Month: February 2020

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General Beata Wojtalik 18 Feb


Minister Morneau Announces New Benchmark Rate for Qualifying For Insured Mortgages

The new qualifying rate will be the mortgage contract rate or a newly created benchmark very close to it plus 200 basis points, in either case. The News Release from the Department of Finance Canada states, “the Government of Canada has introduced measures to help more Canadians achieve their housing needs while also taking measured actions to contain risks in the housing market. A stable and healthy housing market is part of a strong economy, which is vital to building and supporting a strong middle class.”

These changes will come into effect on April 6, 2020. The new benchmark rate will be the weekly median 5-year fixed insured mortgage rate from mortgage insurance applications, plus 2%.

This follows a recent review by federal financial agencies, which concluded that the minimum qualifying rate should be more dynamic to reflect the evolution of market conditions better. Overall, the review concluded that the mortgage stress test is working to ensure that home buyers are able to afford their homes even if interest rates rise, incomes change, or families are faced with unforeseen expenses.

This adjustment to the stress test will allow it to be more representative of the mortgage rates offered by lenders and more responsive to market conditions.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) also announced today that it is considering the same new benchmark rate to determine the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages.

The existing qualification rule, which was introduced in 2016 for insured mortgages and in 2018 for uninsured mortgages, wasn’t responsive enough to the recent drop in lending interest rates — effectively making the stress test too tight. The earlier rule established the big-six bank posted rate plus 2 percentage points as the qualifying rate. Banks have increasingly held back from adjusting their posted rates when 5-year market yields moved downward. With rates falling sharply in recent weeks, especially since the coronavirus scare, the gap between posted and contract mortgage rates has widened even more than what was already evident in the past two years.

This move, effective April 6, should reduce the qualifying rate by about 30 basis points if contract rates remain at roughly today’s levels. According to a Department of Finance official, “As of February 18, 2020, based on the weekly median 5-year fixed insured mortgage rate from insured mortgage applications received by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the new benchmark rate would be roughly 4.89%.”  That’s 30 basis points less than today’s benchmark rate of 5.19%.

The Bank of Canada will calculate this new benchmark weekly, based on actual rates from mortgage insurance applications, as underwritten by Canada’s three default insurers.

OSFI confirmed today that it, too, is considering the new benchmark rate for its minimum stress test rate on uninsured mortgages (mortgages with at least 20% equity).

“The proposed new benchmark for uninsured mortgages is based on rates from mortgage applications submitted by a wide variety of lenders, which makes it more representative of both the broader market and fluctuations in actual contract rates,” OSFI said in its release.

“In addition to introducing a more accurate floor, OSFI’s proposal maintains cohesion between the benchmarks used to qualify both uninsured and insured mortgages.” (Thank goodness, as the last thing the mortgage market needs is more complexity.)

The new rules will certainly add to what was already likely to be a buoyant spring housing market. While it might boost buying power by just 3% (depending on what the new benchmark turns out to be on April 6), the psychological boost will be positive. Homebuyers—particularly first-time buyers—are already worried about affordability, given the double-digit gains of the last 12 months.



General Beata Wojtalik 18 Feb


Home Sales Slip A Bit In January As Supply Tightens Pushing Up Prices

Statistics released today by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) show that national existing-home sales dipped between December and January owing to a dearth of new listings, especially in the GTA. As the CREA chart below shows, the pace of monthly home resales nevertheless remained strong.

Home sales recorded over Canadian MLS® Systems declined by 2.9% in January 2020, although they remain among the stronger monthly readings of the last few years.

Transactions were down in a little over half of all local markets in January, with the national result most impacted by a slowdown of more than 18% in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. According to CREA, “While there were few notable gains in January, it should be noted that many of the weaker results have come alongside a shortage of new supply in markets where inventories are already very tight.”

Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity was still up 11.5% compared to January 2019, marking the best sales figures for the month in 12 years. Transactions surpassed year-ago levels in about two-thirds of all local markets, including most of the largest urban markets. Some of the larger markets where sales were down, such as Ottawa and Windsor-Essex, are currently among some of the tightest supplied markets in Canada.

