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Connect the Housing Bubble Dots: There could be Trouble on CMHC’s horizon

February 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Ted Rechtshaffen | Columnist profile | E-mail

Globe and Mail Update

Published Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 6:00AM EST

A few months ago I heard leading Canadian investor Eric Sprott speak, and he said a very basic thing that struck a chord. He said that you should not be afraid to connect the dots. The dots are usually in front of you, but people don’t often look beyond the single dot.

Today I am going to show six dots that we can all see. When we connect them, the conclusion is that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) has a realistic chance of putting the Canadian taxpayer at risk – unless meaningful changes are made.

The key piece of background is that right now, a young couple can put down $20,000 to buy a $400,000 house, or five per cent of the purchase price. Their mortgage will be insured by CMHC (the Canadian government, also known as you and I) in exchange for a fee paid by the young couple.

If that $400,000 house drops in value by 20 per cent, for example, which has happened before in Canada, it will be worth $320,000. But the couple will owe $380,000. Then the odds of them walking away from their house or defaulting on their mortgage become meaningful. Given that this young couple might be in the same position as 50,000 other young couples (about 3 per cent of the Canadian population) at roughly the same time, the odds of a surge in mortgage defaults is very real in Canada.

Here are the dots or facts that we can all see:

Dot #1: “The greatest risk to the domestic economy is household debt,” Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said in an interview with the CBC last week, again sounding the alarm bell on excess borrowing.

Dot #2: The ratio of credit market debt to personal disposable income rose to a record high of 150.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2011, Statistics Canada said last week, the third-straight quarter the figure has gone up.

Dot #3: Last week, Bank of Montreal offered a five-year mortgage rate of 2.99 per cent. The lowest rate offered in history. Yes, this rate is available to those interested in putting down 5 per cent.

Dot #4: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two U.S. organizations started in 1968 as a government sponsored enterprise (although they became privately owned and operated by shareholders) – have a mandate to help Americans to become homeowners by increasing liquidity for housing lending, and where appropriate, taking on risk. These two organizations were bailed out by the U.S. government in 2008 after the housing market deflated and it is estimated that their bailout will eventually cost taxpayers as much as $124-billion (U.S.) through 2014. When the housing bubble burst in the U.S., the value of many houses fell by 50 per cent.

Dot #5: In November, the Economist magazine said that Canada is among nine countries in the world where house prices are overvalued by 25 per cent or more. It went on to say that Canada is one of only three countries where “housing looks more overvalued than it was in America at the peak of its bubble.”

Dot #6: CMHC is Canada’s national housing agency. Established as a government-owned corporation in 1946 to address Canada’s post-war housing shortage, the agency has grown into a major national institution. CMHC backed loans of $541-billion (Canadian) as of Sept. 30, 2011. At that time, the total equity of CMHC was $11.5-billion. This is 2.1 per cent in equity against its overall loan exposure. To put the $541-billion in perspective: If we go back to those imaginary 50,000 couples that bought a $400,000 house and put down $20,000, that represents $19-billion of mortgages.

Back in 2007, Fannie Mae backed up $2.7-trillion (U.S.) of mortgage-backed securities with $40-billion of capital, or 1.5-per-cent equity against its overall exposure. At that time Fannie Mae stock was trading at $50 a share. Today it is 19 cents.

Just because these dots or facts are out there doesn’t mean that housing prices in Canada will fall 25 per cent or that CMHC will face any major financial problems in the years ahead. However, by connecting the dots, we can see a very plausible scenario that already unfolded with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $124-billion. If we had a similar scenario – and CMHC is now roughly one-tenth the size of the combined Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – it is plausible that in a major real estate downturn, Canadian taxpayers would be on the hook for several billion dollars.

The biggest risk is likely with mortgage holders who only put 5 per cent to 10 per cent of equity down when buying a property. The reason I say this is that if house prices drop by over 10 per cent, everyone in this group will have negative equity in their homes. According to CMHC, 9 per cent of their loan book (or $49-billion) is connected to mortgages with under 10-per-cent equity based on current home prices. Remember all of CMHCs equity value is $11.5-billion (Canadian). Another 18 per cent of their loans are connected to mortgages with between 10-per-cent and 20-per-cent equity based on current home prices. This is another $108-billion of loans.

What happens if Canadian houses hit their ‘proper’ value, according to the Economist magazine, and decline by 25 per cent of their value? Every one of the $157-billion of mortgages noted above will be guaranteed by the Canadian taxpayer, and every one of those mortgages will be on homes with negative equity value.

