Wednesday, March 31, 2010

January 2010 Teranet House Price Index

MARCH 2010

The smallest monthly increase since prices began rising

Canadian home prices in January were up 7.5% from a year earlier, according to the Teranet-National Bank National Composite House Price Index™. January was the fourth consecutive month in which prices were up from a year earlier, after 10 consecutive months of 12-month deflation. The turnaround is due to nine straight monthly increases in the countrywide index. However, January's 0.5% monthly gain was the smallest so far.

Teranet – National Bank National Composite House Price Index™

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For the first time in nine months, none of the six metropolitan markets surveyed showed a monthly increase of as much as 1%. The rise was 0.9% in Vancouver, 0.7% in Toronto, 0.6% in Halifax, 0.4% in Montreal and 0.3% in Ottawa. In Calgary prices declined 0.5%. Prices are now down 9.7% from the previous peak in Calgary and 0.2% in Vancouver. The other four markets passed their pre-recession peaks between May and October last year.

The index is now up 9.0% from its April 2009 bottom. This steep rise has been led by Vancouver (up 11.7% from May 2009) and Toronto (11.0% from April 2009). In other markets the increases have been more modest: Calgary 6.7% since June, Ottawa 6.5% since last April, Montreal 3.6% since February 2009, Halifax 1.5% since February 2009.

The 12-month appreciation was 9.4% in Toronto, 8.9% in Vancouver, 8.1% in Ottawa, 5.3% in Montreal, 4.6% in Halifax and 1.9% in Calgary.

Teranet – National Bank House Price Index™

The historical data of the Teranet – National Bank House Price Index™ is available at

Metropolitan areaIndex level
January 2010
% change m/m% change y/yFrom troughTrough Date
Calgary158.27-0.5 %1.9 %6.7%June 2009
Halifax122.980.6 %4.6 %1.5%February 2009
Montreal128.480.4 %5.3 %3.6%February 2009
Ottawa123.170.3 %8.1 %6.5%April 2009
Toronto120.440.7 %9.4 %11.0%April 2009
Vancouver150.390.9 %8.9 %11.7%May 2009
National Composite132.860.5 %7.5 %9.0%April 2009

The Teranet–National Bank House Price Index™ is estimated by tracking observed or registered home prices over time using data collected from public land registries. All dwellings that have been sold at least twice are considered in the calculation of the index. This is known as the repeat sales method; a complete description of the method is given at

The Teranet–National Bank House Price Index™ is an independently developed representation of average home price changes in six metropolitan areas: Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. The national composite index is the weighted average of the six metropolitan areas. The weights are based on aggregate value of dwellings as retrieved from the 2006 Statistics Canada Census. According to that census1, the aggregate value of occupied dwellings in the metropolitan areas covered by the indices was $1.168 trillion, or 53% of the Canadian aggregate value of $2.207 trillion.

All indices have a base value of 100 in June 2005. For example, an index value of 130 means that home prices have increased 30% since June 2005.


Marc Pinsonneault
Senior Economist
Economy & Strategy Group
National Bank Financial Group

Teranet - National Bank House Price Index™ thanks the author for their special collaboration on this report.

1 Value of Dwelling for the Owner-occupied Non-farm, Non-reserve Private Dwellings of Canada.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Danielle Park on Canadian Housing

Danielle Park gives an interview on on the Canadian housing market.

You can listen to the 16 minute interview here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Population and housing stats, 1991-2009

Hi all, M- speaking.

I've just posted this as a comment on the Vancouvercondoinfo blog, but I figured I'd post it here as well, to ensure there's some rational discussion, and that it doesn't get lost among the flames. Looking at the stats below, what do you think? How does it play into prices, population, etc? Where's population going from here? Where are housing starts going from here?

BC Population Data from BCStats:
YEAR: Population: Households: Housing Starts:
1991:.... 3,373K ............ 1,280K ........... n/a
2001:... 4,076K ............ 1,593K ........... 275K (since 1991)
2006:... 4,243K ............ 1,677K ........... 152K (since 2001)
2009:... 4,455K ............ 1,778K ............ 90K (since 2006).

What are some numbers that we can extract from this bare data?

Population rose by 70K per year, and 27K units were built per year, which implies 2.6 people per housing unit. A little more than Vancouver, but that's about the norm for the province. So we can conclude that population growth roughly matched the amount of construction. Household growth was a little higher than construction, but within a reasonable range.

Population rose by 33K per year, and 30K of housing units were started each year. Huh, that implies 1.1 people per housing unit, which implies that there was lots of surplus housing constructed. Household formation suggests only 17K of households were "formed this year, which implies that *half* of the housing units built weren't occupied.

Population rose by 70K per year (1990s growth levels!), and 30K of housing units were started each year. That's about 2.3 people per dwelling, which is about normal, if a touch on the low side. Household formation was 30K per year, which matches the level of construction, so that's about right.

Can we conclude anything from the above data? To me, it looks like construction matched population growth and household formation in the 1990s, suggesting that construction and growth were balanced. From 2001 to 2006, there was massive overconstruction going on (mainly due to low population growth). Since 2006, construction and population growth have been balanced.

Since 1991, unit construction has been fairly flat-- sure there have been some strong years and some weak years, but overall the rate of construction has been constant for each of the multi-year chunks that I've picked. The biggest aberration was in the 2001-2006 period, where population growth was abysmal, and so there was a lot more construction going on than we actually needed.

Some questions:
Have the imbalances been wrung out of the system?
How will prices (rising/stable/falling) play into this?


Rational Thought Not a Factor in Home Purchases

By The Canadian Press

Referencing RBC Study.

TORONTO - Recent first-time homebuyers say they felt pressure to enter the market as they contended with jitters about rising home prices and higher mortgage rates.

The Bank of Montreal says as many as one-third of respondents in a homebuyers survey believe their expectation that housing prices would increase, and interest rates would soar, left an impression on their decision to make a purchase in the short term.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency among home buyers," said Lynne Kilpatrick, senior vice-president of personal banking at BMO.

"While we encourage Canadians to pursue their home ownership dreams we recognize it's easy to get caught up in the emotions of the purchase and this can lead to stretching one's budget too thin."

The results come as Royal Bank released its own homeownership survey on Wednesday which showed that a majority of Canadians expect to see higher mortgage rates over the next year.
RBC's annual homeownership survey said 64 per cent of Canadians expect high rates, with about the same number of mortgage holders concerned about higher rates.

Economists expect the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates by between half a percentage point and a full point over several months beginning this summer to fight inflationary pressures in the economy.

With many Canadians taking on larger and larger mortgage debt in expensive markets across the country, higher rates could create financial problems for some homeowners.

In the Royal Bank survey, three-quarters, or 73 per cent of homeowners, feel strongly that homebuyers need to think ahead to ensure they will still be able to make their mortgage payment if rates rise.

The bank says six-in-10 mortgage holders say they have taken advantage of current low interest rates to pay more principal on their loans.

Eighteen per cent of homeowners say they've made a lump sum payment on their mortgage and 16 per cent have doubled their payment to reduce their principal.

While 84 per cent of mortgage holders believe they are doing an excellent or good job of paying down their mortgage, 49 per cent say their mortgage is larger than they thought it would be at this stage in their life.

Marcia Moffat, RBC's head of home equity financing, says the best advice for homeowners is to review their mortgage holdings with a financial adviser to position themselves for any changes.
BMO's senior economist Sal Guatieri added that a cooler housing market is "just around the corner."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Housing Bubble - - Yes or No

Canadian Housing Bubble by Alexandre Pestov at York University's Schulich School of Business.

Here is the abstract, click on the above link for the full meal deal.

The cause of the housing bubble associated with the sharp run-up and the subsequent drop in home prices in the US over the period of 1999-2008 has been the focus of significant research attention. Despite numerous similarities, the Canadian housing market escapes the same level of interest, mostly due to the seemingly stable housing prices.

This paper explores the subject of a possible housing bubble in Canada. It examines a diverse array of factors that may have contributed to the rise in house prices in Canada. The paper evaluates each factor individually and determines the health of the Canadian housing market using common valuation techniques.

Results suggest that economic fundamentals in Canada provide little explanation for the Canadian house price dynamics. Market fundamentals have become insignificant in affecting house prices, and the price-momentum conditions characteristic of a bubble now exist. The extreme decoupling of the market prices from the underlying fundamentals suggests an upcoming correction in housing prices in Canada.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recommended Reading

I recommend you read this and heed the implicit warning.

The idea that Canadians are fiscally prudent is a farce to anyone in-the-know. Most Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, have no savings, overuse their credit cards and HELOCs and are overleveraged on their real estate assets. The collective 'we are better than the US' mentality is a joke since the average Canadian's personal balance sheet looks just like their American cousin's balance sheet from 3 years ago.

The only thing fiscally prudent about Canada is that our banking system was never 'transformed' to the US / European model back in the 90s, with no small protest from the banks. Because of the high reserve ratios that the banks are required to maintain and with no small help of taxpayer backed mortgage loan guarantees via CMHC, it is not surprising that Canadian banks are phenomenally profitable. Mind you, in a credit contraction, bank earnings will be far from stellar.

In a related note - Canadians need to save more - according to David Dodge

Canadians need to save between 10 per cent and 21 per cent of their pretax incomes each year – if they save consistently for 35 years – to have comfortable retirement incomes, according to a new report by former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge.

The report says many Canadians are unaware of the high savings levels they need for their retirement years, and may believe they are saving adequately when they are not.

The report, co-authored by Alexandre Laurin and Colin Busby and published by the C.D. Howe Institute, calculates various savings scenarios based on assumptions that Canadians aim to have annual retirement incomes between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of their preretirement incomes.

“Our findings provide Canadians with a ‘reality check' about the saving rates required to meet their retirement goals,” Mr. Dodge said in a release Thursday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Upcoming CMHC rule changes

There has been much ado about the upcoming CMHC changes to requirements for qualifying for mortgage insurance. Some basic math has been done by local bloggers here and here.

For some speculative investors, the upcoming changes will have significant impact as they are required to carry a higher downpayment. In addition homeowners cannot carry higher than about 90% LTV for refinancings and be insured. This does not mean that this part of the market is cut out, only that people borrowing with higher leverage face significantly higher financing costs in the way of non-government-backed loans.

The important change for owner-occupiers comes in the form of changing the requirement that qualification be based on, at minimum, meeting the standards for a 5 year fixed rate mortgage instead of a 3 year fixed rate mortgage. Here is where the confusion starts. First, we are unsure if CMHC requires banks qualify customers at their posted or "discounted" rates. A quick perusal of CMHC's website yielded no definitive answer though perhaps a reader can let me know what they do now. (I will save the rant on CMHC's lack of transparency for another day.) I am assuming, for now, that they use some semblance discounted rates, only because some lenders advertise close to fully discounted rates anyways. The change from 3 to 5 year, I assume, would follow the same general policy. (Update: apparently they will use 5 year posted. See mohican's link in the comments.)

Second, a quick look at posted rates shows 3-5 year spreads as high as 2% and as low as 1%. Taking the spread to be 2%, the amount for which a borrower is maximally qualified drops by just over 20%; at a 1% spread this drops to about 10%. If we assume the entire market is comprised of buyers maxing out what they can afford, we would expect the market to drop by 10-20% on this change alone. The market of course is not solely comprised of people leveraging themselves so as to require mortgage insurance and/or people maximising their affordability limits. While we do know many are taking on high levels of debt to become homeowners there is not much publicly available data to show the finances of those who are buying. You can bet the banks have these data. (Related, banks were the ones openly calling for the government to tighten its mortgage insurance qualification rules.)

Third, an interesting point is that spreads between 3 year and 5 year mortgages are extremely high compared to even 2 years ago when the spread was no more than a few hundred basis points. This is a product of the low end of the yield curve clamped near zero by the Bank of Canada.

When the Bank raises rates, as experts are expecting later this year, we expect the 3-5 year spread to narrow. In other words, while the changes to CMHC policy will have some advanced impact on demand, the longer-term impact in and of the policy change itself will be muted by 3 year rates eventually climbing closer to 5 year rates anyways. There is also no rule that says that 5 year rates cannot fall to the current 3 year rate but I don't have a good feeling for how likely this is.

How will the CMHC changes affect the market? A fringe of able investors will be cut out -- most markedly in the buy-to-let investment arena -- and this has real potential to be a catalyst for what this blog believes is an eventual return to lower price-to-rent and price-to-income ratios. Taking a step back, higher debt levels, rising unemployment, government spending cuts, dwelling under-utilisation, and a reliance on relative (not absolute) pricing by marginal buyers all indicate marginal pricing is unsustainable. The CMHC policy changes do not and can not change this blog's thesis one iota.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Housing starts and under construction

Just had a look at the CMHC Housing Now publication with the January starts/completions data. Completions exceeded starts by 2115 in January 2010--which is the most for a single month since 1981 (and the data in 1981 is really wonky so I don't know what to make of that). Correspondingly, under construction is 'cliff diving' as they say over at Calculated Risk. Straight downhill.

The 12 month total of starts tweeked up in January 2010, but it is still at a deep low. How deep? Check the data back to 1948 below.

The 12 month total of starts is in the neighbourhood of the lows hit in 1967, 1983, and 2000. That's right, lower than the depths of 1967--when Vancouver's population was much smaller. That is not a lot of starts.

What do I see happening over the rest of 2010?
  1. It is unlikely that starts will stay so low. Look at the green line--it has never rested at the bottom before (but perhaps we've never had such a speculative glut before!).
  2. Completions will continue to chug along at the current pace for the rest of the year, still exceeding starts.
  3. Under Construction will drop below 10K and might touch historic lows close to 5K if starts don't pick up as much as I think they might.
One big implication of this is for the employment market. We know that a big part of the boom in the BC labour market was driven by construction employment. Construction employment depends on the 'under construction' total. As that number continues to drop over this year, we will see unemployment rise.

About a year ago, I predicted 10% unemployment by June 2010. We're at 8.1% now. I don't know if we'll make it to 10% in the next 4 months, but it's not a crazy prediction to hit 10% sometime in 2010 as the Olympic workforce gets laid off and the construction workers join them.

We see the next labour market data point this Friday. That data comes from the middle of the Olympics, so we won't start to get a real glimpse of the post-Olympic period until the March numbers come out in April.