High house prices and debt loads associated with them are a major vulnerability to Canada’s economy, the Bank of Canada said Thursday, warning buyers who bought during the pandemic that the impact of even slightly higher mortgage rates could be dramatic.
In its Financial System Review, the central bank said that while the country’s financial system is strong and weathered the pandemic well, the economy remains vulnerable because of elevated debt levels tied to the country’s increasingly expensive housing market.
“Even as the average household is in better financial shape, more Canadians have stretched to buy a house during the pandemic,” Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said Thursday. “And these households are more exposed to higher interest rates and the potential for housing prices to decline.”
The bank said that assessing risks related to high household debt levels has become more complex, but overall “the vulnerability has increased.”
Roughly two thirds of Canadians are home owners, and about half of them own their homes outright while the remaining have some sort of mortgage debt attached to it.
Raising lending rates slowed housing market
Home prices increased by about 50 per cent, on average, during the pandemic, as low rates allowed buyers to qualify for larger loans while still keeping the ongoing payments relatively affordable.
Much of those inflated house prices have been built on a foundation of debt. Almost one in five Canadian households are now considered “highly indebted,” which means their debt to income ratio is 350 per cent or more, the bank says.
Prior to the pandemic, only one in every six were that much in debt. Barely 20 years ago, in 1999, only one out of every 14 households had that much debt.
“Those numbers mean that each rate hike will inflict more pain on the economy than it would have in the past,” said Desjardins economist Royce Mendes.
WATCH | Why Canada’s economy needs higher interest rates:
And those rate hikes have already started. After slashing its benchmark interest rate at the outset of the pandemic, in March of 2022 the bank began to raise its benchmark lending rate from 0.25 per cent at the start of the year to 1.5 per cent today, and the impact on the housing market has been almost immediate, with sales volumes slowing, along with average selling prices.
“Given the unsustainable strength of housing activity, moderation in housing would be healthy,” Macklem said. “But high household debt and elevated house prices are vulnerabilities.”
As part of its analysis of how resilient the financial system is in the face of various shocks, the bank examined what the impact of higher rates and lower selling prices might look like.
Mortgage costs could go up 30%
As part of that, the bank crunched the numbers on what might happen to the mortgages of recent home owners when their loans come up for renewal in five years.
The bank makes the assumption that in 2025 and 2026, variable rate loans will cost 4.4 per cent in five years, while fixed rate loans will be slightly higher at 4.5 per cent.
Both scenarios are roughly two percentage points higher than what’s available on the market today.
Under that scenario, the 1.4 million Canadians who got a mortgage in 2020 or 2021 would see their median monthly cost go up by $420, or 30 per cent upon renewal.
The impact on fixed-rate borrowers would be slightly less, as they’d see their payments go from $1,260 on average when they first got their loan, to $1,560 a month at renewal, for an increase of 24 per cent.
But variable rate borrowers are even more vulnerable, under the bank’s thought exercise, as their typical monthly payments go from $1,650 a month when they got their loan to $2,370 when they renew. That’s an increase of 44 per cent.
“If those in highly indebted households lose their jobs, they would likely need to reduce their spending sharply to continue servicing their mortgage,” Macklem said.
“This is not what we expect to happen … But it is a vulnerability to watch closely and manage carefully,” Macklem said.
Other risks beyond housing
Vulnerability to the housing market was only one portion of the Financial System Review, which is the bank’s broad assessment of the health of the economy and its ability to withstand various shocks.
Some of the other vulnerabilities cited include cyber threats given the interconnected nature of the financial system and the fragile liquidity in fixed-income markets.
The bank also warned about the growth of cryptocurrencies and their volatility.
“Like other speculative assets, cryptocurrencies are vulnerable to large and sudden price declines. And recently, some stablecoins have failed to deliver on their promise of stability,” Deputy Governor Carolyn Roger said.
