Canadian October Home Sales Slow a Touch from Record

Latest News Kim Lindsay 16 Nov

Canadian October Home Sales Slipped for the First Time Since April

Today’s release of October housing data by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) shows national home sales fell 0.7% month-over-month (m-o-m) from September’s record high (see chart below). This is the first decline in five months, as market conditions remained tight and prices continued to rise. Competition remains intense in the detached-home market and townhouses, but condo apartment sales have slowed as new listings surge, especially in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

The small change from September to October reflected gains in about half of all local markets offset by declines in the other half. Among the larger markets, activity was up in Montreal, the Fraser Valley, Calgary and Edmonton. By contrast, sales fell back in the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Ottawa and Greater Vancouver.

Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity posted a 32.1% y-o-y gain in October. It was a new record for that month by a margin of more than 14,000 transactions. For the fourth straight month, sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019. Among the few markets that were down on a year-over-year basis, it is possible for the handful that is in Ontario simply do not have the supply at the moment.

This year, some 461,818 homes have traded hands over Canadian MLS® Systems, up 8.6% from the first 10 months of 2019. In fact, it was the second-highest January-October sales figure on record, trailing only 2016. It is possible that 2020 could prove itself to be a record year for housing activity–certainly in opposition to what many thought when the pandemic hit in March. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has caused many households to uproot and change homes based on their altered lifestyle and working situation. Much of this activity would not have happened had the pandemic not struck.

New Listings

The number of newly listed homes climbed 2.9% in October. The overall gain in new supply in October was driven by more new listings in the GTA, B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Ottawa. As with sales activity, actual (not seasonally adjusted), new listings set a new record for October; however, it was by far less of a margin than sales. Meaning market conditions are still very tight in many parts of the country.

The Toronto Real Estate Board reported that the pace of annual sales growth far outstripped growth in new listings in the detached market segment. Conversely, the condominium apartment market segment experienced more than double the new listings than in October 2019, whereas sales were only up by 2.2% over the same period (see chart below).

“Competition between buyers of single-family homes, and particularly detached houses, remained strong last month and continued to support double-digit annual rates of price growth in many GTA neighbourhoods. In contrast, condo buyers have benefitted from much more choice compared to last year. Pre-COVID polling had already pointed to an increase in investor selling in 2020. The pandemic only added to this trend with a stall in economic growth and a halt to tourism impacting cashflows for many investors,” said Lisa Patel, TRREB’s President.

The dearth of tourists has devastated the short-term rental condo market, many of which are listed on Airbnb. And a dramatic decline in immigration hurt the long-term condo rental space. Rents overall have fallen in the GTA, and many investors are trying to sell. As well, many buyers of yet-to-be-delivered new condos are trying to flip their contracts. The federal government initiatives to increase immigration in 2021, if successful, will help remediate this situation. Still, tourism will not open back up until a vaccine is widely distributed around the world. There has been some good news on that front.

With new supply up in October and sales relatively little changed, the national sales-to-new listings ratio eased to 74.3% – still among the highest levels on record for the measure. The long-term average for the national sales-to-new listings ratio is 54.1%.

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

There were just 2.5 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of October 2020 – the lowest reading on record for this measure. At the local market level, some 18 Ontario markets were under one month of inventory at the end of October.

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (MLS® HPI) rose by 1% m-o-m in October 2020. Of the 39 markets now tracked by the index, all but one were up between September and October (see table 1 below).

The non-seasonally adjusted Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI was up 10.9% on a y-o-y basis in October – the biggest gain since July 2017.

The largest y-o-y gains – more than 25% – were recorded in Ontario’s Quinte & District and Woodstock-Ingersoll.

Y-o-y price increases in the 20-25% range were seen in Ottawa, London & St. Thomas, Tillsonburg District and some Ontario cottage country areas.

Y-o-y price gains followed this in the range of 15-20% in Barrie, Hamilton, Niagara, Guelph, Bancroft and Area, Brantford, Cambridge, Huron Perth, Kitchener-Waterloo, North Bay, Peterborough and the Kawarthas, Simcoe & District, Montreal and Greater Moncton.

