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Pace of real estate slump quickens, with sales and average prices down from last year – CBC News

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Canada’s housing market continued its slowdown last month, with the average selling price of a home touching $665,850 — a decline of almost 20 per cent since February.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), which represents more than 100,000 brokers, agents and salespeople across the country, said Friday that the volume of home sales fell by 5.6 per cent during the month, and is down by almost one-quarter compared to last year.

“Activity continues to slow in the face of rising interest rates and uncertainty,” CREA chair Jill Oudil said in a statement.

After rising at a rapid pace for much of the pandemic, higher interest rates slammed the brakes on Canada’s housing market this spring.

Average selling prices have declined each month since February 2022, and are down by 1.8 per cent compared to what they were a year ago.

“What goes up must come down, and the Canadian housing market continued to cool in June under the weight of higher interest rates,” TD Bank economist Ksenia Bushmeneva said.

Ontario led the way down, as selling prices in the province’s suburban markets that rose the most during the pandemic are now coming back to earth.

“Sales and prices are down disproportionately more in Ontario and B.C., which suffered severe affordability deteriorations during the pandemic,” Bushmeneva said. “We expect that home prices and sales will move even lower amid further pressure from borrowing costs.”

A man talks about buying a home.
Waleed Hamed has been waiting to buy a home for several years, and says he has been watching the current slowdown with great interest. (CBC)

She isn’t the only one thinking the market still has a way to go before bottoming. Waleed Hamed has been on the sidelines of Canada’s housing market for years, waiting for a chance to buy, but he said he could never justify making the leap.

The market in and around Courtice, Ont., where he’s living with his parents, has definitely turned in recent months, he said. Yet Hamed is still reluctant to buy, because he thinks further price declines are coming.

“I think we are going to see prices drop for a while,” he told CBC News in an interview this week. “I still feel like we are near the very top.”

Lower prices may favour buyers, but many like Hamed are discovering that homes are no more affordable because the cost to finance a mortgage has gone up by more than the drop in prices.

The Bank of Canada hiked its benchmark interest rate by a full percentage point this week, the largest one-time increase since 1998. It’s the fourth rate hike since the start of the year, and more are on the way in the face of record-high inflation.

That’s increasing the costs for anyone with a variable rate mortgage, and making it harder to qualify for one, too. Variable rate loans are currently hovering at around four per cent, up from under two per cent at the start of the year. 

But because of stress test rules implemented several years ago, borrowers have to qualify at rates even higher than the loan term itself. The stress test level for a variable rate loan is now at about six per cent, a bar that many borrowers may not be able to meet.

“Anyone upset that a rising overnight rate is hurting real estate values should keep in mind that the Bank of Canada’s role isn’t to look out for the housing market or individual homeowners,” Clay Jarvis with fintech company Nerdwallet. “That’s the job of the mortgage stress test — which we should be thankful for right about now.”

“Homebuyers are still stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Jarvis said. “The hard place (the market) is a little softer, but the rock (interest rates) is getting higher with every rate hike.”

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Commercial fishers and wild salmon advocates cheer large returns to B.C. waters

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VICTORIA — The summer of 2022 is shaping up to be a bumper season for both pink and sockeye salmon in British Columbia rivers, with one veteran Indigenous fisherman reporting the biggest catches of sockeye in decades.

Mitch Dudoward has worked in the salmon industry for more than 40 years, and says fishing on the Skeena River in northwest B.C. has never been better.

“This is the best season I can recall in my lifetime with the numbers we are catching,” said Dudoward, who recently completely a big sockeye haul aboard his gillnetter Irenda.

Bob Chamberlin, chairman of the Indigenous-led First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, meanwhile said that thousands of pink salmon are in Central Coast rivers after years of minimal returns.

The strong run comes two years after the closure of two open-net Atlantic salmon farms in the area.

“We had targeted those farms,” said Chamberlin, whose group wants open-net farms removed from B.C.’s waters. “We got them removed and two years later we went from 200 fish in the river to where we have several thousand to date. In our mind and knowledge that is a really clear indicator.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokeswoman Lara Sloan said departmental observations indicated big returns of sockeye to the Skeena River.

