PRE-APPROVALS & PRE-QUALIFICATIONS

General George Macris 15 Sep

Throughout the mortgage and home buying process, there are many steps and many checkpoints a buyer will need to complete before they can move on to the next one. A buyer will not be able to close on a purchase if they do not have a lawyer. Financing conditions need to be lifted after confirmation from a mortgage broker that a file is broker complete. A buyer should never write an offer on a home until they have a realtor working for them. Most importantly, a buyer should never be looking at property they are considering buying until they have been pre-qualified and pre-approved.

Now, one thing we need to make clear- pre-qualified and pre-approved are two different things. Pre-qualified is when someone completes a mortgage application with a mortgage broker or a bank representative and is told how much they can afford. Pre-approved is when someone has written confirmation from a lender stating they are willing to lend based on what is stated in an application and the applicant’s current credit history.

The difference?

Pre-qualifications are based solely on the knowledge and experience (sometimes even opinion) of a broker or bank rep. A pre-approval on the other hand is backed by the lender actually willing to give you the money. When someone says they are pre-qualified, that means they have taken an application with a mortgage broker or bank and in broker or bank rep’s opinion, they can afford “x” amount on a home. A pre-approval is a written letter from a lender stating based on applicants current credit history, declared income on application and current assets, we will lend “x” amount pending confirmation everything stated in the application is verifiable and the property meets all lender requirements.

As you can probably tell, one can be more reliable than the other, especially if you are working with a mortgage broker or bank rep that is inexperienced in the industry. Pre-approvals also usually come with a rate hold. What a rate hold does is guarantee you the interest rates that lender is offering today for a certain amount of time (usually 120 days), and if you put an offer on a place within that time period, they will give you that previous rate even if they went up. If rates go down, they will allow you to access the lower interest rate as well.

You must always get yourself pre-qualified before you begin looking at homes so you know what you can afford. Once you have and you are actively looking, it is very important you try and get a pre-approval before you write an offer. It will give you that extra confirmation your application is acceptable, and protect you against interest rate increases while you look.

If you require a pre-qualification, pre-approval, or want to speak with someone about your current situation, please give a Dominion Lending Centres mortgage professional a call.

By Ryan Oake

BANK OF CANADA HOLDS RATES STEADY

General George Macris 5 Jun

Bank of Canada Takes A More Positive Tone

On the heels of a devastating decline in the Canadian economy, the Bank of Canada suggested today that the worst of the pandemic’s negative impact on the global economy is behind us, conceding, however, that uncertainty remains high. The Bank today maintained its target overnight rate at 0.25%. No additional rate cut was expected as the Bank has described the 0.25% level as the effective lower bound of the policy rate. Governor Poloz has all but ruled out negative interest rates unless the economy deteriorates dramatically further.

Today’s Governing Council meeting is Stephen Poloz’s swan song, as the new Governor, Tiff Macklem, takes the helm today. Macklem took part as an observer in the Governing Council’s deliberations and endorsed today’s rate decision and measures announced in the press release, thereby assuring continuity in monetary policy.

The Bank has taken very aggressive action to support liquidity and the full functioning of financial markets by buying short- and long-term securities. The central bank’s balance sheet holdings of securities have grown to about 20% of Canada’s GDP, up from 5% pre-crisis. That’s still well below the levels seen at the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, and the European Central Bank, which have conducted these quantitative easing operations since the financial crisis more than a decade ago. However, the Bank of Canada’s securities purchases have been extraordinary in relation to the size of our economy.

“Decisive and targeted fiscal actions, combined with lower interest rates, are buffering the impact of the shutdown on disposable income and helping to lay the foundation for economic recovery.” According to the central bank, the Canadian economy appears to have avoided the most severe scenario presented in the Bank’s April Monetary Policy Report (MPR).

The level of real GDP in Q1 was 2.1% below the level in the fourth quarter of 2019. The Bank of Canada is now predicting that real GDP in Q2 will likely post a further decline of 10%-to-20%, as continued shutdowns and sharply lower investment in the energy sector take an additional toll on output. That suggests a peak-to-trough decline of 12% to 22%, instead of the 15% to 30% scenario the central bank had previously been estimating. “The Canadian economy appears to have avoided the most severe scenario,” the Bank of Canada said.

Bottom Line: While the degree of uncertainty remains high, there is evidence that the worst of the economic downturn is behind us. Preliminary data for May suggests that home sales picked up on a month-over-month basis in May in the GTA and GVA, although home sales continued to be down significantly from levels one year ago.

Some people are concerned that the extraordinary stimulus in monetary and fiscal measures in recent months might, in time, be inflationary. Governor Poloz has made it clear that the dire results of the economic shutdown would have been highly deflationary had these actions not been taken. Deflation, coupled with high debt levels, would have triggered a depression. Economic models are ill-equipped to deal with the fallout of the pandemic. Policymakers need to be nimble in responding, and when the economy has recovered sufficiently, they will begin the unwinding of all of this stimulus, which will require an equally deft response on both the fiscal and monetary side.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

DETERMINE YOUR MONTHLY BUDGET

General George Macris 12 May

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about your finances, especially if you are saddled with debt. The best way to determine your monthly budget is to start by recording your total monthly income for the family and your total monthly expenses. To make these easier to review, it is ideal to break out your expenses into two categories: fixed and flexible.

