This Year’s Federal Budget

Budget 2019 is the final Liberal budget before this year’s election. It outlined billions of dollars in new spending to please key Constituencies across the country. The Federal government has seen its revenues rise by over $10 billion from a strong and growing economy and wasted no time in maintaining its deficit figures and boosting outlays.

The budget does, however, deliver major initiatives designed to address housing anxieties, this blog post will discuss those measures.

 

First time home-buyer incentive program

The Feds have announced a $1.25 billion first time home buyer incentive program. Households with less than $120,000 in income will be able to receive up to 10% of a home’s down payment interest free from the CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation). This amount of money is expected to be repaid on the eventual sale of the home. For a $400K condo, this equates to $40K in government money for a down payment. In other words, the government will provide you with tens of thousands of dollars which will be taken away from the overall equity of the home. This will also lower monthly mortgage payments by roughly $200 a month.

 

RRSP usage

The budget also boost the amount of money a first-time buyer can withdraw from his or her RRSP for a home purchase. Individuals can withdraw up to $35,000, and a couple can withdraw $70,000 for their home purchase. This was the first time this amount was amended in over 10 years. The Feds are aiming to get both the RRSP increase and incentive program initiated and out the door by September.

 

New housing builds

The Feds also announced the construction of over 40,000 new housing units in low-supply areas to be built over the next decade. These units will be rental. This announcement builds on past promises to build more housing and honours the government’s election promise of adding housing stock.

 

On Real Estate Predictions for Spring 2019

It’s hard to predict real estate trends and long term changes. Experts, economists, and real estate watchers will all have their views. Southern Ontario and GTA residents are generally positive about the long term fundamentals.

 

They believe that immigration, a stable economy, and a sound financial system will all facilitate long term growth and general real estate stability. This positivity comes from the fact that since the early 1990s, the real estate market has been on a positive upswing. Only two brief periods saw prices and demand ease, in the early 2000s with the popping of the dot-com bubble, and in 08-09, with the Great Recession.

 

Overall, given the data we now have and the trends we’re aware of, there is little that suggests there will be drastic changes to the real estate market. Expectations suggest that the price growth we saw in the last few years are unlikely to return. Interest rates will remain stable. While the BOC will want to raise rates when necessary, there is the dual pressure of not overwhelming consumers with higher borrowing costs and managing economic expectations.

 

Demand will continue to be strong. Experts are predicting stable or increased demand for luxurious apartment and detached home units as international money shifts out of Australia, the UK, and New Zealand in favour of Canada and the U.S. Condo prices and demand are likely going to trend higher, as detached home prices are still too high for first time buyers. As for prices and sales, both are expected to trend upwards in the Spring. A 30 year fixed rate mortgage is trending at 4.375%.

 

 

Mixed Real Estate Conditions and a Potential BOC Rate Cut

 

The Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board released rough real estate stats earlier this week. Reports showed that year-over-year Feb. residential home sales fell over 30%. This represents the worst Feb. sales total since 1985, over 40% below the last decade’s average.

Detached homes lasted roughly 55 days on the market before sale, while townhouses averaged 39 days and apartments and condos at 40. Prices also fell by over 6% year-over-year, while at the same time, inventories are piling up. Total listings rose by over 48% year-over-year to almost 11,600.

In Toronto, prices rose by 1.6% while listings fell 6.2%, sales fell by 2.4%. Canada’s banks are also feeling the heat of an inconsistent real estate market. Credit losses rose by double digits at the big 5. The same credit losses were seen in the Australian banking and real estate markets as well and in other countries dependent on real estate.

Economic stats have dipped into such negative territory so quickly that news is spreading of the possibility that the BOC may cut rates soon. Tembo has consistently made the point that the BOC will stick to an aggressive and consistent rate hike trajectory until economic conditions change. While most experts believe that rates will stay put, the potential for a cut will grow if economic conditions continue to worsen. As we previously reported, the economic recently contracted by a very narrow margin.

On an additional note, the City of Toronto will convene on Thursday, March 7th to pass its 2019 budget. The budget outlines a massive drop in land transfer tax revenues because of stalling real estate conditions. The City has become addicted to the previously perpetually rising land transfer tax which financed large increases in city spending. That era has come to a close.

SNC Lavalin Scandal Could Change Canada’s Government

The Federal government is reeling from the pressure of a scandal that has shaken elite circles across the country. Extensive media coverage in the last several days has widely revealed the scandal to the public – we are of course talking about the Jody Wilson Raybould and SNC Lavalin. 

