Nothing to Fear, They Say

According to this article, CIBC thinks the huge amount of household debt in Canada and the beginning cracks in the housing bubble are nothing to worry about. The main reason for this benign assessment seems to be that there have been a few other credit and real estate bubbles in the world that have grown even bigger than the US one before it burst. What a relief.

 

„The news out of Canada's real estate market isn't good, but the country will avoid a U.S.-style real estate meltdown, CIBC said Tuesday.

Economist Benjamin Tal said in a report that even recently released data about high levels of Canadian consumer debt isn't proof that there will be a sudden, big drop in home prices.

"To be sure, house prices in Canada will probably fall in the coming year or two, but any comparison to the American market of 2006 reflects deep misunderstanding of the credit landscapes of the pre-crash environment in the U.S. and today's Canadian market," he wrote.

Tal noted that Canada's debt-to-income ratio has just broken the U.S. record set in 2006, but said other countries have had even higher levels without a crash.

[…]

Tal said home prices in large cities like Vancouver and Toronto are overshooting their fundamentals and will likely slip as sales fall.

"But the Canada of today is very different than a pre-recession U.S., namely as far as borrower profiles are concerned," he wrote.

"Therefore, when it comes to jitters regarding a U.S.-type meltdown here at home, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

 

(emphasis added)

To sum this up: there have been bigger bubbles, so ours can grow bigger too. Moreover, it is different this time.

It is actually fairly typical to find this type of thinking near the top of a bubble. The people living inside it cannot believe that it could possibly crash. Of course Canada's economic situation is in many respects 'different' from the US economic situation, but that is the case with every slice of economic history. Not one of them can possibly be exactly the same. Nevertheless, one can come to some general conclusions about credit expansion-induced bubbles. Economic laws will be operative whether or not the precise historical circumstances are similar. When Japan reached the height of its bubble in the late 1980's, it was also widely argued that the overvaluation of stocks and real estate was no reason to worry because Japan was allegedly 'different'.

Regarding borrower profiles, Mr. Tal is mistaken if he thinks that the current  profiles of borrowers are actually relevant. These profiles always look good at the height of a boom. They deteriorate only after the boom ends. To wit, here is a chart of the history of US household credit scores:

 


 

During the US housing bubble, even while capital was malinvested and consumed and the actual creditworthiness of borrowers constantly declined, 'credit scores' got better and better. The error was only revealed after the boom began to fall apart – click for better resolution.

 


 

Canadian household debt as a percentage of income by now vastly exceeds the peak that was seen at the height of the US real estate bubble. So in this sense, Canada is also 'different' – only not in a particularly good way. Note that the chart below actually understates the true level of the Canadian debt-to-income ratio by a full 11 percentage points. It does not yet reflect the most recent revision to the numbers (i.e., the ratio is really at 163%).

 


 

Two credit bubbles compared side by side: US and Canadian household debt as a percentage of disposable income. The green line should actually be at 163% – click for better resolution.

 


 

The 'Soft Landing' Mantra

Canada's housing market has begun to cool markedly. As is usually the case, the first sign of trouble is a sharp drop-off in transaction volumes. Existing home sales in Canada were down by 15.1% in September year-on-year. This seems to be the result measures recently introduced by the government that are aimed at slowing down or reversing house price increases. Prices will no doubt eventually follow transaction volumes.

The WSJ reports on the cooling of the previously red-hot Vancouver market. What is so funny about this report is that government officials are patting themselves on the back for having produced this cooling without realizing that the measures are coming way too late. Yes, they may well lead to a bursting of the bubble, but the hopes for a 'soft landing' are very likely misguided.

 

“Canada's finance ministry tightened home-lending requirements, the latest in a series of moves the government has taken to tighten credit amid the real-estate boom. Recently, a number of economists and policy makers, including the country's central-bank chief, have warned about possible overheating in several Canadian markets, notably in the Vancouver and Toronto condo markets.

This summer, Ottawa cut the maximum mortgage amortization period from 30 years to 25 and reduced the amount of home equity Canadians can borrow against, from 85% to 80%. This month, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that the new mortgage-financing rules are beginning to have "some effect," as activity in the housing market has cooled in both Vancouver and Toronto.

"We think that's a good thing," Mr. Flaherty told reporters. "I would much rather have a soft landing than a hard landing."

 

(emphasis added)

This is a good example for what is known as a 'non sequitur'. The credit tightening measures are beginning to bite, but it does not at all follow from this that a 'soft landing' will result.

The 'soft landing' mantra is invoked at every opportunity, as if repeating it often enough will make it true. Consider the conclusion of this article on Canada's growing household and mortgage debt burden in the Vancouver Sun:


Ottawa has moved four times in as many years to tighten mortgage rules to keep marginal buyers out of the market, most recently in August.