Fixed Expenses: Fixed expenses are bills that stay relatively the same each month and will typically even come out on the same date. Some examples of fixed expenses, which are generally non-negotiable, include mortgage or rent payments, car/household insurance, car loans, other loan payments, credit card payments, cell phone bill, household utilities, child support (if applicable) and any medical bills such as medication, orthodontic payments, etc.

Flexible Expenses: Once you calculate your fixed expenses, you will want to take a look at your flexible expenses or payments. Flexible expenses may change from month to-month and are typically the things households look at when trying to reduce spending or free up monthly funds. These types of expenses include groceries, cable/streaming services, internet, gas, entertainment and dining out, etc.

The goal of determining your monthly budget is to see how much of your monthly income goes to bills, and what is leftover for spending and entertainment. It is important to check up on your expenses and spending habits on a regular basis to ensure that you are continuing to live within your means, and are not stretching your budget to the

point of extra debt. It can be easy to run up a credit card thinking “I’ll pay it off later”, but unless it is an emergency situation (vet bill, car repairs, etc.) it is best to avoid that mentality and only spend what you have on-hand.

If you do happen to find yourself struggling to make your bills each month, it might be time to look around for some places to save some extra money. Some great options for saving money include:

– Reducing or eliminating your cable package

– Lowering your energy usage (turn down that thermostat and bundle up in colder months!)

– Reducing water usage (taking shorter showers, doing less loads of laundry)

– Going out to eat less frequently or entirely. It is amazing how much you can save by skipping the drive thru and making your own coffee at home!

– Learn to say NO (to gift exchanges at work, nights out with friends, special events whenever possible, etc.)

– Attempt to negotiate lower bills with any company you deal with

– Reduce grocery spending (or get cash back when you do shop)

– Use coupons! Shop on sale, collect customer loyalty points to buy bigger ticket items

– Buy used when you can! There are great resources for buying used such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or Kijiji. This is also a great place to make some money! Purge your house and sell anything you don’t love or need anymore.

Posted by: Mike Hattim
Mortgage Agent

MORTGAGES TO THE POWER OF 30 – HOW YOU CAN BE BETTER OFF WITH A HIGHER RATE

General George Macris 12 May

Every now and then markets remind us why some times cash is king. Setting up your mortgage with a 30 year amortization that reduces your monthly cash outflow is a powerful and beneficial financial strategy that can increase your overall wealth, despite often having a higher interest rate than a 25 year amortization. Yes this is contrary to many advisors that say you should pick a lower amortization period so you can pay off your mortgage as fast as possible, and it’s contrary to borrower sentiment to go after the lowest rate. But a 30 year amortization strategy can allow you to pay off your mortgage at the end of 25 years and have additional savings remaining where a 25 year amortization would not.

Let’s take a couple who are both 35 years old that have the option of a 25 year amortization at a rate of 3.5% for a mortgage of $500,000 or a 30 year amortization at a higher rate of 3.75%. The 25 year amortization will have a monthly payment of approximately $2,500 per month and the 30 year amortization will have a lower monthly mortgage payment of $2,315 which results in a cash flow savings of approximately $2,250 per year. If the cash flow savings are invested, by the end of 25 years this savings can allow the borrowers to pay off their 30 year mortgage and have approximately $12,000 of additional wealth remaining, assuming the savings are invested at annual return of 7%. By this time the couple is 60 years old and now have an additional $12,000 to put towards their retirement or other interests.

Of course, the results depend on the rate assumptions used for investments and mortgages over the life of the mortgage, so are the rates in this analysis reasonable? Well, the average annual return for the S&P500 stock market index over any 20 to 30 year period, as well as since inception, has been between 7% and 10%. As far as future mortgage rates go, variable mortgage rates have hovered between 2% and 2.75% over the last 10 years. Fixed rates tend to be correlated to government bond yields and at the time of writing the 5-year government bond yield is around 0.40%, and the 30-year government bond yield is around 1.15%, which doesn’t add much of a premium over the long term. In fact, you can lock in a 10-year fixed rate mortgage with a 30 year amortization period right now for 3.75%. In addition, the Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz recently stated that he expects global interest rates to remain low for years to come.

Equally beneficial with the 30 year amortization strategy is the flexibility it offers by preserving cash flow to manage other financial obligations. The preservation of cash can help meet unexpected expenses or a temporary loss of income that can often arise at various times in life. At these times, many borrowers are often turning to higher interest credit lines or high interest credit cards, carrying along expensive balances which could otherwise be avoided or minimized by using the cash preserved from the 30 year amortization strategy.

Smart investors know how to use leverage to increase their wealth and better manage their finances and the 30 year amortization mortgage product plays right into that. It matters not that you have the knowledge, it’s what you do with the knowledge. If you would like a mortgage partner to help execute your financial strategies through smart mortgage structuring, contact me or your local DLC mortgage professional.

by Todd Skene

TOP 5 THINGS MILLENNIALS SHOULD KNOW WHEN BUYING REAL ESTATE

General George Macris 28 Apr

There are 9 million Millennials in Canada, representing more than 25 percent of the population. Born between 1980 and 1999, the eldest are in the early stages of their careers, forming households and buying their first homes. Buying a home is a daunting process for anyone, but especially so for the first-time home buyer. This is the largest and most important financial decision you will ever make and it should be done with the appropriate investment in time and energy. Making the effort to be financially literate will save you thousands of dollars and assure you make the right decisions for your longer-term financial security.

