Qualifying Rate is Going Down
Qualifying Rate is Going Down
My previous post was an article on how the pandemic has affected the jobs market and has frozen the Canadian economy during this Covid-19 lockdown. Data recently released from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) showed national home sales fell to a record 56.8%, showing that the housing sector is no exception. Among Canada’s largest markets, sales fell by 66.2% in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 64.4% in Montreal, 57.9% in Greater Vancouver, 54.8% in the Fraser Valley, 53.1% in Calgary, 46.6% in Edmonton, 42% in Winnipeg, 59.8% in Hamilton-Burlington and 51.5% in Ottawa.
The residential real estate industry is not standing still, however. Technological innovation is creating new ways of buying and selling homes. According to Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Chief Economist, “Preliminary data for May suggests things may have already started to pick up a bit for both sales and new listings, in line with evidence that realtors and their clients have adopted new and existing virtual technology tools. These tools have allowed quite a bit of essential business to safely continue, and will likely remain key for some time.”
I have heard agents discussing software that virtually “stages” properties, allowing potential buyers to see the possibilities of existing and renovated floor plans and options in decor and design. The software replaces the need for expensive “physical” staging and can be far more creative. Where there is challenge, there is opportunity, and the people that create and adopt these innovative virtual solutions could be big winners.
Keeping the lid on price pressures, the number of newly listed homes across Canada declined by 55.7% m-o-m in April. The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index declined by only 0.6% last month, the first decline since last May. While some downward pressure on prices is not surprising, the comparatively small change underscores the extent to which the bigger picture is that both buying and selling is currently on pause.
Mortgage Qualifying Rate Set To Drop
The mortgage qualifying rate, the so-called Big Bank posted rate, has been above 5% since the OSFI stress test began on January 1, 2018. Despite dramatic declines in the government of Canada bond yield, which currently hovers at a mere 0.388%, and a huge fall in contract mortgage rates, the banks have kept their posted rates elevated. The minimum stress test rate began in 2018 at 5.34%, then finally fell to 5.19% and more recently to 5.04%–all still at a historically wide margin above market-determined rates.
In the past week, RBC and BMO have cut their 5-year posted rates slightly further to 4.94%. If no other banks follow, the Bank of Canada’s OSFI stress test rate will fall to 4.99%. If at least one other bank goes to 4.94%, the qualifying rate will drop to 4.94%. Every little bit helps.
Highlights of the Bank of Canada’s Financial System Review
With the first news of the COVID-19 pandemic threat, the BoC report said that “uncertainty about just how bad things could get created shock waves in financial markets, leading to a widespread flight to cash and difficulty selling assets. Policy actions are working to:
The Bank of Canada’s actions have put a floor under the economy. These along with the federal government spending initiatives and the mortgage deferral program have cushioned the blow to households and businesses. Governor Poloz said, “our goal in the short-term is to help Canadian households and businesses bridge the crisis period. Our longer-term goal is to provide a strong foundation for a recovery in jobs and growth.”
With the economic outlook remaining highly uncertain, the BoC erred on the side of caution in projecting mortgage arrears and non-performing business loans based on the more severe economic scenario it laid out in the April Monetary Policy Report. The pessimistic reading would be that even with policymakers’ extraordinary actions, that scenario would see mortgage and business loan delinquencies eclipse previous peaks. A more optimistic reading would be that policy support has prevented a significantly worse outcome, and a resilient financial system will be able to absorb losses and leave the foundation in place for an eventual economic recovery. And, as Governor Poloz mentioned, a better economic scenario is still within reach as many provinces are beginning to gradually re-open their economies.
The projections in today’s FSR are based on a scenario in which Canadian GDP is 30% lower in Q2 and recovers slowly thereafter. In that scenario, mortgage arrears are projected to increase to 0.8% by mid-2021 from 0.25% at the end of 2019–nearly double the peak in arrears seen in 2009. Meanwhile, non-performing business loans are forecast to rise to 6.4% at the end of this year from 1% at the end of last year, significantly higher than past peaks of less than 5% in 2003 and 2010.
