Big Question – Will inflation Be Temporary – Or Are Central Banks Wrong?

General Mark Goode 14 Jul

Bank of Canada ‘On the Vanguard’ of Unwinding Stimulus

The Bank of Canada raised its inflation forecast in the newly released July Monetary Policy Report (MPR), making it one of the most hawkish central banks in the world. The Bank announced its third action to reduce its emergency bond-buying stimulus program by one-third. The central bank was among the first from the advanced economies to shift to a less expansionary policy last April when it accelerated the timetable for a possible interest-rate increase and pared back its bond purchases. In today’s press release, the Bank announced it would adjust its quantitative easing (QE) program again to a target pace of $2 billion per week of Government of Canada bond purchases–down $1 billion from its prior target of $3 billion per week. This puts upward pressure on bond yields, all other things constant. No doubt, the federal government’s funding of the enormous Covid-related budget deficits has been abetted by the central bank’s bond-buying.

The pace of purchases of Canadian government bonds was as high as $5 billion last year. The central bank acquired a net $320 billion of the securities since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bank owns about 44% of outstanding Canadian government bonds.

The Bank of Canada has said it wants to stop adding to its holdings of government bonds before it turns its attention to debating rate increases. Still, officials chose not to accelerate the projected timeline for a possible hike today.

In holding the overnight rate at the effective lower bound of .25%, the Governing Council reaffirmed its “extraordinary forward guidance” that the Canadian economy still has considerable excess capacity. The recovery continues to require extraordinary monetary policy support. “We remain committed to holding the policy interest rate at the effective lower bound until economic slack is absorbed so that the 2% inflation target is sustainably achieved,” the central bank said in the policy statement. In the Bank’s July projection, this happens sometime in the second half of 2022.

Swaps trading suggests investors are fully pricing in a rate hike over the next 12 months and a total of four over the next two years, which would leave Canada with one of the highest policy rates among advanced economies. This puts the Bank of Canada ahead of the Fed in raising interest rates. Chair Powell told Congress today that the US economy isn’t ready for bond tapering. “Reaching the standard of ‘substantial further progress’ is still a ways off,” he said in prepared remarks. In the U.S., investors aren’t pricing in any rate hike over the next year and only two over the next two years.

July Monetary Policy Report

The Bank revised its forecast for Canadian GDP growth this year from 6.5% in the April MPR to 6.0% because of the more restrictive third-wave pandemic lockdown in the second quarter. Growth is now expected to pick up strongly in the third quarter of this year. Consumer confidence has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and a high share of the eligible population is vaccinated. As the economy reopens, consumption is expected to lead the rebound, increasing spending on services such as transportation, recreation, and food and accommodation.

Housing resales have moderated from historically high levels but remain elevated (Chart below). Other areas of housing activity—such as new construction and renovation—remain strong, supported by high disposable incomes, low borrowing rates and the pandemic-related desire for more living space.

CPI Inflation Boosted By Temporary Factors

The Bank revised up its inflation forecast for this year but asserted once again that inflation would return to 2% in 2022. This is a controversial call consistent with central-bank mantras around the world. The BoC said, “Three sets of factors are leading to this temporary strength. First, gasoline prices have risen from very low levels a year ago and are above their pre-pandemic levels, lifting inflation. Second, other prices that had fallen last year with plummeting demand are now recovering with the reopening of the economy and the release of pent-up demand. Third, supply constraints, including shipping bottlenecks and the global shortage of semiconductors, are pushing up the prices of goods such as motor vehicles.

The BoC expects CPI inflation to ease by the start of 2022 as the temporary factors related to the pandemic fade. Economic slack becomes the primary factor influencing the projection for inflation dynamics thereafter. The uncertainty around the outlook for the output gap and inflation remains high. Because of this, the estimated timing for when slack is absorbed is highly imprecise. In the projection, this occurs sometime in the second half of 2022. After declining to 2% during 2022, inflation is expected to rise modestly in 2023 as the economy moves into excess demand. The excess demand and resultant increase in inflation to above target are expected to be temporary. They are a consequence of Governing Council’s commitment to keeping the policy interest rate at the effective lower bound until economic slack is absorbed so that the 2% inflation target is sustainably achieved.

Inflation is expected to return toward the target in 2024. The projection is consistent with medium- and long-term inflation expectations remaining well-anchored at the 2% target. Both businesses and consumers view price pressures as elevated in the near term. A large majority of respondents to the summer 2021 Business Outlook Survey now expect inflation to be above 2% on average over the next two years. Nonetheless, firms view higher commodity prices, supply chain bottlenecks, policy stimulus and the release of pent-up demand as largely temporary factors boosting inflation higher in the near term.

Bottom Line

Only time will tell if the Bank of Canada is correct in believing that inflation pressures are temporary. Financial markets will remain sensitive to incoming data, but for now, bond markets seem willing to accept their view. The 5-year GoC bond yield has edged down from its recent peak of 1.0% posted on June 28th to a current level of .936%. As well, the Canadian dollar has weakened a bit, to US$0.7993, since the release this morning of the BoC policy statement. The loonie, however, remains among the strongest currencies this year vis a vis the US dollar.

The Slow down in Canadian Housing continued in May

General Mark Goode 15 Jun

The Slowdown In Canadian Housing Continued in May

Today the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) released statistics showing national existing home sales fell 7.4% nationally from April to May 2021, building on the 11% decline in April. Over the same period, the number of newly listed properties fell 6.4%, and the MLS Home Price Index rose 1.0%, a marked deceleration from previous months.

Activity nonetheless remains historically high, but in contrast to March’s all-time record, it is now running closer to levels seen in the second half of 2020 (see chart below). Month-over-month declines in sales activity were observed in close to 80% of all local markets. It was a mixed bag of results, with a slowdown in sales observed in most large markets across Canada.

