Canadian Q2 GDP Growth Plunge-Rebounds Since April

Latest News Kim Lindsay 28 Aug

Canadian Economy Took a Record Nosedive in Q2

Canadian real GDP plunged 11.5% in the second quarter, or -38.7% at an annualized rate, the worst quarterly decline on record (see chart below). This followed an 8.2% plunge in Q1. The worst of the contraction occurred early in the quarter as the lockdown in March and April wreaked havoc on activity. Since then, the economy has shown surprisingly strong signs of recovery.

StatsCan revealed today that GDP rose 6.5% in June following the 4.8% rise in May and an estimated 3.0% growth in July. Even so, Canada’s recovery is expected to be bumpy and long. No doubt, not all businesses and sectors will expand in sync, and not all jobs will be recovered.

One of the brightest spots in the recovery has been housing, where activity surged in July, reflective of record-low mortgage rates and pent-up demand. Apparently, many homebound Canadians are reassessing their housing needs. Demand for increased space, especially in the suburbs or exurbs, has been robust.

Virtually every sector of the economy was battered in Q2. Household spending dived 43% while business investment collapsed at a 57% annual rate. Virus containment weighed on both, with a fall in oil prices exacerbating the decline in oil & gas investment. Net exports were the only sector that added to economic activity, but only because imports fell more than exports as housebound consumers and shuttered businesses had little need for imported products.

On a year-over-year basis, the monthly rise in June and July will leave GDP down a much milder 5%, but still worse than the -4.7% drop during the financial crisis. The surge in June–itself a record bounce–reflects the gradual re-opening of the economy, with retail, wholesale and manufacturing leading the way. Retail trade jumped 22.3% in June, surpassing its pre-pandemic level of activity. Motor vehicle dealers contributed most to growth.

Following a 17.3% jump in May, the construction sector rose 9.4% in June as a continued easing of emergency restrictions across the country contributed to the return to nearly normal levels of activity at construction sites. Residential construction grew 7.1% as increases in multi-unit dwellings construction and home alterations and improvements more than offset lower single-unit construction. Non-residential construction rose 11.0%, surpassing the pre-pandemic level of activity, as all three components were up.

Real estate and rental and leasing grew 2.5% in June. Activity at the offices of real estate agents and brokers jumped 65.2% in the month, following a 56.4% increase in May, as home resale activity in all major urban centres saw double-digit increases. The output of real estate agents and brokers was about 7% below February’s pre-pandemic level, but other data show it was up sharply in July, hitting new record highs.

GOVERNMENT PROVIDED A MUCH-NEEDED CUSHION 

Household disposable income surged last quarter despite the pandemic thanks to government income support (see chart below). The rise in income, coupled with the massive decline in consumer spending as well as the deferral of mortgage payments for many triggered a surge in the savings rate. The household saving rate jumped to 28.2% from 7.6% in the prior quarter. Savings rates, of course, are generally higher for higher income brackets.

BOTTOM LINE

The plunge in economic activity in the second quarter–though awful–was not as deep as the Bank of Canada expected (-43%) in its most recent Monetary Policy Report. As well, the rebound since the end of April has been stronger than expected, especially in the housing sector. To be sure, labour market conditions are still very soft with the jobless rate at 10.9% in July, but the new programs announced last week by the federal government to replace CERB will help ease the transition for people still looking for work.

A possible resurgence in the virus remains a risk unless an effective vaccine can be distributed. The economy will operate below capacity into the next year, but perhaps not as drastically below capacity as previously feared.

 

Author: Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist – Dominion Lending Centres
Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.

 

Record-Setting Canadian Housing Market in July

Latest News Kim Lindsay 17 Aug

Today’s release of July housing data by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) showed a blockbuster July with both sales and new listings hitting their highest levels in 40 years of data. This continues the rebound in housing that began three months ago.

National home sales rose 26% month-over-month (m-o-m) in July, which translates to a 30.5% gain from a year ago (see chart below). July’s sales activity was the strongest for any month in history. According to Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Senior Economist,  “A big part of what we’re seeing right now is the snapback in activity that would have otherwise happened earlier this year. Recall that before the lockdowns, we were heading into the tightest spring market in almost 20 years. Things may have gone quiet for a few months, but ultimately the market we’re seeing right now is mostly the same one we were heading into back in March. That said, there are some new factors at play as well. There are listings that will come to the market because of COVID-19, but many properties are also not being listed right now due to the virus, as evidenced by inventories that are currently at a 16-year low. Some purchases will no doubt be delayed, but the new-found importance of home, lack of a daily commute for many, a desire for more outdoor and personal space, room for a home office, etc. will certainly also spur activity that otherwise would not have happened in a non-COVID-19 world.”

For the third month in a row, transactions were up on a month-over-month basis across the country. Among Canada’s largest markets, sales rose by 49.5% in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 43.9% in Greater Vancouver, 39.1% in Montreal, 36.6% in the Fraser Valley, 31.8% in Hamilton-Burlington, 28.7% in Ottawa, 16.9% in London and St. Thomas, 15.7% in Calgary, 12.1% in Winnipeg, 9.7% in Edmonton and 5.4% in Quebec City.

New Listings

The number of newly listed homes climbed by another 7.6% in July compared to June, to a level of 71,879–the highest level for any July in history. New supply was only up in about 60% of local markets, as the rebound in supply appears to be tapering off in many parts of the country. The national increase in July was dominated by gains in the GTA. More supply is expected to come on the market in future months, particularly once a vaccine is widely available.

With the ongoing rebound in sales activity now far outpacing the recovery in new supply, the national sales-to-new listings ratio tightened to 73.9% in July compared to 63.1% posted in June. It was one of the highest levels on record for this measure, behind just a few months back in late 2001 and early 2002.

Based on a comparison of sales-to-new listings ratios with long-term averages, only about a third of all local markets were in balanced market territory, measured as being within one standard deviation of their long-term average, in July 2020. The other two-thirds of markets were all above long-term norms, in many cases well above.

The number of months of inventory is another important measure of the balance between sales and the supply of listings. It represents how long it would take to liquidate current inventories at the current rate of sales activity.

Housing markets are very tight, especially in Ontario, as demand has far outpaced supply. There were just 2.8 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of July 2020 – the lowest reading on record for this measure. At the local market level, a number of Ontario markets shifted from months of inventory to weeks of inventory in July.

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) jumped by 2.3% m-o-m in July 2020 – the second largest increase on record (after March 2017) going back 15 years. (see Table below). Of the 20 markets currently tracked by the index, they all posted m-o-m increases in July.The biggest m-o-m gains, in the range of 3%, were recorded in the GTA outside of the city of Toronto, Guelph, Ottawa and Montreal; although, generally speaking, most markets east of Saskatchewan are seeing prices accelerate in line with strong sales numbers. Price gains were more modestly positive in B.C. and Alberta.

The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 7.4% on a y-o-y basis in July the biggest gain since late 2017.

The MLS® HPI provides the best way to gauge price trends because averages are strongly distorted by changes in the mix of sales activity from one month to the next.

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in July 2020 was a record $571,500, up 14.3% from the same month last year.

The national average price is heavily influenced by sales in the Greater Vancouver and the GTA, two of Canada’s most active and expensive housing markets. Excluding these two markets from calculations cuts around $117,000 from the national average price. The extent to which sales continue to fluctuate in these two markets relative to others could have further compositional effects on the national average price, both up and down.

Bottom Line

CMHC has recently forecast that national average sales prices will fall 9%-to-18% in 2020 and not return to yearend-2019 levels until as late as 2022. I continue to believe that this forecast is overly pessimistic. Here we are in the second half of 2020, and the national average sales price has risen 14.3% year-over-year.

The good news is that the housing market is contributing to the recovery in economic activity. While the course of the virus is uncertain, Canada’s government has handled the COVID-19 situation very well from both a public health and a fiscal and monetary perspective. The future course of the economy here will depend on the virus. While no one knows what that will be, suffice it to say that Canada’s economy is en route to a full recovery, but it may well be a long and bumpy one.

 

Author: Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.

 

COVID Supercharges Canadian Housing Market, Yet CMHC Still Gloomy

Latest News Kim Lindsay 12 Aug

Pandemic Triggers Red-Hot Summer Housing Market

We will get the full story on July housing in Canada when the Canadian Real Estate Association releases its July data in the next few days, but local real estate boards have reported a robust July market. Even in Calgary, year-over-year sales have jumped by double digits. Sales in Montreal were up more than 45% y-o-y, while Ottawa and the GTA were also very strong. Out west, Vancouver and other hot spots in BC saw the results of pent up activity, from both homebuyers and sellers, that had been accumulating over the past year.

Remember, had it not been for the pandemic, a record spring sales season was in the cards. The lockdown postponed that strength, with sales jumping sharply in May, June and July. Supply continues to remain limited relative to demand, and the Bank of Canada is looking towards housing as a leading sector in the recovery.

Record-low interest rates have boosted affordability everywhere. The Bank of Canada has made it clear that interest rates will remain low for an extended period. Mortgage rates have fallen, as have interest rates on home equity lines of credit. Even five of the Big Six banks have cut their advertised 5-year fixed mortgage rates (posted rates) by about 15 basis points to 4.79%.

These rates have been very sticky on the downside, as banks are reluctant to cut posted rates, which are is used to calculate the penalty for breaking a mortgage. Indeed, the gap between the posted rate and the 5-year government of Canada bond yield is historically wide. So is the gap between posted rates and actual contract mortgage rates at the very same banks.

The Bank of Canada posted rate is the qualifying rate for the mortgage stress test for insured and uninsured mortgages at the federally-regulated lenders–the so-called B-20 rule. That qualifying rate is set to fall from its current level of 4.94% to 4.79% later today when the central bank is due to update its figure. 

Last February, following months of pressure from the real estate industry, the Department of Finance and the federal banking regulator announced they would rejig the “floor” of stress tests that borrowers must pass to qualify for insured and uninsured home loans. Then came COVID-19, and a sweeping government rescue that included regulatory relief for lenders. As part of the response, the change to the stress test, which was planned for April, was suspended indefinitely.

Last month, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions announced it would “gradually restart” policy work in the fall. Still, it made no mention of resuming consultations on the change to its stress test for uninsured mortgages, a vital component of the regulator’s B-20 guideline. If the new rules had been implemented, it is estimated that the qualifying rate floor would be roughly 4.09% rather than the new rate of 4.79%.

Several factors, in addition to low interest rates, have contributed to the housing market surge. Having spent so many months working from home, many people are looking for more space. With a significant number of businesses announcing that telecommuting will be the new normal, at least most of the time, buyers are moving to more remote suburban locations where their dollars buy more space. This has been reflected in the slowdown in the condo market. This is not just a Canadian phenomenon but is evident in the US and parts of Europe as well.

Despite the surprising strength in homebuying during COVID, CMHC continues to blast warnings.

CMHC Wants To Expose The “Dark Economic Underbelly”

Yesterday, Evan Siddall, the CEO at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp, published an August 10 letter to the financial industry imploring lenders to “reconsider” offering mortgages to highly leveraged households, saying excessive borrowing will worsen the pain of the coming economic adjustment. Evan Siddall said the Crown corporation had lost market share due to restrictions it imposed on high-risk borrowers earlier this summer. Private mortgage insurers have picked up that business, weakening CMHC’s position and threatening the agency’s ability to protect the mortgage market in the event of a crisis, he said.

CMHC continues to project that house prices will fall later this year, and next, “once government income supports unwind, bankruptcies increase and unemployment starts to bite.” A highlighted sentence in the letter says, “We don’t think our national mortgage insurance regime should be used to help people buy homes with negative equity. But by offering 95 percent loan-to-value mortgages subject to a 4 percent capitalized insurance fee in the midst of an economic calamity, that’s what insurance providers are doing.” Siddall, who steps down from his position at the end of the year, goes on to say that we risk exposing too many people to foreclosure. 

CMHC announced in June it would narrow eligibility criteria to require higher credit scores and lower debt burdens to qualify for a mortgage. The move, which took effect on July 1, was intended to protect new home buyers from falling prices and reduce taxpayer risk to any market correction.

We have sustained a reduction in our market share to promote a more competitive marketplace for your benefit,” Siddall said in the letter. “However, we are approaching a level of minimum market share that we require to be able to protect the mortgage market in times of crisis. We require your support to prevent further erosion of our market presence.”

CMHC’s private-sector competitors, Genworth MI Canada Inc. and Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Co., opted not to follow along with the rule changes and have increased their market share, as a result, said Siddall.

Siddall concluded with two requests for lenders: “We would hope you would reconsider highly leveraged household lending. Please put our country’s long-term outlook ahead of short-term profitability. Second, please don’t aggravate the impact by undermining CMHC’s market presence unnecessarily.”

CMHC’s ability to respond effectively in a crisis will be weakened if its market share deteriorates significantly further, he said. “If you want us in wartime, please support us in peacetime.”

 

Author: Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lendinig Centres
Sherry is an award-winning authority on finance and economics with over 30 years of bringing economic insights and clarity to Canadians.