Don’t rush into the housing market–do your homework: learn the basics of savings, credit and budgeting.
Lifelong savings is a crucial ingredient to financial prosperity. You must spend less than you earn, ideally saving at least 10 percent of your gross income. Put your savings on automatic pilot, having at least 10 percent of every paycheck automatically deducted. Money you don’t see you won’t spend. Contributing to an RRSP, at least enough to gain any matching funds your employer will provide, is essential. The Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is an ideal vehicle for saving for a down payment and now you can contribute as much as $10,000 a year.

You also need to establish a good credit record. Lenders want to see a record of your ability to pay your bills. As early as possible, get a credit card and put your name on cable, phone or other utility bills. Pay your bills and your rent in full and on time. Do not run up credit card lines of credit. The interest rates are exorbitant and the only one who benefits is your bank. Keep your credit card balances well below their credit limit.

Do a free credit check with Equifax every six months to learn your credit score and to see if there are any problems. Equifax tracks all of your credit history, which includes school loans, car loans, credit cards and computer loans. Equifax grades you based on your responsible usage and payments.

Budgeting is also essential and it is easier than ever with online apps. You need to know how you spend your money to discover where there is waste and opportunity for savings. The CMHC Household Budget Calculator helps you take a realistic look at your current monthly expenses.

Make a realistic projectory of your future household income and lifestyle and understand its implications for choosing the right property for you.
Top 5 Things Millennials Should Know When Buying Real Estate Millennials are likely relatively new to the working world. Lenders want to see stability in employment and you generally need to show at least two years of steady income before you can be considered for a mortgage. This also applies if you have been working for a few years in one career and then decide to change careers to something completely different. Lenders want to see continuous employment in the same field. If you are self-employed, it is more challenging, and you need professional advice on taking the proper steps to qualify for a mortgage.

Assess the stability of your job and the likely trajectory of your income. Millennials will not follow in the footsteps of their parents, working for one employer for forty years. In today’s world, no one has guaranteed job security. Take a realistic view of your future. Will your household income be rising? Will there be one income or two? Are there children in your future? Will you remain in the same city? The answers to these questions help to determine how much space you need, the appropriate type of residence, its location and the best mortgage for you.

Financial planning is key and it is dependent on your goals and expectations.

This is not a Do-It-Yourself project: build a team of trusted professionals to guide you along.
You need expert advice. The first person you should talk to is an accredited mortgage professional. There is no out-of-pocket cost for their services. Indeed, they will save you money.

These people are trained financial planners and understand the ever-changing mortgage market. Take some time with them to understand the process before you jump in and find your head spinning with all the decisions you will ultimately have to make. They will give you a realistic idea of your borrowing potential. Before you fall in love with a house or condo, make sure you understand where you stand on the mortgage front. Mortgages are complex and one size does not fit all. You need an expert who will shop for the right mortgage for you. There are more than 200 mortgage lenders in Canada and they will compete for your business.

It is a very good idea to get a pre-approved mortgage amount before you start shopping. This is a more detailed process than just a rate hold (where a particular mortgage rate is guaranteed for a specified period of time). For a pre-approval, the lender will review all of your documentation except for the actual property.

There is far more to the correct mortgage decision than the interest rate you will pay. While getting the lowest rate is usually the first thing on every buyer’s mind, it shouldn’t be the most important. Six out of ten buyers break a five-year term mortgage by the third year, paying enormous penalties. These penalties vary between lenders. The fine print of your mortgage is key and that’s where an expert can save you money. How the penalty for breaking a mortgage is calculated is key and many monoline lenders have significantly more consumer-friendly calculations than the major banks.[2] A mortgage broker will help you find a mortgage with good prepayment privileges.

The next step is to engage a real estate agent. The seller pays the fee and a qualified realtor with good references will understand the housing market in your location. Make sure the property has lasting value. Once you find the right home, you will need a real estate lawyer, a home inspector, an insurance agent and possibly an appraiser. Make any offer contingent on a home inspection and remediation of significant deficiencies.

Down payments, closing costs, moving expenses and basic upgrades need to be understood to avoid nasty surprises.
Top 5 Things Millennials Should Know When Buying Real Estate The size of your down payment is key and, obviously, the bigger the better. You need a minimum of 5 percent of the purchase price and anything less than 20 percent will require you to pay a hefty CMHC mortgage loan insurance premium, which is frequently added to the mortgage principal and amortized over the life of the mortgage as part of the regular monthly payment.

Your lender will want to know the source of your down payment. Many Millennials will depend on the largesse of their parents to top up their down payment.

The down payment, however, is only part of the upfront cost. You can expect to pay from 1.5-to-4 percent of the purchase price of your home in closing costs. These costs include legal fees, appraisals, property transfer tax, HST (where applicable) on new properties, home and title insurance, mortgage life insurance and prepaid property tax and utility adjustments. These amount to thousands of dollars.

Don’t forget moving costs and essential upgrades to the property such as draperies or blinds in the bedroom.

Test drive your monthly housing payments to learn how much you can truly afford.
Affordability is not about how much credit you can qualify for, but how much you can reasonably tolerate given your current and future income, stability, lifestyle and budget. Most Millennials underestimate what it costs to run a home, be it a condo or single-family residence.