“Home price growth continues to pick up in housing markets where listings are in short supply, particularly in Southern, Central and Eastern Ontario,” said Jason Stephen, president of CREA. “Meanwhile, ample supply across the Prairies and in Newfoundland and Labrador is resulting in ongoing competition among sellers.”

In many tight housing markets, potential sellers appear to be waiting until the spring to list their properties when the weather is better and more buyers are actively looking

New Listings

The number of newly listed homes was little changed in January, edging up a slight 0.2% on the heels of a series of declines which have left new listings at a near-decade low. January’s small month-over-month (m-o-m) change came as the result of declines in a number of larger markets, including Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal, which were offset by gains in the York and Durham Regions of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) where new supply bounced back at the start of 2020 following a sharp slowdown towards the end of last year.

With sales down and new listings up slightly in January, the national sales-to-new listings ratio fell back to 65.1% compared to 67.2% posted in December 2019. Even so, the long-term average for this measure of housing market balance is 53.8%. It has been significantly above that long-term average for the last four months. Barring an unforeseen change in recent trends between the balance of supply and demand for homes, price gains appear poised to accelerate in 2020.

Indeed, concern is growing that Canada’s largest housing market may be about to experience a new round of froth, similar to 2016. “It’s looking more and more like early-2016 all over again for the Toronto housing market. This is not a good sign,” wrote RBC Economics senior economist Robert Hogue. “Those were the days when things started to heat up uncomfortably, propelling property values sky-high in the ensuing year.”

Based on a comparison of the sales-to-new listings ratio with the long-term average, close to two-thirds of all local markets were in balanced market territory in January 2020. Apart from a few areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the remainder were all favouring sellers. As the chart below shows, the GTA housing market is in sellers’ market territory. 

There were 4.2 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of January 2020 – the same as in November and December and the lowest level since the summer of 2007. This measure of market balance is now a full month below its long-term average of 5.2 months.
National measures of market balance continue to mask significant and increasing regional variations. The number of months of inventory has swollen far beyond long-term averages in the Prairie provinces and Newfoundland & Labrador, giving homebuyers ample choice in these regions. By contrast, the measure is running well below long-term averages in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces, resulting in increased competition among buyers for listings and providing fertile ground for price gains. The measure is still in balanced market territory in British Columbia overall but is tightening in the Vancouver area as the chart below indicates.



Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) rose 0.8% in January 2020 compared to December, marking its eighth consecutive monthly gain. It is now up 5.5% from last year’s lowest point in May and has set new records in each of the past six months (see the CREA chart below)The MLS® HPI in January was up from the previous month in 14 of the 18 markets tracked by the index. (see CREA table below).

Home price trends have generally been stabilizing in most Prairie markets in recent months following lengthy declines. Meanwhile, prices are clearly on the rise again in British Columbia and in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). Further east, price growth in Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton continues as it has for some time now, with Montreal and particularly Ottawa having strengthened noticeably in recent months.

Comparing home prices to year-ago levels yields considerable variations across the country, although for the most part trends are still regionally split along east/west lines, with rising gains from Ontario east, and a mixed bag of smaller gains and declines in B.C. and the Prairies.

Home prices in Greater Vancouver (-1.2%) remain slightly below year-ago levels, but declines are still shrinking. Meanwhile, January saw prices back in positive y-o-y territory in the Fraser Valley (+0.3%). Elsewhere in British Columbia, home prices logged y-o-y increases in the Okanagan Valley (+3.5%), Victoria (+3.4%) and elsewhere on Vancouver Island (+4%).

Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon continued to post small y-o-y price declines, while the y-o-y gap has now widened to -6.9% in Regina.

In Ontario, home price growth has re-accelerated across most of the GGH, with a number of markets getting close to double digits. Meanwhile, price gains in recent years have continued uninterrupted in Ottawa (+13.7%), Montreal (+9.8%) and Moncton (+6.4%).

All benchmark home categories tracked by the index accelerated further into positive territory on a y-o-y basis, with similar sized gains among the different property types. Condo apartment unit prices posted the biggest y-o-y increase (+5%) followed closely by two-storey single-family homes (+4.8%), one-storey single-family homes (+4.4%) and townhouse/row units (+4.2%). Earlier this cycle, condo prices markedly outpaced the single-family sector, but in the past year, detached homes have more than caught up.