When we connect the dots and look at the real risk, the time has come for the federal government to do the prudent thing and raise the minimum equity payment from 5 per cent to 10 per cent, and at least minimize the hit from the riskiest segment of mortgages insured by CMHC.

We can’t say we didn’t know, when the dots were right in front of us.

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Speaking of Money… It’s Financial Planning Week

October 21st, 2011 No comments

Speaking of Money… It’s Financial Planning Week

October 17-23 is Canada’s third annual Financial Planning Week and as part of its campaign to get more Canadians engaged in their financial wellbeing, Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC®) hit the streets to hear what Canadians are saying about money.

“Every day is financial planning day at Financial Planning Standards Council and for the 18,000+ Certified Financial Planner® professionals in Canada. But, while many Canadians may have great intentions, they fall into the procrastination trap,” says Tamara Smith, V.P. Marketing & Consumer Affairs, FPSC. “We are putting a call out to every Canadian: this Financial Planning Week, it’s time to take action — even if in small steps — to do more towards your financial wellbeing.”

 

10 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO CELEBRATE FINANCIAL PLANNING WEEK: THINK, TALK, ACT ON IT!
Even small steps can build momentum and make a difference.

THINK!

1. Reflect on your life goals (Own a home? Travel the world? Or simply get by?). Think in terms of shorter and longer-term goals. As well, consider your needs and wants. Financial planning supports your life and it involves much more than just planning for tomorrow. It’s about the continuum of your life, which includes today!

TALK!

2. Talk to your life partner. Money often comes last on the list of relationship conversations but it should be a priority and is an essential part of family life planning. Plan now to prevent money from becoming a stressor on your relationship!

3. Talk to your kids. It’s never too early to teach your kids the value of money and the importance of good financial habits.

4. Talk to a financial planning professional who can help you make sense of it all. CFP® professionals are uniquely trained to help you translate your life goals into meaningful financial strategies and in seeing how all these strategies are connected. Before engaging anyone, learn what to look for and what to ask a prospective planner. See 10 Questions to Ask for starters.

ACT!

5. Learn something new. You can start by going to a Financial Planning Week event.

6. Track your spending so you know where that darn money is going. You’d be surprised of how much you can squeeze out in savings when you are accountable for every dollar spent.

7. Create a monthly budget.

8. Pay yourself first and start a savings and/or investment program. Even small amounts add up if you save regularly.

9. Pay off debt — especially credit card debt that can result in high interest fees for late payments. Keep your credit rating healthy and don’t forget to pay those bills on time!

10. Get help creating a financial plan that looks at the whole picture. CFP professionals say it’s never too early to start, nor do you have to be wealthy to have a plan. Planning is for everyone!

11. BONUS TIP: Brainstorm a few of your own ideas of what you can do to celebrate Financial Planning Week and make them meaningful for you. Remember – it’s about your life.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

•FPSC executives are available for media interviews; also, CFP professionals from various regions across Canada are available to discuss financial planning topics.
•Looking for statistics on Canadians’ emotional and financial wellbeing? Read the highlights on FPSC’s Value of Financial Planning Study.

About Financial Planning Week

Now in its third year, Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) and the Institut québécois de planification financière (IQPF) have jointly declared October 17-23, 2011 as Canada’s Financial Planning Week. During the Week, each organization will be spearheading industry events and public outreach activities in their respective markets. Financial Planning Week is part of an ongoing effort by both organizations to make financial planning more a part of Canadians’ lives. Stay up-to-date at www.financialplanningweek.ca / Twitter @FPWeek, and join us on the LinkedIn and Facebook page for Financial Planning Week.

 

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What has happened to the Variable Rate Mortgage?

October 21st, 2011 No comments

What has happened to the Variable Rate Mortgage?

It is dying a slow death!   A couple of weeks ago I was able to get a client prime less 0.85%, today that is not the case!  Tonight one of the last lenders is moving up to prime less 0.15%, which is considered a good variable rate when most of the lenders are at prime.  The reason for this change, we are told, is due to the economy which has shrunk profit margins.

The fixed rate option is looking more and more attractive as opposed to taking a new variable rate mortgage.  The 5 year rate is at an historic low….3.39 for 5 year fixed or the very attractive 4 year fixed rate of 2.99%.  The difference in payment for a variable rate and a 5 year fixed rate is $27.87 per month, based on $100,000 amortized over 25 years or $7.15 for the 4 year rate.

I think the money would be well spent having the rate guarantee for the next 4 to 5 years!