The formal qualification guidelines used by lenders are two-fold: 1) your housing costs must be no more than 32 percent of your gross (pre-tax) household income; and, 2) your housing costs plus all other debt servicing must be no more than 40 percent of your gross income.

Lenders define housing costs as mortgage payments, property taxes, condo fees (if any) and heating costs.[3] But homes cost more than that. In your planning, you should also other utilities (such as cable, water and air conditioning), ongoing maintenance, home insurance and unexpected repairs. Taking all of these costs into consideration, the 32 percent and 40 percent guidelines might well put an unacceptable crimp in your lifestyle, keeping in mind that future children also add meaningfully to household expenses and two incomes can unexpectedly turn into one.

The best way to know what you can afford is to try it out. Say, for example, you qualify for a mortgage payment of $1400 a month and adding property taxes and condo fees might take your monthly housing expense to $1650. A far cry from the $500 you pay now to split a place with 3 roommates. Start making the full payment before you buy to your savings account and see how it feels. Do you have enough money left over to maintain a tolerable lifestyle without going further into debt?

Keep in mind that this is not a normal interest rate environment. Don’t over-extend because there is a good chance interest rates will be higher when your term is up. Do the math (or better yet have your broker do it for you) on what a doubling of interest rates five years from now would do to your monthly payment. A doubling of rates may be unlikely, but it makes sense to know the implication.

Do Your Calculations Look Discouraging?

If so, here are some things you can do to improve your situation:

Pay off some loans before you buy real estate.Top 5 Things Millennials Should Know When Buying Real Estate
Save for a larger down payment.
Take another look at your current household budget to see where you can spend less. The money you save can go towards a larger down payment.
Lower your home price — remember that your first home is not necessarily your dream home.
Footnotes:

[1] I would like to acknowledge and thank the many mortgage professionals of Dominion Lending Centres who made contributions to this report.

[2] People break mortgages because of job change, decision to upsize, change neighbourhoods, change in family status or refinancing. The last thing you want to discover is that discharging a $400,000 mortgage 3.5 years into a 5-year term is going to cost you $15,000.

[3] Lenders now also assess your qualification compliance if interest rates were to rise meaningfully, a likely scenario in this low interest rate environment.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

BANK OF CANADA PUTS THE ECONOMY ON LIFE SUPPORT

General George Macris 16 Apr

Bank of Canada Stands Ready To Do Whatever It Takes

On the heels of a devastating decline in the Canadian economy, the Bank of Canada is taking unprecedented actions. With record job losses, plunging confidence and a shutdown of most businesses, this month’s newly released Monetary Policy Report (MPR) is a portrait of extreme financial stress and a sharp and sudden contraction across the globe. COVID-19 and the collapse in oil prices are having a never-before-seen economic impact and policy response.

The Bank’s MPR says, “Until the outbreak is contained, a substantial proportion of economic activity will be affected. The suddenness of these effects has created shockwaves in financial markets, leading to a general flight to safety, a sharp repricing of risky assets and a breakdown in the functioning of many markets.” It goes on to state, “While the global and Canadian economies are expected to rebound once the medical emergency ends, the timing and strength of the recovery will depend heavily on how the pandemic unfolds and what measures are required to contain it. The recovery will also depend on how households and businesses behave in response. None of these can be forecast with any degree of confidence.”

“The Canadian economy was in a solid position ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak but has since been hit by widespread shutdowns and lower oil prices. One early measure of the extent of the damage was an unprecedented drop in employment in March, with more than one million jobs lost across Canada. Many more workers reported shorter hours, and by early April, some six million Canadians had applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.”

“The sudden halt in global activity will be followed by regional recoveries at different times, depending on the duration and severity of the outbreak in each region. This means that the global economic recovery, when it comes, could be protracted and uneven.”

Today’s MPR breaks with tradition. It does not provide a detailed economic forecast. Such forecasts are useless given the degree of uncertainty and the lack of former relevant precedents. However, Bank analysis of alternative scenarios suggests the level of real activity was down 1%-to-3% in the first quarter of this year and will be 15%-to-30% lower in the second quarter than in Q4 of 2019. Inflation is forecast at 0%, mainly owing to the fall in gasoline prices.

“Fiscal programs, designed to expand according to the magnitude of the shock, will help individuals and businesses weather this shutdown phase of the pandemic, and support incomes and confidence leading into the recovery. These programs have been complemented by actions taken by other federal agencies and provincial governments.”

The Bank of Canada, along with all other central banks, have taken measures to support the functioning of core financial markets and provide liquidity to financial institutions, including making large-scale asset purchases and sharply lowering interest rates. The Bank reduced overnight interest rates in three steps last month by 150 basis points to 0.25%, which the Bank considers its “effective lower bound”. It did not cut this policy rate again today, as promised, believing that negative interest rates are not the appropriate policy response. The Bank has also conducted lending operations to financial institutions and asset purchases in core funding markets, amounting to around $200 billion.

“These actions have served to ease market dysfunction and help keep credit channels open, although they remain strained. The next challenge for markets will be managing increased demand for near-term financing by federal and provincial governments, and businesses and households. The situation calls for special actions by the central bank.”

