Thursday, October 30, 2008


I found this great chart over at Calculated Risk and thought I'd post it here for discussion.

Here is a chart of the TSX as well. As of market close on October 27, the TSX was down 43.3% from its June 18th peak. In terms of speed of the crash, the TSX kicks butt on the S&P500 with a 43% fall in only 20 weeks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I've Been Busy

With markets around the world declining further by the day, I've been very busy at work and unable to post much recently.

Markets have fallen further and faster than I've expected and I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise but this is clearly presenting a once in a lifetime buying opportunity in equities for those with cash on the sidelines.

Here is a list of the best things you can do right now to position yourself for future investment success:
1) Stay true to your personal risk tolerance. Now is not the time to mess around with your overall risk level unless you can devote more to equities. Be honest with yourself about your risk tolerance. Can you handle a 10,20,30,40+% decline in your investment value?
2) Set up a systematic investment plan and contribute as much as you can afford to a portfolio that matches your risk level.
3) Develop a plan to meet your goals if you don't have one. Be realistic about your return assumptions and your lifestyle needs.

As always you should pay off unsecured high interest debts before you invest a dime.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Letter From Warren Buffett

From the NY Times.

THE financial world is a mess, both in the United States and abroad. Its problems, moreover, have been leaking into the general economy, and the leaks are now turning into a gusher. In the near term, unemployment will rise, business activity will falter and headlines will continue to be scary.

So ... I’ve been buying American stocks. This is my personal account I’m talking about, in which I previously owned nothing but United States government bonds. (This description leaves aside my Berkshire Hathaway holdings, which are all committed to philanthropy.) If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100 percent in United States equities.


A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.

Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.

You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.
Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky’s advice: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

I don’t like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I’ll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: “Put your mouth where your money was.” Today my money and my mouth both say equities.

Warren E. Buffett is the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, a diversified holding company.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Credit Crisis: The Worst May be Behind Us (for now)

Several indicators, like the TED spread, have now reversed direction this week and are now getting better not worse after hitting ridiculously elevated levels last Friday.

The local media has really glommed onto the idea that house prices have fallen and are falling more.  The facts, which were clear to many of us 2 years ago, become more obvious by the day to the average Vancouverite - house prices got too high and now they need to come back down.  Articles in the Georgia Straight, Vancouver Sun, Province, and Globe and Mail all pointing to further weakness in the local housing market.  It is improbable that there will be any material improvement in this situation for at least 18 months.

Several projects have now hit the skids with the overly ambitious Infinity Project in Surrey making the headlines this week.  More to come on further project cancellations.

I had a nice time off.  What are you seeing out there right now?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone. I have alot to be thankful for: family, friends, health, rewarding work, a free country, and great food!

I'll be away for a few days. Have fun.

Friday, October 10, 2008

CMHC to buy mortgages from banks.

From the Department of Finance.

The Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, today announced the Government will take steps to maintain the availability of longer-term credit in Canada by purchasing up to $25 billion in insured mortgage pools through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). This action will help Canadian financial institutions raise longer-term funds and make them available to consumers, homebuyers and businesses in Canada.

This relief to Canadian homebuyers and consumers comes at no fiscal cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, these securities will earn a rate of return for the Government that is well above the Government’s own cost of borrowing. Moreover, as insured mortgage pools in Canada already carry Government backing, there is no additional risk to the taxpayer.

"It is important to underline that Canada’s banks and other financial institutions are sound, well capitalized and less leveraged than their international peers," said Minister Flaherty. "Our mortgage system is sound. Canadian households have smaller mortgages relative both to the value of their homes and to their disposable incomes than in the U.S."

"However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the continuing disruption of global credit markets, which has been severe and protracted, is making it difficult for our financial institutions to raise long-term funding. This is beginning to affect the availability of mortgage loans and other types of credit in Canada.

"The Government has therefore decided to act to address the current scarcity of private sector lending to Canadian mortgage markets and lending markets overall. This is going to make loans and mortgages more available and more affordable for ordinary Canadians and businesses."

This action builds on recent steps taken by the Bank of Canada to provide increased volumes of term liquidity across a broader range of collateral. The Bank increased to $20 billion the volume of liquidity that it will provide banks and has widened the range of collateral it will accept, using the expanded statutory authorities provided in the 2008 budget legislation. The Bank also cut its overnight target rate by ½ percentage point to 2½ per cent in a coordinated reduction with five other major central banks.

