Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Government, Monetary Policy and Fiscal Policy Reactions to COVID-19

By Mark Kerzner, President TMG The Mortgage Group

There was a second emergency reduction in the Overnight rate of 50 basis points on Friday, March 13 – to ensure market liquidity, and in response to the unprecedented economic impacts of the COVID-19 virus.  Many are anticipating yet another 50-basis points reduction that would bring the overnight rate to 0.25% in the near future.

Rates ultimately received by the end consumer are determined based on discounts or premiums from BANK Prime rates

One of the big questions following the latest emergency Overnight rate reduction by the Bank of Canada last Friday was whether or not Banks would follow suit with their PRIME rates and if so by what amount.

Yesterday afternoon it was confirmed that Prime lending rates are dropping but the price that new consumers will pay for variable based lending products may in fact be staying flat or potentially going up.  Discounts from bank PRIME of up to 1% appear to be vanishing. For existing variable rate and line of credit clients, your rates should be decreasing.

Just to reiterate, existing discounts for variable in-force mortgages are not changing.  Current discounts would related to new, renewing and refinancing mortgage clients who are choosing variable rate products.

After the Global Financial Crisis over a decade ago, variable rate discounts went from P-85 to P+100 almost overnight. One difference is that the ARM was a much more popular product a decade ago as the spread between it and fixed rate was much more pronounced. Today, the vast majority of consumers have been taking fixed mortgages, and are likely going to continue to do so.

Some have been asking questions about how is it now, that with the reduction in PRIME rates, are we seeing increases in mortgage lending rates.  As bond yields fluctuate (in part due to the oscillating markets) and liquidity premiums starting to dramatically increase, the cost of funds and the desired margins earned by lenders increases.

The Government and Regulators are using other fiscal policy stimulants to work to protect the economy as well.

To stabilize funding, the Government of Canada, through CMHC, announced yesterday they were buying $50 billion of insured mortgage pools.

OSFI mandates the rate of the Domestic Stability Buffer – a rate of capital that is set aside to safeguard against shocks in the system. Over the past few years that amount has continually increased.

It was less than a year ago in April 2019, that the Big 6 banks were required to hold risk weighted capital of 2.25% against the backdrop of increasing indebtedness of Canadian households and increasing ‘vulnerabilities’ faced by those lending institutions.

Lowering the capital requirements to 1% increases the ability for banks to lend approximately $300B in freed up capital. This is largely anticipated to support small business loans, helping those firms meet immediate business and payroll obligations.

In the mortgage world one announcement that received attention on March 13th was OSFI suspending consultation on the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages. This means the previously announced changes to the Stress Test were now not coming into force. I can assume that OSFI and the Minister of Finance never likely imagined rates dropping this low and having people qualify at 4% (or lower) when they likely consider 4% to be a more normalized rate to begin with (and not a buffer rate).

For those with mortgages, it’s now very important to speak with a licensed mortgage broker to assess options you may have available to refinance, early renew, extend term, choosing longer term fixed rate products, etc.

For those of you in financial distress who are existing mortgage consumers you have a variety of options available to you. A mortgage professional can help you navigate that landscape with your current lender and potentially with your mortgage insurer as well.  Options may include, payment deferral, loan re-amortization, capitalization of outstanding interest arrears and other eligible expenses and special payment arrangements.

This situation is unprecedented and is requiring swift and significant action.

The Bank of Canada and the Federal and Provincial Governments are setting up defence mechanisms during this unprecedented global pandemic. Ensuring the financial system operates, protecting deposits, ensuring liquidity, and providing a means of support for business continuity are at the forefront.

A mortgage professional has always been best suited to guide you through your personal situation and to provide you with options worthy of consideration. That has never been truer than Today.

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