The latest change, which added to monthly payments on insured, first-time purchases, has been partially credited with a recent slowing in home resales, particularly in previously hot markets of Vancouver and Toronto, and with a moderation in prices.

New data released Monday by the Canadian Real Estate Association showed sales of existing homes fell 15.1 per cent in September from a year ago, although last month’s numbers were slightly higher than in August.

Bank of Montreal economist Doug Porter said he believes the trend points to a soft landing for housing, not a crash.”

 

(emphasis added)

One is tempted to ask: what exactly is it about the 'trend' that 'points to a soft landing'? It sounds more like wishful thinking than a conclusion justified by the evidence.

 


 

House prices compared to rents in Vancouver. To say that prices are out of whack with  rental returns would be sugar-coating it. This is, in a word, insane. Sales in Vancouver have meanwhile plunged by 32.5% from year ago levels – click for better resolution.

 


 

The divergence between prices and rents is far less extreme in Toronto, but it is still obvious that prices are now way above trend – click for better resolution.

 


 

Are the Banks Safe?

It is generally held that Canada's banking system is in ruddy health and not in danger from the extended credit and real estate bubble, mainly because a government-owned organization, Canadian Mortgage Housing Corp. (CMHC)  insures most of the mortgages with down payments of 20% or less. The company also helps fund mortgages by issuing debt and buying mortgage backed securities with the proceeds. 

This kind of thinking has things exactly the wrong way around. It is precisely because such a state-owned guarantor of mortgages exists that the vaunted lending standards of Canada's banks have increasingly gone out of the window as the bubble has grown. Today some $500 billion, or 50% of Canada's outstanding mortgages are considered 'high risk' according to the Financial Post. Moreover, HELOCs ('home equity lines of credit', i.e., the use of homes as ATMs) have grown like wildfire, at loan-to-value rates of up to 80%.

Through CMHC and government guarantees for privately held mortgage insurers Genworth Capital and Canada Guarantee, Canadian tax payers are on the hook for more than C$1 trillion in mortgages. In other words, there is no practical difference to the role played by the once nominally private GSE's and credit insurers in the US and the Canadian version of them: in both instances these institutions have enabled vast growth in ever more risky lending, while ultimately tax payers are picking up the tab when things go wrong – as they invariably must. In this sense the banking system is 'safe' – the government has already committed tax payer resources beforehand to bail out the mortgage credit market in the event of trouble. However, mortgage debt is only a part of the household debtberg. It stands to reason that the end of the boom will create a lot of economic pain and the banks won't be able to evade it. Moody's has recently put the biggest Canadian banks on 'downgrade watch' for precisely this reason. Of course Canada's economic situation depends greatly on commodity prices, especially the price of crude oil. Similar to Australia, Canada is thus to some extent a 'warrant'  on China.

Lastly, the official house price data – as scary as they look, especially in Vancouver's case – don't really capture the sheer insanity of the bubble. To get a sense of what the bubble has wrought, one should take a look at the following web pages. They compare actual 'crack shacks' with Vancouver homes that have been sold at incredibly high prices, but can otherwise hardly be differentiated from the former.

Crack Shack or Mansion?

Crack Shack or Mansion, Part two

 

 

 

Charts by: Financial Post, McLeans


 
 

Emigrate While You Can... Learn More

 
 

 
 

Dear Readers!

You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.

   

Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke

   
 

One Response to “Is Canada’s Housing Bubble ‘Different’?”

  • hettygreen:

    A financially savvy (and very conservative) acquaintance old enough to be my father (and I have grown children) remembers his father buying $5,000 houses in Windsor, Ontario during the last ‘balance sheet recession’ at a 90% discount…

    While history may not repeat it tends to rhyme. A price decline of 90% may seem absurd to anyone with a recently acquired mortgage (last five or six years) but a 20% decline which appears baked in, is going to seem like Armageddon to these newly minted debt slaves especially when, not if, the employment picture darkens.

Your comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Most read in the last 20 days:

