Saturday, February 18, 2012

Canada’s Housing Bubble

Central bank policies have been serially blowing bubbles everywhere.

From the Bloomberg’s chart of the day,


Canada may be on the cusp of a “severe” housing correction as real estate investment surges above a tipping point relative to economic output, according to George Athanassakos, professor of finance at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows Canada’s housing investment as a percentage of gross domestic product, and the declines in inflation-adjusted house prices that follow when this ratio tops 7 percent.

“Eventually, everything boils down to demand and supply,” Athanassakos said in a telephone interview from Western University in London, Ontario. “Whenever this ratio goes over 7 percent, it signifies overinvestment in housing and two or three years later, we have a severe correction.”

Canada’s housing market is booming as historically-low interest rates fuel purchases, driving uphome prices and adding to record household debt. Canada’s ratio of housing investment to GDP has averaged 5.8 percent over the last 50 years and is currently at about 7 percent, based on Statistics Canada figures as of the third quarter of 2011, Athanassakos said. Housing investment includes spending on new homes, renovations and real estate transaction fees.

More from the Economist,

Speculators are pouring into the property markets in Toronto and Vancouver. “We have foreign investors who are purchasing two, three, four, five properties,” says Michael Thompson, who heads Toronto’s economic-development committee. Last month a modest Toronto home put on the market for C$380,000 ($381,500) sold for C$570,000, following a bidding war among 31 prospective buyers. According to Demographia, a consultancy, Vancouver’s ratio of home prices to incomes is the highest in the English-speaking world.


Bankers are becoming alarmed. Mark Carney, the governor of the central bank, has been warning for years that Canadians are consuming beyond their means. The bosses of banks with big mortgage businesses, including CIBC, Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, have all said the housing market is at or near its peak. Canada’s ratio of household debt to disposable income has risen by 40% in the past decade, recently surpassing America’s (see chart). And its ratio of house prices to income is now 30% above its historical average—less than, say, Ireland’s excesses (which reached 70%), but high enough to expect a drop. A recent report from Bank of America said Canada was “showing many of the signs of a classic bubble”.

Like China, Canada’s central bank is in a crossroad; tighten monetary environment which translates to a bust (recession/crisis), or attempt to fine tune the boom bust cycle which only delays the day of reckoning but aggravates the situation.

I am reminded by the admonitions of the preeminent Professor Murray N. Rothbard,

Like the repeated doping of a horse, the boom is kept on its way and ahead of its inevitable comeuppance, by repeated doses of the stimulant of bank credit. It is only when bank credit expansion must finally stop, either because the banks are getting into a shaky condition or because the public begins to balk at the continuing inflation, that retribution finally catches up with the boom. As soon as credit expansion stops, then the piper must be paid, and the inevitable readjustments liquidate the unsound over-investments of the boom, with the reassertion of a greater proportionate emphasis on consumers' goods production.

Central banks are caught in a bind, regulations have been failing to stop boom bust cycles, which they deny have been a product of their constant manipulation of interest rates.

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