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Three keys to Alberta’s economy

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One week into a new year, here are three decisive questions to ponder about the state of the economy.

In the face of increasing geopolitical tensions affecting the energy sector, what is the outlook for oil markets in 2020?

Given rising unemployment levels, will the job situation improve in Alberta?

And after a slide in home prices, when will the local real-estate market return to equilibrium?

In a series of interviews, some top analysts have weighed in with their expectations for these key areas of the economy.

Alberta's economy

Tension in the Middle East has pushed crude oil prices higher.

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What will happen with oil markets and the energy sector?

The year is already starting out with a sudden jolt for oil markets, with prices driven higher by increased geopolitical concerns in the Middle East.

A U.S. drone strike last week killed prominent Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the fallout pushed global crude prices higher on Friday and Monday.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil has risen more than $2 since his death, closing Monday at US$63.27 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its highest point since last spring.

This surge comes on the heels of prices climbing more than 10 per cent between the end of November and New Year’s Day.

“There are more fundamental reasons in the last month that support oil prices than what we have seen in the last year,” said analyst Jeremy McCrea of Raymond James.

Analysts point to the increased risk of conflict in the Middle East as one factor driving prices higher. (An expected drop in spending on U.S. shale oil developments and the potential resolution of the China-U.S. trade dispute could also push markets up.)

Ian Nieboer, managing director of RS Energy Group, said the situation in the Middle East reduces the likelihood of a resolution that would see more Iranian oil barrels come on to the global market in 2020.

He remains cautious about the industry outlook this year and expects companies will stay disciplined in their approach to spending.

“I don’t expect a massive ramp in activity,” Nieboer said.

A new report by consultancy Deloitte forecasts WTI oil prices will average US$58 a barrel in 2020, although it could move higher depending on how geopolitical issues unfold in the coming weeks, said Andrew Botterill, Deloitte’s national oil and gas leader.

However, the world still has access to plenty of oil, he noted.

“All in all, we are going to see producers get a little more confident, see higher prices in the first half of the year and…then we might see producers start to spend a little more capital,” Botterill added.


Alberta’s economy is expected to expand in 2020, but new jobs will be scarce.

Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press

What is happening on the employment front?

Albertans looking for work faced a tough market in the second half of last year, as more than 18,000 positions disappeared in November and the unemployment rate climbed above seven per cent — a full percentage point higher than a year earlier.

The economy is expected to regain some momentum this year, but will companies invest more money and create more jobs?

Alicia Macdonald of the Conference Board of Canada said Alberta’s economy will likely expand by about 2.5 per cent this year, as some increased investment occurs in the province.

But she doesn’t see that translating into a flood of new jobs.

“Unfortunately in 2020, we don’t see a significant rebound in the cards,” said Macdonald. “We will see job cuts in the public administration sector and will see unemployment increase throughout the year and won’t peak until the end of 2021.”

The Conference Board expects the unemployment rate will average 7.8 per cent this year. Overall employment is projected to increase, but Alberta will also see more people searching for jobs.

However, some economists see better prospects ahead.

“To the extent that we expect to see some improvement in economic growth and investment in the province in 2020, that will feed into higher job numbers and that should drive the unemployment rate down a little bit,” said Mike Holden, chief economist of the Business Council of Alberta.

Growth should come from energy sector activity, construction and the impact of Alberta reducing its corporate tax rate, he said.

What will happen in the housing market?

The real estate market has been on a bumpy ride in recent years.

Calgary’s property assessment data released last week shows the typical home has dropped in value by four per cent for the new year. (Assessment data is based on property valuations as of July 2019.)

According to the Calgary Real Estate Board, benchmark home prices fell in 2019 (to $418,500 in December), although sales increased by about one per cent.

CREB chief economist Ann-Marie Lurie said some modest increases in local employment and a slight easing in mortgage rates encouraged more home sales last year.

As for the outlook for 2020?

“Our market is oversupplied but we are starting to see signs of stabilization in prices,” she said.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. senior analyst Taylor Pardy expects housing starts will increase slightly this year and improve in 2021, driven by factors such as population growth.