The upshot is that while we might see a significant increase in mortgage arrears and troubled loans over the next two years in this pessimistic economic scenario, these outcomes would have been much worse without the extraordinary programs that have been put in place to support businesses and households. That has important implications for the banking sector. The BoC’s analysis suggests that, with these policy measures, large bank’s existing capital buffers should be sufficient to absorb losses. Without those interventions, “banks would be faring much worse, with important negative effects on the availability of credit to households and businesses.”
Of course, the pandemic shutdown has strained the financial wherewithal of many households and businesses. That was deemed the price we must pay to mitigate the severe health threat and contain its spread. The BoC report acknowledges the economic fallout of the necessary measures and promises to take additional actions to assure the economy returns to its full potential growth path as soon as feasibly possible. Cushioning the blow for those most in need.
Nevertheless, there are businesses that will close permanently and others that will scoop up declining competitors. Some will benefit from the new opportunities created by social distancing, enhanced sanitation, remote activity, new forms of entertainment and advances in healthcare. Others will no doubt die, although many of these companies were at death’s door before the pandemic emerged. Creative destruction is always painful for the losers, but it opens the way for many new winners and those existing businesses and individuals that are creative enough to adapt quickly to the changing environment.
Reported by Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
A Recession Like No Other
The Canadian economy has been put in a medically induced coma. Never before in modern history have we seen a forced shutdown in the global economy so, not surprisingly, the incoming data for April is terrible. There is a good chance, however, that April will mark the bottom in economic activity as regions begin to ease restrictions.
The economy will revive, but the psychological shock is perhaps the most unnerving. Rest assured, however that, as severe as this is, there are real opportunities here along with the challenges. There are economic winners, not just losers. More on that later.
Employment in Canada collapsed in April, with 2 million jobs lost, taking the unemployment rate to 13.0%, just a tick below the prior postwar record of 13.2% in 1982 (see chart below). The record decline is on the heels of the 1 million job loss in March, bringing the cumulative two-month total to 15.7% of the pre-virus workforce.
Economists had been expecting double the job destruction–a 4 million position decline in April–in reaction to the reports that over 7 million Canadians had applied for CERB. Today’s news reflected labour market conditions during the week of April 12 to April 18. The applications for CERB are more recent, so we may well see these additional losses reflected in the May report.
The 13% unemployment rate underestimates the actual level of joblessness. In April, the unemployment rate would have been 17.8% if the labour force participation rate had not fallen. Compared to a year ago, there were 1.5 million more workers on permanent layoff not looking for work in April – and so not counted as unemployed.
Also, the number of people who were employed but worked less than half of their usual hours for reasons related to COVID-19 increased by 2.5 million from February to April. As of the week of April 12, the cumulative effect of the COVID-19 economic shutdown—the number of Canadians who were either not employed or working substantially reduced hours—was 5.5 million, or more than one-quarter of February’s employment level.
In April, both full-time (-1,472,000; -9.7%) and part-time (-522,000; -17.1%) employment fell. Cumulative losses since February totalled 1,946,000 (-12.5%) in full-time work and 1,059,000 (-29.6%) in part-time employment.
Decline In Employment is Unprecedented
The magnitude of the decline in employment since February (-15.7%) far exceeds declines observed in previous labour market downturns. For example, the deep 1981-1982 recession resulted in a total employment decline of 612,000 (-5.4%) over approximately 17 months.
More of the drop in employment now is the result of temporary layoffs. In April, almost all (97%) of the newly-unemployed were on temporary layoff, whereas in previous recessions, most of the dismissals were considered permanent.
In April, more than one-third (36.7%) of the potential labour force did not work or worked less than half of their usual hours, illustrating the continuing impact of the COVID-19 economic shutdown on the labour market. But job losses were also still weighted, on balance, more heavily in lower-wage jobs. Average wage growth for those remaining in employment spiked sharply higher as a result to 11% above year-ago levels.
All provinces have been hard-hit
Employment declined in all provinces for the second month in a row. Compared with February, employment dropped by more than 10% in all regions, led by Quebec (-18.7% or -821,000). Quebec leads the country in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The unemployment rate rose markedly in all provinces in April. In Quebec, the rate rose to 17.0%, the highest level since comparable data became available in 1976, and the highest among all provinces. The number of unemployed people increased at a faster pace in Quebec (+101.0% or +367,000) than in other regions.
