OPINION: For those living in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto and Hamilton, the housing boom continues. Quite a contrast with the seven other metropolitan areas covered by the Index, where prices have on average declined on a y/y basis over the last ten months (top chart). Within the group of four hot housing markets, Vancouver is in a league of its own, with a y/y price gain of almost 20%. It must be said that the resale market in that metropolitan area is very tight judging from active listings and sales published by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (middle chart). While some will keep blaming foreign capital for the housing boom in Vancouver and Toronto, it’s worth noting those cities are also blessed with the strongest labour markets in the country and hence are able to accommodate large migration flows (bottom chart – left panel). Especially in Vancouver, existing home sales are at a historically high level while supply is at a trough. Fortunately, real estate promoters and homebuilders are aware of that situation. Consequently, housing starts in Vancouver since the beginning of the year were almost 50% above the highest levels of the previous 15 years (bottom chart – right panel). This reaction in new housing construction should sooner or later help alleviate the price pressure on Vancouver’s housing market.
OPINION: In Vancouver, after seven large monthly house price increases in a row, prices were virtually flat in September (top chart). This is consistent with the recent loosening in the home resale market, as sales dropped each month since their record level last February for a cumulative decline of 44% (middle chart). Prices in Vancouver have not fell so far because market conditions have just started to loosen from the tightest conditions on records. We see home price deflation starting soon (10% expected over twelve months). Toronto is now the red hot market. Home sales broke records in each of the last three months. But the historically low supply (in terms of the number of homes listed for sale) is also contributing to market conditions that are the tightest on records (bottom chart). With such a combination of high demand and low supply, monthly house price growth surged to 2.9% on average over the last four months. While the latest measure (maximum debt-service-to-income ratio for insured 5-year fixed-rate mortgage tested against posted mortgage rate) might reduce demand, the low supply still argues against a significant price decline in the Queen City.
OPINION: The last monthly increase in the composite index, the largest for a month of February since the recession, is totally due to the price jump in Vancouver. Without Vancouver, the index would have been about flat. The 12-month two-digit price gain in Vancouver is consistent with data reported by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, suggesting record sales last February together with historically low active listings (middle chart). Also, the Toronto Real Estate Board reported record existing home sales for a month of February. The high level of sales in both cities might be explained in part by the fact that the new measure requiring at least 10% down payment on the portion of the purchase price between $500,000 and $1 million applies to new mortgage applications received on February 15 or later. It is not binding for mortgage applications received between the announcement on December 11 and February 15 that do not conform to the measure, inasmuch as the mortgage is in place by July 1, 2016. So sales in these expensive cities can be stimulated over the coming months as well. In other areas, prices have overall declined lately (bottom chart), in particular in Calgary, where home price deflation has been the sharpest over the last twelve months.
Changes in housing affordability from Q4 2014 to Q4 2015 show significant divergence among markets. Affordability deteriorated in Vancouver, Toronto, Victoria, and Hamilton and improved in the other six markets. The sharpest deterioration from a year earlier was in Vancouver, where the MPPI rose 3.4 percentage points, with home prices up 11.9% from a year earlier and median income up only 2.6%.
OPINION: The report confirms that housing markets in oil-dependent regions are reacting to the economic downturn resulting from the collapse of oil prices. In particular, prices declined for a fourth month in a row in Calgary, for a cumulative drop of 4.4%. Among the metropolitan areas covered, only Ottawa-Gatineau has a similar bad sequence with five consecutive declines totaling 4.7%. Compared to Calgary, the labour market has suffered less in Edmonton, and house prices there have declined more moderately, that is, 1.7% over the last three months. The Composite index has nevertheless grown 5.9% over the last twelve months, but only four of the 11 regions covered (Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver, Victoria) explain that performance, prices having barely increased or even declined in the other regions (middle chart). With population and job growth in these markets continuing to exceed the national average for the foreseeable future, a major price correction is unlikely in these markets.
Slim Pickings Despite Recent Sell-Off: This time last year, we acknowledged that the outlook for the Canadian housing market had changed dramatically on the back of a 50% decline in oil prices from their 2014 peak. We highlighted the adverse implications for the Alberta market in particular. Over the past 12 months oil prices have slid by another 35%, compounding the deterioration in the economic outlook. We have seen fit to make further downward adjustments to the outlooks for the mortgage finance companies in our coverage universe.
OPINION: For Canada as a whole, 2015 saw the largest house price increase in four years (top chart), but only four regional markets were the drivers of that performance. At the other end of the spectrum, the collapse in oil prices has translated into house price deflation in Calgary and Edmonton, with the remaining five markets showing little price growth if not declines (middle chart). Even in Vancouver and Toronto, there was a dichotomy in the market, with condos prices up roughly 6% in 2015, while prices for other types of dwellings surged 15.8% in Vancouver and 10.9% in Toronto (bottom chart). Some believe that the story in Vancouver and Toronto is all about speculation and demand from foreigners, and nothing is fundamental. Data tell a different story. Indeed, fundamentals are playing a role, judging from job growth over the last 12 months of no less than 4.9% in Toronto and 4.0% in Vancouver. Looking ahead, deteriorating economic conditions in Canada should translate in softer job creation in the hot markets, while weak resale markets should persist elsewhere. Under these circumstances, we expect a significant deceleration in the national house price index growth rate in 2016.