Also, note in the table below that the benchmark home price in Toronto-area Oakville-Milton at $1.05 million is now above the benchmark price in Greater Vancouver of $1,026. The GTA has a much larger and more diverse housing market with a benchmark price of $.841 million.


Consumer Unsecured Debt is a Bigger Problem Than Mortgage Debt

Bottom Line: Housing markets in Canada are strengthening as interest rates continue to fall, job growth is robust, wage gains are sizable and foreign immigration boosts demand. While the stress test qualifying rate remains stuck at 5.19%, market forces emanating from the coronavirus epidemic are pushing down market rates, and TD Bank has cut its posted rate to 4.99%. If downward pressure continues, which is likely given the news out of China, other big banks may follow the TD lead, reducing the qualifying rate. Regardless, contract mortgage rates are once again under downward pressure.

The Bank of Canada is unlikely to cut its overnight benchmark rate when it meets again March 4. It will point to the resilience of the Canadian economy and the debt exposure of Canadian households. To be sure, much has been made of the eye-catching fact that consumer insolvencies rose by 9.5% in 2019, the most substantial annual increase since the 2008-09 recession. But it should be emphasized that this reflected excessive credit card and auto loans, not mortgage debt. 

Consumer insolvencies are comprised of household bankruptcies and proposals (see chart below). Bankruptcies are falling and have been since the economic recovery began in 2009. Last year’s increase reflected a rise in the number of “proposals”—offers to pay creditors a percentage of what is owed and extend the repayment schedule, a remedy available to individuals with up to $250,000 in unsecured debt.

Mortgage debt, on the other hand, has been rock solid. The latest data from the Canadian Bankers Association shows just 0.23% of mortgages were more than 90 days in arrears as of August 2019, matching the lowest rate since 1990. That is not to say mortgage debt isn’t a source of stress for some households—mortgages account for 45% of the average household’s debt servicing costs. But those having trouble making debt payments are likely prioritizing their mortgages over credit cards and auto loans. There has also been an increase in insolvencies among individuals without mortgage debt.

The Bank of Canada and the regulators would do better to focus on the curtailment of excessive unsecured household borrowing than to fixate on mortgage stress testing alone.


TD Bank Cuts Its 5-Year Posted Rate

General Beata Wojtalik 18 Feb

TD Bank Cuts Its 5-Year Posted Rate

After six long months of no changes to the big banks’ posted rates, TD Bank broke the ice on Tuesday by lowering its 5-year posted rate to 4.99% from 5.34%.

While the big banks adjust their “special” rates regularly (as RBC did last week), changes to their higher posted rates are more rare. And the move is important because it means other banks are likely to follow, and if enough do, it will lead to a drop in the 5-year benchmark qualifying rate…i.e. the stress test rate.

That would be welcome news to the countless mortgage shoppers out there who are struggling to qualify at the current benchmark rate of 5.19%.

“Based on current market conditions, lower funding costs have led to a growing variance in customer rates versus posted rates,” a TD spokesperson told BNN Bloomberg. “This rate decrease aligns TD’s 5-year fixed posted rate more closely with current customer rates.”

And that’s all true. Bond yieldswhich lead fixed mortgage rateshave plummeted roughly 30 basis points since the start of the year. And the big banks keeping their posted rates artificially higher (in TD’s case, it hasn’t cut its 5-year posted rate since March 2019), has started to draw attention from key industry players.

The OSFI Effect

TD’s rate drop suspiciously comes just days after a speech from Ben Gully, Assistant Superintendent at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), which regulates federal financial institutions.

Ben Gully, Assistant Superintendent, OSFI
Ben Gully, Assistant Superintendent, OSFI

In his speech, Gully admitted the use of the benchmark qualifying rate as the floor of Guideline B-20 stress testing for uninsured mortgages is “not playing the role that we intended.”

“For many years, our data showed the difference between the benchmark rate and the average contract rate was about 2%,” Gully said. “However, the difference between the average contract rate and the benchmark has been widening more recently, suggesting that the benchmark is less responsive to market changes than when it was first proposed.”

Some in the industry suspect that speech was the stick that broke the camel’s back and finally pushed the banks (or at least one of them) to adjust their qualifying rate.