The Bank of Canada, in its efforts to provide liquidity to all strained financial markets, has, in essence, become the buyer of last resort. Under its previously-announced program, the Bank will continue to purchase at least $5 billion in Government of Canada securities per week in the secondary market. It will increase the level of purchases as required to maintain the proper functioning of the government bond market. Also, the Bank is temporarily increasing the amount of Treasury Bills it acquires at auctions to up to 40%, effective immediately.

The Bank announced new measures to provide additional support for Canada’s financial system. It will commence a new Provincial Bond Purchase Program of up to $50 billion, to supplement its Provincial Money Market Purchase Program. Further, the Bank is announcing a new Corporate Bond Purchase Program, in which the Bank will acquire up to a total of $10 billion in investment-grade corporate bonds in the secondary market. Both of these programs will be put in place in the coming weeks. Finally, the Bank is further enhancing its term repo facility to permit funding for up to 24 months.

The Bank will support all Canadian financial markets, with the exception of the stock market, and it “stands ready to adjust the scale or duration of its programs if necessary. All the Bank’s actions are aimed at helping to bridge the current period of containment and create the conditions for a sustainable recovery and achievement of the inflation target over time.”

This is exactly what the central bank needs to do to instill confidence that Canadian financial markets will remain viable. These measures are a warranted offset to panic selling. Too many investors are prone to panic in times like these, which has a snowball effect that must be avoided. As long as people are confident that the Bank of Canada is a backstop, panic can be mitigated. The Bank of Canada deserves high marks for responding effectively to this crisis and remaining on guard. Governor Poloz and the Governing Council saw it early for what it is, a Black Swan of enormous proportions.

As a result, Canada will not only weather the pandemic storm better than many other countries, but we will come out of this economic and financial tsunami in better condition.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

WHY ARE MORTGAGE RATES RISING?

General George Macris 31 Mar

Over the past month, the Bank of Canada has lowered its overnight rate by a whopping 1.5 percentage points to a mere 0.25%. Many people expected mortgage rates to fall equivalently. The banks have reduced prime rates by the full 150 basis points (bps). But, since the second Bank of Canada rate cut on March 13, banks and other lenders have hiked mortgage rates for fixed- and variable-rate loans. That’s not what happens typically when the Bank cuts its overnight rate. But these are extraordinary times.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted everything, shutting down the entire global economy and damaging business and consumer confidence. No one knows when it will end. This degree of uncertainty and the risk to our health is profoundly unnerving.

Most businesses have ground to a halt, so unemployment has surged. Hourly workers and many of the self-employed have found themselves with no income for an indeterminate period. All but essential workers are staying at home, including vast numbers of students and pre-school children. Nothing like this has happened in the past century. The societal and emotional toll is enormous, and governments at all levels are introducing income support programs for individuals and businesses, but so far, no cheques are in the mail.

In consequence, the economy hasn’t just slowed; it has frozen in place and is rapidly contracting. Travel has stopped. Trade and transport have stopped. Manufacturing and commerce have stopped. And this is happening all over the world.

What’s more, the Saudis and Russians took advantage of the disruption to escalate oil production and drive down prices in a thinly veiled attempt to drive marginal producers in the US and Canada out of business. This has compounded the negative impact on our economy and dramatically intensified the plunge in our stock market.

Many Canadians are now forced to live off their savings or go into debt until employment insurance and other government assistance kicks in, and even when it does, it will not cover 100% of the income loss. The majority of the population has very little savings, so people are resort to drawing on their home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), other credit lines or adding to credit card debt. Businesses are doing the same.

The good news is that people and businesses that already have loans tied to the prime rate are enjoying a significant reduction in their monthly payments. All of the major banks have reduced their prime rates from 3.95% to 2.45%. So people or businesses with floating-rate loans, be they mortgages or HELOCs or commercial lines of credit, have seen their monthly borrowing costs fall by 1.5 percentage points. That helps to reduce the burden of dipping into this source of funds to replace income.

So Why Are Mortgage Rates For New Loans Rising?

These disruptive forces of Covid-19 have markedly reduced the earnings of banks and other lenders and dramatically increased their risk. That is why the stock prices of banks and other publically-traded lenders have fallen very sharply, causing their dividend yields to rise to levels well above government bond yields. As an example, Royal Bank’s stock price has fallen 22% year-to-date (ytd), increasing its annual dividend yield to 5.31%. For CIBC, it has been even worse. Its stock price has fallen 30%, driving its dividend yield to 7.66%. To put this into perspective, the 10-year Government of Canada bond yield is only 0.64%. The gap is a reflection of the investor perception of the risk confronting Canadian banks.

Thus, the cost of funds for banks and other lenders has risen sharply despite the cut in the Bank of Canada’s overnight rate. The cheapest source of funding is short-term deposits–especially savings and chequing accounts. Still, unemployed consumers and shut-down businesses are withdrawing these deposits to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Longer-term deposits called GICs, which stands for Guaranteed Investment Certificates, are a more expensive source of funds. Still, owing to their hefty penalties for early withdrawal, they become a more reliable funding source at a time like this. As noted by Rob Carrick, consumer finance reporter for the Globe and Mail, “GIC rates should be in the toilet right now because that’s what rates broadly do in times of economic stress. But GIC rates follow a similar path to mortgage rates, which have risen lately as lenders price rising default risk into borrowing costs.”