“Test fisheries currently indicate that Skeena sockeye returns are tracking at the upper end of the forecast, with an in-season estimate of approximately four million sockeye,” said Sloan in a statement. “Sockeye populations returning to a number of areas in British Columbia, Washington and Alaska are returning better than forecast in 2022.”

The five-year average return of sockeye to the Skeena is 1.4 million and the 10-year average is 1.7 million, Sloan said.

Dudoward said the Skeena sockeye season ended this week, but it could have gone on longer.

“We should be fishing until the end of August when the sockeye stop running,” he said. “There’s plenty of them to take.”

But Sloan said the Fisheries Department was being careful about salmon stocks.

“For 2022, the department is taking a more precautionary approach toward managing impacts of commercial fisheries on stocks of conservation concern including smaller wild sockeye populations, chum and steelhead returning to the Skeena River,” she said.

The Fisheries Department also expects a large sockeye run to the Fraser River this summer, but returns of chinook, coho and chum to northern and Central Coast rivers and streams are expected to be low.

“The forecast range for Fraser River sockeye in 2022 is 2.3 million to 41.7 million, with a median forecast of 9.7 million,” said Sloan. “The median forecast means there is a 50 per cent chance returns will come in below that level.”

That is well above the estimated 2.5 million sockeye returns in 2021, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada data.

The strong returns come amid debate over the future of open-net salmon farming in B.C. waters.

In 2018, the B.C. government, First Nations and the salmon farming industry reached an agreement to phase out 17 open-net farms in the Broughton Archipelago between 2019 and 2023.

The agreement was negotiated to establish a farm-free migration corridor to help reduce harm to wild salmon.

In June, federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray said the government will consult with First Nations communities and salmon farm operators in the Discovery Islands, near Campbell River on Vancouver Island, about the future of open-net farming in the area.

A final decision on the future of the farms is expected in January 2023, the minister said.

“That is such a key migratory route of all Fraser River salmon, in particular coho and chinook,” Chamberlin said. “If we are going to see Fraser runs return, we need to see removal of impediments.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Montreal-based WSP Global to buy U.K. environmental consulting company in third takeover in just three months – The Globe and Mail

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Canadian engineering giant WSP Global Inc. WSP-T is buying British environmental consulting firm RPS Group Plc in a deal worth almost a billion dollars, its third major takeover in just three months.

Montreal-based WSP said it struck a deal Monday to acquire RPS for £2.06 per share in cash for a total enterprise value of £625-million, or $975-million. It is paying 15 times RPS’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for the 12 months ended June 30.

“RPS is of utmost value to WSP for its sustainability focus, global presence, expertise and talent,” WSP chief executive Alexandre L’Heureux told analysts on a conference call after markets closed. The takeover of RPS’s 5,000 employees brings additional scale to WSP and advances its efforts to expand its front-end consulting work, he said.

Demand for environmental engineering and consulting services is growing as private-sector companies and governments seek advice on things ranging from climate-change risks to waste management. WSP is beefing up its capabilities in the space as part of a wider growth effort.

This is the company’s third major takeover in as many months. In June, it said it had struck a definitive agreement to acquire a business known as Environment & Infrastructure (E&I) from Aberdeen, Scotland-based Wood for US$1.8-billion, adding another 6,000 employees to its payroll. Earlier this month, WSP said it would buy Capita Plc’s Capita REI and GL Hearn businesses in the U.K. for £60-million in a smaller deal that adds skill in real estate planning.

Once a boutique engineering company, WSP has ballooned in recent years to become a major player in global design consultancy and project management, with a current market capitalization topping $18-billion. Mr. L’Heureux wants to expand the company further. He outlined a three-year strategic plan this March that aims to boost net revenues 30 per cent to well over $10-billion a year and increase adjusted net earnings per share by 50 per cent by 2024.

WSP said it secured a new bank credit facility worth £600-million (about $935-million), including commitments for the full amount of the RPS purchase price, in order to meet British takeover regulations. But it intends to use the proceeds from share sales to fund the takeover.

