Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Canadians seem to love debt

Canadians have a growing love affair with debt. Household debt hit a new record in August as consumer spending jumped 2.3 % in the second quarter of the year, despite the fact that we are also in a recession, “technically” speaking.

So where is this debt coming from? Well, we’re buying houses, cars, furniture and clothing. Household credit is rising its fastest since 2012 – 80% of that is due to an increase in mortgage debt. In 2013, the pace of credit growth was 2% -- it’s now rising to just under 3%.

Retail sales has had its best start to the year in the past decade. Credit-card spending has gone up by 8% this year; spending on restaurants and fast food is up more than 12%. And we’re pouring more money into home improvements. Spending on home improvements has increased by 10% in the second quarter of the year.

So why is this happening? Being employed helps. The unemployment rate is holding steady at about 6.9%. Low borrowing costs also helps. The Bank of Canada rate is .50% and mortgages, both variable and fixed are at historical lows. In fact, consumer spending has stepped in as the fuel for the economy ever since the slowdown in our resources sector. 

Are we vulnerable?  It is indeed a concern for policy makers and it is unlikely that consumer spending can power the economy for too long. There is also a huge discrepancy among the provinces. Ontario and British Columbia are strong markets, while spending and consumer confidence have taken a hit in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Also, spending has not matched income growth. 
Higher debt loads also mean that consumers now spend an average 14% of after-tax income on their debts. This is up from 11% in 1990, even though interest rates have plunged from 14% back then to below 1% today.
So what now?  When you look at the global economy, we don’t see a pretty picture – most economies are experiencing slow growth. Because Canada depends on trading partners for much of its growth, we must wait for other countries to start their turnarounds.

Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi had this to say in an interview in the Financial Post. “I think [consumers] feel a little bit tired,” he said “There has been a lot of debt accumulation and leverage. I don’t think Canadian consumers can lead the way for the economy.”

It’s still going to take some time. The U.S Fed recently decided to hold steady its prime rate, a tacit acknowledgement that its economy still isn’t up to growth expectations.

The Bank of Canada’s Governor Stephen Poloz has been on the talk circuit, spreading words of encouragement.

 “Canada has seen this movie before,” he said in a speech to the Calgary Economic Development, a body funded by the city and private-sector partners. “We’ve adjusted to rising prices; we can adjust to falling ones. These adjustments are never easy. They are often difficult and painful for affected individuals and their families. But they are necessary.”

Eventually, however, policy-makers and the Canadian government will need to find a way to grow the economy by boosting exports, hiking government infrastructure spending or spurring capital investment from businesses in order to give consumers a break.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Don’t get caught up in the headlines

By Dan Pultr
Vice-President, British Columbia, TMG The Mortgage Group

Despite what seems like a focus on statistics that creates fear in the media, Canadians are still making their mortgage payments, while enjoying the cheapest borrowing environment in history.

 Not that long ago, all headlines were focused on the household debt to income ratio, which has proven to be a poor indicator of the financial situation of Canadian households.  That ratio, actually, has decreased recently, but the “number” alone is the focus of headlines.   

More recently, attention has turned to foreign ownership – that this may be causing a housing bubble in certain parts of Canada. However, the data doesn’t support this hypothesis and even the most anecdotal analysis suggests that most of the sales activity by foreign buyers has been in high-end homes (north of $3M) in Vancouver and Toronto.

The reality is in Canada, there is nothing to fear.  Even if all of the headlines were true and the most concerning of assumptions became reality, Canada is not in any way in a similar situation to that of the U.S. pre-financial crisis.  Nor is Canada the same as it was eight years ago.

Let’s look at the facts. Canada is currently enjoying the lowest interest rate environment in history.  It has never been more attractive for homeowners to borrow money.  Five-year fixed rates are around 2.6% to 2.75% and 5-year variable rates are nearing 2%.  Notwithstanding these low rates, lenders focus on providing mortgages to only the most creditworthy applicants with provable income. 

Since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the lending landscape in Canada has drastically changed.  At one time we had  American sub-prime lenders operating here such as Accredited Home Lenders, Wells Fargo, and GE Money, to name a few.  However, capital requirements imposed by the Canadian government made it almost impossible for these small lenders to survive.

The mortgage business was also much more attractive to banks and investments banks and many prime lenders such as Macquarie, First Line, and ING have left the mortgage channel completely. We didn’t see new lenders for a long time, until recently. 

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI)and the Ministry of Finance have changed mortgage lending rules and have increased compliance requirements, which have eliminated most of the riskier lending such as the No Income Qualifier (NIQ). We also once had 40-year amortizations, 100% financing (including on rental properties), refinances to 95% of the value of a home, and stated income loans with very little documentation.

We’ve had five policy changes so far and the introduction of mortgage underwriting scrutiny via B-20 and B-21.  Ask a self-employed borrower trying to get a mortgage and he or she will tell you how more challenging it is today than it was 10 years ago.

 Yes, if you’re credit worthy and have provable income, you will enjoy the lowest rates ever. Often borrowers get annoyed in this new lending era, where the need for paperwork and more paperwork seems daunting. Lenders require more information, more paperwork, and more due diligence -- more everything.

Canada’s delinquency rate is at 0.28% -- its lowest rate since 2007 -- and close to the lowest rate in history.  That means that for every 10,000 mortgages, only 28 of them currently have missed three mortgage payments in a row.  In the U.S, the delinquency rate is 5.77%.  It’s comforting knowing that if the market should take a turn, the housing market would be fine.

So in reality, Canada is actually doing pretty well.  Our government has focused on ensuring the people who get mortgages can afford to pay them. Despite these changes, our mortgage and housing markets are still growing.   This is good news for the future of these markets. 

Make sure to speak with a mortgage broker so  they can help you navigate our current lending environment to ensure you get the best mortgage to meet your unique needs.