In essence, former Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson Raybould refused to provide a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC Lavalin – a Quebec based engineering giant. SNC Lavalin had previously bribed the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya for construction contracts. Despite tremendous pressure from the Prime Minister himself, high ranking public servants, and other leading political figures, Jody Wilson Raybould refused to yield. 
SNC Lavalin employs thousands in Quebec and Montreal, the home province and home city of Justin Trudeau. It is a well connected and storied company, with deep political connections. The Liberal Party of Canada has long had deep ties with large Montreal firms and the city’s old money aristocracy. As for Mrs. Wilson-Raybould, she revealed the extent of her principled core values and followed in the footsteps of her father – who fought political battles with Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Mrs. Wilson-Raybould and her father are well known and respected Indigenous Canadians. 
The now fully unveiled scandal has led to a media frenzy, a sharp drop in opinion polls and support for the government, and Ottawa’s dirtiest laundry now out in plain sight for the public. Media commentators were all ubiquitous and sharp in their criticism of the Prime Minister – many of whom suggested that he should resign or that the government’s reputation is now seriously compromised. The scandal also led to the shock resignation of Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts, the second most powerful man in Ottawa and one of Trudeau’s closest personal friends.
While this year’s federal election is still 7 months away, an eternity in politics, the SNC Lavalin scandal continues to unfold. The instability could fuel more political drama and both opposition parties will look to take advantage. 

On Toronto’s Move For More Affordable Housing

With sky-high real estate prices, extremely limited supply, and a vacancy rate incomparable to its international competitors, Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis. Housing, transit, and affordability were the key issues for politicians in last year’s Mayoral and Council elections. 

John Tory

Toronto Mayor Pushes Housing Now Plan

Incumbent Mayor John Tory made tackling the housing supply issue a key commitment if re-elected, and many City Councillors emulated that promise. A week ago, the Mayor successfully persuaded his Council colleagues to endorse his Housing Now Plan and to vote it through. The plan is an aggressive measure being heavily pushed through by the Mayor and senior City bureaucrats. 

The Housing Now plan calls on the City to facilitate the transfer of surplus land to private sector partners so as to develop it into housing. A certain amount of the finished units are to be set aside as affordable units with controlled rent. This is geared to benefit low income families. Toronto has a massive list of individuals and families waiting for affordable housing. In total, the plan is expected to result in 10,000 new units of real estate.

As Toronto has a weak Mayor system, its Mayor does not have executive powers and serves more as a glorified City Councillor acting as the Chair of Council. Unlike many of his American and international counterparts, he has no veto over votes, and cannot directly replace the departmental heads of the City’s large civil service. 

Officials have been eager to push the plan through given its importance, and this effort has been largely supported by City Councillors. The Housing Now plan was opposed by many of the city’s more left-wing politicians, who believed it did not go far enough and that its targets and limitations were not ambitious enough.

All levels of government will continue to increase their intervention in the real estate market so as to spur more development for an increasingly impatient pool of prospective buyers.

 

Mortgages Stress Tests Are Slowing Canadian Real Estate Market

The head of one of the country’s largest and most influential real estate bodies has made a strong case to one of the nation’s foremost regulatory bodies to ‘revisit’ its support of stress tests. The head of the Toronto Real Estate Board has complained that stress tests are too cautious and are having an extreme dampening effect on the market.

As a reminder to our readers, stress tests were implemented by the federal government in 2017 to reduce risk of poor mortgage lending and to shore up the housing market.

Stress tests scrutinize mortgage buys from prospective buyers with deposits at less than 20% of the purchase price and with no mortgage insurance. Stress tests provide incentives to purchase mortgage insurance, which can be costly, and add another layer of analysis to the already comprehensive mortgage approval process. Canada’s already notoriously conservative banks were made even more scrupulous with the introduction of the stress test.

Stress Test Have Dampened Demand

Stress tests were designed to demonstrate whether a low deposit mortgage could withstand a 2% added interest rate cost from the BOC. The effects of these stress tests have been to dampen demand. Research has shown that stress tests effectively blocked up to 100,000 first time home buyers from being approved for a mortgage. They were supported by risk-averse bureaucrats and economists who fear a housing bubble and who are worried about the quality of mortgage issuance in the country.
In response to these complaints, the OSFI, or Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, Canada’s core banking regulator, stated that it will be sticking to the stress tests. In addition, it made the point that the stress test adds a margin of safety that is ‘prudent.’ With weakening real estate data spreading around the country, pressure from real estate bodies and experts on regulators and the Bank of Canada will continue. 

US Fed Made Some Significant Shifts In Tone & Policy Last Week

We’re addicted to covering the Federal Reserve at Tembo for the simple reason that it effectively runs the global economy and sets the tone for Canada’s economy, exchange rate, and real estate market. It is that important an organization.