Prices were up in the 10-15% range compared to last October in the GTA, Oakville-Milton, Mississauga and Northumberland Hills.

Meanwhile, y-o-y price gains were in the 5-10% range in Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan Valley, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Quebec City. Gains were less than 4% in Victoria and elsewhere on Vancouver Island, as well as in St. John’s, and prices were just inside positive territory y-o-y in Calgary and Edmonton.

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average home price set another record in October 2020, coming in at $607,250. This was up 15.2% from the same month last year.

Bottom Line

Housing strength is largely attributable to record-low mortgage rates and pent-up demand by households that have maintained their income level during the pandemic. The hardest-hit households are low-wage earners in the accommodation, food services, and travel sectors. These are the folks that can least afford it and typically are not homeowners. The good news is that the housing market is contributing to the recovery in economic activity.  

Since Pfizer’s announcement that they have a highly effective vaccine in the works, interest rates in the US have edged upward. This has been mitigated in part by the dramatic surge in COVID cases worldwide and tighter restrictions on activity. This morning, Modernal Inc. said its COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5% effective in preliminary analysis of a large late-stage clinical trial, another sign that a fast-paced hunt by scientists and pharmaceutical companies is paying off with potent new tools that could help control a worsening pandemic. This great news has pushed up the US and Canadian bond yields, leading many to suggest that a rise in mortgage rates can’t be far behind. Stock markets are rising sharply, especially in the US, where they are hitting new record highs.

The 5-year Government of Canada bond yield is currently at .45%. It had been as low as .39% recently and .28% over the past year. The good news on the vaccine front may well be overblown given that expanded pandemic restrictions and record cases will dampen economic activity well through the winter months, mitigating the upward pressure on rates. Any mortgage rate increases will be 10 basis points or less, although discounts might start to disappear.

 

Author: Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist – Dominion Lending Centres

Canadian Job Growth Slowed in October

Latest News Kim Lindsay 6 Nov

Canada’s Jobs Recovery Slowed in October With New Pandemic Restrictions

The October Labour Force Survey, released this morning by Stats Canada, showed an employment increase of 83,600–well below the 378,000 gain in September and average monthly gains of 395,000 over the past six months (see chart below). Several provinces tightened public health restrictions last month in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases. These measures were targeted at indoor restaurants and bars, and gyms.

Most of the job gains last month were in full-time work. Among those who worked at least half their usual hours, the number working from home increased by 150,000. Working remotely continues to be an important adaptation to COVID-19 health risks, with 2.4 million Canadians who do not normally work from home doing so in October.

The unemployment rate was little changed at 8.9% in October but remained well-below the May peak of 13.7%. In addition to the unemployed, 540,000 Canadians wanted to work in October but did not search for a job, down 39,000 from September and continuing a downward trend from a peak of 1.5 million in April. If people in this group were included as unemployed, the adjusted unemployment rate in October would be 11.3%.

Long-term joblessness—defined as unemployed and looking for work or temporary layoff for 27 weeks or more— increased again in October. Not surprisingly, more than half (53.3%) of the long-term unemployed were living in a household reporting difficulty meeting necessary expenses. As of October, the long-term unemployed totalled 448,000, or one-quarter of all unemployed people. September and October increases in long-term unemployment are by far the sharpest recorded since comparable data became available in 1976.

Job Gains Slow in Central Canada

Employment increased in the wholesale and retail trade industries in Ontario, two sectors largely unaffected by new COVID-19 restrictions. After five months of gains totalling 154,000, employment in Ontario’s accommodation and food services was virtually unchanged in the month and remained 15.7% below its pre-COVID February level. Employment declined in transportation and warehousing.

Following five consecutive months of gains, employment was little changed in Quebec in October, and the unemployment rate edged up 0.3 percentage points to 7.7%. Employment gains spread across several services-producing industries were partly offset by a drop of 42,000 in the accommodation and food services industry. The public health alert level in Montréal and Québec City was raised to “red” on October 1, which led to the closure of indoor restaurants and many cultural facilities. Travel between regions in the province was also discouraged. Over the subsequent two weeks, several other Quebec regions went to red alert, and additional measures were introduced.

Employment Grows in Alberta and BC

In British Columbia, employment grew by 34,000 (+1.4%) in October, adding to gains over the previous five months (+302,000). The unemployment rate fell for the fifth consecutive month, down 0.4 percentage points to 8.0% in October. In Vancouver, employment increased by 52,000 (+3.8%) and was within 4.3% of its pre-COVID level.

In Alberta, employment rose by 23,000 (+1.1%), the fifth increase in six months. Following large employment losses earlier this year, Calgary has posted four consecutive employment gains since summer, totalling 101,000 (+13.6%). Recent employment increases in Edmonton have been more modest, up 60,000 (+9.0%) since summer.

October employment gains in Alberta were spread across several industries, including healthcare and social assistance, transportation and warehousing, and wholesale and retail trade. Employment in natural resources edged up in the month but was down 5.2% on a year-over-year basis.

EMPLOYMENT INCREASES IN NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR AND PEI

In Newfoundland and Labrador, employment grew (+5,900) in October, while the unemployment rate fell 2.0 percentage points to 12.8%. Employment was also up in Prince Edward Island (+900), while the unemployment rate was virtually unchanged at 10.0%.

Hard-Hit Sectors of the Economy

The accommodation and food services industry was most directly affected by the recent tightening of public health measures—and, for the first time since April, employment declined in this industry in October. Employment in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors was farther from pre-COVID levels than any other sector in August. The next few months will shed light on the impact of public health restrictions on employment in this sector, which, like the accommodation and food services industry, has strong ties to travel and tourism.

With restrictions on travel and gathering still in place, the continuing impact of COVID-19 has been much more significant for the transportation of people than of goods. For example, the August Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours found that payroll employment in transit and ground passenger transportation was down by 17.8% from February to August, while payroll employment in truck transportation—primarily for goods—was down 7.9% for the same period. Similarly, in August, major Canadian airlines carried 86.8% fewer passengers than 12 months earlier, and Canadian railways carried 14.7% less freight.

In construction, employment was little changed for the third consecutive month in October, following increases totalling 190,000 (+16.2%) from April to July. Employment in construction was 7.5% (-112,000) below its February level in October. Recent data on housing starts showed a decline of 5.0% from September 2019 to September 2020, following two months of strong year-over-year increases.

Employment Growth Resumed in Retail Trade

Following a pause in September, employment growth resumed in retail trade, rising by 31,000 (+1.4%) in October, with most of the increase in Ontario. From February to April, employment declined by over one-fifth (-22.9%; -517,000) due to retail businesses’ closures during the first wave of COVID-19. In October, public health measures associated with the second wave did not include retail businesses’ requirements to close. Employment in this industry was 5.1% (-115,000) below its pre-COVID level and down by 2.4% (-54,000) compared with October 2019.

The Winners

Employment exceeded pre-COVID levels in three industries in October—wholesale trade; professional, scientific and technical services; and educational services.

In wholesale trade, employment increased by 15,000 (+2.3%) in October, driven by Alberta increases. Employment in this industry was 5.6% (+35,000) above its February level. The wholesale trade release’s latest results show that sales increased for the fourth consecutive month in August and were 1.7% above pre-COVID-19 levels.

Employment rose for the fourth consecutive month in professional, scientific and technical services, up 42,000 (+2.7%) in October and led by Ontario (+23,000). With this gain, this industry’s employment was 3.3% (+51,000) higher than its pre-COVID level. Job security among employees in this industry includes computer systems design and related services; architecture, engineering and related services; and legal services tend to be higher than in other industries.

Employment was little changed in educational services in October but exceeded its February level by 2.8% (+39,000). Compared with October 2019, employment in this industry increased by 32,000, in part a reflection of some jurisdictions increasing staffing levels to support classroom adaptations brought on by COVID-19.

Compared with other industries, a relatively high share of workers in educational services (25.8% in 2019) is temporary employees, reflecting the relatively high prevalence of teaching staff hired on a contract basis. While the number of temporary employees decreased markedly following the initial COVID-19 economic shutdown, it had rebounded in October (little changed on a year-over-year basis, not seasonally adjusted), helping to boost overall employment in the industry. Permanent employees in educational services also contributed to the recovery of this industry on a year-over-year basis. In October, the number of permanent employees was up 5.6% compared with 12 months earlier (not seasonally adjusted).

Bottom Line 

The economic recovery remains dependent on the evolution of the pandemic. It is likely that extensive lockdown measures, such as the widespread closures imposed early in the pandemic, will not be reintroduced. However, more localized and moderate containment measures will ebb and flow. The Bank of Canada suggests that vaccines and effective treatments will be widely available by mid-2022, at which time the direct effects of the pandemic on economic activity will have ended. However, households’ precautionary behaviour and the effects of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 are likely to linger.

The pandemic is also likely to have persistent effects on the preferences and behaviours of consumers and businesses. This could lead to lasting changes to the economy’s structure and could weigh on its potential output. The sizes and timing of such effects are difficult to estimate precisely. Given these considerations, the outlook for Canadian and global economic activity remains unusually uncertain.

The most recent COVID Consumer Spending Tracker, produced by the RBC economics group, that second wave worries have shifted more spending online. Household, clothing, and retail spending held steady, while travel spending continued to decline. Spending on dining out edged downward last month as cooler whether rendered outdoor dining less appealing. Entertainment expenditures ticked downward as well.

The regional real estate boards in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal recently released their October housing reports showing continued sales activity and upward price prices except in the condo space, particularly smaller condos that were bought on spec for the rental market. With the nosedive in tourism, the short-term rental market has collapsed. Many of these former Airbnb properties are either for sale or have moved into the long-term rental space, driving down prices. The dearth of immigration this year has also exacerbated the decline in rent. Condo listings are rising faster than sales in many regions. In contrast, lower rise properties remain in very tight supply, and prices continue to rise. We will provide more details on housing trends with the release of the CREA data late next week.

Author: Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist for Dominion Lending Centres

Bank of Canada Holds Overnight Rate at 0.25% and Recalibrates Bond-Buying Program

Latest News Kim Lindsay 4 Nov

 Bank of Canada Recalibrates Quantitative Easing

As expected, the Bank held its target overnight rate at the effective lower bound of 25 basis points with the clear notion that negative policy rates are not in the cards. Instead, the central bank will continue to rely on large-scale asset purchases–quantitative easing (QE). The central bank is recalibrating its QE program as promised in recent weeks. In mid-October, it announced that it would end its Repo, Bankers Acceptance and Canada Mortgage Bond purchases this month, as they are no longer needed to assure liquidity in those markets. The volumes of purchases have declined sharply since April. This move will have minimal impact on market interest rates.

The Governing Council announced today it would also gradually reduce purchases of federal government bonds from at least $5 billion to at least $4 billion per week. “The Governing Council judges that, with these combined adjustments, the QE program is providing at least as much monetary stimulus as before.”

The PC opposition party has been warning Governor Macklem of the risks of financing Trudeau’s government spending. But the Bank has little alternative but to step-up its buying of newly issued benchmark bonds–those currently being sold by the government, as opposed to older debt that is becoming increasingly illiquid. As reported in Bloomberg News, “It means the bank’s quantitative easing program will increasingly mirror government debt sales at a time when opposition lawmakers are warning it against directly financing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fiscal agenda.” (See chart below). The Bank already owns more than a third of all outstanding Government of Canada debt, proportionately more than most central banks because Canada ran budget surpluses, which paid down debt for so long.

Virtually every major central bank in the world is conducting an emergency QE program in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Bank of Canada says its QE program reinforces its commitment to hold interest rates at historic lows over the next few years until the annual inflation rate is sustainably at its target 2% level. Today’s October Monetary Policy Report indicates they will likely keep the overnight rate at 0.25% until 2023.

The central bank has no intention of paring back stimulus, with risks to the economy growing amid the second wave of COVID-19 cases. “As the economy recuperates, it will continue to require extraordinary monetary policy support,” the bank said. “We are committed to providing the monetary policy stimulus needed to support the recovery and achieve the inflation objective.”

October Monetary Policy Report

  • Following the sharp bounce back in growth that occurred when containment measures were lifted, and the economy reopened, the Canadian economy transitioned to a slower, more protracted recuperation phase of its recovery. The recovery phases are proceeding largely as described in the July Report, though the initial rebound was stronger than expected. Furthermore, the near-term slowing in the recuperation phase is likely to be more pronounced due to the recent increase of COVID-19 infections.
  • There is ongoing and significant slack in the Canadian economy. The gap between the actual output and the economy’s potential output is not expected to close until 2023. The economy is progressing unevenly, with some sectors and workers disproportionately affected by the virus–particularly those in accommodation, food, arts, entertainment and recreation, as well as global transportation. Many of those hardest-hit are low-income workers.
  • Oil prices remain below pre-pandemic levels and are assumed to remain around current levels, hitting Alberta hard.
  • Ongoing slack in the economy is expected to continue to hold inflation down into 2023.

The Bank of Canada’s forecast for Canadian growth is shown in the table below. The economic recovery is projected to be prolonged, underpinned by policy support but largely influenced by the evolution of the virus, ongoing uncertainty and structural changes to the economy. These changes could result in longer-term shifts of workers and capital across different regions and sectors of the economy. This adjustment process weighs on the Bank’s estimates of potential growth.

After declining by about 5 1/2 percent in 2020, the economy is expected to expand by almost 4 percent on average in 2021 and 2022. Two factors will likely lead to quarterly patterns of growth that are unusually choppy: localized outbreaks and containment measures and varied recovery rates across industries.

Inflation is expected to remain below the lower end of the Bank’s inflation-control target range of 1 to 3 percent until early 2021, largely due to the effects of low energy prices. Subsequently, inflation is anticipated to be within the target range, but economic slack will continue to put downward pressure on inflation throughout the projection period.

The Reopening Phase Was Strong But Uneven

Growth is estimated to have rebounded strongly in the third quarter, reversing about two-thirds of the decline observed in the first half of the year.  A sizable bounce back in activity resulted from a rebound in foreign demand, the release of pent-up demand for housing and some durable goods, and robust policy support.

Housing activity recovered sharply in the third quarter, supported by historically low financing costs, resilient incomes for higher-earning households, and extra sales and construction that made up for delayed spring activity (Chart 7). By September, cumulative resales are estimated to have compensated for the missed activity during the normally busy spring market. Housing activity may also be benefiting from changes in preferences. In particular, more than one-quarter of respondents to the Canadian Survey of Consumer Expectations in the third quarter of 2020 reported they would like to move to a larger or single-family home because of the pandemic. The strength of the housing market recovery, combined with a tight resale market, has led to the rapid growth of house prices in some markets. In contrast to the appreciation of house values observed in Toronto and Vancouver in 2016, price growth has been strongest in markets with moderate loan-to-income ratios, such as Ottawa, Montréal and Halifax.

Bottom Line

Interest rates will remain low for the foreseeable future. The pandemic will largely determine the growth of the economy and the government’s response. Experts suggest that this second wave will last for much of the winter and that a widely dispersed vaccine will not be available until at least well into 2021. As tough as that is to take, Canada is still doing a better job of containing the virus than the US, UK and the Euro area. Output is likely to remain below pre-pandemic levels everywhere through the end of 2022, the Bank of Canada’s forecast horizon.

Author:  Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres