Monday, November 04, 2013

Good news for interest rates

By Mark Kerzner, President, TMG The Mortgage Group Canada Inc.

There’s good news on the interest rate front. In the Bank of Canada’s (BoC) most recent announcement it maintained its prime rate at 1%, however with one slight difference. Since 2012, the BoC’s report has included a tightening bias, warning Canadians that rates would soon rise. That bias was removed from BoC Governor Stephen Poloz’s recent report. Instead he is planning to hold the overnight interest rate at these low levels at least into 2015. The reason? Low inflation and a slow economy.  Inflation is sitting just above 1% (the BoC likes it near 2%) and annual economic growth is limping along at 1.6%. 

In the late Spring, it looked as if the end of these ultra low rates was near. The US FED had signaled it was going to slow down its Quantitative Easing (QE) of reducing its massive $85 billion dollars/month injection into the markets. Bond yields spiked approximately 80 bps shortly thereafter. This spike in yields led to an increase in fixed interest rates and a collective exhale at the BoC. After all, increasing rates would help to slow down the perceived overheating of the housing market.

At the same time, many consumers sitting on the sidelines saw the wave of increased rates coming and they 'bought forward'. This means they were potential buyers, but acted more quickly than they otherwise might have, to take advantage of the ultra low interest rates.

Just as the mortgage industry started to get comfortable with the recent round of increased mortgage rates, bond yields started to taper off – 40 basis points in fact -- over the past few weeks. If yields continue to fall, or even if they stay stable for a period of time, there may be some reductions in fixed rates yet again. And while this is welcome news for many, it is concerning for officials in Ottawa.

Also, variable rates are near prime-0.50% and the trend is towards bigger discounting. Now that the BoC has said there won’t be an increase until 2015, variable-rate mortgages will likely become more popular.

Since the BoC has not been able to raise rates nor curb spending in the housing market – sales in many markets continue to grow and house prices continue to rise. One way the Government can control the housing market is by making changes to the mortgage guidelines, so we might get some rule changes again.

In a meeting with private sector economists, Finance Minister Flaherty said he was not intending to interfere with the housing market "at this time." That would imply that he is not going to make any changes just yet.  What we have learned over the past five years is that "just yet" certainly means "it may be coming sooner than you think."

If, and that’s a BIG IF, the government believes that home prices are continuing to escalate out of control, and the housing market is overheating, it may act. What is holding them in check right now seems to be the notion that the market has 'bought forward’.  This may have caused a positive blip in housing activity in recent months.

Over the next few weeks we will have to pay close attention to housing market activity in Canada to see if it is indeed tapering, and also have to watch the impact if fixed interest rates do drop. In this respect, lower rates may not be such a great thing because we could be facing a fifth round of changes.  The talk on the street is if there are changes coming, it might be capping amortizations on conventional loans to 25 years, similar to high ratio loans.
We will wait and see.