The bank also says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further complicated the transition to a low-carbon economy and assets exposed to the fossil-fuel sector, such as those found in the pensions and retirement savings of many Canadians, are in greater danger of being worth significantly less than anticipated.
Oil drops as hawkish Powell testimony amplifies recession fears – BNN
Oil dropped as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s testimony before a House committee heightened concerns of an impending recession.
West Texas Intermediate dropped to near US$104 a barrel, with prices having shed more than 10 per cent in the last week. Powell said his commitment to fight inflation is “unconditional.” Warnings about a potential recession and economic slowdown have overshadowed oil market fundamentals that indicate a growing supply crunch. Crude’s recent swings have been too volatile for many traders. Open interest across the main futures contracts has fallen to the lowest since 2015 in recent days.
“Future demand destruction from a possible looming recession is countering near-term real demand that remains very strong,” said Dennis Kissler, senior vice president of trading at BOK Financial. “As long as the fear of a recession remains, the near-term strong demand is keeping crude choppy.”
Updated statistics on the state of US inventories won’t be released this week. The Energy Information Administration’s stockpile report is delayed after a power disruption damaged some of the agency’s hardware.
As a result, markets will have to rely on a US industry report to parse out weekly inventory data. The American Petroleum Institute reported crude holdings rose by 5.6 million barrels last week, while gasoline holdings also climbed, according to people familiar with the data.
Over the past two weeks, oil has been rapidly giving up gains in what’s been a volatile quarter as investors attempt to gauge the trajectory of the global economy and its impact on raw materials. There’s about a 50 per cent chance the world economy will succumb to a recession, according to Citigroup Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG.
- WTI August delivery fell US$1.92 to settle at US$104.27 in New York.
- Brent for August settlement declined US$1.69 to settle at US$110.05 a barrel.
There’s still little consensus among major banks on the outlook for oil. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a note Tuesday that demand is still running ahead of supply, while warning that the Fed “cannot print commodities.” Citi sees crude dropping through this year and beyond.
So far, there’s only been limited relief in refined product markets — where bigger surges have occurred. Diesel futures in Europe closed Wednesday at more than US$57 a barrel higher than crude, a record in data since 2011.
Technology layoffs show high-flying sector not immune from slowdown – CBC News
Canada’s technology sector has grown rapidly in recent years, as homegrown startups and foreign giants set about hiring hundreds of thousands of well-educated and talented workers. But that expansion has recently slowed to a crawl, as high inflation, interest rate hikes and a downturn for cryptocurrency have taken a lot of optimism out of the sector.
Chris Albinson, CEO of Waterloo-based incubator Communitech, says the pullback in the U.S. is more pronounced because there are more of what he calls “go for the moon” companies with dubious fundamentals suddenly finding themselves unable to adapt to the new reality.
Canadian tech companies are faring comparably better at the moment because generally speaking they are much better stewards of capital, he says, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anxiety.
“There are some founders that were 18 years old when the last recession happened,” he told CBC News. “There’s going to be stress on the system, but I think they’re ultimately going to come out of that much stronger.”
Valuations for tech giants like Meta, Amazon, Apple and Netflix have cratered in recent weeks, and where once there was a fierce war for talent, many tech giants are implementing hiring freezes and even cutting staff.
U.S. streaming giant Netflix announced Thursday it’s cutting another 300 jobs, the second time in as many months it has announced layoffs of that size.
Crowdsourced website layoffs.fyi has documented more than 20,000 tech job cuts in the past two months alone, mostly in and around major U.S. technology hubs like Seattle and San Francisco.
While cutbacks in Canada are less dramatic, they are happening.
Canadian financial tech unicorn Wealthsimple laid off 13 per cent of its staff last week, citing “unprecedented” levels of volatility in explaining the cut of roughly 160 positions. “Many of our clients are living through a period of market uncertainty they’ve never experienced before,” CEO and founder Michael Katchen told staff in announcing the news.
