Holy Smokes! Canadian Inflation Spikes to 6.7% in March

General Robyn McLean 20 Apr

Today’s look at the most recent economic data that affects the housing market in Canada from Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist at Dominion Lending. 

StatsCanada today reported that consumer prices rose a whopping 6.7% year-over-year in March, a full percentage point above the 5.7% reading the month before. Market-driven interest rates shot up on the news as the prospects increase for another half-point rise in the overnight rate when the Bank of Canada meets again on June 1.

There is no sugar-coating this. Bonds were walloped as the Government of Canada two-year yield shot up to 2.6%, the 5-year yield rose to 2.75%, and the 10-year yield spiked above 2.825% immediately following the data release. The 5-year yield–so crucial for setting the 5-year fixed mortgage rate–has nearly quadrupled over the past year.

Inflationary pressure remained widespread in March, as prices rose across all eight major components. Prices increased against the backdrop of sustained price pressure in Canadian housing markets, substantial supply constraints and geopolitical conflict, which has affected energy, commodity, and agriculture markets. Further, employment continued to strengthen in March, as the unemployment rate fell to a record low. In March, average hourly wages for employees rose 3.4% y/y, raising the risk of wage-price spiralling.

Excluding gasoline, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 5.5% year over year in March, the fastest pace since introducing the all-items excluding gasoline special aggregate in 1999, following a 4.7% gain in February.

The CPI rose 1.4% in March, following a 1.0% gain in February on a monthly basis. This was the largest increase since January 1991, when the goods and services tax was introduced. On a seasonally adjusted monthly basis, the CPI rose 0.9% in March, matching the most significant increase on record.

In March, gasoline prices rose 11.8% month over month, following a 6.9% increase in February. Global oil prices rose sharply in March because of supply uncertainty following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Higher crude oil prices pushed prices at the pump higher. Year over yeaconsumers paid 39.8% more for gasoline in March.

Month over month, prices for fuel oil and other fuels rose 19.9%, the second-largest increase on record after February 2000. On a year-over-year basis, prices for fuel oil and other fuels rose 61.0% in March.

Food prices continued to surge, as did the prices of durable goods such as automobiles and furniture. It cost considerably more for restaurants, hotel rooms and flights.

Goods inflation hit 9.2% in March, the highest since 1982. Services inflation rose to 4.3%, the highest since 2003.

Bottom Line

Bond markets sold off all over the world today. The yield curves flattened as shorter-term yields rose more than their longer-dated counterparts, reflective of the view that central banks will accelerate their tightening.

Today’s CPI report shows inflation pressures were more elevated than the Bank of Canada expected just last week when they hiked the policy rate by 50 basis points.

This could well mark the top of the surge in inflation, but the return to the 2% inflation target could be prolonged, particularly if inflation expectations become embedded. For this reason, Governor Macklem is likely to tighten aggressively once again on June 1, which will further dampen housing activity.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Jump In Bank of Canada Policy Rate

General Robyn McLean 13 Apr

Valuable insight on today’s Bank of Canada rate hike annoucement from Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist for Dominion Lending Centres. 

Bank of Canada Hikes Rates by 50 BPs, Signalling More To Come
The Governing Council of the Bank of Canada raised the overnight policy rate by a full 50 basis points for the first time in 22 years. This was a widely telegraphed action that will be followed by the US Federal Reserve next month. While the BoC was the first G-7 central bank to take such aggressive action, the Bank of New Zealand also hiked rates today by half a percentage point. Considering the surge in inflation and the strength of the Canadian economy, another jumbo rate hike may well be in the cards.

The Bank now realizes that inflation is coming, not just from supply disruptions but also from excessive demand. “In Canada, Growth is strong, and the economy is moving into excess demand. Labour markets are tight, and wage growth is back to its pre-pandemic pace and rising. Businesses increasingly report they are having difficulty meeting demand, and are able to pass on higher input costs by increasing prices.”

The Bank now says that “Growth looks to have been stronger in the first quarter than projected in January and is likely to pick up in the second quarter. Consumer spending is strengthening with the lifting of pandemic containment measures. Exports and business investment will continue to recover, supported by strong foreign demand and high commodity prices. Housing market activity, which has been exceptionally high, is expected to moderate”.

The Governing Council has, once again, revised up its inflation forecast. CPI inflation is now expected to average almost 6% in the first half of 2022 and remain well above the control range throughout this year. It is then expected to ease to about 2½% in the second half of 2023 and return to the 2% target in 2024. There is an increasing risk that expectations of elevated inflation could become entrenched.

With the economy moving into excess demand and inflation persisting well above target, the Governing Council judges that interest rates will need to rise further. The Bank is also ending reinvestment and will begin quantitative tightening (QT), effective April 25. Maturing Government of Canada bonds on the Bank’s balance sheet will no longer be replaced, and, as a result, the balance sheet size will decline over time. This will put further upward pressure on interest rates further out the yield curve.

Bottom Line

Traders are betting that the overnight rate will approach 3.0% one year from today. In today’s Monetary Policy Report (MPR), the Bank revised upward its estimate of the neutral overnight rate to a range of 2.0% to 3.0%–up 25 bps from their estimate one year ago. This is the Bank’s estimate of the overnight rate that is consistent with the noninflationary potential growth rate of the economy.

The rise in interest rates has already shown signs of slowing the Canadian housing market. The MPR states that “Resales are expected to soften somewhat in the second quarter as borrowing rates rise. Low levels of both builders’ inventories and existing homes for sale should support new construction and renovations in the near term”.

Bond yields have risen in anticipation of the Bank of Canada’s move taking the five-year fixed mortgage rate up to between 3.5% and 4%. This could be a pivotal time, as mortgage borrowers must qualify for loans at the maximum of 5.25% or 2 percentage points above the offered contract rate. We are now beyond the  2 ppts threshold, which reduces the buying power of many.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

This housing cycle is ending. What’s next?

General Robyn McLean 6 Apr

Some valueable insight from Kevin Skipworth, Chief Economist at Dexter Realty

The sales super cycle that the Metro Vancouver housing market has been in for two years is ending. It is nearly over in Fraser Valley, where March sales were down 22.5% from a year earlier and average prices dropped nearly 6% from February 2022, and similarly in Greater Vancouver where home sales were down 25% from March 2021 and averages prices were down 13%. A sure sign that the lower end of the market is thriving more.

This does not mean a major market correction is coming. It does mean that we could be moving back to a calmer, more friendly environment for homebuyers, which would be a welcome relief to many. March saw a number of Greater Vancouver buyers moving quickly to purchase before the next round of lending rate increase, but we expect the sales and price increases to slow in the months ahead comparative to where we have been. Housing sales in March across Greater Vancouver totalled 4,405, down 25% from March 2021, but a 27% increase from February 2022 and 31% above the 10-year March sales average.

More listings were added in March, with 6,802 new listings, still down 20% from a year earlier but 20% above the 10-year average. There were 7,970 total active listings on the Greater Vancouver market at month end which further dropped to 7,851 at the start of April as some listings expired. The after-spring break activity brought an increase of listings to the market that will continue as we move through April.

However, we are still sitting with just a 2-month’s supply of homes available for sale in most areas, with North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, Tsawwassen, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and Squamish all at or less than a 1 month’s supply. And while townhouses continue to be the most challenging type of property to find across the region, apartments are fast becoming a scarce product. Even on Vancouver’s West Side, there are only 2-month’s supply of apartments and areas such as Vancouver East and Richmond have dropped down to 1 month supply. It’s even worse in Pitt Meadows where this is half a month’s supply (7 apartments for sale, down from 22 last March), just over half a month’s supply in Maple Ridge and only 6 apartments available for sale in Ladner, again under 1 month’s supply. The number of apartment sales in Coquitlam in March were actually the highest we’ve seen in March at 211, eclipsing the previous high of 187 in March 2021.

It will take a surge in new listings to get this market back to balance, but the question is, will that happen and if so, when? Realistically we would need to see 15,000 to 18,000 active listings to get to a balanced market.
The rest of 2022 may look a lot like it did just before a global pandemic created the most dramatic counterintuitive housing boom this region has ever seen. We seem to forget that, in 2019, Greater Vancouver March housing starts had plunged 31% from a year earlier and were averaging about 1,800 transactions per month, less than half of what they are today. When 2020 started, we saw the market firing at the 10-year average. Perhaps average would be welcome to many.

The true test of the market will be over the next month as interest rates continue to rise, with the Bank of Canada making its next announcement on April 13. It’s a forgone conclusion that the overnight rate will increase. It just remains to be seen whether it will be up 0.25% or 0.5%, thereby increasing variable rate mortgages. Fixed interest rate mortgages have been on the rise with a 5-year interest rate now approaching 4%. Since the federal mortgage stress test qualifying rate is 2% higher, it will be nearly 6% on a 5-year rate. That negatively affects a borrower’s debt-service ratio and their purchasing power.

There are other signs of a cooling market. Continued lack of supply is keeping buyers from being able to find their next home and list their current one. Despite record-setting demand and prices, B.C. housing starts decreased by 4,000 to 31,300 new homes, seasonally adjusted, in February 2022 from a month earlier. Metro Vancouver home starts are down 23% so far this year, compared to 2021. A key reason is developers’ fear of proceeding with projects because of soaring construction costs, especially for wood frame multi-family.

Then there is the uncanny ability for the government to bring in new regulations just when they are not needed. The B.C. finance minister has confirmed that a mandatory ‘cooling-off’ period is coming as their way to protect buyers, especially when competing in multiple offers, which could very well be at a reduced level by the time the legislation is law. The rules will then stick around and simply frustrate buyers and sellers. This in effect will give a buyer a period of days to reconsider their offer and walk away from it. While no details were provided, a monetary penalty could be part of that ability to walk away, which in effect would lock in first time buyers and those without the resources to utilize that strategy. The other option is complete freedom to walk away, but imagine how many properties would be tied up in that process and the potential confusion of that. In an already supplied starved market, what purpose will this really serve? And through all this, there are still some that contend we don’t have a housing supply crisis and in fact supply is keeping pace with population growth. These two wrongs certainly don’t make a right. Mechanisms to supposedly limit demand and a contention that supply isn’t an issue will only further exacerbate the issues we see in the housing market.

Finally, we are seeing price exhaustion. This is apparent now in outlier suburbs, which had seen dramatic price hikes since 2020, but we will also see price increases slowing in central areas, at least through the first half of 2022. Prices can only go up so much.

If you thinking of selling, list now. If you are buying, enjoy the greater selection on the market.