An interesting comment for a "housing analysis" blogger! Murray is commenting that transitioning housing to a more sustainable level is something the Bank is looking for, and on which is likely advising the government to form fiscal policy. So we can play some guessing games as to what the Bank of Canada would like to see for a "smooth transition" and what that means.Canada's heated housing market appears to be cooling as desired, a senior Bank of Canada official said on Tuesday, although he noted that housing starts remain unusually high.
Housing prices and construction in Canada roared higher in 2011 amid low interest rates, sparking fears of a U.S.-style bubble. The market started to slow after the government tightened rules on mortgage lending in July, and policy makers hope to see a gradual softening rather than a crash.
"It's still early days. But we're certainly seeing evidence of movement and acceleration in the right direction," Murray told a business audience after giving a speech in New York.
"Some sort of smooth transition, at least on the housing side, is what we're looking for," he said.
What are the risks of high house prices and debts? Currently there is some risk of external economic shock to incomes, but absent that, with real rates depressed, debt-service ratios are currently for the most part manageable. If rates increase, however, this poses a significant headwind for the Canadian economy and worse could be almost impossible for policymakers to contain the fallout. Luckily, based on the yield curve, it looks as if rates have a good chance of staying low for a prolonged period, perhaps for the rest of the decade. The question then is what does Canada need to do in the coming years to ensure that when interest rates do rise she will not be caught out with excessive debt levels and overinflated asset prices.
Based on Murray's comments we have a smidgen of a clue what the Bank's and government's strategy is on the front of asset price reversion. It looks as if they are trying to pull of a "smooth transition" of prices back to levels that are able to be carried with historical interest rates. If prices continue at current levels (or increase) they will not have reverted quickly enough to stave off a big shock when rates rise. If prices fall too quickly this will lead to situations where a large swathe of owners are in negative equity situations, something that has knock-on effects to the broader economy. Given the assumption the Bank wants to control the band in which prices revert, we can do a quick calculation what that would mean for prices.
Say prices as a ratio to incomes are 40% above their long-term average. To revert prices to this range will require a 30% drop. To do this in seven years requires a -5% annual drop in the price-income ratio. Assuming incomes rise by 2% per year that means national prices need to drop at -3% per year for seven years to revert. If markets like Vancouver are, say, 50% overvalued, that will require prices dropping at -5% per year with 2% annual income gains to revert.
Prices do not often move in a straight line, rather we should expect that price drops will be more severe near the middle of the reversion and less severe near the ends. We can approximate this trajectory as a raised-cosine profile, say
P=(Pi-Pf)/2*cos(π*x/L) + (Pi+Pf)/2
where P is the price, Pi is the initial price, Pf is the final price, x is the year from start of correction, and L is the duration of the reversion target. Below are the year-on-year price change results for a 20% and 30% decline in prices:
Assuming the Bank of Canada is serious about price targeting we have some rough estimates of the level of annualized price drops required to pull off this delicate manoeuvre. As a reference, Vancouver looks to be on track for between -4% and -6% annualized price drops in the late winter of 2013.
In short, if the Bank of Canada is indeed "price targeting" so as to attempt to revert housing valuations to their long-term averages in the advent of future interest rate hikes, I believe we can expect further adjustments to controls of credit availability, both looser and tighter, over the coming years. It will remain to be seen how much capacity is left to accumulate additional credit, and where it can be stuffed!