The company said it will sell $400-million worth of equity in a bought deal with a syndicate of underwriters led by CIBC Capital Markets, National Bank Financial and RBC Capital Markets. It will raise another $400-million in a private placement with three existing WSP shareholders: Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, Canadian pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board.

London Stock Exchange-listed RPS generates about two-thirds of its revenue from environmental work and water services and has longstanding relationships with major water utilities in the U.K. and Ireland, Mr. L’Heureux said. It has also developed a deep expertise in oceanic science, which it uses to support offshore wind energy players, he added.

RPS’s board intends to recommend the deal, WSP said. The Canadian company said it has the backing of directors and other shareholders holding about 18 per cent of RPS stock.

WSP is one of the most active companies in Canadian infrastructure megaprojects – involved in the development of 18 of the 20 biggest projects currently under way, according to trade publication ReNew Canada. This latest takeover would bring its total employee count to 70,000 and boost revenue to $10-billion a year on a pro-forma basis.

The engineering firm’s recent contracts illustrate the kind of work it is now bidding on as it tries to reshape itself as one of the world’s top companies with environmental expertise. In Canada, it won a mandate from pension fund PSP Investments to conduct a detailed climate analysis of more than three million hectares of farmland and timberland in its Global Natural Resources Portfolio.

In the United States, WSP was awarded a contract for engineering, procurement and construction management for the underground storage of the Aces Delta project, the largest green hydrogen production and storage facility ever built. WSP says the facility will help decarbonize the Western U.S. power grid by providing seasonal clean energy storage capabilities.

WSP shares rose 0.8 per cent in Monday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, closing at $157.58. The stock is down 16 per cent since hitting an all-time high of $187.94 last November.

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Fairfax offering to buy chain that owns Swiss Chalet, Harvey's and The Keg for $1.2B – CBC News

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Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. has proposed taking Recipe Unlimited Corp. private in the latest phase for the almost 140-year-old restaurant company.

The deal announced by Recipe Unlimited Tuesday puts a $1.2 billion value on Canada’s oldest and largest full-service restaurant chain, which counts Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and The Keg among its roughly two-dozen brands.

Fairfax is already the controlling shareholder of Recipe Unlimited, owning 38.5 per cent of the equity interest as of the end of last year for about 61 per cent of the voting rights.

The other major shareholder is Cara Holdings Ltd., the holding company of the Phelan family, which would continue as an investor in the company once it goes private.

Recipe Unlimited first went public in 1968, then known as CARA for the first two letters of Canadian Railway, which links back to the company’s original founding in 1883 as the Canada Railway News Co. that catered to railway travellers.

Cara Holdings Ltd. took the company private again in 2004 and in 2013 Fairfax made a deal to bring several restaurants including East Side Mario’s and Casey’s into the company’s portfolio before the company relisted publicly in 2015.

The deal announced Tuesday would see a group of Fairfax affiliates acquire all outstanding shares, except for some shares held by Cara Holdings, at $20.73 in cash.

The offer price represents a 53.4 per cent premium to Recipe Unlimited’s closing price on Aug. 8, according to a company statement. Recipe, however, was trading at about $21 a share as recently as last November before it started declining along with the wider market, and traded above $36 a share in its first year of returning to the market in 2015.

The deal requires the approval of most of the minority shareholders and Recipe Unlimited says its board intends to recommend that shareholders vote in favour of the proposed transaction at a special meeting of shareholders to be held on the matter.

The deal comes only a few days after Fairfax said it and partners were also taking private U.K.-based Atlas Corp., which owns the Seaspan shipping company and APR Energy.

The Atlas deal has Fairfax and partners buying shares at $14.45, which represents a 32.1 per cent premium over the 30 day average closing price on the New York Stock Exchange, but is in line with where the company was trading in late March.

Recipe shares have been under pressure during the pandemic as it had been forced to close in-restaurant dining at many locations.

The company has seen sales rebound lately as restrictions ease, reporting last week that its system sales were up 55 per cent to $873 million. Recipe Unlimited had 1,223 restaurants at the end of the quarter, down from 1,330 last year.

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