driver. The price moves are if anything even more extreme than seen in London.

If we move to the economics then if you own a property in Toronto and want to move elsewhere you have a windfall gain and good luck to you. A genuine wealth effect. But against that all new buyers are facing rampant inflation and there are clear wealth losses for them. We are back to a society of haves and have note here,

A big factor is we see another place where foreign funds are flowing in and like in the other cases we are left to mull this from Transparency International.

Transparency International Canada’s analysis of land title records found that nearly a half of the 100 most valuable residential properties in Greater Vancouver are held through structures that hide their beneficial owners.

Canada is of course far from alone in such worries.

Meanwhile the Bank of Canada finds itself not far off irrelevant which is awkward to say the least for a central planner. Of course where it is relevant it is making things worse.

 

 

Canada turns to a fiscal stimulus

It was only on Monday that I discussed the issue of fiscal stimuli where the European Central Bank in particular had shifted its mood music in favour. This of course is quite a contrast to the policies it has enforced in Greece and Italy for example. The whole debate has come about because in the junkie culture world of monetary policy they are seeing a similar situation to what is happening with antibiotics where far from being futile resistance is ongoing. Thus they need a new drug and so fiscal policy has been brought out again. Yesterday saw an example of this in Canada as the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau announced its Budget. There is a follow through to the UK because the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney had strong links with the Liberal party so strong in fact that they invoked criticism for an “independent” Governor of the Bank of Canada.

The policy

First we got some Open Mouth Operations rhetoric and a dose of Hopium.

Today, we begin to restore hope for the middle class.

Who knew that things were so bad in a Canada that avoided much of the pain of the credit crunch via riding the commodity price boom as it resources industry cleaned up. Although of course just under 2 years ago the mood changed.

The decline in the price of oil and other commodities has hurt whole regions and provinces.

There was also a nod to a long running theme of this website.

Wages haven’t grown significantly since the 1970s.

It is rare that we get official admittals of that situation and we also get a suggestion that it might continue.

It’s no surprise that many Canadians feel they are worse off than their parents were at the same age—and that they feel the next generation will do worse than their own.

The Numbers

The speech itself was rather devoid of such details so let us turn towards the Financial Times.

Justin Trudeau has pledged C$60bn (US$46bn) in new infrastructure spending over the next 10 years, hoping to revive sluggish growth in Canada’s resource-rich economy.

It goes further with a suggestion of the economic benefits which might be provided by this.

The finance minister forecast that the stimulus would raise gross domestic product 0.5 per cent in the coming year and 1 per cent in 2017-18, creating an estimated 100,000 jobs over two years.

The particular winners were universities, green technologies, those with children ( Child Benefit increases), and poor pensioners.

Can Canada afford it?

There are changes here as the proposed fiscal deficit of around Canadian $ 10 billion has been replaced by one of this below.

The government said its deficit would deepen in 2016-17, to C$29.4bn, or 1.5 per cent of GDP,

According to the government the deficit would rapidly shrink.

but pledged to cut the deficit in half by 2020-21.

Rather oddly in the circumstances there was in the Budget speech something of a nod to the Fiscal Charter of UK Chancellor George Osborne.

By the end of our first mandate, Canada’s debt‑to-GDP ratio will be lower than it is today.

The track record of politicians making such statements is simply dreadful! However of course this cannot apply to Justin Trudeau who has only just taken office. Also the Canadian public finances are in better shape than those of the UK. The Fraser Institute summarised the numbers in January.

Combined federal and provincial net debt has increased from $834 billion in 2007/08 to a projected $1.3 trillion in 2015/16. This combined debt equals 64.8% of the economy or $35,827 for every man, woman, and child living in Canada.

Not quite as low as I was expecting but if we switch to the Statistics Canada numbers we see that central government owed Canadian $974 billion at the end of 2015 so like Spain a fair bit of borrowing is done at regional/provincial level.

Canada like so many other nations can borrow cheaply as its ten-year yield is 1.33% so for the next decade or so any borrowing can be financed at low nominal interest-rates.

Debt exists outside governments

Let me switch to an article in the Globe and Mail from Sherry Cooper of Dominion Lending Centres..

The housing industry is a strong feature of the Canadian economy right now.

In fact so strong that we see this.

Housing, particularly in the Toronto and Vancouver markets, remains one of the pillars of the Canadian economy……….Housing affordability in these two cities has been a concern

Sound familiar?