Ron Butler of Butler Mortgage said TD’s move “absolutely” was a result of Gully’s comments, and he expects others to follow within the next week.

“We will see a 4.89% qualifying rate in the spring, if not sooner,” he told CMT.

Impact on the Stress Test

mortgage stress testEven if the qualifying rate were to drop that much, a 30-bps reduction would still only have a “minimal effect” for buyers  struggling to qualify, he said. Anecdotally, Butler estimates about 300 to 400 mortgage applicants he deals with each year have trouble qualifying under the stress test.

A recent survey from Zillow and Ipsos found that half of Canadians (51%) say they are concerned that stricter rules will prevent them from qualifying for a mortgage, up five points since 2018.

If the qualifying rate were to drop to just 4.99%, that would require roughly 1.8% less income in order to qualify for the average Canadian home, according to Rob McLister of It would also increase buying power by nearly 2%.

“These effects may seem small at the margin, but they’re magnified when you’re talking about thousands of buyers across Canada,” he wrote. “A lower stress test rate would also help refinancers qualify for bigger loans. Someone with an average home making $100,000 a year would qualify for a $9,000 bigger mortgage (+/-) if the stress test rate dropped to 4.99% from 5.19%.”

The ball is now in the court of the other Big 5 banks to determine what happens to the qualifying rate. You can be sure many prospective homebuyers will be watching closely.

Steve Huebl


General Beata Wojtalik 18 Feb



Market interest rates have fallen sharply since the coronavirus-led investor flight to the safety of government bonds. The 5-year government bond yield–a harbinger of conventional mortgage rates–now stands at 1.34%, down sharply from the 1.60+% range it was trading in before the virus became global news (see chart below).

This morning, one of the Big-Six banks finally reacted. TD cut its posted 5-year fixed rate to 4.99%. TD’s posted rate had previously been at 5.34%, making this a 36 basis point cut. Other banks had lowered their qualifying rate to 5.19% last July, leading the Bank of Canada to cut its 5-year conventional mortgage rate to 5.19%. This is the qualifying rate under the B-20 rule introduced on January 1, 2018.

Even the regulators have been questioning the efficacy and fairness of using the big-bank posted rate as a qualifying rate for mortgage stress testing.

On January 24, the Assistant Superintendent of OSFI’s Regulation Sector, Ben Gully, gave a speech at the C.D. Howe Institute suggesting that the B-20 qualifying mortgage rate historically would be no more than 200 basis points above contract rates. He said that OSFI chose the “best available rate at the time.”

He went on to say that for many years, the difference between the benchmark rate and the average contract rate was 200 bps. However, this gap “has been widening more recently, suggesting that the benchmark is less responsive to market changes than when it was first proposed. We are reviewing this aspect of our qualifying rate, as the posted rate is not playing the role that we intended. As always, we will share our results with our federal partners. This will help to inform the advice OSFI might provide to the Minister, as requested in the mandate letter to him.

By keeping posted rates too high, the Big-Six banks have inflated the qualifying rate, making it more difficult than necessary to pass the stress test to get a mortgage.

While TD’s rate cut is welcome news, its posted rate is still too high by historical standards. Given today’s average contract rates, the posted rate should be at least 20 bps lower still.

Banks have a strong incentive to inflate their posted mortgage rate. For one thing, they are the basis for the calculation of big-bank mortgage penalties. Also, they are the minimum qualifying rate.

The posted rate does not appropriately reflect the state of the mortgage market as few borrowers would pay this rate. Interestingly, banks often move this rate in lock-step, or close to it, reflecting their dominant oligopolistic position in the marketplace.

If a couple of the other big banks follow TD’s lead, the Bank of Canada benchmark rate will be below 5% for the first time since January 2018 when the new B-20 rules were adopted. Lowering the stress test rate by 20 bps from 5.19% to 4.99% would require roughly 1.8% less income to qualify for a mortgage on the average Canadian home price (assuming a 20% downpayment), increasing buying power by 2%. This doesn’t sound like much, but it can have a meaningful psychological impact on already improving housing markets. The latest CREA data shows that the national average home price surged 9.6% year-over-year in December. A lower stress test rate would make a busy spring housing market even more active.