Jacqueline Au was among those let go from the Toronto-based business. She suspected something might be up when she noticed the company started spending less on her department, marketing, earlier this year. “When that happens … it’s natural for the team to think, well, what’s gonna happen to my job, if we’re not spending any marketing money?”
It was her first time being laid off, and while she said it was unpleasant, she’s enjoying the time off to think about what her next career move may be. She enjoys the technology sector, she said, but she knows that more job cuts are coming so she’ll be choosy about who she signs on with next.
“I think that this is just the beginning, I think the industry is going to have to keep trimming the fat to stay afloat,” she told CBC News. “I think there’s going to be ups and downs, but winter is here to stay.”
Vancouver-based Thinkific laid off about 20 per cent of its staff in April, and Sumeru Chatterjee was one of the 100 or so people let go. Originally from India, Chaterjee came to the U.S. to attend university and worked in various tech jobs for about a decade before making the leap to come to Canada in 2020.
“Last year, the general sentiment across the industry … was we need to grow, we need to rapidly expand our market lead to hire lots of people,” he told CBC News. “So the layoff was sort of a dramatic turn of events.”
He says the technology sector grew so quickly in the past decade largely by burning through venture capital cash to gain market share without having to worry about things like profits. “Normal business metrics like profitability and cash flow were … frowned upon almost, and I think a lot of people are reawakening to the fact that if you if you want to run a business, you need to have some fundamentals like a profitable business and customers that pay you.”
‘Surviving so you can thrive’
The mood from the stage of the Collision Conference in Toronto, where tens of thousands of technology lovers from more than 100 countries converged in person to discuss all things digital, was unabashedly positive this week. But on the sidelines, there were whispers of bursting bubbles.
“Right now everyone who is innovating and/or investing in tech or in startups is trying to understand what exactly is happening in this moment,” said Deena Shakir, a partner at venture capital firm Lux Capital, based in Silicon Valley. “We’re the topic of conversation at every partner meeting, and every lunch and coffee.”
While she pushes back on the notion that the tech sector is back in a bubble, she adds one thing that’s clearly bursting are expectations of endless growth at the expense of profitability — which is a good thing, she says.
“We’ve been advising … our companies to think long term to make sure that they have enough capital reserves to weather this storm,” she said. “Surviving so you can thrive is an important mindset to think about.”
Survival is key in the cryptocurrency space, which was rocked when a $12 billion trading platform known as Celsius froze withdrawals earlier this month. That impacted major companies like Crypto.com and Coinbase. Though they ramped up during the pandemic, they’re now laying off thousands of workers in the U.S. and Canada, and rescinding job offers.
Many crypto companies were scheduled to attend Collision in person, but Paddy Cosgrave, the conference’s founder and CEO, said many of them pulled out at the last minute. Celsius CEO Alex Mashinsky was one of those slated to attend, but didn’t.
“I can understand why [he] had to pull out,” Cosgrave said. “I think he’s got a major fight on his hands to sort this situation.”
Whatever dark cloud may be overhanging the crypto space, Cosgrave says it had no impact on overall attendance, which topped 35,000 — a zeal that makes perfect sense to him.
WATCH | Cryptocurrencies are in a freefall:
“When things become uncertain, everybody goes searching for answers,” he said. “And certainly in the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of big questions about what exactly is going on in technology and in particular in crypto.”
While layoffs may be on the short term outlook, Cosgrave says the future for technology in Canada and abroad still looks bright.
“What happens when you lay off very smart software engineers? Many of them go and start new companies, and some of those companies are already here,” he said.
WATCH | Tech sector hit with layoffs, cutbacks:
Is Canada heading into a recession? Here is what you need to know. – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
As gas prices and food costs continue to escalate and another interest rate hike is expected next month, many Canadians are wondering if a recession is coming and how to prepare for a possible economic downturn.
Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians believe the country is heading towards a recession, while 17 per cent believe it has already arrived, according to a new survey from Yahoo Canada/Maru Public Opinion released earlier this week.
However, 15 per cent of Canadians believe the concern about a recession happening now or later is exaggerated.
But if a recession were to occur, what does that mean for Canadians and how should they prepare for it?
WHAT IS A RECESSION?
A recession can simply be defined as a sustained decline in economic activity for at least six months. This could result from a decline in consumer spending, which in turn could cause sales to drop, businesses to cut costs and ultimately more layoffs.
“I think the simple rule of thumb is two straight quarters of economic contraction and production of goods and services,” Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist for TD Bank Group, told CP24.
“So we tend to refer to gross domestic product (GDP) as being that overall measure of activity. If we have two straight quarters of decline that passes the simple litmus test of recession.”
The country’s last recession was in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
IS A RECESSION COMING?
With inflation at a nearly 40-year high and the Bank of Canada expected to raise its key interest rate next month, these factors could kick start another recession.
Statistics Canada said its consumer price index in May rose 7.7 per cent compared with a year ago, the fastest pace since January 1983.
“It’s not an oil price issue or food price issue, it’s widespread inflation across the economy, that tells us and that tells policymakers the economy has just been running too hot for too long. We have an inflation issue rooted in the psychology of Canadians and among businesses, and it’s going to have to be dealt with,” BMO Senior Economist Robert Kavcic told CP24.
The Bank of Canada has said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, COVID-19 lockdowns in China and backlogged supply chains are fuelling “uncertainty” and higher prices for energy and food, prompting a need to increase interest rates to control inflation.
The central bank has hiked its key interest rate three times so far this year to bring it to 1.5 per cent.
But many economists, including Burleton and Kavcic, expect the central bank to raise its key rate once again by at least three quarters of a point next month to mirror the U.S. Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hike.
Burleton said this hike could dampen consumer spending, which in turn could eventually ignite a recession.
“I mean as rates go up, the bigger the chance that economic activity will weaken next year but the Bank of Canada feels from a longer-term perspective if they can bring inflation down to their target that will serve Canadians the best over the medium to longer run. So unfortunately, it’s going to come at the cost of some output foregone over the next four to six quarters,” Burleton said.
BMO is not forecasting a recession but Kavcic said if “sticky price pressures” continue and the central bank has to continue raising rates then it will be a “big pill for the economy to swallow.”
“Our view on this is that we’re going to see economic growth really stall out through the latter stages of this year and the first half or so of next year.”
TD Bank is also not predicting a recession but said in its quarterly economic forecast that “there is a very thin margin for error if another shock hits economies.”
Burleton noted that Canadians are currently experiencing an unusual recovery after the recession in 2020 and that nothing “is a given at this stage.”
“The economy has shown me real resilience. We saw it with the April retail spending numbers. Our own high-frequency data internally…still shows resilience through May. So the economy is holding up in the first half. I guess the question is, to what extent it softens going forward.”
Burleton added that although risks are rising, he thinks a recession does not seem imminent.
HOW CAN CANADIANS PREPARE FOR A RECESSION?
In anticipation of a possible recession, 56 per cent of the respondents from Maru Public Opinion’s survey said they have set stricter priorities and reduced their spending in the past month.
Eighty-six per cent said they spent more on food this month compared to last month, while 82 per cent also said they spent more on gas.
Burleton said it’s a smart move to put away additional savings in preparation of a potential recession.
“It’s probably not a bad thing to kind of start thinking about ways to protect yourself as a household in the event (of a recession). I think the good news is that based on aggregate data of the Canadian economy, a lot of households are holding on to additional deposits and savings…and we’re counting on some of that cushion to help defend against deeper outcomes in the economy going forward.”
Sixty-three per cent of survey respondents said food is the biggest expense that they have cut down on in the past month, followed by entertainment and clothing and footwear.
The Yahoo Canada/Maru Public Opinion survey was conducted between June 17 and 19 among a random selection of 1,515 Canadian adults who are Maru Voice Canada panelists. The survey has an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
With files from The Canadian Press
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