However if you are in one of those converted variable rate mortgage of prime minus 0.50% or more, what should you do?
This is the word on the street!

• The Bank of Canada has indicated that it is not looking at raising the overnight rate anytime soon or at least will hold off until such time as it sees the economy improving.

• The U.S. has no plans to increase rates for the next two years making it more difficult for Canada to raise rates unless the Canadian economy is growing in spite of the sluggish U.S. economy.

• Canada is becoming attractive for investors’ thus larger demand for Canadian bonds.  This demand is keeping the bond yields down thus lower fixed rates on mortgages.

This week is Financial Planning Week, another passion that I have is teaching people about budgeting, I hope you find the article interesting!

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Why Choose the Variable Rate Mortgage?

April 13th, 2010 No comments

With the Canadian economy doing surprisingly well over the past six months, many see higher interest rates from the Bank of Canada in the not so distant future, but according to a report released Thursday from CIBC’s chide economist Avery Shenfeld rates are likely to remain at a very low 2.5% through to 2011.

Historically, as far as interest rates are concerned, it is better to float your mortgage interest rate (i.e., choose a variable rate mortgage). This is a result of the “yield curve.” The “normal” yield curve is positively sloped, with interest rates lower for short-term maturities (one to two years) and higher for longer-term maturities (five to 30 years). When the economy strengthens, the Bank of Canada will raise short-term interest rates (they only have control over short-term rates) and the base for variable-rate mortgages (usually the prime rate) is moved higher. This action signals a period of “tightening” of monetary policy to cool the economy and reduces inflationary pressures.

The vehicles that determine longer-term interest rates — bonds — tend to move according to inflationary expectations: If bond investors anticipate inflation (because of economic growth), they demand higher returns (interest rates) as protection from inflation. When the Bank of Canada is perceived as “fighting” inflation by raising short term interest rates, long-term rates have a tendency, in most cases, to remain stable or improve, because long-term bond investors are content that inflation will not grow.

In essence, while short-term interest rates may go up, they do so only until the Bank of Canada has slowed the economy enough to curb anticipated inflation. Then, as economic growth slows, the bank starts to lower them. The yield curve will flatten (with higher short-term interest rates) for a time, but when the economy slows, short-term rates will go back down and the yield curve returns to its “normal” positive slope.

Over this time, variable-rate mortgages will move up to being approximately equal to locked-in five-or 10-year rates, but that’s followed by a period when they return to lower levels. More often than not, over this time, it is less costly to have held the variable rate debt. Exceptions to this situation would be times of hyper-inflation (like in the 1980s) when short-term interest rates went to extreme levels.

The economy is strengthening and short term rates will go up a bit over the next couple of years, but I don’t think it will be dramatic. The case for variable-rate mortgages remains strong.

Source: Financial Post Magazine, Tuesday April 6th & Julie Fortier, Financial Post, Thursday April 8th 2010

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RBC, TD hike mortgage rates, Other banks expected to follow suit

March 29th, 2010 No comments

Last Updated: Monday, March 29, 2010 | 11:23 AM ET
CBC News
Royal Bank and TD Canada Trust announced Monday they are increasing several mortgage rates by up to 6/10ths of a percentage point.

The biggest jump is attached to the popular five-year fixed closed rate, which moves from 5.25 per cent to 5.85 per cent at both banks. That’s the posted rate, which is routinely discounted by the big banks.

RBC’s new discounted rate for the five-year term also rises 6/10ths of a percentage point to 4.59 per cent. TD’s rises the same amount to 4.55 per cent.

Both banks also raised their three-year and four-year fixed closed rates. The posted three-year rate at Royal Bank climbs one-fifth of a percentage point to 4.35 per cent, while the posted rate at TD jumps 4/10ths of a point to 4.70 per cent.

The posted four-year rate at both banks jumps 4/10ths of a percentage point to 5.34 per cent.

Other banks are expected to follow suit. The new rates, effective Tuesday, represent the first hike in Canadian mortgage rates since last October.

Variable mortgage rates, which rise in tandem with the Bank of Canada’s key overnight lending rate, are unchanged. But they are likely to be heading up soon too.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney warned last week that inflation was higher than expected. That had some market watchers forecasting that the central bank could move to raise its key lending rate as early as June.

The key rate has been at a rock-bottom 0.25 per cent since April 2009 to help the economy recover.

Fixed-rate mortgage rates tend to move higher when long-term bond yields rise.

A survey released last week by RBC found almost two-thirds of respondents expected the cost of servicing a mortgage to rise this year.

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