Employment dropped sharply from February to April in each of Canada’s three largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs). As a proportion of February employment, Montréal recorded the largest decline (-18.0%; -404,000), followed by Vancouver (-17.4%; -256,000) and Toronto (-15.2%; -539,000).
In Montréal, the unemployment rate was 18.2% in April, an increase of 13.4 percentage points since February. In comparison, the unemployment rate in Montréal peaked at 10.2% during the 2008/2009 recession. In Toronto, the unemployment rate was 11.1% in April (up 5.6 percentage points since February), and in Vancouver, it was 10.8% (up 6.2 percentage points).
Employment Losses By Sector
In March, almost all employment losses were in the services-producing sector. In April, by contrast, employment losses were proportionally larger in goods (-15.8%; -621,000) than in services (-9.6%; -1.4 million). Losses in the goods-producing sector were led by construction (-314,000; -21.1%) and manufacturing (-267,000; -15.7%).
Within the services sector, employment losses continued in several industries, led by wholesale and retail trade (-375,000; -14.0%) and accommodation and food services (-321,000; -34.3%).
Industries that continued to be relatively less affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown included utilities; public administration; and finance, insurance and real estate.
In both the services-producing and the goods-producing sectors, the employment decreases observed in the two months since February were proportionally larger than the losses observed during each of the three significant labour market downturns since 1980.
As economic activity resumes industry by industry following the COVID-19 economic shutdown, the time required for recovery will be a critical question.
After the previous downturns, employment in services recovered relatively quickly, returning to pre-downturn levels in an average of four months. On the other hand, it took an average of more than six years for goods-producing employment to return to pre-recession levels following the 1981-1982 and 1990-1992 recessions. After the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, it took 10 years for employment in the goods-producing sector to return to pre-crisis levels.
As bad as things are, there is some evidence that the economy is approaching a bottom. Business shutdowns are easing in most provinces, and while it will be some time before we see a complete reopening, early signs of improvement are evident. Business sentiment appears to have improved somewhat towards the end of April, as evidenced by data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The Royal Bank economists report that credit card spending looked less weak at the end of April. Housing starts for April held up better than expected. And, most importantly, the spread of Coronavirus has eased, and regions are starting to relax some of the rules to flatten the curve.
Concerning the housing market, before the pandemic, we were going into the spring season with the prospect of record sales activity in much of the country. Aside from oil country–Alberta and Saskatchewan–all indications were for a red-hot housing market. So the underlying fundamentals for housing remain positive as the economy recovers. How long that will take depends on the course of the virus and whether we see a second wave in late fall.
Interest rates have plummeted. Thanks to the 150 basis point decline in the prime rate, variable rate mortgage rates have fallen for the first time since late 2018. Once the Bank of Canada was able to establish enough liquidity in financial markets, even fixed-rate mortgage rates have fallen.
The posted mortgage rate appears stuck at 5.04%, far above contract rates; but with any luck at all, this qualifying rate for mortgage stress tests will ease in the coming months. The Bank of Canada will remain extremely accommodating. In my view, interest rates will not rise until 2022.
Opportunities–There Will Be Winners
Even now, some businesses are enjoying a surge in revenues and profitability. Just to put a more positive note on this period of rapid change, I jotted down a list of companies that are thriving. Top of the list is Shopify, a Canadian company that helps businesses provide online shopping services. Shopify is now the most highly valued company in Canada, as measured by its stock market valuation, surpassing the Royal Bank.
Many who never relied on online shopping have become converts during the lock-down. Amazon is another business that is benefiting, but Amazon needs more competition, and many Canadians would welcome some homegrown online rivals.
Loblaws, with its groceries and drug stores, is booming. So are the cleaning products companies like Clorox and paper products company Kimberly Clark. Staying at home has boosted sales at Wayfair, the online furniture and home products site. Peloton and suppliers of dumbbells and other fitness equipment are seeing increased revenues as people look for in-home alternatives to the locked-down gyms and health clubs.
