FACTS: Housing starts reached 252.2K units in November,
rising 29.5K (13.2%) from the level in October (top chart).
The monthly increase can be explained by a 25.3K (16.9%)
advance for multiple starts in urban areas, which
complemented the smaller rise for singles – the latter grew
4.2K (7.5%) to 60.4K. Rural starts, for their part, edged
slightly down 0.1K (-0.4%) to 16.8K. Starts declined in
British Columbia (-8.5K), Quebec (-5.4K), Saskatchewan (-
1.3K) and New Brunswick (-0.9K) but those were more than
offset by gains in Ontario (+37.9K), Alberta (+4.8K),
Manitoba (+1.5K), Nova Scotia (+1.2K).
OPINION: The last two monthly declines in the Composite index are mostly due to Toronto (top chart), but there are signs that the downward pressure on prices in that city is fading. For instance, its unsmoothed index (see note on methodology next page) fell 0.7% in October after declining 3.7% in August and 2.1% in September (middle chart). Following the introduction last April of a tax on foreigners’ acquisitions, market conditions (as depicted by the active-listings-to-sales ratio) loosened in Toronto. But they went from extremely tight to balanced (active-listings-to-sales close to its long-term average – bottom chart). Furthermore, market conditions have stabilized over the last few months. Balanced and stable market conditions support the view that downward pressure on home prices is fading in that city. Market conditions evolving from tight to balanced is a positive development for affordability. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of Vancouver, where conditions remained tight despite the implementation in August 2016 of a tax on foreigners’ acquisitions. In the latter city, prices of condos (the most affordable category of dwellings) rose more than 17% over the last 12 months.
OPINION: Housing starts were better than consensus expectations in October. Following a drop in September, Canadian residential construction increased and continued to perpetuate a level that is higher than demographic needs (estimated to be around 190K). Starts in the Toronto market dropped over 20% after a 34% drop the prior month. A more normal level of the active listings to sales ratio in that city (a measure of the resale market) helps contextualize decays in residential construction (middle chart).
Affordability worsened for a ninth quarter in a row in Q3, the longest run in three decades. It’s worth noting that the Q3 deterioration – the most acute in 9 quarters – was exacerbated by the impact of higher mortgage rates resulting from Bank of Canada summer rate hikes (top chart). At the national level, more than 70% of the deterioration in affordability was due to higher interest rates; in Toronto, it was 90% (top chart). In Vancouver, affordability fell by the most since 1994 as potential homebuyers were also hit by a surge in home prices. As of Q3, the Toronto and Vancouver markets are now the least affordable since the early 1990’s (middle chart). Given the Bank of Canada’s stated intention to continue the normalization of monetary policy over the coming year, we expect a cumulative increase of about 100 basis points for the 5-year mortgage rates from the trough. Historically, such a change may have had a limited impact on the housing market but this time could be different. Twenty years ago, a 100 basis points increase in mortgage rates would have caused a deterioration of our national affordability measure by 3.5 percentage points. Today, a similar increase has an impact 60% larger given much higher home prices. The Toronto and Vancouver housing markets are particularly more sensitive to rising interest rates compared to other cities (bottom chart). This, combined with more stringent qualifying criteria for uninsured mortgages announced last week by OSFI, means that those markets are poised to experience home price declines in 2018.
OPINION: September’s decline of the national composite HPI is the largest in seven years (top chart), due to the fall of Toronto’s index. The Toronto’s unsmoothed index (see note on methodology next page), has shrunk in each of the last three months, for a cumulative loss of 7.5% (middle chart). Many might worry about the fact that the last time we saw a string of monthly declines of such magnitude was during the last economic recession. They should not. Market conditions on Toronto’s home resale market went from being very tight at the beginning of the year to balanced, as suggested by the active-listings-to-sales ratio which, at 2.5, stood at its average long-term value in September (bottom chart). The ratio is still very far from its peak level of 6.5 experienced during the last economic recession. Moreover, market conditions appear to have stabilized over the last four months. If that is the case, a large part of the price correction to be seen in the Toronto home resale market might be behind us.