To attract funds, some of the smaller banks have increased their savings and GIC rates. For example, EQ Bank is paying 2.45% on its High-Interest Savings Account and 2.55% on its 5-year GIC. Other small banks are also hiking GIC rates, raising their cost of funds. Rob McLister noted that “The likes of Home Capital, Equitable Bank and Canadian Western Bank have lifted their 1-year GIC rates over 65 bps in the last few weeks, according to data from noted housing analyst Ben Rabidoux.”

The banks are having to set aside funds to cover rising loan loss reserves, which exacerbates their earnings decline. An unusually large component of Canadian bank loan losses is coming from the oil sector. Still, default risk is rising sharply for almost every business, small and large–think airlines, shipping companies, manufacturers, auto dealers, department stores, etc.

Lenders have also been swamped by thousands of applications to defer mortgage payments.

Hence, confronted with rising costs and falling revenues, the banks are tightening their belts. They slashed their prime rates but eliminated the discounts to prime for new variable-rate mortgage loans. Some lenders will no doubt start charging prime plus a premium for such mortgage loans. Banks have also raised fixed-rate mortgage rates as these myriad pressures reducing bank earnings are causing investors to insist banks pay more for the funds they need to remain liquid.

An additional concern is that financial markets have become less and less liquid–sellers cannot find buyers at reasonable prices. The ‘bid-ask’ spreads are widening. That’s why the central bank and CMHC are buying mortgage-backed securities in enormous volumes. That is also why the Bank of Canada has started large-scale weekly buying of government securities and commercial paper. These government entities have become the buyer of last resort, providing liquidity to the mortgage and bond markets.

These markets are crucial to the financial stability of Canada. Large-scale purchases of securities are called “quantitative easing” and have never been used before by the Bank of Canada. It was used extensively by the Fed and other central banks during the 2008-10 financial crisis. When business and consumer confidence is so low that nothing the central bank can do will spur investment and spending, they resort to quantitative easing to keep financial markets functioning. In today’s world, businesses and consumers are locked down, and no one knows when it will end. With so much uncertainty, confidence about the future diminishes. The natural tendency is for people to cancel major expenditures and hunker down.

We are living through an unprecedented period. When the health emergency has passed, we will celebrate a return to a new normal. In the meantime, seemingly odd things will continue to happen in financial markets.

Dr. Sherry Cooper

Home Sales Slip A Bit In January As Supply Tightens Pushing Up Prices

General George Macris 3 Mar

Statistics released today by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) show that national existing-home sales dipped between December and January owing to a dearth of new listings, especially in the GTA. As the CREA chart below shows, the pace of monthly home resales nevertheless remained strong.

Home sales recorded over Canadian MLS® Systems declined by 2.9% in January 2020, although they remain among the stronger monthly readings of the last few years.

Transactions were down in a little over half of all local markets in January, with the national result most impacted by a slowdown of more than 18% in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. According to CREA, “While there were few notable gains in January, it should be noted that many of the weaker results have come alongside a shortage of new supply in markets where inventories are already very tight.”

Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity was still up 11.5% compared to January 2019, marking the best sales figures for the month in 12 years. Transactions surpassed year-ago levels in about two-thirds of all local markets, including most of the largest urban markets. Some of the larger markets where sales were down, such as Ottawa and Windsor-Essex, are currently among some of the tightest supplied markets in Canada.

“Home price growth continues to pick up in housing markets where listings are in short supply, particularly in Southern, Central and Eastern Ontario,” said Jason Stephen, president of CREA. “Meanwhile, ample supply across the Prairies and in Newfoundland and Labrador is resulting in ongoing competition among sellers.”

In many tight housing markets, potential sellers appear to be waiting until the spring to list their properties when the weather is better and more buyers are actively looking

 

New Listings

The number of newly listed homes was little changed in January, edging up a slight 0.2% on the heels of a series of declines which have left new listings at a near-decade low. January’s small month-over-month (m-o-m) change came as the result of declines in a number of larger markets, including Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal, which were offset by gains in the York and Durham Regions of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) where new supply bounced back at the start of 2020 following a sharp slowdown towards the end of last year.

With sales down and new listings up slightly in January, the national sales-to-new listings ratio fell back to 65.1% compared to 67.2% posted in December 2019. Even so, the long-term average for this measure of housing market balance is 53.8%. It has been significantly above that long-term average for the last four months. Barring an unforeseen change in recent trends between the balance of supply and demand for homes, price gains appear poised to accelerate in 2020.

Indeed, concern is growing that Canada’s largest housing market may be about to experience a new round of froth, similar to 2016. “It’s looking more and more like early-2016 all over again for the Toronto housing market. This is not a good sign,” wrote RBC Economics senior economist Robert Hogue. “Those were the days when things started to heat up uncomfortably, propelling property values sky-high in the ensuing year.”

Based on a comparison of the sales-to-new listings ratio with the long-term average, close to two-thirds of all local markets were in balanced market territory in January 2020. Apart from a few areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the remainder were all favouring sellers. As the chart below shows, the GTA housing market is in sellers’ market territory. 

There were 4.2 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of January 2020 – the same as in November and December and the lowest level since the summer of 2007. This measure of market balance is now a full month below its long-term average of 5.2 months.
National measures of market balance continue to mask significant and increasing regional variations. The number of months of inventory has swollen far beyond long-term averages in the Prairie provinces and Newfoundland & Labrador, giving homebuyers ample choice in these regions. By contrast, the measure is running well below long-term averages in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces, resulting in increased competition among buyers for listings and providing fertile ground for price gains. The measure is still in balanced market territory in British Columbia overall but is tightening in the Vancouver area as the chart below indicates.

 

 

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) rose 0.8% in January 2020 compared to December, marking its eighth consecutive monthly gain. It is now up 5.5% from last year’s lowest point in May and has set new records in each of the past six months (see the CREA chart below)The MLS® HPI in January was up from the previous month in 14 of the 18 markets tracked by the index. (see CREA table below).

Home price trends have generally been stabilizing in most Prairie markets in recent months following lengthy declines. Meanwhile, prices are clearly on the rise again in British Columbia and in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). Further east, price growth in Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton continues as it has for some time now, with Montreal and particularly Ottawa having strengthened noticeably in recent months.

Comparing home prices to year-ago levels yields considerable variations across the country, although for the most part trends are still regionally split along east/west lines, with rising gains from Ontario east, and a mixed bag of smaller gains and declines in B.C. and the Prairies.

Home prices in Greater Vancouver (-1.2%) remain slightly below year-ago levels, but declines are still shrinking. Meanwhile, January saw prices back in positive y-o-y territory in the Fraser Valley (+0.3%). Elsewhere in British Columbia, home prices logged y-o-y increases in the Okanagan Valley (+3.5%), Victoria (+3.4%) and elsewhere on Vancouver Island (+4%).

Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon continued to post small y-o-y price declines, while the y-o-y gap has now widened to -6.9% in Regina.

In Ontario, home price growth has re-accelerated across most of the GGH, with a number of markets getting close to double digits. Meanwhile, price gains in recent years have continued uninterrupted in Ottawa (+13.7%), Montreal (+9.8%) and Moncton (+6.4%).

All benchmark home categories tracked by the index accelerated further into positive territory on a y-o-y basis, with similar sized gains among the different property types. Condo apartment unit prices posted the biggest y-o-y increase (+5%) followed closely by two-storey single-family homes (+4.8%), one-storey single-family homes (+4.4%) and townhouse/row units (+4.2%). Earlier this cycle, condo prices markedly outpaced the single-family sector, but in the past year, detached homes have more than caught up.

Also, note in the table below that the benchmark home price in Toronto-area Oakville-Milton at $1.05 million is now above the benchmark price in Greater Vancouver of $1,026. The GTA has a much larger and more diverse housing market with a benchmark price of $.841 million.

 

Consumer Unsecured Debt is a Bigger Problem Than Mortgage Debt

Bottom Line: Housing markets in Canada are strengthening as interest rates continue to fall, job growth is robust, wage gains are sizable and foreign immigration boosts demand. While the stress test qualifying rate remains stuck at 5.19%, market forces emanating from the coronavirus epidemic are pushing down market rates, and TD Bank has cut its posted rate to 4.99%. If downward pressure continues, which is likely given the news out of China, other big banks may follow the TD lead, reducing the qualifying rate. Regardless, contract mortgage rates are once again under downward pressure.

The Bank of Canada is unlikely to cut its overnight benchmark rate when it meets again March 4. It will point to the resilience of the Canadian economy and the debt exposure of Canadian households. To be sure, much has been made of the eye-catching fact that consumer insolvencies rose by 9.5% in 2019, the most substantial annual increase since the 2008-09 recession. But it should be emphasized that this reflected excessive credit card and auto loans, not mortgage debt. 

Consumer insolvencies are comprised of household bankruptcies and proposals (see chart below). Bankruptcies are falling and have been since the economic recovery began in 2009. Last year’s increase reflected a rise in the number of “proposals”—offers to pay creditors a percentage of what is owed and extend the repayment schedule, a remedy available to individuals with up to $250,000 in unsecured debt.

Mortgage debt, on the other hand, has been rock solid. The latest data from the Canadian Bankers Association shows just 0.23% of mortgages were more than 90 days in arrears as of August 2019, matching the lowest rate since 1990. That is not to say mortgage debt isn’t a source of stress for some households—mortgages account for 45% of the average household’s debt servicing costs. But those having trouble making debt payments are likely prioritizing their mortgages over credit cards and auto loans. There has also been an increase in insolvencies among individuals without mortgage debt.

The Bank of Canada and the regulators would do better to focus on the curtailment of excessive unsecured household borrowing than to fixate on mortgage stress testing alone.

 

TD LOWERS QUALIFYING MORTGAGE RATE 35 BPS TO 4.99%

General George Macris 4 Feb

CANADIAN QUALIFYING MORTGAGE RATE LOWERED TO 4.99%

Market interest rates have fallen sharply since the coronavirus-led investor flight to the safety of government bonds. The 5-year government bond yield–a harbinger of conventional mortgage rates–now stands at 1.34%, down sharply from the 1.60+% range it was trading in before the virus became global news (see chart below).

This morning, one of the Big-Six banks finally reacted. TD cut its posted 5-year fixed rate to 4.99%. TD’s posted rate had previously been at 5.34%, making this a 36 basis point cut. Other banks had lowered their qualifying rate to 5.19% last July, leading the Bank of Canada to cut its 5-year conventional mortgage rate to 5.19%. This is the qualifying rate under the B-20 rule introduced on January 1, 2018.

Even the regulators have been questioning the efficacy and fairness of using the big-bank posted rate as a qualifying rate for mortgage stress testing.