The actions announced today will also supplement CMHC’s regular Canada Mortgage Bond (CMB) Program, which supports mortgage lending at affordable rates by Canadian banks and other lenders. The CMB Program has recently been expanded, including a record issue in June of this year.

"The mortgages involved in today’s initiative are already guaranteed through government-backed mortgage insurance and are high-quality assets," said Minister Flaherty. "This initiative is an efficient, cost-effective and safe way to support lending in Canada by providing secure, reliable funding at an unprecedented time of global market turmoil."

The first operation is planned for October 16, with a purchase amount of up to $5 billion. The Government will announce a schedule of future purchase dates to take place over the coming weeks. CMHC will shortly announce further details of the competitive auction process that will be used to purchase the insured mortgage pools.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Things I've Read

Great synopsis from Calculated Risk - The Adjustment Process
Canadian Banks ranked safest in world - Globe and Mail
The Stock Market is presenting buying opportunities now - Canoe Money

Are you reading anything interesting out there?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bank Raises Rates on Variable Rate Mortgages

The latest victims of the growing financial crisis could be the standard discount available to consumers on variable mortgages, and home equity loans at prime.

In a move expected to be followed by other banks, all of which have been stung by higher funding costs, TD Canada Trust is raising rates on both types of loans, effective Oct. 7.

Rates on these products will rise to 5.75 per cent, a percentage point above the prime rate. Only last week, TD eliminated the discount on its variable rate mortgages, offering them at the prime rate of 4.75 per cent. During the housing boom of the past several years, consumers could often get their bank to drop the rate by half or even up to a full percentage point.

“While TD Canada Trust has endeavoured to not pass on the increases in rates to its consumers, this change reflects steadily increasing costs of funds in the current economic environment,” the bank said in a statement.

The percentage point increase raises the term interest cost on a $250,000 variable rate mortgage by $12,247.22 over five years, according to Royal Bank of Canada's online mortgage calculator. The difference is based on a 25-year amortization, a variable rate mortgage with a five-year term and bi-weekly payments. On that basis, the bi-weekly payment amount rises to $725.90 from $657.83.

The credit crisis and economic uncertainty have caused banks to stockpile their cash. That's driving up their short-term cost of borrowing from one another, and means margins on variable rate mortgage products are shrinking.

Rates on fixed-term mortgages went up last week too, as banks have passed on fewer of their savings from falling bond yields to consumers to consumers.

“The deterioration of global credit markets is beginning to squeeze the ability of even the strongest of financial institutions to raise longer-term funds, which could limit the provision of longer-term credit in Canada to businesses and households,” federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in a statement Monday.

“Hopefully this isn't a permanent shift, but a short-term reaction to conditions the likes of which we really haven't seen before,” said Gary Siegle, regional manager at mortgage broker Invis.

With a discount, some customers can still get five-year, fixed-rate mortgages at 5.55 per cent, meaning a bi-weekly payment of $707.66 on a $250,000 mortgage amortized over 25 years. This means those looking for peace of mind in the current market turmoil aren't paying a premium to lock in, Mr. Siegle said.

Monday, October 06, 2008


The TSX was down over 10% this morning for whatever reason fancies the average investor. The Toronto market is down over 30% in the past 4 months and the S&P500 is down over 30% in the past 12 months. I'm sure some new doom is sure to envelope our country, shuttering our businesses and turning us all into stark raving mad lunatics.

Well maybe it isn't quite that bad and to this observer of human behaviour, it seems a little overdone now. I have recognized that timing the market bottom is an impossible feat but there are two things that are common about market bottoms:

1) Despair and hopelessness. Check.

2) Massive redemptions of mutual funds. Check. See story here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fraser Valley Real Estate Values Falling

The Fraser Valley Real Estate Board area has witnessed a dramatic turnaround from the heyday of 2004 through 2007. Prices are now falling at a rate of 2.5% per quarter and the bottom is far from being in. In fact, I fully expect prices to drop dramatically over the next 6 months.

Sales are very low for this time of year and are at levels normally reserved for the slowest months of the year.

Active Listings rose during September and are at the highest ever recorded levels.

Months of inventory is very high, leading to dramatic downward price pressure. There is always a seller who 'must sell' and buyers never 'must buy' so price drops are inevitable at these inventory levels.

The correlation between supply / demand and price changes continues to be exceptionally strong.

Prices are continuing to fall.


