Saturday, November 28, 2015   

Bottoming out in Canada

Tony Liaw

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Realtors may be getting prepared for a bigger downturn in the already slowing Vancouver housing market.

There are also some worried homeowners out there - going by the comments on property websites, at least - hoping to cash out before things head south.

But you can also look at how the big banks are performing to get a better picture.

The six leading Canadian banks are expecting a 6.9 percent decline in per- share profit for the quarter ended in January - mainly due to weaker lending, Bloomberg reported. Canadians are struggling with record debt levels amid a cooling property market, according to the report.

And analysts think this is a good enough indicator pointing out a slowing home market is going to hit the bottom, especially for condominiums.

In Toronto, Canada's largest city, condo sales have fallen by 30 percent in the past year, with prices down by 4.5 percent. Some proposed projects have even been put on hold since the beginning of the year.

The Bank of Canada, the central bank, also issued a rare warning that the risks may spread more broadly over the property market - there are too many developers going after too few buyers.

"Homeowners will end up underwater," David Madani, an economist at Capital Economics, told Macleans magazine.

"Consumers may stop spending. I'm getting very nervous. The housing market itself has the potential to put us in a recession, let alone what's happening in Europe and the United States."

John Andrew, a real es
tate expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, agrees.

"Canada's condo boom has put cities like Toronto in uncharted territory," the professor told the weekly magazine. "When we've seen market crashes before in Toronto and Vancouver, condos really weren't as prevalent as they are now."

But the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation - the public mortgage insurer - isn't quite so gloomy.

Total sales of existing homes will remain steady this year, falling by just 2,000, to 451,000 from 453,000 in 2012, corporation deputy chief economist Mathieu Laberge predicts.

The corporation also expects about 190,000 new home starts this year, compared with 214,000 in 2012. The first half of 2013 will see slow activity before the housing market regains momentum near the end of the year, it said.

House prices will continue to climb although at a much slower pace than seen in recent years, CMHC said. It expects prices to rise 1 percent this year, roughly in line with inflation, and to grow by 2.7 percent in 2014.

On a wider front, the slowdown in Canada's home market did not come from nowhere.

Last April, bidding wars were common across the country, from west to east.

Home prices likely hit their peak when a buyer forked out C$1.1 million (HK$8.34 million) for a Toronto bungalow - more than double its list price. Nine months later, home sales started pointing downwards.

In Montreal, transactions declined by 19 percent in December. Turnovers in the red-hot capital Ottawa slumped 9 percent in the same month.

However, the decline in home sales and prices may help ease the pain for homeowners.

The cost of owning a standard two- story hometakes up more than 80 percent of the household income of Vancouverites, according to the Royal Bank of Canada's affordability index. A condo takes up about 40 percent.

In Toronto, the ratio is about 60 and 36 percent, respectively.

So the turnaround could indicate a buffer is expected and hopefully a softer landing in the property sector before it takes on a healthy tone again.

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