The average price for a home in Calgary will move up by about one per cent this year, according to CMHC.

Calgary still has a large number of existing homes on the market and new houses that have been built but not yet sold, giving potential buyers more bargaining room on price.

“As those inventory levels get absorbed into the market, we are anticipating more balanced market conditions to emerge and as a result, perhaps some slight price increases by the end of 2020,” Pardy said.

So there you have it.

The energy market is starting the year on an upward trajectory, the labour market remains on uncertain footing and the housing market appears to be stabilizing.

It’s not a return to the glory days of a decade ago, but it does look more promising than the tepid beginning of 2019.

BY

Chris Varcoe

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Windsor-Essex real estate market slows down — so sellers pulling out all the stops – CBC.ca

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Windsor’s sizzling real estate market is seeing a slight slowdown — and it means sellers have to up their game to draw people in. 

Prices are still high in Windsor-Essex but realtors say more listings over the last several months are leading to fewer offers on individual homes, putting buyers in a better position with more options and less competition.

“When buyers have more choice, sellers have to do a little bit more to stand out from the crowd,” explained Danial Malik, a broker at ReMax Preferred.

“They have to do more in terms of professional photography, videography, staging. They want to make sure there’s as many eyes as possible on their property, so it gets sold for top dollar.”

The average price of a Windsor-Essex home in September was $552,186, according to data from the Windsor-Essex County Association of Realtors. That’s 27.4 per cent more than September of last year. 

Listings have also doubled from what we saw at the beginning of the year (1,035 listings in September compared to 475 in January).

One home stager says business has doubled

“Things have picked up quite a bit,” said Julie Kapitan, owner of Lemon Tree Living, a home staging company in Windsor-Essex.

Julie Kapitan, owner of Lemon Tree Living, says demand for her home staging services has doubled since June. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

At the start of the year, there was a “buying frenzy,” and homes were selling quickly with or without staging, she said.

“But something shifted I think in May and June and the calls started to come in,” Kapitan said. 

Her business has doubled since then. 

She said it helps people imagine living in the space.

‘Property has to stand out’

Aditya Soma with the WinCity Real Estate Team says staging is “crucial” for any sale.

Realtor Aditya Soma says home staging is crucial. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

“There is more inventory,” he said.

“That means your realtor and your stager, you know, have to do a fantastic job by pricing it right, by presenting it well to attract as many buyers as possible.”

Soma added that some sellers list their homes and try to sell without a stager, and later realize they need to “revamp” their approach in order to get the offer they’re hoping for. 

Malik explained that he’s also seeing more cancellations of listings in recent months. That’s because, given the trend of the last year or so, expectations are very high for sellers. 

“They’re trying different realtors or they’re trying different strategies to get that dollar amount, whereas the property … may not be worth what they’re asking for,” Malik said.

WATCH | Broker Danial Malik on what the current market means for buyers:

Broker Danial Malik on today’s market

3 days ago

Broker Danial Malik explains what the current real estate market climate means for buyers. 0:59

Hence, there’s a stronger lean toward marketing tools like home staging — though it can be a pricey option, depending on what you need. 

Kapitan explained that staging could start at $1,000 if accessories are the only items required by the seller. However, if furniture is required, home staging could cost $5,000 or more depending on the size of the home. 

She also works with house flippers in the community to help them get the best possible price.

Flippers turn to stagers

Jami Jacklyn, a partner at M & J Doors Ltd., a St. Thomas company that flips houses, recently acquired a Windsor home that cost them close to $200,000, they invested between $30,000-$50,000 into renovations. After listing the home for $199,000 and using Kapitan’s home staging service, it recently sold for more than $100,000 over asking. 

“Previous, in my real estate career, I didn’t think it was important, to be honest. I’ve sold houses before,” Jacklyn said. 

“Now that we’re doing this in more volume, I have a massive respect for stagers and it has helped my business tremendously.”