Affordable housing is a social issue for sure,…

I always enjoy this style of justification for a boom.

As well, household balance sheets have improved over all as household wealth has grown faster than indebtedness.

What she means is that house prices have risen so fast this has happened which of course hints at a trap as what happens if the growth stalls,ends or reverses?

We get a clue from the Bank of Canada.

Low interest rates and higher house prices have led to strong growth in mortgage credit, recently pushing up the year-over-year growth of overall household credit to 5 per cent.

And more from Statistics Canada.

The ratio of household credit market debt to disposable income (excluding pension entitlements) rose to 165.4% in the fourth quarter from 164.5% (revised from 163.7%) in the third quarter. In other words, households held $1.65 in credit market debt for every dollar of disposable income. Disposable income increased 0.6%, a slower pace than that of household credit market debt (+1.2%).

So we find that rather like in Ireland if one was looking for a debt problem in Canada we are more likely to find it at the household and bank level than at the national one. The housing bust in Ireland socialised a large amount of this debt and turned a strong public fiscal position into a dreadful one pretty much overnight. So the risk for Canada is concentrated in the housing and banking sectors.

Comment

If we look for the Why? of the fiscal stimulus then the Globe and Mail  pretty much gave us the rationale.

Unemployment, especially in the all-important energy sector, is reaching scary heights. Nationwide, the jobless rate hit a three-year high in February (7.3 per cent), and it could move higher.

So Canada has seen the good side of moving contracyclically with the rest of the world and is now seeing the bad. Expected growth of 1.4% this year ( Bank of Canada) would do little if anything to change that and so you can see the case for fiscal policy which has so many advocates right now. Also for the forseeable future it is cheap in bond yield terms.

The other side of the coin is what in Japan is called pork barrel politics or how well the money will be spent. Those who worry about official denials will note that one has been got in early.

smart investments and an unwavering belief

Ironically the Bank of England Underground Blog has just issued some research suggesting that it may not be all apple pie and sunny days.

Second, we revisit the magnitude of the government spending multiplier at the ZLB to document that demand-side fiscal stimulus can be much weaker than previously thought.

ZLB is the Zero Lower Bound for interest-rates which is the zone in which Canada is in at 0.5% albeit that they lower bound may get lower. Perhaps they should tell the international bodies cheerleading for a fiscal stimulus.

as governments are being urged to do by everyone from the IMF to the OECD to the G20.

Is that the same IMF that imposed a fiscal contraction on Greece, Ireland and Portugal or a different one? Remember this from 2013 when it admitted it had been wrong?

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that deciding on the appropriate stance of fiscal policy requires much more than an assessment regarding the size of short-term fiscal multipliers. Thus, our results should not be construed as arguing for any specific fiscal policy stance in any specific country. In particular, the results do not imply that fiscal consolidation is undesirable.

So let me leave the IMF singing along to Linkin Park.

I’ll face myself
To cross out what I’ve become
Erase myself
And let go of what I’ve done
For what I’ve done

 

Why is Canada even discussing negative interest-rates?

Yesterday there was quite a development in Toronto where Stephen Poloz the Governor of the Bank of Canada was speaking. Let me quote his words.

The fourth unconventional monetary policy tool I want to cover is negative interest rates, which is something you have heard a lot more about recently.

Not only recently Stephen as I have been discussing them on here since 2010! However the Bank of Canada does have a track record in this area so please join me in a trip in the TARDIS of Dr. Who back to April 2009 and the emphasis is mine.

On 21 April, the Bank lowered its target for the overnight rate by one-quarter of a percentage point to 1/4 per cent, which the Bank judges to be the effective lower bound for that rate.

We have been noting over the last 18 months or so that the “lower bound” has been slip sliding away especially as we note that every country which has implemented negative interest-rates has then cut them further. However there was a reason that the Bank of Canada thought that they were a bad idea in 2009.

In principle, the Bank could lower the policy rate to zero. However, that would eliminate the incentive for lenders and borrowers to transact in markets, especially in the repo market.

So if we translate that into ordinary persons English we see that like the Bank of England they were concerned about what zero interest-rates would do to the banking sector. It is always the banks for them isn’t it? Oh and the man signing off that report was called Mark Carney, whatever happened to him?

What about now?

A paper by two Bank of Canada economists ( Jonathan Witmer and Jing Yang) takes up the story.

Our best estimate for the effective lower bound is a target rate of around -50 basis points (bps).