  • US Financial Markets – Alarm Bells are Ringing
      A Shift in Expectations When discussing the outlook for so-called “risk assets”, i.e., mainly stocks and corporate bonds (particularly low-grade bonds) and their counterparts on the “safe haven” end of the spectrum (such as gold and government bonds with strong ratings), one has to consider different time frames and the indicators applicable to these time frames. Since Donald Trump's election victory, there have been sizable moves in stocks, gold and treasury bonds, as the election...
  • Modi’s Great Leap Forward
      India’s Currency Ban – Part VIII India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced on 8th November 2016 that Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes would no longer be legal tender. Linked are Part-I, Part-II, Part-III, Part-IV, Part-V, Part-VI and Part-VII, which provide updates on the demonetization saga and how Modi is acting as a catalyst to hasten the rapid degradation of India and what remains of its institutions.   India’s Pride and Joy   Indians are...
  • Global Recession and Other Visions for 2017
      Conjuring Up Visions Today’s a day for considering new hopes, new dreams, and new hallucinations.  The New Year is here, after all.  Now is the time to turn over a new leaf and start afresh. Naturally, 2017 will be the year you get exactly what’s coming to you. Both good and bad.  But what else will happen?   Image of a recently discarded vision... Image by Michael Del Mundo   Here we begin by closing our eyes and slowing our breath.  We let our mind...
  • The Great El Monte Public Pension Swindle
      Nowhere City California There are places in Southern California where, although the sun always shines, they haven’t seen a ray of light for over 50-years.  There’s a no man’s land of urban blight along Interstate 10, from East Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley, where cities you’ve never heard of and would never go to, are jumbled together like shipping containers on Terminal Island.  El Monte, California, is one of those places.   Advice dispensed on Interstate...
  • A Trade Deal Trump Cannot Improve
      Worst in Class BALTIMORE – People can believe whatever they want. But sooner or later, real life intervenes. We just like to see the looks on their faces when it does. By that measure, 2017 may be our best year ever. Rarely have so many people believed so many impossible things.   Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for...
  • Pope Francis Now International Monetary Guru
      Neo-Marxist Pope Francis Argues for Global Central Bank As the new year dawns, it seems the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair will take on a new function which is outside the purview of the office that the Divine Founder of his institution had clearly mandated.   Neo-Papist transmogrification. We highly recommend the economic thought of one of Francis' storied predecessors, John Paul II, which we have written about on previous occasions. In “A Tale of Two Popes” and...
  • Where’s the Outrage?
      Blind to Crony Socialism Whenever a failed CEO is fired with a cushy payoff, the outrage is swift and voluminous.  The liberal press usually misrepresents this as a hypocritical “jobs for the boys” program within the capitalist class.  In reality, the payoffs are almost always contractual obligations, often for deferred compensation, that the companies vigorously try to avoid.  Believe me.  I’ve been on both sides of this kind of dispute (except, of course, for the “failed”...
  • Trump’s Trade Catastrophe?
      “Trade Cheaters” It is worse than “voodoo economics,” says former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. It is the “economic equivalent of creationism.” Wait a minute -  Larry Summers is wrong about almost everything. Could he be right about this?   Larry Summers, the man who is usually wrong about almost everything. As we have always argued, the economy is much safer when he sleeps, so his tendency to fall asleep on all sorts of occasions should definitely be welcomed....
  • Trump’s Plan to Close the Trade Deficit with China
      Rags to Riches Jack Ma is an amiable fellow.  Back in 1994, while visiting the United States he decided to give that newfangled internet thing a whirl.  At a moment of peak inspiration, he executed his first search engine request by typing in the word beer.   Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce firm. Once he was a school teacher, but it turned out that he had enormous entrepreneurial talent and that the world of wheelers, dealers, movers and...
  • Side Notes, January 14 - Red Flags Over Goldman Sachs
      Red Flags Over Goldman Sachs Just to prove that I am an even-handed insulter, here is a rant about my former employer, Goldman Sachs. The scandal at 1MDB, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund from which it appears that billions were stolen by politicians all the way up to the Prime Minister, continues to unfold.   The main players in the 1MDB scandal. Irony alert: apparently money siphoned off from 1MDB was used to inter alia finance Martin Scorcese's movie “The Wolf of...
  • Money Creation and the Boom-Bust Cycle
      A Difference of Opinions In his various writings, Murray Rothbard argued that in a free market economy that operates on a gold standard, the creation of credit that is not fully backed up by gold (fractional-reserve banking) sets in motion the menace of the boom-bust cycle. In his The Case for 100 Percent Gold Dollar Rothbard wrote:   I therefore advocate as the soundest monetary system and the only one fully compatible with the free market and with the absence of force or fraud...
  • Silver’s Got Fundamentals - Precious Metals Supply-Demand Report
      Supply-Demand Fundamentals Improve Noticeably Last week was another short week, due to the New Year holiday. We look forward to getting back to our regularly scheduled market action.   Photo via thedailycoin.org   The prices of both metals moved up again this week. Something very noticeable is occurring in the supply and demand fundamentals. We will give an update on that, but first, here’s the graph of the metals’ prices.   Prices of gold and silver...

Austrian Theory and Investment

Support Acting Man

Own physical gold and silver outside a bank

Archive

j9TJzzN

350x200

Realtime Charts

 

Gold in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Gold in EUR:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Silver in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Platinum in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

USD - Index:

[Most Recent USD from www.kitco.com]

 

THE GOLD CARTEL: Government Intervention on Gold, the Mega Bubble in Paper and What This Means for Your Future

 
Buy Silver Now!
 
Buy Gold Now!
 

Oilprice.com