Demand for cloud services has boosted revenues at Microsoft and Dropbox. Home entertainment is booming, think Netflix and YouTube. Zoom and Cisco (Webex) are also big winners. Qualcomm stands to gain from a more rapid move to 5G. And Accenture and Booz Allen, among other business and government consultants, are busy helping companies reinvent their operations in a post-pandemic world.
Reported by Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
In times of enormous uncertainty and volatility, people need expert advice and hand-holding, particularly concerning their finances. Please know that I am here to support you as you have done for me in these past years. If you or anyone you know need help or have any questions around mortgage options, or are simply looking for advice, please feel free to reach out to me directly via phone or e-mail.
As we continue to be in unprecedented times, I understand that the COVID-19 outbreak is taking a toll on families across the country with many parents being out of work or quarantined. I want you to know that I understand your concerns and, most importantly, I am here to support you.
As Canadians, we are fortunate to live in such a community-centered country and to be surrounded by banks and lenders who care for their customers. As a result, many of our major lenders are providing beneficial options during this time to help alleviate some of the financial stress you may be facing. Depending on your lender, you will be able to defer your mortgage payments for up to (6) months as well as being able to potentially re-amortize the loan or make special payment arrangements. This will offer some temporary relief for those with any loss of income as a result of this crisis.
It is important to contact your lender, before you have any missed payments.
If you have any questions around mortgage options, or are simply looking for advice please reach out to me directly via phone or e-mail.
Following yesterday’s surprise emergency 50 basis point (bp) rate cut by the Fed, the Bank of Canada followed suit today and signalled it is poised to do more if necessary. The BoC lowered its target for the overnight rate by 50 bps to 1.25%, suggesting that “the COVID-19 virus is a material negative shock to the Canadian and global outlooks.” This is the first time the Bank has eased monetary policy in four years.
According to the BoC’s press release, “COVID-19 represents a significant health threat to people in a growing number of countries. In consequence, business activity in some regions has fallen sharply, and supply chains have been disrupted. This has pulled down commodity prices, and the Canadian dollar has depreciated. Global markets are reacting to the spread of the virus by repricing risk across a broad set of assets, making financial conditions less accommodative. It is likely that as the virus spreads, business and consumer confidence will deteriorate, further depressing activity.” The press release went on to promise that “as the situation evolves, the Governing Council stands ready to adjust monetary policy further if required to support economic growth and keep inflation on target.”
Moving the full 50 basis points is a powerful message from the Bank of Canada. Particularly given that Governor Poloz has long been bucking the tide of monetary easing by more than 30 central banks around the world, concerned about adding fuel to a red hot housing market, especially in Toronto. Other central banks will no doubt follow, although already-negative interest rates hamper the euro-area and Japan.
Canadian interest rates, which have been falling rapidly since mid-February, nosedived in response to the Bank’s announcement. The 5-yield Government of Canada bond yield plunged to a mere 0.82% (see chart below), about half its level at the start of the year.
Fixed-rate mortgage rates have fallen as well, although not as much as government bond yields. The prime rate, which has been stuck at 3.95% since October 2018 when the Bank of Canada last changed (hiked) its overnight rate, is going to fall, but not by the full 50 bps as the cost of funds for banks has risen with the surge in credit spreads. A cut in the prime rate will lower variable-rate mortgage rates.
Many expect the Fed to cut rates again when it meets later this month at its regularly scheduled policy meeting, and the Canadian central bank is now expected to cut interest rates again in April. Of course, monetary easing does not address supply-chain disruptions or travel cancellations. Easing is meant to flood the system with liquidity and improve consumer and business confidence–just as happened in response to the financial crisis. Expect fiscal stimulus as well in the upcoming federal budget.
All of this will boost housing demand even though reduced travel from China might crimp sales in Vancouver. A potential recession is not good for housing, but lower interest rates certainly fuel what was already a hot spring sales market. Data released today by the Toronto Real Estate Board show that Toronto home prices soared in February, and sales jumped despite low inventories. The number of transactions jumped 46% from February 2019, which was a 10-year sales low as the market struggled with tougher mortgage rules and higher interest rates. February sales were up by about 15% compared to January.
Reported by Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
Minister Morneau announces new benchmark rate for qualifying for insured mortgages. The new qualifying rate will be the mortgage contract rate or a newly created benchmark very close to it plus 200 basis points, in either case. The News Release from the Department of Finance Canada states, “the Government of Canada has introduced measures to help more Canadians achieve their housing needs while also taking measured actions to contain risks in the housing market. A stable and healthy housing market is part of a strong economy, which is vital to building and supporting a strong middle class.”
These changes will come into effect on April 6, 2020. The new benchmark rate will be the weekly median 5-year fixed insured mortgage rate from mortgage insurance applications, plus 2%.
This follows a recent review by federal financial agencies, which concluded that the minimum qualifying rate should be more dynamic to reflect the evolution of market conditions better. Overall, the review concluded that the mortgage stress test is working to ensure that home buyers are able to afford their homes even if interest rates rise, incomes change, or families are faced with unforeseen expenses.
This adjustment to the stress test will allow it to be more representative of the mortgage rates offered by lenders and more responsive to market conditions.
The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) also announced today that it is considering the same new benchmark rate to determine the minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages.
The existing qualification rule, which was introduced in 2016 for insured mortgages and in 2018 for uninsured mortgages, wasn’t responsive enough to the recent drop in lending interest rates — effectively making the stress test too tight. The earlier rule established the big-six bank posted rate plus 2 percentage points as the qualifying rate. Banks have increasingly held back from adjusting their posted rates when 5-year market yields moved downward. With rates falling sharply in recent weeks, especially since the coronavirus scare, the gap between posted and contract mortgage rates has widened even more than what was already evident in the past two years.
This move, effective April 6, should reduce the qualifying rate by about 30 basis points if contract rates remain at roughly today’s levels. According to a Department of Finance official, “As of February 18, 2020, based on the weekly median 5-year fixed insured mortgage rate from insured mortgage applications received by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the new benchmark rate would be roughly 4.89%.” That’s 30 basis points less than today’s benchmark rate of 5.19%.
OSFI confirmed today that it, too, is considering the new benchmark rate for its minimum stress test rate on uninsured mortgages (mortgages with at least 20% equity).
“The proposed new benchmark for uninsured mortgages is based on rates from mortgage applications submitted by a wide variety of lenders, which makes it more representative of both the broader market and fluctuations in actual contract rates,” OSFI said in its release.
“In addition to introducing a more accurate floor, OSFI’s proposal maintains cohesion between the benchmarks used to qualify both uninsured and insured mortgages.” (Thank goodness, as the last thing the mortgage market needs is more complexity.)
The new rules will certainly add to what was already likely to be a buoyant spring housing market. While it might boost buying power by just 3% (depending on what the new benchmark turns out to be on April 6), the psychological boost will be positive. Homebuyers—particularly first-time buyers—are already worried about affordability, given the double-digit gains of the last 12 months.
Reported by Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
It’s that time of year again. The taxman is coming and you will have to file your taxes. For many, it’s the time to take a large sum of money and dump it into your RRSP contribution to reduce your taxes. But is it the best way to handle the investment? It may be too late for last year, but starting this spring, try taking a different approach. Instead of putting in one big chunk at the end of the year, have your RRSP contribution come out on a monthly basis. If you have it set up to come out automatically, you’re going to hate it for the first three or four months, but after a while you won’t realize it’s happening.
Besides being a forced savings plan for your retirement, RRSPs can be a big help for first-time homebuyers. First-time homebuyers can utilize up to $25,000 worth of RRSPs for a down payment on a home. They have 15 years to pay it back and can defer payments for the first two years. Utilizing your RRSPs toward a down payment makes perfect sense. That said, if you’re lucky enough to not need it, don’t use it.
Depending on the mortgage broker you speak to, they’ll tell you nearly half of first-time homebuyers use their RRSPs to help cover their down payment.
You also might not know that you could have been a homeowner previously and still be considered a first-time homebuyer. Under the federal government’s Home Buyers’ Plan, you are considered a first-time home buyer if, in the previous four-year period, you did not occupy a home that you or your current spouse or common-law partner owned. So if you’ve been renting for a few years but want to get back into the market, using your RRSPs is an option.