OPINION: The slowdown in Toronto home prices that is expected to result from the implementation of the Fair Housing Plan by the Ontario government has yet to be seen. But given the effect of the Plan on home sales and listings (middle chart),it should only be a matter of time. In the meantime, home prices still give the impression of a dichotomy on the Canadian residential market, the Composite index being pulled by Toronto, Hamilton and Victoria (top chart). Furthermore, the seven Golden Horseshoe regions for which price indexes are available (but not incorporated into the Composite index) display home price increases well over 20% on a year-over-year basis (bottom table). But outside Ontario and B.C., home price rises over the last 12 months are modest if not negative,ranging from -0.6% in Quebec City to +3.3% in OttawaGatineau.
Canadian CPI inflation continues to surprise on the downside despite robust GDP growth, low unemployment, surging home prices, and a depreciating currency. What’s helping keep inflation down? Shelter costs! This heavyweight component of the CPI (27% of the index) is currently growing an anemic 2.2% annually compared to a more robust 2.7% for all other services (a two-year high by the way). As today’s Hot Charts show, the price of shelter in Canada is only up a cumulative 5.7% since 2014 compared to 8.2% for all other services (that’s a sizeable difference of 44%). In order to understand the divergence, we dug a little deeper and found that the new home price index (NHPI) for Vancouver that is used in the CPI calculation is essentially unchanged since 2008 for both its house and land components. As a result, the Homeowner’s Replacement Cost component of the CPI (20% of shelter costs) is no higher in British Columbia than it was in… 2005! Note that the NHPI is also used for the calculation of the Mortgage Interest Cost component of the CPI (12% of Shelter costs) which, incidentally, remains stuck at a decade low. We are also baffled by the reported cumulative increase of only 37% for the Toronto NHPI since 2008 (vs. 118% according to resale market data). Also helping keep inflation in check, the Rent component of the CPI (22% of shelter costs) shows rent inflation averaging near a record low of 1% in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Bottom-line: Shelter Cost inflation reported in the Canadian CPI report is eerily low.
OPINION: The strength of 12-month home price growth at the national level is mostly explained by three markets: Toronto, Hamilton and Victoria (top chart). That being said, if we consider markets not currently covered by the Teranet-National Bank home price index, outside Toronto and Hamilton we find many markets in Ontario with double-digit house price inflation. No wonder why the Non-Resident Speculation Tax introduced in April by the Ontario government applies not only to Toronto and Hamilton, but also to the Greater Golden Horseshoe (middle table). The effect of that tax on homes sales and home price growth will be assessed over the next few months. But even if this measure curbs speculation, it should not bring home price growth to a halt due to strong fundamentals such as jobs creation, immigrants from other countries and lately a net flow of migrants from other provinces. Low interest rates also contribute to the housing boom (bottom chart).
OPINION: The strength of 12-month home price growth at the national level is mostly explained by four markets: Toronto, Hamilton, Victoria and Vancouver (top chart). Toronto has garnered media attention in light of the house price surge. While large price gains in that city were isolated earlier to single family homes, that’s not the case anymore ─ condo prices are up a stunning 17% (middle chart). Shut out of the unaffordable single family house market, many buyers are now heading towards apartments, boosting the latter’s prices as a result. Regardless, Toronto’s almost 25% year-on-year house price gains cannot be fully explained by increases in employment and household formation. Outside of Toronto, home prices are also rising in several cities. Indeed, indexes based on the same Teranet-National Bank methodology were calculated for 15 cities not currently covered by the Composite. We found double-digit home price inflation in 10 of them. Together with the metropolitan areas covered by the Composite, it means that 58% of the 26 markets surveyed experienced double-digit home price inflation. This record proportion is very similar to that observed in the United States in 2005 at the peak of the market (bottom chart). That may get government to impose additional measures to put the housing market on a more sustainable footing. The Bank of Canada could also help address the problem by ditching its dovish rhetoric and signal tighter monetary policy ahead to reflect improving economic data but also mounting risks to financial stability.