CMHC’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive Off to a Slow Start

General Beata Wojtalik 18 Feb

CMHC’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive Off to a Slow Start

Four months after its official launch, CMHC’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive had funded just 4% of its three-year goal, according to new data provided by the agency.

From the time the down payment assistance program launched on Sept. 2 to Dec. 9, CMHC received just 3,252 applications from across Canada, 2,730 of which were approved. That translated into total funding of $51.3 millionwell off pace of the agency’s three-year target of $1.25 billion.

Under the program, the government will provide first-time buyers with an interest-free down payment loan of up to 5% for resale purchases, and 10% if the property is a new build. The CMHC then participates in any rise or fall in value of the home, and the loan must be repaid either when the house is sold or within 25 years.

Interest in the program was highest in Quebec, where 1,300 applications were received. Comparatively, just 436 Ontarians applied, according to statistics that were tabled in Parliament last week.

Here’s a look at the breakdown of applications from some of the major housing markets across Canada:

  • Greater Toronto Area: 148
  • Vancouver: 45
  • Edmonton: 447
  • Calgary: 260
  • Winnipeg: 144
  • Montreal 654
  • Halifax: 64
  • New Brunswick: 60
  • PEI: 12

CMHC head Evan Siddall defended the results via Twitter on Friday:

“In addition to CMHC’s challenges in estimating demand for the FTHBI, uneven lender support is a complicating factor,” he tweeted on Friday. “It may also be evidence that there is less unsatisfied FTHBI demand due to the stress test than people claim. People can always buy less expensive homes.

Evan Siddall defends FTHBI results

Why is the FTHBI Unpopular?

first-time home buyer incentive proves unpopularSince the initiative was first announced in the Liberals’ spring budget, many in the industry have criticized it for being overly complicated and promising negligible benefits.

One of the biggest restrictions of the program is that it’s currently limited to purchases of up to $565,000. In markets like Toronto and Vancouver, buyers can be hard-pressed to find available properties under that threshold. According to recent data from the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average sale price in December was $837,788.

Many buyers have also expressed unease at the thought of giving up equity in their home, particularly with prices rising rapidly in many markets across the country.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised tweaks to the FTHBI during last year’s federal election, no additional updates have since been provided. The proposed changes would increase the maximum purchase price eligible under the program to $789,000 for buyers in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria.

It remains to be seen whether the FTHBI’s slow start is a harbinger of future demand over the coming years, or whether first-time buyers will grow more receptive to sharing a chunk of their home equity with the government.

Steve Huebl


General Beata Wojtalik 18 Feb


Canadian 5-year Yield Fell To Lowest Level Since October

Global investors are selling stocks and piling into the safety of bonds in response to fears that the Wuhan coronavirus could disrupt global economic activity. Gold prices, another haven, have also risen. The Government of Canada 5-year bond yield traded this morning at roughly 1.35%, well below its nearly 1.70% level one month ago. The 5-year yield leads fixed mortgage rates, so if this trend persists, we might see widely available fixed-5-year rates in the 2.50% range once again in February.



Bank of Canada Now Buying 10-year CMBs
The Bank of Canada announced yesterday that effective immediately, the Bank will expand the Canada Mortgage-Backed securities (CMBs, which are government-guaranteed) it can purchase in the primary market to include 10-year fixed-rate bond issues. In 2018, The Bank expanded the assets it acquires to 5-year fixed and floating CMBs. The Bank held $517 million of these 5-year CMBs as of November 30, 2019.

This move by the BoC should improve liquidity, reducing yields on 10-year CMBs, possibly lowering 10-year fixed rates for mortgage borrowers. Governor Poloz supports efforts to extend the duration of mortgages.


First-Time Homebuyers Incentive Plan Flops

Only about 3,000 applicants were approved for the Liberals’ First-Time Home Buyer Incentive (FTHBI) in 2019. That’s just $55 million in funding, a less-than-stellar start given its $1.25-billion three-year target. (This information is according to attendees at the TD Securities’ Financial Services Conference where CMHC made comments.)


Latest in Mortgage News: Fixed Mortgage Rates Could Fall Over Coronavirus Fears

General Beata Wojtalik 3 Feb

Latest in Mortgage News: Fixed Mortgage Rates Could Fall Over Coronavirus Fears

As fear grows over the deadly Wuhan coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people, it is now becoming the world’s⁠—and Canada’s⁠—latest economic headwind.

That fear spread to financial markets on Monday, with the TSX falling 142 points and New York’s Dow Jones ending the day down more than 450 points. Canada’s 5-year bond yield fell sharply to a three-month low, signalling that mortgage rates are likely headed lower as well.

“…the new coronavirus is going to put fixed mortgage rates on sale,” founder Rob McLister wrote in the Globe and Mail. He pointed to the economic impacts contagions can have, such as the 2003 SARS epidemic, which dragged Canada’s GDP down by a tenth of a percentage.

“The present contagion creates yet another risk for Canada’s economy,” he wrote, adding it follows a sombre Bank of Canada rate announcement last week in which the Bank indicated it will be “watching closely to see if the recent slowdown in growth is more persistent than forecast.”

“The impact of the Wuhan coronavirus on mortgage rates could potentially last until reports of new cases slow significantly,” McLister added.

Any further fall in fixed mortgage rates would follow a downward trend over the course of 2019. They fell to near two-year lows in the fall, lower than most variable rates.

The best widely available, full-featured 5-year fixed mortgage is currently 2.79%, which McLister said could “easily fall closer to 2.50% next month” if bonds continue to move lower.

Mortgage Shoppers Prefer Human Advice…Unless the Price is Right

Mortgage brokers who have been fearing the era of digital mortgages can breathe a sigh of relief. It seems most homebuyers prefer personalized advice…from a human.

Personal mortgage advice from a mortgage brokerThat’s according to a recent survey from on mortgage shopping behaviour. But that doesn’t mean brokers can afford to be complacent.

A majority of mortgage shoppers also said they would be willing to trade in that personalized advice for a digital-only mortgage if it meant they could get a lower rate. Almost half of mortgage shoppers said those savings would have to be at least 0.05 to 0.20 percentage points to get them to use an online-only lender. One in five (18%) said they wouldn’t need a rate-saving incentive to use an online-only mortgage lender.

On the other hand, a full third (34%) of mortgage shoppers rely solely on offline sources when researching mortgages.

Here’s the current breakdown of where shoppers are getting their mortgage information:

  • 45% – in-person advice from a bank, lender or broker
  • 42% – bank/lender websites
  • 27% – friends and family
  • 20% – rate comparison websites

There was another takeaway for lenders: fewer than a quarter of rate shoppers consider brand names when shopping for a mortgage. Instead, their top considerations are getting the lowest interest rate (47%), keeping the total cost of borrowing as low as possible (19%) and clear communication of the conditions and features of their mortgage (14%).

Scotiabank graph on HELOC borrowingHELOC Borrowing Falls for First Time in Four Years

The amount of borrowing via Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) from chartered banks fell by 0.4% in November, marking the first monthly contraction since October 2015, according to Scotia Economics. That caused the annual growth rate of HELOC borrowing to continue its downward trend, now in its eleventh consecutive month.

Scotia notes that ever since HELOC borrowing growth started to slow during the market turbulence of 2018, it “has not recovered despite the stabilization of several major urban real-estate markets.”

Steve Huebl

CMHC’s Siddall Won’t Seek Another Term

General Beata Wojtalik 3 Feb

CMHC’s Siddall Won’t Seek Another Term

One of Canada’s most vocal advocates for stricter mortgage rules has announced he will be stepping down at the end of this year.

Evan Siddall, who served as President and CEO of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) since 2014, won’t be seeking another term once his ends, according to spokeswoman Audrey-Anne Coulombe.

“A selection process for a new President and CEO will start in the coming months,” Coulombe told Bloomberg. “This will be an open and transparent process that will be managed by the Government of Canada.”

Siddall oversaw a number of policy initiatives during his tenure that have been both cheered and jeered, the most high-profile being the introduction of new stress tests in 2016 and 2018.

The stress test for insured mortgages—those with less than 20% down payment—was introduced in October 2016 and significantly reduced the number of insured borrowers with high debt ratios. The more controversial stress test for uninsured mortgages (those with a down payment of 20% or more) came into effect in January 2018. This also reduced the number of highly leveraged borrowers at federally regulated lenders, forcing many to seek financing from non federally regulated institutions, like credit unions and private lenders.