REBGV Area Records Year over Year Price Drops

Well, its a day many real estate bears have been looking for - the day that the average detached house in the Vancouver area would be cheaper than 1 year prior. That day is now and it will likely continue for quite some time now as prices are continuing to fall.

The active listings level in the local market is at record levels.

Sales are abysmally low for this time of year.

The months of inventory has skyrocketed throughout the year and is remaining at highly elevated levels.

Prices seem to fall when supply is high and demand is low. Funny!

In fact, the correlation between the supply/demand scenario and the consequent price changes is uncanny!

These days of turmoil in the financial markets are what many real estate bears have been warning would come because of the exuberance and overallocation of resources toward housing. It brings me no pleasure to see this turmoil and I wish we could have avoided it but it does feel good to be prepared rather than unprepared.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Vancouver Winning Race Down

Updated with September data.

Seattle Bubble Blog has been posting this chart for many months now as the Seattle market has been correcting along with all of the other bubble markets across North America. Vancouver is now no exception. Price declines are the steepest witnessed so far in North America and we shall see if this trend continues.

Thanks to Jesse for putting the chart together.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Canada faces housing bust: Shiller

Jacqueline Thorpe, Financial Post Published: Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Canadian housing market could face a similar housing bust to the United States, particularly in more bubbly markets as Vancouver and Calgary, said Robert Shiller, the University of Yale professor who predicted both the 1990s stock market boom and bust and the US housing slump.

Mr. Shiller, co-founder of the S&P Case/Shiller Home Price Index, said psychology is the primary driver of bubbles and it appears that Canada has been caught up with home buying fever just as the United States and other countries around the world.

Asked whether that meant Canada could face a similar bust Mr. Shiller said: "Yes, especially in places that went up a lot like Vancouver and Calgary. I don't think Toronto has been quite as extreme."

Mr. Shiller said there was a natural connection between the United States and Canada.

"I would be surprised that the bubble that appeared in the United States and elsewhere didn't appear in Canada," he said in an interview with the Financial Post. "It's psychology, I think that drives it.

Mr. Shiller, whose book Irrational Exuberance came out in March 2000 just as the tech bubble peaked, said it was essential for the U.S. government to pass a financial bailout, though he believes the United States is facing a "severe recession," regardless.

"I'm concerned problems are deeper than can be handled by the bailout but that doesn't mean the bailout doesn't do some good," he said.

He said a bailout might help restore some confidence to the stressed financial system.

"What creates a crisis is a lack of confidence," he said.

He said the housing crisis was primarily a policy failure by U.S. authorities.

The U.S. government was "totally blind" to it, regulators failed to monitor the mortgage industry properly and the U.S. Federal Reserve had very low interest rates at a time of the greatest housing bubble of all time.

While homeowners should take some personal responsibility for the debacle, they were being goaded into the fevour by an establishment that endlessly pushed an ownership society.

"They were doing what was considered right at the time," Mr. Shiller said.

Mr. Shiller said human nature seems to predispose people to spectacular excess, fanned by a voracious news media.

"Until we had newsapers and other media we had no bublbles, he said.

While ups and downs in the market can lead to creative destruction the current housing crisis has morphed into a system problem.

"The problem is that perfectly good firms are in trouble," he told the Financial Post in an interview at the Ontario Economic Summit.

A bailout may not be palatable, government assistance is required when the system fails.

The trick is to reduce conditions that fan bubbles.

In his current book, "The Subprime Solution," Mr. Shiller proposes several measures to reduce bubble conditions in the housing market including better information for prospective buyers and broader markets that trade risk better, such as the housing futures he has developed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

There should also be new retail products such as "continuous workout mortgages," that go up and down with the value of the home equity and mortgage equity insurance.

Mr. Shiller, who would not give a precise forecast on the outlook for U.S. home prices, nevertheless said futures markets are predicting more price declines of 10% or more. His Case/Shiller index earlier this week showed home prices down 16.3% year-over-year this summer.

He expects things to get worse for the U.S. economy in the short-term.

"We're going to have a severe recession, most likely," he said. How quickly the economy recovers depends on policy.

"Unfortunately the bailout has hit a snag," he said. "There is resentment of rich Wall Street people. I am worried that the sense of trust, in confidence of each other is being damaged."

Mr. Shiller said he does not have another bubble in his sights as the U.S. economy will be "damaged for years."

"The housing bubble was of record proportions," he said. "Maybe the next big bubble will be your children's or grandchildrens...The excitement we had in the 1990s and in 2000 in the housing market is a fragile thing and it won't come back for some time."