As always, it’s best to connect yourself with a great financial planner that understands what your goals are and is working in your best interest. As a mortgage broker I can also lend a hand if you have mortgage related RRSP questions.
It’s become a bit of a cliché to talk about resolutions at the start of the New Year. You’re going to be inundated with pitches to exercise more, “eat right” or pick up a new hobby. These resolutions start out with the best of intentions but ultimately most of us can’t manage to keep them. Within a few days or weeks, we’re back to our old habits. Perhaps only a psychiatrist knows why we can’t keep our resolutions. While giving up the sweets might seem like an impossible task, getting into some good financial habits at the start of the year is easier than you think. And there is no better time to look at what you might be doing right and perhaps wrong when it comes to your finances and make a change to see a more prosperous 2018. These are by no means brand new ideas but rather tried and tested concepts worth considering.
These are just some basic tips to follow. With so many experts and places to look for financial advice, there’s really no excuse not to use the turn of the calendar to get started.
As the dust is settling on the major changes to the mortgage qualifying rate and it is back to work as usual, some Canadians are starting to realize that there were some other significant changes that affect us all.
Starting this year you must now declare which property is your principal residence. There will be a form with your tax return that you must fill out. The purpose of this of course is to make sure that the house flippers of the world pay their fair share of income tax on monies earned by buying and selling homes. This will also affect foreign owners, when they sell property in Canada, even though a family member may have lived in it, they will now pay capital gains. They are closing some rather large loopholes in the system where many people have taken unfair advantage.
Another point that was probably missed by most is that if you have a home with a legal suite, when you sell the home you will have to pay capital gains on the portion that is rental. Many of these suites collect rent that is never reported to CRA and people avoid taxes by just pocketing the money. For many years now if you collected rent but didn’t report it on your taxes then you were not allowed to use it as income to apply for a mortgage.
This may also open up another legal/accounting question for parents that co-sign on their children’s mortgages. In Alberta at least when you co-sign you are usually on the mortgage and on title. Will it mean that when that home is sold will there be legal and tax ramifications when the home is sold.
***This article was written by Len Lane, part of DLC Brokers for Life based in Edmonton, AB.***
If you are like most people, then you have lots of unanswered questions. I’d be more than happy to answer your questions. Give me a call and I’ll be able to shed light on these gray areas and remember, as your mortgage broker I am here to save you money and get you on the right path to financial freedom.
October 2016 the Ministry of Finance passed rules which are still having effect one year later. Higher qualification and new bank capital requirements have split the industry into two segments. Those who qualify for mortgage insurance and those who don’t.
Mortgages that qualify for mortgage insurance are basically new purchases for borrows who have less than 20% down and qualify at the Bank of Canada Benchmark rate. The current benchmark rate is 4.89%. Clients who don’t qualify for mortgage insurance are basically everyone else. People with more than 20% down payment and people who have built up more than 20% equity in their homes, don’t qualify for mortgage insurance. It will be clients such as these which will be impacted by the mortgage rule changes coming.
The biggest difference we are seeing is two levels of rate offerings. People who qualify for mortgage insurance by one of the three insurers in Canada (CMHC, Genworth and Canada Guaranty) are being offered the best rates on the market. People who don’t qualify, cost the banks more to offer mortgages due to the new capital requirements and are offered a higher rate to off-set that cost.
But even more alarming, rumblings about another round of mortgage rule changes coming. People who have been disciplined in saving or building equity will need to qualify at 2.00% higher than what they receive from their lender.
In the first round of changes in 2016 we saw affordability cut by about 20% for insured mortgages. This new round of changes will have much the same impact on the rest of mortgage borrowers.
The mortgage default rate in Canada is less than 1/3 of a percent. We Canadians simply make our mortgage payments. So where’s the risk?
These new qualification rules are intended to protect us from higher rates when our current terms come to an end.
***This ariticle was written by Kristin Woolard part of DLC National bassed in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
The impact of mortgage rule changes coming January 1, 2018 will be felt by everyone. My word of advice to anyone contemplating a refinance to meet current goals or planning on purchasing? Contact me today to find out what your best options are before your window of opportunity is closed.