The Department of Finance and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) ultimately implemented the rule changes, but Siddall was a strong and vocal proponent and advocated for such changes.

During his time at CMHC, the agency went from insuring 43% of outstanding residential mortgages in 2014, to just 29% in 2018, according to its annual report.

Other policy changes during his tenure included:

  • An increase in default-insurance fees
  • Changes that resulted in higher securitization costs
  • The removal of a number of mortgage types from being eligible for insurance coverage (e.g., refinances, amortizations over 25 years, single-unit rental properties).

evan siddall stepping downThe changes were polarizing, with many in the mortgage industry either very supportive or completely opposed. Despite the criticism, Siddall stood by them, arguing they were necessary to protect the stability of the country’s housing market and to rein in house price growth.

“If you want a crash in a real estate market, feeding debt is exactly the way to make it happen, I’m telling you. I’m trying to preserve healthy markets, which you should want,” he said at the national mortgage conference in November.

“I don’t want you to think we’re opposed to homeownership. That’s just not the case. It’s like blood pressure, you can have too much of a good thing, we’re just trying to get that balance right.”

But Siddall hasn’t always been so diplomatic. He was regularly called out for his unabashed criticism of industry players, including accusing Mortgage Professionals Canada CEO Paul Taylor of “bold” self-interested rhetoric and “reckless myopia” when the association called for tweaks to the stress test.

He levelled similar criticism at those against tighter mortgage-lending rules in 2017 during testimony at the House of Commons Finance Committee, calling them “self-interested.” That drew a rebuke from Conservative MP Ron Liepert, who called Siddall “arrogant.”

Siddall as Bank of Canada Governor?

Just as Siddall is in the home stretch of his term at CMHC, so to is current Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, who will be ending his seven-year term in June.

Siddall’s name has been floated as a potential, yet unlikely, candidate given his extensive experience in financial markets as a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, as well as a stint at the Bank of Canada starting in 2010. Siddall joined the Bank at the request of former BoC Governor Mark Carney, where he spearheaded the Bank’s efforts in establishing financial infrastructure to guard against systemic risks. His involvement with the Bank following the financial crisis may also help explain his bias towards credit tightening.

“Deflating asset-price bubbles and curbing the propensity of Canadian households to borrow has become almost as important as setting interest rates at the Bank of Canada,” reads a recent Financial Post column, which noted Siddall has emerged as “the leading defender of tighter mortgage rules.”

Love him or hate him, Siddall is always clear on where he stands, and stands by what he believes. But the public nature of his role at CMHC exposed him to intense public scrutiny, regardless of the policies being implemented. It awaits to be seen who will jump at the opportunity to fill his shoes.

Steve Huebl


General Beata Wojtalik 3 Feb


Bank of Canada Holds Steady Despite Economic Slowdown

In a more dovish statement, the Bank of Canada maintained its target for the overnight rate at 1.75% for the tenth consecutive time. Today’s decision was widely expected as members of the Governing Council have signalled that the Bank still believes that the Canadian economy is resilient, despite the marked slowdown in growth in the fourth quarter of last year that has spilled into the early part of this year. The economy has underperformed the forecast in the October Monetary Policy Report (MPR).

In today’s MPR, the Bank estimates growth of only 0.3% in Q4 of 2019 and 1.3%in the first quarter of 2020. Exports fell late last year, and business investment appears to have weakened after a strong Q3, reflecting a decline in business confidence. Job creation has slowed, and indicators of consumer confidence and spending have been much softer than expected. The one bright light has been residential investment, which was robust through most of 2019, moderating to a still-solid pace in the fourth quarter only because of a dearth of newly listed properties for sale. 

The central bank’s press release stated that “Some of the slowdown in growth in late 2019 was related to temporary factors that include strikes, poor weather, and inventory adjustments. The weaker data could also signal that global economic conditions have been affecting Canada’s economy to a greater extent than was predicted. Moreover, during the past year, Canadians have been saving a larger share of their incomes, which could signal increased consumer caution which could dampen consumer spending but help to alleviate financial vulnerabilities at the same time.”

