Growing Pressure to Cut Rates

Senior economists from CIBC are making bold predictions on where interest rates will be going. They predict that the BOC will cut rates by 25 basis points next year, in lockstep with the Fed. This would see rates fall from 1.75% to 1.50%, if current rates hold. The rationale for the expectation of a cut follows weakening economic data, slowing growth, and a significant trade and account deficit. Banks have also reported financial data which shows Canadian contributions to their bottom lines seeing little to no growth, with the bulk of profit growth coming from U.S. assets.

In addition, pressure over mortgage stress tests has many believing that lower rates are necessary to give hope to the tens of thousands of prospective home buyers who have now been squeezed out of the market permanently. But the real overhang on this file has been the growing chorus of voices across the border which are demanding that the U.S. Federal Reserve cut rates, pump up the economy with more quantitative easing, and more efforts to stimulate a stagnant U.S. economy. The originator of much of this pressure has been Donald Trump himself. Trump’s language of criticism against the U.S. Fed and Fed Chair Jerome Powell has been consistently scathing for some time now.

Several days ago, the President tweeted that the U.S. stock market and economy would reach even higher levels if the Fed ‘did what China is doing’ by lowering rates and making the U.S. dollar cheaper in relation to competitors to boost exports. He also claimed that the Fed has ‘consistently been raising rates’ on his watch, seeing it as discriminatory. He also has stated the view that the stock market would reach record highs if the Fed lowered rates. At first, many called Trump’s language unprecedented and authoritarian, but now economists, market watchers, and business leaders are echoing his criticism of the Fed and are urging it to supercharge the U.S. economy so it can better compete with China. Lower interest rates are on their way. 

A Recovery That’s Gaining Steam

The latest stats are out and they’re very good for Toronto real estate. Sales last month rose by 19% from May 2018 figures. The number of transactions almost hit 9,900 and are approaching more robust historical averages. Home prices also went up by 3.5%, higher than inflation, and condo prices shot up 5%. The average home price in Toronto is now $838.5K, and the average condo price is $590K. Detached housing prices increased by only 1% to $1.042 million, but were marked by a much lower inventory and number of transactions, thus dampening dynamism.

Prices for condo townhouses are growing at the fastest pace, with a 6% increase recorded last month. Their combination of being relatively affordable and slightly more spacious than traditional condos has afforded them a great deal of attention with prospective homebuyers. Overall, new listings barely grew, and real estate experts claim that there is little capacity for this figure to expand, so further increases in prices and demand are anticipated – especially is sales continue to recover. If we have more positive months like May, expect price growth to rapidly rise once again. To put this very positive month in perspective, the market has now returned to the levels it was at shortly before the introduction of stress tests. This shows how strong the underlying fundamentals of GTA real estate are. 

While we have a long way to go before we see prices and demand for detached houses reach the dizzying levels of March and April 2017, semi-detached and condo townhouse figures are almost at their Spring 17′ peaks. Condo apartment prices almost never fall in Toronto, so positive trends for a quarter or two should get numbers to meet Spring 17′ peaks as well. The $1.2 million average detached home price levels which marked Spring 17′ are a long ways away but not impossible to revive. GTA monthly unit sales reached a high of almost 13,000 in mid 2016, and at the beginning of 2019 were barely at 4,000. If trends continue we should see a few more months of rising sales. Keep in mind that there are growing rumours of an incoming BOC rate cut, in addition, Canada’s big banks will likely work to revive growth in domestic credit and mortgage operations, so incentives and lower rates may be well on their way!

On an Interest Rate Cut

For almost a year, Tembo has repeated a consistent and simple message. Our view was that the Canadian economy relies massively on low interest rates. Higher rates would cripple our nation’s real estate sector, its financial industry, and would raise borrowing costs on strained small and medium sized businesses. Higher rates would also force government across the country at all levels to cut spending and rein in their large deficits. But we also acknowledged that too much easy money for too long a time would weaken the economy, overload it with debt, and incentivize speculative economic activity.

We foresaw that rates would rise rapidly given recent trends as central banks wanted a healthy interest rate cushion in case of a recession. They did. 

 

And then, just as Tembo predicted, the BOC backed off. Weakening post-Christmas spending activity and a stagnant real estate rebound in early Spring unleashed a torrent of sub-par economic data. That, coupled with a topsy-turvy global macroeconomic and political situation, spooked not just the BOC, but Central Banks around the world. In the U.S., Trump and his Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow berated the Fed for its higher interest rates and its wind down of monetary stimulus. Their sharp criticism forced Fed Chair Jerome Powell to participate in a rare interview where he expressed the view that he could not be fired.

 

Now, media reports and rumours are spreading outlining the growing possibility of the Fed cutting interest rates by half a percent and intensifying asset purchasing and macroeconomic stimulus. If such a move would occur, the BOC would effectively be boxed in to cut rates here at home as well. A rate cut in Washington would likely raise the value of the Canadian dollar to the benefit of Canadian consumers. But, the growing rumours, if materialized, would mark a potent change of course and policy. How quickly times change. 

On the Return of Low(er) Interest Rates

It’s back to the future time in Canada. The steadily higher interest rate trajectory that was to be the new normal now appears to be officially dead and buried. With the U.S. Fed signalling an end to higher interest rates and trumpeting its newfound zeal and preparedness to accommodate markets, the BOC had no choice but to emulate.

The BOC’s head body, the Governing Council, made the point that an “accommodative policy interest rate continues to be warranted.” The BOC made its point about the need to keep rates stimulative at the same time as it cut its GDP growth forecast for the national economy to 1.2% from 1.7%. Canadian bond yields and the dollar both fell in response to the news. The clarity of the BOC’s words are striking and diametrically opposite from its firm and disciplined messaging when it repeatedly made the point that it needed to raise rates not long ago. It also suggests that there is an anxiety with monetary policy heads and a perception that the economy increasingly requires propping up. 

 

In Tembo’s opinion, the BOC’s announcement is extremely important for all Canadians and particularly for mortgage holders and prospective home buyers. This announcement from the BOC is strong positioning for stimulus, lower rates, and potential buying of stocks or securities to boost prices, reinforce demand, and service the financial sector. 

 

The implication of this announcement outlines the incoming reality of lower rates, cheaper mortgages, and the BOC reinflating the housing bubble back to more dynamic levels. Canadians should prepare for tighter finances to be safe but should also expect money to become cheaper in the months to come. 

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.

We Are Barely Into 2019 And The Stock Market Is Already Making Some Wild Moves

2018 ended with significant stock market turbulence around the world, especially in New York and Asia. Tembo made note of this in its final 2018 blogs and newsletter (you can sign up here). As we mentioned, significant drops in the DOW were reversed by announcements that major pension funds were pouring over $64 billion into stock buys, moving away from their positions on low yield bonds. 

Canadian Stockmarket Turbulence

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s Investor Letters Causes Stock Market Jitters

Even as this news drove up confidence, the market tumbled again when Apple Co. CEO Tim Cook released a brisk letter to shareholders that stunned Wall Street and which the media called a ‘bombshell.’ The letter outlined many positive overall trends for the firm but admitted its revenues and profits were to be negatively affected by ongoing economic disruption. Sales of new Iphone devices, especially in Greater China, did not meet expectations, and gross revenue would be over 5% lower than forecast.
Tim Cook Investor Letter
Apple’s reputation as a practically indestructible giant with an unrivalled brand and relentlessly improving financial performance was hurt badly by the letter. The company’s share price fell by 10%, equivalent to over $70 billion. As so many market participants, analysts, and traders have never experienced a bear market from a low interest rate boom that has lasted a decade, the tough news was not taken well. Markets negatively reacted to the news, with the letter solidifying growing perceptions that the global economy is undergoing significant structural changes.

Fed Tries To Calm Markets

This week some good data restored confidence. Another big boost to the markets came from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who commented that his central bank’s policy was ‘flexible’, essentially calming the market by saying the Fed would act if further market drops occurred. It’s Tembo’s belief that the Fed will cut rates quickly and print money to buy stocks if the stock or asset (real estate) market’s fell harshly – for better, or for worse. 

On Canada’s Wealth

There has been a fair amount of media coverage over the last few days from an interesting, recently released stat from StatsCan on Canadian net wealth. It seems we’re a lucky country – our net wealth has topped $11 trillion, and our economy produces goods and services worth near $2 trillion.

Toronto Banks
The $11 trillion net wealth number was not a surprise for experts, but what has piqued the interest of observers has been the real estate component of that huge net wealth figure. The value of real estate represents over 75% of our net wealth, or just under $8.8 trillion. 
Over the last decade, real estate rose from comprising roughly 62% of Canada’s net wealth to the aforementioned figure. Canadians are much more dependent on real estate for their wealth than Americans – in the US, real estate has generally held steady at just over 70% of net wealth. This statistic corresponds to the general macro-economic trend that has continued in Canada over the last decade, where low interest rates and government policies have leaned on real estate and construction to drive growth. Low interest rates, strong demand, and the inability of the private sector to consistently build enough housing has all acted as fuel to real estate prices, and thus equity and net wealth.

Canadians Are More Dependant On Housing For Their Wealth Than Ever Before

Most Canadians hold the view that inevitably over the long term, their home equity will continue to rise. Many baby boomers and older Canadians are depending on this (rising) equity to supplement their pensions for consumption in retirement and to pass resources on to their children and grandchildren. This belief in relentless home price increases should have been tempered given the turbulence the national real estate market experienced over the last year and a half. The stats show that we are more dependent on housing for our wealth than ever before in our history, and even more so than our real estate crazy neighbours to the south. What we must all remember is that so much of this wealth is based on debt, and that debt needs to be serviced through discipline. 

On 2018’s Final Real Estate Stats

For Tembo’s final blog of 2018, we want to leave you with some interesting GTA statistics. All of our predictions for 2019 were outlined in our final newsletter – many of which are beginning to look on point given big falls in the markets marking the end of 2018.

fireworks

Stress Tests Have Kicked In 

Some 100,000 Canadians have been locked out of the housing market because of federally imposed stress tests. Already stringently cautious banks were made even more particular in approving mortgages because of the impact of the federal government’s stress tests. These tests force families with lower than ideal deposits for home purchases to buy insurance to cover their investment and reduce risks.

Pensions Are Pumping Up Real Estate Holdings

Trusteed pension funds have boosted their holdings in real estate by 2.5% to almost $190 billion as 2018 closed. Despite seeming like a small percentage change, this represents billions in added investment. In our last blog and newsletter, we highlighted the importance of real estate to the nation’s wealth, and this stat shows the reliance on real estate to the nation’s trusteed pension funds. All sectors of the economy are all in on real estate, and expect dividends and returns from a continuously healthy real estate market. 

Global Markets Are Falling Fast

stock market crash

The DOW underwent its worst day of Christmas trading in history, dropping over 600 points (3%). The Fed’s decision to increase rates last week was to blame. In addition Wall Street was spooked by news that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made calls to the CEOs of America’s biggest banks without authorization from the President to check on their liquidity. This was viewed by many as an act of panic. The contagion quickly spread around the world, with some international headlines using the term ‘panic selling’, for the first time since 2007.

Toronto Home Prices Up In November

Prices for detached homes rose 3.5% to mark the end of 2018, even as listings and sales dropped slightly. We end 2018 with the average price of a detached home in Toronto now hitting some 788K. While listings declined slightly in November and early December, they were still 12% than in 2017. Home prices are still significantly lower from their summer 2017 record highs. 

On Oil Prices And A Cautious Bank Of Canada

2018 will end without an increase in interest rates. The Bank of Canada (BOC) announced on Wed. Dec. 5th that its benchmark rate of 1.75% would hold steady. The enthusiasm and confidence the BOC previously expressed about the overall state of the economy was gone in its most recent announcement.

Alberta crude oil

The continuing collapse in oil prices, record high mortgage and consumer debt, and slowing economic growth were the key factors the BOC cited as dead weights to the economy. In response to the lack of rate tightening, the loonie fell to stabilize to 75 cents. The BOC is especially pessimistic of the long term prospects of Canada’s energy sector.
The news will come as a sign of relief to the real estate sector and will result in a pause in the general trajectory of higher mortgage and interest rates seen over the last few months. Mixed real estate data underpins the need for more caution from the Bank. The fall in the exchange rate will also benefit manufacturers, especially those in southern Ontario and parts of Quebec. While static rates will help Western Canadian consumers and businesses, their pain is significant and cries for assistance and greater government intervention are being made by Alberta and Saskatchewan Premiers Rachel Notley and Scott Moe. 
Canadian crude oil is being priced at rates as low as $14 a barrel – even as U.S. crude has rarely ever sells for less than $50 a barrel. With existing Canadian pipelines at full capacity and oil shipped by train overloading rail networks, there is essentially no room to maneuver for exporters who can’t get their product to market efficiently. The Federal government’s plan to expand pipeline networks to B.C.’s coast have failed due to legal challenges and resistance from apprehensive and environmentally conscious First Nations groups. Pipelines planned to the east coast (Energy East) face considerable regulatory, financial, political, and social hurdles. The failure to properly export Canadian oil has been a recurring strategic economic challenge for many decades. 
Oil’s fundamental importance to the Canadian economy was highlighted in the value of the exchange rate from 2010 to late 2014, when Canadian oil sold for $80-100 a barrel. In those years, the Canadian dollar approached or met U.S. dollar parity – fuelling a boom in cross border shopping, and strong domestic and corporate leveraging. How times have changed.