Jami Jacklyn flips houses with her company, M & J Doors. The home behind her, a recent project, sold for more than $100,000 over asking. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Jacklyn explained that her company tries to choose “eyesores” in the community to flip in order to improve the neighbourhood, while still being able to sell the renovated property to first-time home buyers, even though the work on the home drives that price up. 

But with or without a stager, Kapitan suggests depersonalizing your home by removing family photos, de-clutter, avoid patterns, use white linens and white towels, and clean so that your home is spotless.

Meanwhile, even though the lull in the market puts buyers in a better position, it’s still a seller’s market. 

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Hamilton mixed-use dev. gets height-limit exemption – Real Estate News EXchange

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IMAGE: A rendering of the proposed high-rise multiresidential development at 75 James St. S. in downtown Hamilton. (Courtesy Fengate Asset Management)

A rendering of the proposed high-rise multiresidential development at 75 James St. S. in downtown Hamilton. (Courtesy Fengate Asset Management)

Ground has broken on the latest project in downtown Hamilton, a mixed-use development at 75 James St. S. which will tower more than 30 storeys and include over 500 residential units.

The Labourers’ International Union of North America’s LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LPFCEC) holds 100 per cent interest in the development. Fengate Asset Management is the investment manager, developer and asset manager, while The Hi-Rise Group is the development manager and SG Constructors is the builder.

The Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan states buildings shall not exceed the height of the Niagara Escarpment, which works out to about 30 storeys, but the partners applied for and received permission from the city to exceed the height restriction with the James Street building.

“Working collaboratively with city staff and local stakeholders, the building height was determined with consideration for relevant planning policies, precedent projects and addressing local housing needs,” Fengate managing director and group head of real estate Jaime McKenna said in an email exchange with RENX.

An application filed with the city called for a tower of up to 34 storeys.

Plans for the James St. S. property

The James Street site was formerly a bank and was acquired for an undisclosed price in 2018. It was assembled in 2020 with another site at 44 Hughson St. S. – which is the current home of the LiUNA Local 837 and LiUNA Central and Eastern Canada regional offices.

It’s still to be determined if the residential component of the development will be a purpose-built rental apartment or condominium. It will include office and commercial space and a heritage component.

“Due diligence is underway to determine the best model to meet residential needs in downtown Hamilton,” McKenna wrote.

The development will help address significantly increased residential needs in Hamilton from people of all ages and occupations, including students, millennials priced out of the Toronto market and retirees.

The residential units will range in size from studios to three bedrooms. Building amenities will include fitness facilities, party rooms, relaxation lounges, private rooftop green space and underground parking.

LiUNA and the development

“LiUNA is incredibly proud to be addressing the increasingly critical residential needs in Hamilton,” Joseph Mancinelli, LPFCEC chair, LiUNA International vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada, said in an email interview with RENX.

“I myself, a Hamiltonian, have a personal passion for the future of our city, addressing current infrastructure needs that will continue to foster economic development, job opportunities and growth.”

Mancinelli said the location is transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly, offering easy access to necessities, work, school and entertainment.

“Our LiUNA HQ of the Central and Eastern Region as well as the LiUNA Local 837 office at 44 Hughson will be seamlessly integrated into the development and expanded with new office space, keeping the artistic and historic façade of the front of the building, honouring the foundation and history of those before us,” said Mancinelli.

“Further, a number of live/work units will be provided, catering to local small business needs.”

A 2025 completion is being targeted for the development.

The development partners

LiUNA has half-a-million members across North America, including more than 140,000 in Canada, who predominantly work in construction.

The LPFCEC was established in 1972 and is one of the fastest growing multi-employer pension funds across Canada. Its diverse investment portfolio has more than $10 billion in assets.

Fengate Asset Management is an alternative investment manager focused on infrastructure, private equity and real estate strategies. It has a total asset value of more than $20 billion and offices in Toronto, Oakville and Houston.

Fengate Real Estate is involved with more than 75 properties and investments. The completed value of its portfolio is more than $9 billion and it has more than $4 billion in value under development.