On January 24, the Assistant Superintendent of OSFI’s Regulation Sector, Ben Gully, gave a speech at the C.D. Howe Institute suggesting that the B-20 qualifying mortgage rate historically would be no more than 200 basis points above contract rates. He said that OSFI chose the “best available rate at the time.”

He went on to say that for many years, the difference between the benchmark rate and the average contract rate was 200 bps. However, this gap “has been widening more recently, suggesting that the benchmark is less responsive to market changes than when it was first proposed. We are reviewing this aspect of our qualifying rate, as the posted rate is not playing the role that we intended. As always, we will share our results with our federal partners. This will help to inform the advice OSFI might provide to the Minister, as requested in the mandate letter to him.”

By keeping posted rates too high, the Big-Six banks have inflated the qualifying rate, making it more difficult than necessary to pass the stress test to get a mortgage.

While TD’s rate cut is welcome news, its posted rate is still too high by historical standards. Given today’s average contract rates, the posted rate should be at least 20 bps lower still.

Banks have a strong incentive to inflate their posted mortgage rate. For one thing, they are the basis for the calculation of big-bank mortgage penalties. Also, they are the minimum qualifying rate.

The posted rate does not appropriately reflect the state of the mortgage market as few borrowers would pay this rate. Interestingly, banks often move this rate in lock-step, or close to it, reflecting their dominant oligopolistic position in the marketplace.

If a couple of the other big banks follow TD’s lead, the Bank of Canada benchmark rate will be below 5% for the first time since January 2018 when the new B-20 rules were adopted. Lowering the stress test rate by 20 bps from 5.19% to 4.99% would require roughly 1.8% less income to qualify for a mortgage on the average Canadian home price (assuming a 20% downpayment), increasing buying power by 2%. This doesn’t sound like much, but it can have a meaningful psychological impact on already improving housing markets. The latest CREA data shows that the national average home price surged 9.6% year-over-year in December. A lower stress test rate would make a busy spring housing market even more active.

by Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

BANK OF CANADA HOLDS OVERNIGHT RATE AS EXPECTED, BUT APPEARS TO BE LESS CONFIDENT IN THE STRENGTH OF THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK.

General George Macris 22 Jan

Bank of Canada Holds Steady Despite Economic Slowdown

In a more dovish statement, the Bank of Canada maintained its target for the overnight rate at 1.75% for the tenth consecutive time. Today’s decision was widely expected as members of the Governing Council have signalled that the Bank still believes that the Canadian economy is resilient, despite the marked slowdown in growth in the fourth quarter of last year that has spilled into the early part of this year. The economy has underperformed the forecast in the October Monetary Policy Report (MPR).

In today’s MPR, the Bank estimates growth of only 0.3% in Q4 of 2019 and 1.3%in the first quarter of 2020. Exports fell late last year, and business investment appears to have weakened after a strong Q3, reflecting a decline in business confidence. Job creation has slowed, and indicators of consumer confidence and spending have been much softer than expected. The one bright light has been residential investment, which was robust through most of 2019, moderating to a still-solid pace in the fourth quarter only because of a dearth of newly listed properties for sale. 

The central bank’s press release stated that “Some of the slowdown in growth in late 2019 was related to temporary factors that include strikes, poor weather, and inventory adjustments. The weaker data could also signal that global economic conditions have been affecting Canada’s economy to a greater extent than was predicted. Moreover, during the past year, Canadians have been saving a larger share of their incomes, which could signal increased consumer caution which could dampen consumer spending but help to alleviate financial vulnerabilities at the same time.”

The January MPR states that over the projection horizon (2020 and 2021), “business investment and exports are anticipated to improve as oil transportation capacity expands, and the impact of trade policy headwinds on global growth diminishes. Household spending is projected to strengthen, driven by solid growth of both the population and household disposable income.” Growth is expected to be 1.6% in 2019 and 2020 and is anticipated to strengthen to 2.0% in 2021.

Inflation has remained at roughly the Bank’s target of 2%, and is expected to continue at that pace.

Also from the MPR: “The level of housing activity remains solid across most of Canada, although recent indicators suggest that residential investment growth has slowed from its previously strong pace. Demand remains robust in Quebec, where the labour market has been strong. In Ontario and British Columbia, population growth is boosting housing demand. In contrast, Alberta’s housing market continues to adjust to challenges in the oil and gas sector. Nationally, house prices have continued to increase and should strengthen slightly in the near term, consistent with the responses to the Bank’s recent Canadian Survey of Consumer Expectations.”

Bottom Line: The Canadian dollar sold off on the release of this statement and I believe there is a downside risk to the Bank of Canada forecast. Today’s release is a more dovish statement than last month, showing less confidence in the outlook. The Governing Council did express concern that the recent weakness in growth could be more persistent than their current forecast, saying that “the Bank will be paying particular attention to developments in consumer spending, the housing market, and business investment.” They also raised estimates of slack in the economy and dropped language about the current rate being appropriate.

According to Bloomberg News, today’s Governing Council comments “are a departure from recent communications in which officials sought to accentuate the positives of an economy that had been running near capacity and was deemed resilient in the face of global uncertainty. While Wednesday’s decision still leaves the Bank of Canada with the highest policy rate among major advanced economies, markets may interpret the statement as an attempt to, at the very least, open the door for a future move.”

 

by DR. Sherry Cooper

Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres