17 Mar

Federal Reserve Interest Rate Decision Revealed


Posted by: John Dunford

There was no shock decision today as the Federal Reserve made its interest rate announcement.

During its March release, the Fed announced that it would maintain its benchmark interest rate in the range of 0.25-0.5 per cent. It had moved rates to this level back in December – the first increase for close to a decade – in what was seen as a sign of confidence in a resurgent US economy.

However, a difficult start to the year appears to have put plans for four further hikes during 2016 on hold with the Fed now predicting two rate hikes later in the year.

While investors had initially expected rates to rise this month, the path of the financial markets has taken things in a different path. With the US dollar remaining strong, weight has been placed on the US export market while the cost of imports has been held down. In addition, oil prices have reached their lowest point for around a decade which has placed further restraints on inflation.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Kevin Logan, a chief economist for HSBC, told the Washington Post that the Fed was likely to “extend its current period of ‘watchful waiting’.”

Meanwhile, Eric Stein, co-director of global income at Eaton Vance, spoke to USA Today, telling the publication that rates were not going to go up this month but that several rate hikes are still likely later this year. He believes that the factors that may have scared the Federal Reserve earlier this year – including fears about recession, volatility within the credit markets and market turbulence – have calmed: perhaps giving more confidence to the Fed to continue with plans for a hiking cycle.

Among the clues that a future rate hike may still be coming include the fact that Wall Street had removed its predictions of rate hikes earlier in the year, but it is now predicting one-two during 2016.

9 Mar

Bank of Canada Announces Overnight Rate Target


Posted by: John Dunford

 The Central bank has released its latest rate decision.

The Bank of Canada said Wednesday it will maintain its target for the overnight rate at ½%.

“The global economy is progressing largely as the Bank anticipated in its January Monetary Policy Report. Financial market volatility, reflecting heightened concerns about economic momentum, appears to be abating,” the bank said in a release. “Although downside risks remain, the Bank still expects global growth to strengthen this year and next. Recent data indicate that the U.S. expansion remains broadly on track.

“At the same time, the low level of oil prices will continue to dampen growth in Canada and other energy-producing countries.”

The BoC also noted recent rebounds in oil and other commodities. Coupled with slight appreciation for the loonie, the central bank said economic conditions are evolving as assumed in its January policy report.

“Canada’s GDP growth in the fourth quarter was not as weak as expected, but the near-term outlook for the economy remains broadly the same as in January,” the bank said. “National employment has held up despite job losses in resource-intensive regions, and household spending continues to underpin domestic demand. Non-energy exports are gathering momentum, particularly in sectors that are sensitive to exchange rate movements.

“However, overall business investment remains very weak due to retrenchment in the resource sector.”

Overall, the bank said risks are balanced.

“The Bank’s Governing Council judges that the overall balance of risks remains within the zone for which the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate, and the target for the overnight rate remains at 1/2 per cent,” the BoC said.

9 Mar

Government Reveals Plans for Foreign Ownership Data


Posted by: John Dunford

CMHC tells MortgageBrokerNews.ca what it plans to do once it collects additional foreign ownership data.

Many have applauded the Crown Corporation’s initiative to collect more comprehensive data on offshore buyers of real estate, which would help determine just how much influence they have on the market, but many have questioned what it plans to do with the data. Now we know.

“CMHC provides reliable, impartial and up-to-date housing market reports, analysis and knowledge to support and assist consumers and the housing industry in making informed decisions,” Karine LeBlanc, a spokesperson for CMHC, wrote in an email to MortgageBrokerNews.ca. “Reliable data collected on foreign owners will be published to support informed decision-making.”

Perhaps not the answer brokers were looking for.

Many have called for stricter guidelines for foreign buyers, and hoped that further data would help kick-start those initiatives from the government.

However, that still may be the case. More comprehensive CMHC data could help kick-start changes from policy makers. Only time will tell, however.

On Monday, it was reported the Crown Corporation has been working with various agencies – including FINTRAC and Stats Canada – to better track foreign influence on the housing market.

“At this time, no existing tool can provide a definitive measure of the level of foreign investment in Canada’s housing markets,” LeBlanc said in an e-mail to Bloomberg on Friday. “That said, CMHC regularly engages in discussions internally, as well as with industry experts, as part of its continued efforts to develop a program of work that would better capture data on foreign buyers.”

Prices in Toronto and Vancouver – two cities thought to be heavily invested in buy wealthy offshore investors – have seen on seemingly unstoppable price gains.

The average detached home in Vancouver spiked 27% year-over-year to $1.3 million in February. The average price in Toronto, meanwhile, jumped to $1.21 million.

2 Mar

Q4 GROWTH AT 0.8% BOOSTS 2015 TO ONLY 1.2%


Posted by: John Dunford

Today’s stronger than expected fourth quarter GDP figure of 0.8% annualized growth did little to assuage concerns that the Canadian economy is growing well below potential. Many expected growth to be flat in the final quarter of last year. The growth figure released today by Statistics Canada was boosted by the biggest drop in imports in six years—the direct result of surging import prices owing to the weak loonie and the fact that Canadians are traveling less outside the country. This is hardly something to cheer about, although it does take pressure off the Bank of Canada to cut interest rates further.

Final domestic demand – GDP less net exports and inventories – actually declined in the period between October and December, reflecting big reductions in business investment, particularly in non-residential construction. Business investment declined at a 6.8% annual rate, its fourth consecutive decline. Spending for non-residential construction and machinery and equipment – key contributors to productivity growth – plunged at a whopping 13.2% annual rate, largely in the energy and mining sectors. Consumer spending growth slowed as well relative to the prior quarter.

Housing was the one bright spot in the economy, although new housing construction slowed. The growth was attributable to the continued strength in the resale market (mainly in Vancouver and Toronto), as well as housing renovations.

Export growth was very disappointing. It had been an important contributor to the growth earlier in the year. Exports of goods decreased at a 2.0% annual rate, mostly because of the decline in sales of aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts (think Bombardier).

For the year as a whole, 2015 was pretty dismal. The economy advanced only 1.2% – not nearly enough to assure adequate job creation. This was half the pace posted in 2014. Canada’s terms of trade – the price of exports relative to the price of imports – declined sharply, reflecting the sharp drop in oil prices and the surging price of imports.

Given the latest round of spending cuts and layoffs in the oil patch, first quarter growth this year is likely to be quite tepid. The recovery in manufacturing is disappointingly slow and consumer spending is dampened by rising unemployment and record-high debt levels.

Fiscal stimulus is no doubt coming to mitigate the damage of the commodity price plunge. The March 22 budget will likely increase the federal deficit to at least $30 billion, triple the Liberal Party pledge during the election campaign. The Bank of Canada meets again next Wednesday, but is unlikely to cut rates further, leaving the feds to take the lead. The Bank held off in January as well, concerned that the rise in import prices would boost inflation and hoping fiscal stimulus would come to the rescue. All eyes will be on Ottawa later this month as continued depressed growth weakens consumer and business confidence.