The January MPR states that over the projection horizon (2020 and 2021), “business investment and exports are anticipated to improve as oil transportation capacity expands, and the impact of trade policy headwinds on global growth diminishes. Household spending is projected to strengthen, driven by solid growth of both the population and household disposable income.” Growth is expected to be 1.6% in 2019 and 2020 and is anticipated to strengthen to 2.0% in 2021.

Inflation has remained at roughly the Bank’s target of 2%, and is expected to continue at that pace.

Also from the MPR: “The level of housing activity remains solid across most of Canada, although recent indicators suggest that residential investment growth has slowed from its previously strong pace. Demand remains robust in Quebec, where the labour market has been strong. In Ontario and British Columbia, population growth is boosting housing demand. In contrast, Alberta’s housing market continues to adjust to challenges in the oil and gas sector. Nationally, house prices have continued to increase and should strengthen slightly in the near term, consistent with the responses to the Bank’s recent Canadian Survey of Consumer Expectations.”

Bottom Line: The Canadian dollar sold off on the release of this statement and I believe there is a downside risk to the Bank of Canada forecast. Today’s release is a more dovish statement than last month, showing less confidence in the outlook. The Governing Council did express concern that the recent weakness in growth could be more persistent than their current forecast, saying that “the Bank will be paying particular attention to developments in consumer spending, the housing market, and business investment.” They also raised estimates of slack in the economy and dropped language about the current rate being appropriate.

According to Bloomberg News, today’s Governing Council comments “are a departure from recent communications in which officials sought to accentuate the positives of an economy that had been running near capacity and was deemed resilient in the face of global uncertainty. While Wednesday’s decision still leaves the Bank of Canada with the highest policy rate among major advanced economies, markets may interpret the statement as an attempt to, at the very least, open the door for a future move.”DR. SHERRY COOPER


Canadians’ New Year’s Resolution: Pay Down that Debt

General Beata Wojtalik 3 Feb

Canadians’ New Year’s Resolution: Pay Down that Debt

It’s that time of year again, when we vow to kick bad habits and set a healthier or more positive course for the new year ahead. Improving our finances usually tops the list, and this year is no exception.

For the 10th straight year, the top financial priority for Canadians in 2020 is to pay off their debtsperhaps not surprising given that the average person dropped about $1,600 on holiday shopping last month.

With this goal in mind, nearly three quarters of Canadians (71%) said they held back from borrowing more money in 2019, according to a recent CIBC poll. On the flip side, about 31% of Canadians saw their debt load increase last year, according to the BDO Canada Affordability Index.

Despite paying down debt being a top priority, it’s also consumers’ biggest challenge. The BDO survey found that while more than 43% of Canadians are slowly paying down household debt, another 30% admit to delaying paying down their credit card balances because they can’t afford it.

The data also shows credit card use is growing, with 57% of Canadians carrying a card balance in 2019, up from 53% in 2018. Not to mention the recent rise in delinquency rates.

Long story short, high debt loads continue to be a thorn in the side of the country’s financial system, and one being watched closely by experts.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has been sounding alarm bells for months, and most recently stated recently that household debt “continues to be Canada’s biggest financial system vulnerability,” though did qualify that by adding the Bank is confident it’s “becoming less of a threat over time.”

Canadians Still Value Home Ownership

So what does this mean for Canada’s real estate sector?

Despite high debt loads and reduced affordability, owning a home continues to be a priority for most Canadians.

homeownersAnd while those with children often face added affordability challenges, the BDO Affordability Index found the percentage who are homeowners rose over the past year to 70%, up 7% from 2018.

In many cases, this has been made possible due to sacrifices made over the past two years to achieve that homeownership goal. That includes delaying buying essentials, like food or healthcare products (15%), postponing their planned retirement date (17%), putting off a car purchase (28%) and delaying taking a vacation (51%). Another 13% said they have delayed paying essential utilities, like hydro, phone or gas.

“Putting off a vacation or the purchase of a new vehicle may be necessary sacrifices for avoiding debt,” reads the BDO survey. “But delaying basic needs is a clear sign of financial distress.”

It also found distress among non-homeowners, 70% of whom say they are unlikely to purchase a home in the near future due to their debts, rising costs of living and overpriced housing markets.

“While affordability challenges aren’t solely linked to too much debt, the findings of the BDO Canada Affordability Index show that debt is a major factor,” the report adds.

Steve Huebl