“While housing markets across Canada remain very active, we now have two months of moderating activity in the books, and that goes for demand, supply and prices,” stated Cliff Stevenson, Chair of CREA. “More and more, there is anecdotal evidence of offer fatigue and frustration among buyers, and the urgency to lock down a place to ride out COVID would also be expected to fade at this point given where we are with the pandemic.”

New Listings
The number of newly listed homes declined by 6.4% in May compared to April. New listings were down in about 70% of all local markets in May.

The national sales-to-new listings ratio was 75.4% in May 2021, down slightly from 76.2% posted in April. The long-term average for the national sales-to-new listings ratio is 54.6%, so it remains historically high; although, it has been moderating since peaking at 90.7% back in January.

Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratio with long-term averages, only about a quarter of all local markets were in balanced market territory in May, measured as being within one standard deviation of their long-term average. The other three-quarters of markets were above long-term norms, in many cases well above.

As the chart below shows, Edmonton was one market in balance, and the Greater Vancouver Area was moving closer to balance, but others remain a seller’s market.

There were 2.1 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of May 2021, up from a record-low 1.7 months in March but still well below the long-term average for this measure of over 5 months.

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) rose 1% month-over-month in May 2021 – a noticeable deceleration. The most recent deceleration in month-over-month price growth has come from the single-family space compared to the more affordable townhome and apartment segments.
The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 24.4% on a year-over-year basis in May. Based on data back to 2005, this was another record year-over-year increase; although, it is not likely to go much higher.

While the largest year-over-year gains continue to be posted across Ontario, this is also where month-over-month price growth has been slowing the most. Meanwhile, price growth has continued to accelerate in some other parts of the country, thus reducing the year-over-year growth disparity between Ontario and other provinces.

Bottom Line

The near-uniform nature of the housing market activity (in what is usually a highly regionalized market) is still a key feature of this cycle. Indeed, 22 of 26 markets tracked by CREA saw sales fall in May, while all but one market saw the average transaction price up by double-digits from a year ago (sorry, Thunder Bay). Among the tightest markets in the country based on the sales-to-new listings ratio are the Okanagan and Kawartha Lakes; cottage country is still on fire.

The two-month slowdown in Canadian housing is welcome news. The OECD recently released a report showing that New Zealand, Canada and Sweden have the frothiest housing markets in the world. The UK and the US are near the top as well. Clearly, Covid led many around the world to alter their abode, driving prices higher almost everywhere.

Bank of Canada Holds Overnight Rate Steady

General Mark Goode 9 Jun

Bank of Canada Holds Rates and QE Steady–Asserting That Both the Upside in Inflation and the Downside in GDP is Temporary

The Bank also noted that “Recent jobs data show that workers in contact-sensitive sectors have once again been most affected. The employment rate remains well below its pre-pandemic level, with low-wage workers, youth and women continuing to bear the brunt of job losses.” The chart below shows that the labour market is still below the Bank’s target for a full recovery.

.” Note that the April MPR projected 3.5% growth in Q2 GDP, while the consensus forecast currently sits at 0% for Q2, with downside risk dampening economic activity…largely as anticipated.” Concerning Q2, the third wave lockdowns are “rising confidence and resilient demand” and that the details of the report point to “a robust 5.6 percent appears to be little changed despite the April Monetary Policy Report (MPR) overestimating Q1 GDP growth by 1.4 percentage points. Indeed, today’s Policy Statement notes that Q1 GDP growth was “domestic economy the Bank’s view regarding the

from advanced economies to shift to a less expansionary policy in April when it accelerated the timetable for a possible interest-rate increase and pared back its bond purchases.  among the first The Bank of Canada left the benchmark overnight policy rate unchanged at 0.25% and maintained its current pace of GoC bond purchases at its current pace. The Governing Council renewed its pledge to refrain from raising rates until the damage from the pandemic is fully repaired. The $3 billion weekly pace of bond-buying–known as quantitative easing–will decline as the recovery proceeds. In April, at their last meeting, the Bank reduced the pace of GoC bond buying from $4 billion to $3 billion per week. The central bank was

Bank of Canada Upbeat Over the Medium Term
“With vaccinations proceeding at a faster pace, and provincial containment restrictions on an easing path over the summer, the Canadian economy is expected to rebound strongly, led by consumer spending. Housing market activity is expected to moderate but remain elevated.”

On the inflation front, there were no surprises. The Statement says that inflation has risen to the top of the 1-3% control range due to base effects and gasoline prices. The rise in the core measures is blamed on temporary factors as well. The Bank anticipates headline inflation will stay around 3% through the summer before pulling back later in the year.

On the cautious side, the BoC highlights that the labour market still has a way to go before healing. There’s also uncertainty surrounding COVID variants.

The concluding paragraph didn’t change much. It reiterates that there “remains considerable excess capacity” and that policy rates will stay at the lower bound until “economic slack is absorbed,” which the April MPR said was in 2022H2. Concerning further tapering, the “assessment of the strength and durability of the recovery” will guide that decision.

The C$ barely garnered a mention yet again, with the Statement noting the recent gains and accompanying rise in commodity prices. The market might view the lack of concern here as a green light for further strength.

Bottom Line

The Bank of Canada is looking through “transitory” ups in inflation and downs in GDP. With vaccination rates continuing to ramp up significantly, and provinces beginning a gradual reopening process, the economy will rebound substantially beginning in June.

Indeed, with the near-term growth outlook increasingly bright, concerns have shifted to rising production input prices and the prospect for a sharp recovery in consumer demand to stoke inflation pressures. For now, the BoC is positing that near-term increases in consumer price growth rates will prove ‘transitory.’ But there have also been signs of harder-to-dismiss firming in most measures of underlying price growth gauges, including the BoC’s own preferred core measures edging up towards or above the 2% inflation target.

July’s meeting will likely be a bit more interesting with the Bank issuing more details in another Monetary Policy Report. We don’t see any need for dramatic forecast revisions at this stage, and the BoC’s guidance that rates might have to start increasing in the second half of next year remains appropriate. It looks like the main question will be around further tapering of the BoC’s asset purchases. The BoC didn’t signal an imminent taper (we didn’t think it would) but said decisions regarding the pace of purchases would be guided by its assessment of the strength and durability of the recovery. If incoming data aligns with the BoC’s forecasts, we could see it reduce weekly bond-buying again in July to $2 billion per week from $3 billion. If not, September might serve as a backup as the bank seeks to prevent its footprint in the bond market (nearly 44% at the end of May) from becoming too large while at the same time setting itself up to shift QE to reinvestment only well in advance of the first interest rate hike.

Courtesy of

Dr. Sherry Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housing Drove the Economic Expansion in Q1

General Mark Goode 2 Jun

Housing Drove the Economic Expansion in Q1

This morning’s Stats Canada release showed that the economy grew at a 5.6% annualized rate in the first quarter, after a revised 9.3% pace in the final quarter of last year.  That was somewhat below economists’ expectations. Housing investment grew at an annualized 43% pace, by far the biggest impetus of the expansion. Residential investment now makes up a record proportion of GDP (see chart below). Compared with the first quarter of 2020, housing investment was up 26.5% and led the recovery. Growth in housing was attributable to an improved job market, higher compensation of employees, and low mortgage rates. After adding $63.6 billion of residential mortgage debt in the last half of 2020, households added $29.6 billion more in the first quarter of 2021.

Residential investment is a component of the Gross Domestic Product accounts and is technically called ‘gross fixed capital formation in residential structures’ by Statistics Canada.  Investment in residential structures is comprised of three components: 1) new construction, 2) renovations and 3) ownership transfer costs. The first two components are obvious.

The home-resale market’s contribution to economic activity is reflected in ‘ownership transfer costs.’ These costs are as follows:

  • real estate commissions–including realtors and mortgage brokerage fees;
  • land transfer taxes;
  • legal costs (fees paid to notaries, surveyors, experts etc.); and
  • file review costs (inspection and surveying).
The second chart below shows the quarterly percent change in the components of housing investment in inflation-adjusted terms. This chart illustrates the surge in existing home sales since the second quarter of last year (reflected in the red bar). Although the resale market has slowed since the third quarter of last year, it remains a driving force of economic expansion.

Growth in housing investment was broad-based. New construction rose 8.7% (quarter-over-quarter), largely driven by detached units in Ontario and Quebec. Ownership transfer costs increased 13.1%, with the rise in resale activities. Working from home and extra savings from reduced travel heightened the demand for, and scope of, home renovations, which grew 7.0% in the first quarter.

The increase in GDP in the first quarter of 2021 reflected the continued strength of the economy, influenced by favourable mortgage rates, continued government transfers to households and businesses, and an improved labour market. These factors boosted the demand for housing investment while rising input costs heightened construction costs.The GDP implicit price index, which reflects the overall price of domestically produced goods and services, rose 2.9% in the first quarter, driven by higher prices for construction materials and energy used in Canada and exported. The sharp increase in prices boosted nominal GDP (+4.3%). Compensation of employees rose 2.1%, led by construction and information and cultural industries, and surpassed the pre-pandemic level recorded at the end of 2019.

Strength in oil and gas extraction, manufacturing of petroleum products, and construction industries led to a higher gross operating surplus for non-financial corporations (+11.5%). Higher earnings from commissions and fees bolstered the operating surplus of financial corporations (+3.9%), coinciding with the sizeable increases in the value and volume of stocks traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).

Most aspects of final sales were solid in Q1, with consumers a bit stronger than expected (2.8% a.r.), government adding (5.8%), and net exports also contributing. In contrast, business investment was one real source of disappointment, with equipment spending surprisingly falling. But the biggest drag came from a drop in inventories, with this factor alone cutting growth 1.4 ppts in Q1, and versus expectations, it could add a touch. The good news is that this should reverse in Q2, supporting activity in the current quarter.

On the monthly figures, there were few big surprises. March’s initial flash estimate of +0.9% was nudged up in the official estimate to +1.1% as the economy began to re-open from the second wave. Tougher COVID public health rules slammed the brakes on Canada’s economy in April. Statistics Canada estimates gross domestic product shrank 0.8% in the month, representing the first contraction in a year and a weak handoff heading into the second quarter. April may well be followed by a soft May. Even so, we still expect a strong June will keep Q2 roughly flat overall and look for robust Q3 growth.

Bottom Line

In many respects, Q1 data is ancient history. We know with the resurgence in lockdowns, growth in Q3 will at best be flat. In the hopes that vaccinations will accelerate and COVID case numbers will continue to fall across the country, Q4 will likely see a strong resurgence in growth.

Starting to See a Slowdown in Canadian Housing

General Mark Goode 21 May

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) released statistics showing national existing home sales fell 12.4% nationally from March to April 2021. Over the same period, the number of newly listed properties fell 5.4%, and the MLS Home Price Index rose 2.4%.

While home sales fell month-over-month in April, largely due to the new lockdowns, April sales were still the strongest ever for that month and well above the 10-year monthly average.

Month-over-month declines in sales activity were observed in close to 85% of all local markets, including virtually all of B.C. and Ontario.


New Listings
The number of newly listed homes declined by 5.4% in April compared to March. In a market with historically low inventory, where sales activity depends on a steady supply of new listings each month, the synchronous gains in new supply and sales in March followed by synchronous declines in April suggest the slowdown in sales may be partially about the availability of listings as opposed to only a demand story. New listings were down in 70% of all local markets in April.

The national sales-to-new listings ratio eased back to 75.2% in April compared to a peak level of 90.6% back in January. That said, the long-term average for the national sales-to-new listings ratio is 54.5%, so it is currently still high historically. The good news is that it is moving in the right direction.

Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratio with long-term averages, only about a quarter of all local markets were in balanced market territory in April, measured as being within one standard deviation of their long-term average. The other three-quarters of markets were above long-term norms, in many cases well above.

There were 2 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of April 2021, up from a record-low 1.7 months in March but still well below the long-term average for this measure of a little more than 5 months.

In a separate release, Canadian housing starts fell to 268,600 annualized units in April from the blowout (334.8k) month in March. While down sharply month-over-month, this is still a solid level of new construction activity in Canada by historical standards. In fact, average annualized starts over the past six months run at the strongest level on record, topping building booms in the 1970s and 1980s. All regions but the Prairies and Atlantic Canada saw lower starts in April.

Home Prices
The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) climbed by 2.4% month-over-month in April 2021 – a historically strong gain but less than in February and March. Most of the recent deceleration in month-over-month price growth has come from the single-family space compared to the more affordable townhome and apartment segments.

The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 23.1% on a year-over-year basis in April. Based on data back to 2005, this was a record year-over-year increase.

The largest year-over-year gains continue to be posted across Ontario (around 20-50%), followed by markets in B.C., Quebec and New Brunswick (around 10-30%), and lastly by gains in the Prairie provinces and Newfoundland and Labrador (around 5-15%).

The MLS® HPI provides the best way to gauge price trends because averages are strongly distorted by changes in the mix of sales activity from one month to the next.

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average home price was slightly under $696,000 in April 2021, up 41.9% from the same month last year. That said, it is important to remember that the national average price dropped by 10% month-over-month last April as the higher-end of every market effectively shut down for a couple of months. That will serve to stretch these year-over-year comparisons over and above what is actually happening to prices until around June.

By segment: Single-detached remains extremely strong, but earlier signs that condo markets in the large cities were tightening up continue to play out. Condo prices were up 8.5% y/y in April, the strongest pace since mid-2018, and price gains are now running even stronger month-to-month in the biggest cities. We continue to expect these markets to come back stronger than most might think.

By region: It’s as close to wall-to-wall strength that we’ve probably ever seen in this country. Long-dormant markets like Calgary and Edmonton are awake again with prices up roughly 9% y/y; Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver remain strong as usual; some smaller markets (think Halifax, Moncton, Southwestern Ontario) are even stronger than the big cities; and cottage country is booming.

Bottom Line

Headlines will probably flag housing market declines in April, but don’t that fool you…this market is still robust across geography and segment, even if we’ve likely seen peak momentum. Activity will likely remain strong this summer, especially if the COVID restrictions are eased, and people begin to get their second vaccine.

BANK OF CANADA HOLDS RATES STEADY, BUT PARES BOND-BUYING PROGRAM

General Mark Goode 21 Apr

Today, the Bank of Canada held its target for the overnight rate at the effective lower bound of ¼ percent. The Bank is also adjusting its bond-buying program from weekly net purchases of Government of Canada (GoC) bonds of $4 billion to $3 billion. This adjustment to the amount of incremental stimulus being added each week reflects the progress made in the economic recovery.

Finally, the Bank now suggests that the remaining slack in the economy could be fully absorbed by the second have of 2022–rather than 2023, suggesting that they may begin raising overnight interest rates before the end of next year. The Bank went on to aver that this timing is more uncertain than usual, however, given the uncertainty around potential output and the highly uneven impacts of the pandemic.

The Bank of Canada now believes that first-quarter growth in Canada is considerably stronger than they were expecting back in the January Monetary Policy Report (MPR). This partly reflects a better global backdrop, particularly in the United States. The US recovery is supported by a rapid rollout of vaccines and substantial fiscal stimulus, bringing spillover benefits to Canada through higher demand for exports and stronger commodity prices.

“But the most important factor in the unexpected economic strength has been the resilience and adaptability of Canadian households and businesses. Lockdowns through the second wave had much less economic impact than they did through the first wave. The economy bounced back quickly with the eased restrictions posting substantial job gains in February and March. The third wave is a new setback, and we can expect some of these job gains to be reversed. But the performance of the economy in recent months has increased our confidence in the underlying strength in the recovery.”

The Bank went on to say, “With the vaccine rollout progressing, we are expecting strong consumption-led growth in the second half of this year. Fiscal stimulus from the federal and provincial governments will also make an important contribution to growth. Strong growth in foreign demand and higher commodity prices are expected to drive a solid rebound in exports and business investment, leading to a more broad-based recovery. Overall, we now project that the economy will expand by around 6½ percent this year, slowing to about 3¾ percent in 2022 and 3¼ percent in 2023.

Over the next few months, inflation is expected to rise temporarily to around the top of the 1-3 percent inflation-control range. This is largely the result of base-year effects—year-over-year CPI inflation is higher because prices of some goods and services fell sharply at the start of the pandemic. Also, the increase in oil prices since December has driven gasoline prices above their pre-pandemic levels. The Bank expects CPI inflation to ease back toward 2 percent over the second half of 2021 as these base-year effects diminish, and inflation is expected to ease further because of the ongoing drag from excess capacity. As slack is absorbed, inflation should return to 2 percent on a sustained basis sometime in the second half of 2022.

Bank of Canada “Forced” To Taper

When the pandemic first hit, the BoC bought government securities, providing liquidity to assure the full functioning of the market. As liquidity conditions in the Government of Canada (GoC) bond market improved, the primary objective of central bank bond purchases shifted toward a focus on monetary stimulus. The quantitative easing (QE) purchases of bonds continue to put downward pressure on borrowing rates, supporting economic activity. QE also reinforces monetary stimulus provided by the Bank’s forward guidance. This guidance has committed to holding the policy interest rate (the overnight rate) at its effective lower bound until economic slack is absorbed, so the inflation target is sustainably achieved.

The Bank’s total ownership of GoC bonds outstanding has increased to about 42 percent. Since March 2020, the Bank has purchased more than 35 percent of total sovereign bonds outstanding, a higher percentage than other central banks (see chart below). Considering the size of Canada’s bond market and its economy, this means that the Bank has provided an extraordinary amount of stimulus. The Bank must continue to taper its purchases to ensure sufficient tradeable GoCs are available for longer-term institutional investors–such as insurance companies and pension funds–that must hold triple-A debt to offset their long-term liabilities.

Bank of Canada Assessment of the Housing Market

In today’s MPR, the Bank of Canada included an assessment of the drivers of the strength in Canadian housing:

  • Demand has been supported by relatively high disposable incomes and low mortgage rates.
  • While job losses have risen during the pandemic, they have been concentrated among low-wage earners who tend to rent their homes rather than buy them.
  • Remote work and more time spent at home have led to stronger demand for larger, single-family homes and housing in suburban and rural areas.
  • One implication of this shift in demand is a pickup in new housing construction in regions with fewer supply constraints, such as limited availability of land.
  • Over the past year, the pace of construction has been hampered by containment measures and shortages of materials and skilled workers. These factors are also putting upward pressure on construction costs.
  • Some potential sellers have been reluctant to show their homes during the pandemic.
  • Over time, supply is expected to adjust. A large number of building permits have been issued, with a growing share for single-family homes. Housing starts have also risen significantly in recent months, most notably in rural areas.

The Bank remains concerned about extrapolative expectations leading to overheated price increases and speculative activity (see chart below). They welcome the proposed changes to the Guideline B-20 by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to help reduce these risks.

Bottom Line

This was a significant BoC announcement, suggesting a turning point in their thinking. The worst of the pandemic is over, the economy has been remarkably resilient, and the Bank can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. That light is now expected in the second half of 2022, rather than 2023. Although the policy rate will remain at its effective lower bound until then, the central bank has already begun to pare back its GoC bond buying.

Some of the Bank’s optimism reflects the comparative strength of the US economy, which is way ahead of Canada’s vaccine distribution.* The spillover effects of that are meaningful in terms of Canadian exports. The fiscal stimulus evident in this week’s federal budget also provides a ballast for the economy. Although an estimated 425,000 people are still insufficiently employed and the third wave containment measures and vaccine rollout are unpredictable, the Bank is more confident now than any time in the past thirteen months that we will attain full-employment by late next year.

*As of April 20, nearly 25% of the US population has been fully vaccinated and 39% have received at least one vaccine. In comparison, as of April 20, only 2.5% of the Canadian population has been fully vaccinated and 25.4% have had one vaccine.

Chrystia Freeland’s First Budget is As Promised

General Mark Goode 21 Apr

n more than two years, the first federal budget extends Ottawa’s COVID-19 “lifeline” for workers and struggling businesses another few months as it aims to pull Canada through the pandemic once and for all. Clocking in at a bulky 724 pages, this is a highly detailed budget that sets the stage for post-pandemic policy in Canada.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s first crack at a budget plan is also widely viewed as a pre-election platform with more than $100 billion in new spending over the next three years targeting a wide variety of voters, from seniors and their caregivers to parents and business owners.

The government will need to get at least one opposition party to support it to avoid a pandemic election this spring. Much of the redistributive ‘investments’ and social spending is right up the NDP’s alley, so that should be no problem.

Canada’s net debt is now over $1 trillion for the first time, after a $354 billion deficit for the pandemic year just over. It is expected to keep climbing with deficits of $155 billion this year and $60 billion in 2022-23.

That is driven in part by more than $100 billion in new spending over the next three years, including costs to maintain federal wage and rent subsidies and aid for laid-off workers, until September now, instead of cutting them off in June.

Freeland is also looking ahead to the post-pandemic Canada the Liberals want to see, one with $10-a-day childcare, the ability to produce its own vaccines, national long-term care standards and small- and medium-sized businesses equipped with the workers and technology they need to survive.

It also includes a greener, cleaner Canada, with a promise of more than $17 billion in climate change programs, much of it in the form of incentives to encourage heavy industry to curb their emissions and grow Canada’s clean technology sector.

All of it comes with a pandemic-sized asterisk that things could still change drastically if vaccine supplies are delayed, or they prove not to work that well against emerging variants of the virus. The budget includes alternative scenarios that show where the fiscal picture might go if the worst-case scenarios of the pandemic play out.

Those risks seem even more real as the country is battling the worst wave of the pandemic yet with record hospitalizations and patients in critical care and doctors and nurses repeatedly warning of a health care system on the brink of collapse.

The debt-to-GDP ratio will rise again to 51.2%, up from 49.0% in FY20/21 and just over 31% before the pandemic. However, this year should mark the peak for that ratio before declining below 50% by FY25/26.

Help Students and Low Wage Workers

The Budget aims to create 500,000 training and work opportunities. It pledges $2.4 billion over three years to develop skills and trades, with about 40 percent earmarked for training in sectors ranging from health care to construction.

It adds on $8.9 billion more to beef up the Canada Workers Benefit in a boost to low-wage workers, who will have a higher income threshold at which their benefit starts to shrink.

Other measures include bumping the federal minimum wage to $15, pledging $300 million to programs for Black and women entrepreneurs and other underrepresented groups, and recommitting to protect gig workers through promised amendments to the Canada Labour Code.

About 300,000 Canadians who had a job before the pandemic are still out of work.

Help for Small Businesses, Tourism Industry and the Arts

The government announced extending the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) past their current June 5 deadline but added it is planning to wind them down gradually by the end of September. The government also announced a new hiring credit and some aid programs for the hard-hit tourism and arts industries. Firms that collect the CEWS will face a clawback of the aid if their executives earn more in 2021 than they did before the pandemic. A step critics said should have been taken when the subsidy first came into force in mid-2020.

The hard-hit tourism sector is also getting $500 million for a Tourism Relief Fund, to be administered by regional development agencies to help local tourism businesses recover from the COVID recession. Another $100 million is going to a marketing campaign that will encourage Canadians to visit vacation spots in this country. Never mind that they are fully booked for the rest of the year.

The budget also unveiled $200 million in spending to support major arts and cultural festivals, which will flow through regional development agencies.

The Trudeau Government Is Betting Measures Will Improve Productivity and Pay For Themselves

The government’s budget estimates its spending plan will create or maintain some 330,000 jobs next year and add about two percentage points to economic growth, part of a three-year boost from $101.4 billion in new spending over that time.

The largest contributor is almost $30 billion over five years to drive down fees in licensed daycares to reach $10 a day by 2026. That money is on top of already planned child-care spending. However, the problem is that it will take provincial buy-in as it requires a 50/50 split of the expenses. This could cause untold delays.

There is also more money for broadband infrastructure and $7 billion in cash, financing and advice to help companies adopt and invest in new technologies intended to address ongoing concerns about the country’s productivity gap.

Ottawa is trying to jump-start the jobs recovery with a new program that offsets a portion of employers’ labour costs. The Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP) would run from June 6 to November 20 and cover as much as 50 percent of incremental pay to workers, whether through higher wages, more hours or new hires. The program is estimated to cost $595-million.

The labour market has mostly recovered from the pandemic. The number of employed Canadians is down by roughly 300,000, or 1.5 percent, from pre-pandemic levels. At this point, the damage is mostly confined to a handful of sectors – such as hospitality – that are curtailed by public-health measures. At the same time, employment has increased in many white-collar industries.

Housing and Real Estate

Much like past budgets, the federal government has proposed a series of measures on housing, although they are unlikely to curb the robust activity and speculation of the past year.

Canada will impose a 1% tax on the value of real estate held by foreigners if the property is left vacant, beginning in 2022. It follows foreign buyers’ taxes in British Columbia and Ontario. The move is estimated to bring in $700-million in revenue over four years, starting in 2022-23.

The budget also proposes to send an extra $2.5-billion to the CMHC for various initiatives, including the construction of affordable housing units and plans to reallocate $1.3-billion for such things as the conversion of vacant offices into housing.

However, the budget was just as notable for what wasn’t there: new measures aimed directly at cooling the real estate market.

Measures For The Elderly, The Green Economy, Reduced Tax Evasion, And Luxury Taxes on Yachts, Expensive Cars…

If all goes well, and the pandemic is largely behind us by September, the government forecasts a marked drop in deficits and debt over the five-year planning horizon.

  • As a share of the economy, the fiscal track is about where it was in November, with annual deficits averaging 5.8% of GDP over five years versus 5.7%.
  • Bond issuance in 2021 will decline to C$286 billion, from C$374 billion in the previous fiscal year. The government wants to issue more than 40% of its bonds in maturities of 10-years or more, up from 15% pre-pandemic. That includes a re-opening of 50-year issues.
  • The government pledged to reduce federal debt as a share of the economy over “the medium-term” in defining its new fiscal anchor.
  • Canada plans to implement a digital services tax on tech giants at a rate of 3% of revenue. It would be effective Jan. 1, 2022, “until an acceptable multilateral approach comes into effect.” The tax is projected to raise C$3.4 billion in revenue over five years

Bottom Line

There is no plan to balance the budget, but one area of focus ahead of the budget was whether Ottawa would commit to a specific fiscal anchor. And while a precise figure was not mentioned, the budget states: “The government is committed to unwinding COVID-related deficits and reducing the federal debt as a share of the economy over the medium-term.” With the proviso that the economy recovers roughly in line with consensus expectations and that borrowing costs don’t flare dramatically higher, this suggests that the anchor is a 50% debt/GDP ratio. For the deficit, this implies a reversion to pre-pandemic levels of around 1% of GDP (or about $30 billion later in the decade). In a sense, then, the pandemic has been “paid for” by a one-time level step-up in the debt/GDP ratio from 30% to 50%.

 

Please Note: The source of this article is from SherryCooper.com/category/articles/

Blowout Canadian Job Growth Continued In March

General Mark Goode 12 Apr

This morning, Statistics Canada released the March 2021 Labour Force Survey showing much stronger-than-expected job growth for the second month in a row, pointing towards a Q1 growth rate of more than 5.5%. This survey reflected labour market conditions during the week of March 14 to 20, when public health restrictions were less restrictive in several provinces than during the prior month.

Employment surged by a whopping 303,100 in March after a gain of 259,200 in February. The jobless rate fell to 7.5%, the lowest since before the pandemic. However, there remain many discouraged workers who are no longer actively looking for jobs but would prefer to be gainfully employed. Many of them might well be mothers who could not afford or find quality daycare or needed to help children with remote learning.

The employment rate–the percentage of the population aged 15 and older that is employed—increased 0.9 percentage points to 60.3%, which was still 1.5 percentage points below the rate seen in February 2020.

Employment gains in March were spread across most provinces, with the largest increases in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec. Much of the employment increase reflected a continued recovery in industries—including retail trade and accommodation and food services—where employment had fallen in January in response to public health restrictions. Growth in health care and social assistance, educational services, and construction also contributed to the national increase in March.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the labour market. Compared with February 2020, there were 296,000 (-1.5%) fewer people employed in March 2021 and 247,000 (+30.4%) more people working less than half of their usual hours. The number of workers affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown peaked at 5.5 million in April 2020, including a drop in employment of 3.0 million and an increase in COVID-related absences from work of 2.5 million.

Among workers who worked at least half their usual hours in March, the number working at locations other than home increased by about 600,000 for the second consecutive month as public health restrictions eased across the country.

While the number of Canadians working from home declined by 200,000 in March, working from home remains an important adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 5.0 million Canadians working from home in March, more than half (2.9 million) were doing so temporarily in response to COVID-19.

Total hours worked rose 2.0% in March, driven by gains in several industries, including educational services, retail trade, and construction. Building on a steady upward trend since April 2020, this brought total hours to within 1.2% of February 2020 levels. Hours worked among the self-employed continued to be much further behind (-7.7%) February 2020 levels, while hours among employees returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The unemployment rate falls to the lowest level since the start of the pandemic

The unemployment rate declined for the second consecutive month, falling 0.7 percentage points to 7.5% in March, the lowest since February 2020. This reflected strong employment growth that exceeded the number of people entering the labour market.

The number of people unemployed fell 148,000 (-8.9%) in March, with the majority (59.0%) of people leaving unemployment becoming employed. Despite sharp reductions in both February and March, the number of people unemployed stood at 1.5 million, up 371,000 (+32.4%) compared with February 2020.

The number of long-term unemployed—people who had been looking for work or on temporary layoff for 27 weeks or more—held steady in March. There were 286,000 (+159.5%) more people in long-term unemployment compared with February 2020. These are the folks that could be permanently scarred by the pandemic and for whom job training may well be helpful.

Bottom Line 

While Friday’s jobs report surprised on the upside, there are still concerns around an uneven recovery and the impact of the third-wave shutdown in the economy. As the virus becomes more contagious and lethal, the economic recovery remains at risk, heightened by the vaccine’s very slow rollout. The reduces the importance of this employment report for the Bank of Canada even though it is the last report before the central bank’s April policy decision. No doubt the Bank of Canada will highlight the rising risk of contagion on the economic recovery.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will release its 2021 budget on April 19 and has already promised an additional spending dose. The Bank of Canada’s next policy decision is on April 21. The Bank will thus maintain the overnight rate at 25 basis points and refrain from tapering quantitative easing.

Please Note: The source of this article is from SherryCooper.com/category/articles/

Banking Regulator Aims To Make It Tougher To Get An Uninsured Mortgage

General Mark Goode 12 Apr

With several Big-Five bank CEOs calling for regulatory action to slow the red-hot housing market, it didn’t take long for the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), the governor of federally regulated financial institutions, to respond. In a news release issued today, OSFI proposed an increase in uninsured mortgages’ qualifying rate to the higher of the mortgage contract rate plus 200 basis points or 5.25% as a minimum floor.

Based on posted rates of the country’s six largest lenders, the current threshold is at 4.79%. Before the pandemic, the posted rate was widely considered too high relative to much lower contract rates. Remember, Canada’s six largest lenders under OSFI’s jurisdiction set the posted rate each week when they submit to the Bank of Canada the so-called ‘conventional 5-year mortgage rate’. It has increasingly born little relationship to actual contract rates.

OSFI, once again, shows itself to cozy up to the Canadian banking oligopoly. Keep in mind that delinquency rates on the Canadian banks’ mortgage books are very low–both in historical terms and compared with financial institutions in the rest of the world. OSFI couched this proposal in terms of “the importance of sound mortgage underwriting.”

In the release, OSFI said, “The minimum qualifying rate adds a margin of safety that ensures borrowers will have the ability to make mortgage payments in the event of a change in circumstances, such as the reduction of income or a rise in mortgage interest rates. As mortgages are one of the largest exposures that most banks carry, ensuring that borrowers can repay their loans strongly contributes to the continued safety and soundness of Canada’s financial system.”

The comment period ends on May 7. OSFI reported that they would communicate the revised B-20 Guideline by May 24, with an implementation date of June 1, 2021.

This all but ensures that the current boom in home buying will accelerate further in the spring market–providing an impetus for borrowers to get in under the June 1 deadline. OSFI’s move will trigger an even hotter spring housing market as demand is pulled forward just as it was before the January 1, 2018 implementation date of the current B-20 ruling.

This will not impact non-federally regulated FI’s such as credit unions, mono-lines and private lenders, nor does it immediately impact insured-mortgage borrowers.

The federal government is in charge of mortgage qualification for insured mortgages. CMHC and the finance department could well follow OSFI’s lead in tightening qualifying rules for insured loans.

Bottom Line

It is noteworthy to remember that on January 24, 2020, OSFI indicated that it was reviewing the benchmark rate (or floor) used for qualifying uninsured mortgages. At that time, the thought was that the widening gap between the posted rate and the contract mortgage rate was too large and that OSFI and the Bank of Canada would publish a mortgage rate weekly that would better reflect the contract rates. The new qualifying rate would be that contract mortgage rate plus 200 basis points. This consultation was suspended on March 13, 2020, in response to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please Note: The source of this article is from SherryCooper.com/category/articles/

Housing Continued to Surge in February

General Mark Goode 16 Mar

Today the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) released statistics showing national home sales hit another all-time high in February 2021. Canadian home sales increased a whopping 6.6% month-on-month (m-o-m), building on the largest winter housing boom in history. On a year-over-year (y-o-y) basis, existing home sales surged an amazing 39.2%. As the chart below shows, February’s activity blew out all previous records for the month.The seasonally adjusted activity was running at an annualized pace of 783,636 units in February. CREA’s revised forecast for 2021 is in the neighbourhood of 700,000 home sales. Strong demand notwithstanding, sales may be hard-pressed to maintain current activity levels in the traditionally busier spring months absent a surge of much-needed new supply. However, that could materialize as current COVID restrictions are increasingly eased and the weather starts to improve.