James Powell, US Fed Chair
The Fed has made big changes in tone and policy lately, it appears growingly certain that its previous zealous push for higher rates has now been put on a deep pause. The word on the street is now all about ‘rate hike pausing.’ The Fed has been under huge pressure from business leaders, Wall Street insiders, softening economic data, and Donald J. Trump himself. 
Fed Chair Jerome Powell did not raise rates at the last Fed policy announcement. Former Fed Governor Neel Kashkari said the pause would allow the economy to keep growing. Global markets have reacted to the news timidly. While no big falls in stocks occurred, global markets at best were static.
There is simply too much negative news, too much uncertainty, and too much increasingly bleak data around the world to heighten optimism to boom levels. Here in Canada, the Fed’s pause is likely to reinforce the BOC’s own caution given Canada’s own worsening economic data. This pause will be good news for Canadian real estate, already under big pressure.
At the same time, the Fed issued a paper suggesting that negative interest rates, where the Central Bank pays borrowers to borrow money, would have engendered a fasterand deeper economic recovery. This not so subtle message to the market suggests the Fed is making it clear that it is still in the business of inflating stock, asset, and real estate bubbles and making money dirt cheap if need be.

Proposed Ontario Bill 66 Gets Squashed

In last week’s blog, we outlined proposed Ontario Bill 66, which had a provision in it which would have given municipalities the power to approve commercial and industrial development in protected green spaces. This would have opened the Greenbelt to potential industrial and commercial development – if local municipalities were to approve, and with subsequent Ministerial approval.

Ontario Green Belt
However, after a wide swathe of negative media coverage, strong opposition to the bill from municipal governments across the province, and angst from important stakeholders, the Ontario government changed its mind. After the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (a group friendly to the governing PC party) voiced its nervousness to the Bill and its ‘unworkability’, it was becoming increasingly clear that opposition went across ideological lines. 
Late last week, the Ontario Government stated it would pull the key Schedule 10 provision of Bill 66 (the bylaw giving municipalities power to bypass the Greenbelt Act) from the law. With this move, the government effectively defanged the bill of its most contentious component and showed a novel capacity to change its mind. The announcement came from Housing and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, one of the government’s most experienced figures.
With these changes, residents of Ontario can have peace of mind that their protected green spaces will not be chopped up. The government will now likely unveil new measures to spur development and increase the housing supply in the province. Tembo will keep its eye on the provincial government very focused, as many structural changes and policy announcements will be unveiled in the coming months given the concocting of a provincial budget in April. 

What Does Ontario’s Proposed Bill 66 Mean For Its Residents?

In early December of last year, the Ford Government introduced a proposed law titled the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. The bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that alters several existing laws and introduces new ones – referred to as an omnibus bill.

 

Bill 66 is receiving increased attention lately given some of its controversial provisions.

Open For Business Zoning

The Bill introduces a new type of zoning, called OFB ZBL (Open for Business Zoning By-laws). This new zoning type is designed to not have to conform to legal standards set out in a number of major provincial environmental and planning laws, such as the Greenbelt Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. The provincial government argues that this provision will provide municipalities with the capacity to quickly approve major industrial and commercial projects to create jobs and tax revenue. 

Critics Fear Environmental Impact And Out Of Control Development If Bill 66 Is Passed

Critics, on the other hand, say that the proposed by-law provisions would create the potential for massive environmental degradation and the transformation of protected green spaces into industrial and commercial areas. Water, soil, and air contamination could increase, and municipalities could embark upon aggressively competitive squabbles with each other to attract revenue generating projects.
Some City bureaucrats around the province claim that Bill 66 will upend traditional provincial planning arrangements and lead to out of control development. Tembo is keeping a close eye on the provincial government’s stated move to spur development and construction. Bill 66 has the capacity to alter land values by introducing industrial projects to areas that are designation for safer development. This could have drastic consequences. 

As Economy Slows, Bank Of Canada Holds Off On Interest Rate Increase

Instead of raising rates again the BOC (Bank of Canada) decided to hold off. With oil prices still low and the national economy losing the consumption boost of the holidays, the bank decided to give the economy a breather. Rates remain at 1.75%, with inflation having fallen to 1.7%, under the BOC’s benchmark of 2%. 

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz

The BOC’s decision mirrors that of the Fed in the U.S., where Chairman Jerome Powell recently outlined that the U.S. Central Bank was ‘flexible’ and would also ease off on money tightening given recent stock market fluctuations. The BOC pause flies in the face of the past consistency of its rate rises. It’s also likely that there is growing pressure on the BOC from a wide variety of market sources, especially given recent negative real estate statistics.

Keep in mind that this is an election year in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Politicians despise higher rates for obvious reasons. The BOC would be wise to include political considerations into its decision making, and stretching out the rate rise schedule would be helpful to Prime Minister Trudeau.
Overall, the pause will be beneficial to the real estate sector, especially given recent difficulties and poor stats. Political efforts to cool the market could easily shift to a desire to cushion the sector and strengthen it. Lower oil prices and weaker consumption will also reduce inflation, further pressuring the BOC to hold off on rate rises. To facilitate economic stimulus in the event of a hypothetical future recession, the BOC would ideally need to quickly cut rates by roughly 4%. This is the likely target long term.