The Hi-Rise Group is a fully integrated development and construction company that was founded in 1979. It initially functioned as a merchant builder that sold most of the projects it developed and built, but it now holds a number of properties across Ontario.

SG Constructors was founded by Matt Stainton and its management team has accumulated more than a century of experience working on construction projects.

The two-tower King William Residence in Hamilton and the revitalization of Yonge Eglinton Centre, Yonge Sheppard Centre, 66 Wellington St. W., 111 Richmond Street West and 180 Wellington in Toronto are among its projects.

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Evergrande’s Proposed Shift From Real Estate To Electric Vehicles Fails To Convince – Forbes

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Hui Ka Yan has finally revealed his plan to save China Evergrande. He wants the embattled property developer to shift its focus from real estate to manufacturing electric vehicles, but skepticism abounds.

Despite having never sold a vehicle, Hui’s aim is to turn away from Evergrande’s main business and become an EV maker within the next decade, the state-run Securities Times reported late Friday evening, citing an internal meeting held on October 22.

The proposal sent shares of his Hong Kong-listed EV unit, China Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group, soaring as much as 17% on Monday before closing the day with a gain of 11.4%. But the company still trades at just a fraction of its peak market value of $86.7 billion that it reached in mid-April after tumbling 94% since then.

Analysts, however, have expressed their skepticism. It remains unclear whether Evergrande, now close to collapsing under $305 billion in total liabilities, has the expertise or capital to compete in China’s increasingly crowded EV field.

“Evergrande used to have a strategy of buy, buy and buy,” says John Zeng, a Shanghai-based director of China forecasting at consultancy LMC Automotive, referring to the property developer’s previous EV-related acquisitions. “Its approach was very simple and unpolished, and no one really knows how much technology it has mastered. ”

Hui currently has a net worth of $11.6 billion that is largely based on dividend payouts received over the years. He was a former steel factory worker when he first established Evergrande in 1997. Although he had no prior experience in producing EVs when he first announced his ambition to do so in 2019, he has since funneled more than $1 billion into a series of acquisitions that saw him gain control of National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS) and buy a majority stake in battery maker Shanghai CENAT New Energy. The company said its first EV model Hengchi would be delivered from its Tianjin factory early next year, according to an October 11 post published on Evergrande’s website.

But its EV unit warned less than a month ago that it was encountering a “serious shortage of funds,” according to a September 24 stock exchange filing. The company said it had “suspended paying some of its operating expenses and some suppliers have suspended supplying for projects.”

Evergrande itself warned last week that there was “no guarantee” it will be able to meet its financial obligations. The company did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Even if Hui eventually manages to begin producing EVs, how he would sell them is another question with no clear answer, says Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight.

“Building a sales channel from scratch is very capital intensive, and Evergrande doesn’t appear to have channels of its own,” says Zhang. “Plus, its current model is a concept car that is still quite some distance away from mass manufacturing and selling.”

Justin Tang, head of Asian Research at New York-based investment and advisory group United First Partners, says the billionaire may simply be trying to boost investor confidence. Hui also pledged during the same meeting to deliver Evergrande’s unfinished properties to homebuyers, saying the company “in principle” won’t buy land over the next ten years, and would reduce the scale of its property development business “by a large margin,” according to the Securities Times report.

The company said separately via its WeChat public account that its 40 real estate projects in places including Guangzhou and Foshan are progressing “smoothly and orderly.” Last week, Evergrande narrowly avoided default by paying a $83.5 million bond coupon just before a 30-day grace period was about to expire.

But Evergrande faces more interest payments down the road, and $3.5 billion of its offshore bonds are expected to mature in March. The cash-strapped company has been struggling to raise funds through asset sales and other means, and market doubts over whether it can meet its debt obligations continue to persist.

“Where is the money coming from?” asks Tang, adding that Evergrande “doesn’t have time as a friend,” and its proposal of saving itself by making cars has “lots of questions but no real answers.”

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