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:

  • Gold – An Overview of Macroeconomic Price Drivers
      Fundamental Analysis of Gold As we often point out in these pages, even though gold is currently not the generally used medium of exchange, its monetary characteristics continue to be the main basis for its valuation. Thus, analysis of the gold market requires a different approach from that employed in the analysis of industrial commodities (or more generally, goods that are primarily bought and sold for their use value). Gold's extremely high stock-to-flow ratio and the main source of...
  • Doomsday Device
      Disappearing Credit All across the banking world – from commercial loans to leases and real estate – credit is collapsing. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing for British newspaper The Telegraph:   Credit strategists are increasingly disturbed by a sudden and rare contraction of U.S. bank lending, fearing a synchronized slowdown in the U.S. and China this year that could catch euphoric markets badly off guard. Data from the U.S. Federal Reserve shows that the $2 trillion market...
  • India – Is Kashmir Gone?
      Everything Gets Worse  (Part XII) -  Pakistan vs. India After 70 years of so-called independence, one has to be a professional victim not to look within oneself for the reasons for starvation, unnatural deaths, utter backwardness, drudgery, disease, and misery in India. Intellectual capital accumulated in the West over the last 2,500 years — available for free in real-time via the internet — can be downloaded by a passionate learner. In the age of modern technology, another mostly...
  • Pulling Levers to Steer the Machine
      Ticks on a Dog A brief comment on Fed chief Janet Yellen’s revealing speech at the University of Michigan. Bloomberg:   “Before, we had to press down on the gas pedal trying to give the economy all of the oomph that we possibly could,” Yellen said Monday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Fed is now trying to “give it some gas, but not so much that we’re pushing down hard on the accelerator.” […] “The appropriate stance of policy now is closer to, let me call it...
  • Credit Contraction Episodes
      Approaching a Tipping Point Taking the path of least resistance doesn’t always lead to places worth going.  In fact, it often leads to places that are better to avoid.  Repeatedly skipping work to sleep in and living off credit cards will eventually lead to the poorhouse.   Sometimes the path of least resistance turns out to be problematic   The same holds true for monetary policy.  In particular, cheap credit policies that favor short-term expediency have the...
  • Cracks in Ponzi-Finance Land
      Retail Debt Debacles The retail sector has replaced the oil sector in a sense, and not in a good way. It is the sector that is most likely to see a large surge in bankruptcies this year. Junk bonds issued by retailers are performing dismally, and within the group the bonds of companies that were subject to leveraged buyouts by private equity firms seem to be doing the worst (a function of their outsized debt loads). Here is a chart showing the y-t-d performance of a number of these...
  • Mea Culpa – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      Input Data Errors Dear Readers, I owe you an apology. I made a mistake. I am writing this letter in the first person, because I made the mistake. Let me explain what happened.   The wrong stuff went into the funnel in the upper left-hand corner...   I wrote software to calculate the gold basis and co-basis (and of course silver too). The app does not just calculate the near contract. It calculates the basis for many contracts out in the distance, so I can see the...
  • French Election – Bad Dream Intrusion
      The “Nightmare Option” The French presidential election was temporarily relegated to the back-pages following the US strike on Syria, but a few days ago, the Economist Magazine returned to the topic, noting that a potential “nightmare option” has suddenly come into view. In recent months certainty had increased that once the election moved into its second round, it would be plain sailing for whichever establishment candidate Ms. Le Pen was going to face. That certainty has been...
  • The Cost of a Trump Presidency
      Opportunity Cost Rears its Head Last Thursday’s wanton attack on a Syrian air field by the US and its bellicose actions toward North Korea have brought the real cost of candidate Trump’s landslide victory last November to the forefront.   It didn't take long for Donald Trump to drop his non-interventionist mask. The decision was likely driven by Machiavellian considerations with respect to domestic conditions, but that doesn't make it any better.   Unlike...
  • Heavily Armed Swamp Critters
      Worst Mistake GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – By our calculation, it took just 76 days for President Trump to get on board with the Clinton-Bush-Obama agenda. Now there can be no doubt where he’s headed. He’s gone Full Empire. Not that it was unexpected. But the speed with which the president abandoned his supporters and went over to the Deep State is breathtaking.     Once there was only a Trump fragrance called Empire... now he has gone full empire himself   Among the noise...
  • Hell To Pay
      Behind the Curve Economic nonsense comes a dime a dozen.  For example, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen “think(s) we have a healthy economy now.”  She even told the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy so earlier this week.  Does she know what she’s talking about?   Somehow, this cartoon never gets old...   If you go by a partial subset of the ‘official’ government statistics, perhaps, it appears she does.  The unemployment...
  • Trump Is An Insider Now
      Conspiracy of the Few GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – “U.S. stocks fall on Trump talk…” began a headline at Bloomberg. Or it may be Trump action. We had already counted six major campaign promises – including no O’care repeal and no “America First” foreign policy – already buried (some for the better).   A bunch of campaign promises get the MOAB treatment...  A great many  theories have been proposed to explain Trump's recent series of u-turns: 1. he is in thrall to...

Support Acting Man

Austrian Theory and Investment

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