Bully Bids and Bans

Ontario’s powerful realtors and their respective lobbying vehicle, the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) have asked Doug Ford’s provincial government to outlaw the practice of ‘bully offers.’

A bully bid is an offer submitted by a prospective buyer ahead of a seller’s established offer time. These bids are largely designed to aggressively pre-empt purchasing activity from other potential buyers and to place pressure on the seller to accept. This aggressive bid is submitted before the designated offer day. Sellers accept the bully bid if they believe that it will exceed what they will get conventionally. 

The practice can occasionally result in one buyer out-muscling potential counterparts and entices a seller to close a deal quickly without reviewing and considering other potential bids. The move is seen as unfair and limiting to realtors, who have little room to bid up prices if only one bid is submitted and ultimately accepted. Realtors also feel banning bully bids would enhance fairness in the market and allow all prospective buyers, or at the very least a greater number of them than present, will be allowed to participate in bids. OREA submitted 28 recommendations on reforms to their profession to the government which is currently reviewing the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act; the landmark legislation governing real estate professionals.

OREA is headed by Tim Hudak, the former Leader of the now governing PC Party of Ontario. The organization is heavily staffed with politically minded employees and is close with the present administration and enjoyed reasonable ties with the former Liberal Government. Several PC lawmakers and government staffers are former realtors and the government is keen to develop and maintain strong ties with realtors, developers, and the construction industry. These groups have heavily bankrolled the PC Party in the past. 

 

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. 

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. 

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.

Canadians Are Experience Record Low Unemployment Rates Across The Nation

November was a dynamite month for job creation, with a record 94,000 jobs created, pushing the unemployment rate lower to 5.6%.

two people working at computer
This is the lowest level of unemployment since records began in the mid 70s. Just under 90 thousands of the jobs are full time, and more than 78 thousand were created in the private sector – both are positive elements of the job growth. The strongest job gains were in Quebec and Alberta, with 14,000 new construction jobs created, 27,000 in ‘goods production’, and the rest in services, especially in professional, scientific, and technical services. 
November 2018 Canadian Unemployment Rate
While experts hailed the news as a big and very positive surprise, they also highlighted the fact that wage increases are beginning to lose momentum and to decline. The strength of the economy is boosting pressure on inflation, with the rate jumping to 2.4%. In its latest announcement, the Bank of Economy decided not to increase rates, but will likely adjust its approach in the new year if economic temperatures remain hot. While the economy is strong, rising interest rates and government intervention remain as anchors on the still generally healthy real estate market. 
These two factors have resulted in real estate dynamism in Canada’s biggest city lessening to the extent that the City of Toronto is worried it will lose up to $100 million in revenue from the land transfer tax. In recent years, the city government has become extremely dependent on the transfer tax to finance spending. Tembo will keep a close eye on economic indicators in the new year to see if these record trends continue. 
 

Bank of Canada’s Huge Announcement On Mortgage Bonds

On Friday, November 23rd at 10am, the Bank of Canada issued a ‘market notice’ announcement with big implications. For the first time, the Bank stated that it would begin making innovative additions to its balance sheet: the purchase of mortgage bonds, or mortgage backed securities.

The news was not announced in a press conference or a press release, but a sleepy ‘market notice’ at the bottom of the Bank’s media/press page on its website.

So, What Are Mortgage Bonds?

A mortgage bond, or mortgage backed security (MBS), is a financial product that is made up of many mortgages, let’s say 100 for example. These mortgages are usually issued at the same time, at the same mortgage rate, and generate interest (income for the purchaser). Buyers could be Canadian banks, foreign banks, and domestic and international investors. 
Mortgage backed securities were at the heart of the 2007-8 financial crash. The bonds were given the highest credit ratings, (what’s safer than a mortgage/house as an investment?) and were scooped up by clients all over the world. What buyers didn’t know was that many of these mortgages were poorly underwritten, and very risky. When foreclosures started kicking in the bonds went bust, and clients lost tons of money.

Why Is The Bank Of Canada Announcement So Significant? 

By now purchasing these bonds, the Bank of Canada is directly providing a powerful stimulus to the banking system and the real estate market. If Banks can now profitably sell mortgage bonds to the central bank, it is likely that their incentive to further increase mortgage debt will rise. This could have a negative impact of the quality of bank underwriting, and will provide a boon to housing prices by facilitating higher demand.
Tembo will keep an even closer eye on the Bank of Canada, this news signals that simply watching rates is not enough. This added central intervention into market brings more risk to Canada’s housing system. You heard it here first.