So what has happened in the intervening six years or so which has changed their mind?

Since investors must pay to store large amounts of cash, the effective yield on cash is actually negative…..Cash storage costs, including direct costs of storage and insurance costs, are approximately equivalent to 25 to 50 bps per year.

I do like “must pay” as of course there is a choice which they miss. In reality there is a variety of choices where an ordinary person stuffing cash into either a literal or metaphorical mattress may consider the cost to be zero, or a drug dealer who will have very heavy costs laundering his cash.

But the fundamental issue here is that none of this has changed in the past six years so why has the Bank of Canada?

The absence of abnormal cash demand in Switzerland, for example, with the target rate at -75 bps, supports this possibility.

Ah okay so they now think that they can get away with it without unduly harming the banking sector! Also I note that something we have discussed on here many times has been noted.

In addition, many banks have not passed on the rate cut to mortgages.  This may be due in part to the banks’ desire to protect their interest rate margin.

So the central banks worried that negative interest-rates would hurt banks but now they discover they pass on the problem in the form of a rugby hospital pass and hurt the consumer their worries disappear. Ouch! Talk about revealing their motivation.

This reminds me of the biggest Sham 69 hit where you need to replace kids with banks.

If the kids are united then we’ll never be divided
If the kids are united then we’ll never be divided

If this was another industry failing to respond to downward price pressures by in effect forming a cartel would lead to investigation and prosecution but apparently different rules apply to banks.

We do get a burst of genuine honesty towards the end of the paper.

We do not know where exactly the ELB for the Bank of Canada policy rate is, nor do we know how long policy rates could stay negative.

But also in case we missed it a reminder of the “by the banks for the banks theme” and the emphasis is mine.

In such an environment, they should monitor the effect of negative rates on core funding markets, banks and other market participants.

Oh and you might have thought that the real economy might have got a mention at least somewhere…..

Forward Guidance

There are various issues here but Governor Poloz is either unaware of deliberately ignores the problem of proclaiming Forward Guidance and also telling people this.

This suggests that we have more room to manoeuvre in response to adverse shocks than we believed back in 2009.

So they were wrong about a basic point when giving Forward Guidance back then. Also in a world where confidence is fragile there is the issue of whether making such statements is damaging in itself. The human psyche can be mysterious and unpredictable and the same critique was applied to the former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury who was invariably downbeat.

Will people worry about the downbeat implications and be afraid be very afraid or concentrate on this.

In the Bank’s last Monetary Policy Report (MPR) in October, we forecast that the Canadian economy would return to positive growth in the second half of this year, and that annual growth would continue to increase in 2016 and 2017…..Canada’s outlook is encouraging.

So the future is so bright we are considering negative interest-rates in response to it? Even Governor Poloz can spot the flaw.

Given this outlook, it may seem like an odd time to be updating our unconventional monetary policy tool kit.

Mark Carney and the lower bound

The lower bound has been a very troubled area for the Bank of England Governor. Yesterday saw his Forward Guidance of 0.25% become -0.5% in Canada. Even worse for him he actually raised his estimate of the lower bound in the UK to 0.5%! Up was the new down for him and his behaviour was even odder because he did this as places in Europe were heading into negative interest-rate territory. He is lost in his own land of confusion on this subject.

Comment

The issue of the spread and indeed contagion of negative interest-rates is one that makes appearances in what might seem unexpected places. If pressed about this week I would have guessed Sweden,Denmark or Switzerland would be making the headlines. Also Canada had for a long time a relatively good credit crunch as the commodity price boom meant the problems seen elsewhere were underwritten. Along the way we saw “Peak Carney” as the UK establishment were seduced by such events and he saw a chance for personal improvement.

However now for all the rhetoric there are plainly issues as we note an oil price where the Brent Crude has tested US $40 more than once already this week. In addition the Bloomberg Commodity Index hit a low for this century. This led Governor Poloz to mull on these possibilities.

commodity prices could fall further as new supply weighs on prices…….even as the resource sector contends with lower prices.

We do not know what will happen next but we do know that it recent days the resource sector has seen even lower prices. A Black Swan for the previously serene Canada?

As we stand the situation remains relatively serene as the last GDP report showed annual growth of 2.3% albeit with a 0.5% fall in September. However  employment has dipped in the last 2 months as we wonder if Canada can continue to escape the pain that others have suffered in the credit crunch era? The currency has certainly got the message. From the Financial Times.

Loonie touches 11-year low