The month-over-month increase in national sales activity from January to February was led by the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and several other Ontario markets, along with Calgary and some markets in B.C. These offset a considerable decline in Montreal’s sales, where new listings have started 2021 at lower levels compared to those recorded in the second half of last year.

In line with heightened activity since last summer, it was a new record for February by a considerable margin (over 13,000 transactions). For the eighth straight month, sales activity was up in the vast majority of Canadian housing markets compared to the same month the previous year. Among the eight markets that posted year-over-year sales declines in February, minimal supply at the moment is the most likely explanation.

“We are right at the start of the first undisturbed (by policy or lockdown) spring housing market in years, and we also have the most extreme demand-supply imbalance ever by a large margin. So, the question is, what is going on? I think part of it is the demand that built up due to regulatory changes in the years leading up to COVID that is playing out now. Part of it is the demand that is being pulled forward from the future either in search of a home base to ride out the pandemic or to lock down a purchase amid rapidly rising prices while securing a record low mortgage rate,” said Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Senior Economist. “But maybe the biggest factor here is the emergence of existing owners with major equity, prompted by the great shake-up that is COVID-19 to pull up stakes and move. First-time buyers, which we have a lot of, are now having to compete with that as well.”

New Listings
The number of newly listed homes rebounded by 15.7% in February, recovering all the ground lost to the drop recorded in January. With sales-to-new listings ratios historically elevated at the moment, indicating almost everything that becomes available is selling, it was not surprising that many of the markets where new supply bounced back in February were the same markets where sales increased that month.

With the rebound in new supply outpacing the gain in sales in February, the national sales-to-new listings ratio came off the boil slightly to reach 84% compared to the record 91.2% posted in January. That said, the February reading came in as the second-highest on record. The long-term average for the national sales-to-new listings ratio is 54.4%.

Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratio with long-term averages, only about 15% of all local markets were in balanced market territory in February, measured as being within one standard deviation of their long-term average. The other 85% of markets were above long-term norms, in many cases well above. The first two months of 2021 and the second half of 2020 have seen record numbers of markets in seller’s market territory. For reference, the pre-COVID record of only around 55% of all markets in seller’s territory was set back at the beginning of 2002.

There were only 1.8 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of February 2021 – the lowest reading on record for this measure. The long-term average for this measure is a little over five months. At the local market level, some 40 Ontario markets were under one month of inventory at the end of February.

Home Prices
The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) jumped by 3.3% m-o-m in February 2021 – a record-setting increase. Of the 40 markets now tracked by the index, all but one were up on a m-o-m basis.

The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 17.3% on a y-o-y basis in February – the biggest gain since April 2017 and close to the highest on record.

The largest y-o-y gains – above 35% range – were recorded in the Lakelands region of Ontario cottage country, Tillsonburg District and Woodstock-Ingersoll.

Y-o-y price increases in the 30-35% were seen in Barrie, Niagara, Bancroft and Area, Grey-Bruce Owen Sound, Kawartha Lakes, London & St. Thomas, North Bay, Northumberland Hills, Quinte & District, Simcoe & District and Southern Georgian Bay.

This was followed by y-o-y price gains in the range of 25-30% in Hamilton, Guelph, Cambridge, Brantford, Huron Perth, Kitchener-Waterloo, Peterborough and the Kawarthas and Greater Moncton.

Prices were up in the range from 20-25% compared to last February in Oakville-Milton and Ottawa, 18.8% in Montreal, 16.1% in Chilliwack, in the 10-15% range on Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and Okanagan Valley, Winnipeg, the GTA, Mississauga and Quebec, the 5-10% range in Greater Vancouver, Victoria, Regina and Saskatoon, in the 3.5% range in Calgary and Edmonton, and 2.6% in St. John’s.

Detailed home price data by region is reported in the table below.

Bottom Line

We all know why the housing boom is happening:

  • Employment in higher-paying industries has actually risen despite the pandemic, supporting incomes among potential homebuyers.
  • Mortgage rates plumbed record lows and, while they’re backing up now, they’re still below pre-COVID levels, while many buyers are likely still on pre-approvals with rates locked in.
  • There’s been a dramatic shift in preferences toward more space, further outside major urban centres (commuting requirements are down and probably assumed to remain down).
  • Limited travel has created historic demand for second (recreational) properties, and households have equity in existing properties to tap.
  • Younger households are likely pulling forward moves that would have otherwise happened in the years ahead.
  • There has to be some FOMO and speculative activity in the market at this point. In January, 6% of all houses listed for sale in Toronto’s suburbs had been bought in the previous 12 months, up from 4% a year earlier, according to brokerage Realosophy.

On the flip side, there is precious little supply to meet that demand, at least in segments that the market wants.

In a separate release, Canadian housing starts pulled back to 245,900 annualized units in February, a still-high level following a near-record print in the prior month. This is not a winter wonder. Starts on a twelve-month average basis are running at 227k annualized, the strongest such pace since 2008, and over the past six months, starts are averaging 242k, the highest since at least 1990. Both single- and multi-unit starts declined in the month, as did all provinces but British Columbia.

Please Note: The source of this article is from SherryCooper.com/category/articles/

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