Category Archives: economy

Close your eyes and load up on debt

This National Post commentary is one of the most direct attacks on Canadian personal debt levels I’ve seen in the mainstream media.

The takeaway is this: YOU are responsible for your own debts, don’t go whining to anyone if it gets you into trouble.

It’s mindboggling to think that an entire population can look at what happened in the US when personal debt levels got this high and shrug it off.

Analysts and economist are filled with forecasts of doom, and that was before the latest figures showed debt had continue to pile up over the past year to a record 163% of household income, which is where the U.S. was before the 2008 collapse, and about 10 points higher than anyone thought. As the housing market cools and home prices slip, a lot of people could find themselves making monthly payments they can barely cover for a house that isn’t worth what they thought it was. If you can’t cover the mortgage, you just have to pray the roof doesn’t start leaking or the furnace fail.

And borrowers won’t really have anyone to blame but themselves. The warnings are out there. The examples are rife: all anyone has to do is examine the experience of U.S. homeowners over the past few years. The dangers aren’t a secret, they’re just being ignored.

But people keep borrowing, because it makes them feel good to spend, because they’re too busy to think about it, because they figure they can cover the payments in the short term and will deal with the future when it comes. And because they can always blame it on someone else when the roof caves in.

Read the full article here.

Should incentives go to the supply or demand side?

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is Canadas national housing agency.

The front page of their website says this:

Backed by more than 65 years of experience, we work with community organizations, the private sector, non-profit agencies and all levels of government to help create innovative solutions to today’s housing challenges, anticipate tomorrow’s needs, and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

This is a bit vague, but let’s assume ‘today’s housing challenges’ includes the availability of affordable housing for all Canadians.

With this goal in mind there are two ways you could use government money to create incentives for housing: The supply side or the demand side.

CMHC works on both sides, but over the years they’ve shifted the bulk of their support to the demand side.  This means that instead of directly funding the construction of housing or providing incentives to builders, they provide support to the buyer mainly in the form of mortgage insurance for risky loans.  Of course this support is actually provided to banks to make their loans risk free, but the end result is that more people are able to pay a higher price for housing due to more availability of credit.

In concert with record low interest rates and a speculative mania this has driven housing prices to record highs in Vancouver and inflated prices across the country leading to talk of a national Canadian housing bubble similar to that seen in the US.

If we really want to use government to assist in the creation of affordable housing shouldn’t we be providing incentives to the supply side instead?  It shouldn’t be a stretch to understand that building more housing and providing less credit to home buyers would drive prices down making homes MORE affordable.

But nobody really wants to drive prices down do they?  So instead we get vague statements about housing challenges and smoke and mirrors attempts to improve ‘affordability’ by providing ever cheaper credit.

That hasn’t worked in any housing bubble yet, but hey! Maybe it’s different here!


Dipping into RSP to pay the mortgage.

There was a discussion here the other day about someone dipping into their RSP to pay the mortgage on the investment property they couldn’t sell.

It brought up comment anecdotes about others dipping into their retirement funds to pay the mortgage.


RSPs are protected in bankruptcy, but if you withdraw from them to pay for a losing asset and end up going bankrupt you lose not just the home, but your retirement savings as well.

And you want to retire don’t you?

You should exhaust all other options before touching your RSPs and that includes the option of bankruptcy.  Losing your home isn’t nearly as bad as losing your home and all of your retirement savings.

Real estate is not always the direct path to riches, leverage is a beautiful thing on the way up, but it can really bite on the way down.   Just ask anyone in who bought in the hot bubble markets of the US in 2005.

Don’t make the mistake of throwing away your retirement savings, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to start over with your savings.

Is Emili smart enough to know your house price?

Now that the Canadian housing bubble appears to be running out of steam we’re starting to hear concerns that automated appraisals have helped push prices up higher than they ought to be.

This article in the globe and mail was linked in fridays free-for-all post, but is worth a closer look.

Automated appraisals save time and money but have such a big margin of error that they are practically worthless.

Now people involved in lending are starting to worry about the fall out of relying too much on an automated system:

Introduced in 1996 as a way for the CMHC, banks and other lenders to quickly and inexpensively determine how much money can be lent against a residential property, the database known as Emili is relied upon too heavily by lenders, the documents suggest.

Emili is an automated system that uses figures such as recent sales of nearby homes to gauge values, without sending an actual appraiser to the address. However, the potential margin of error in calculations may pose significant problems. For home buyers, or homeowners with home-equity lines of credit, an inaccurate valuation by the database could allow them to overpay or borrow much too heavily for the home, industry members argue.

For banks, it could mean the collateral they have against the mortgage is not worth as much as believed.

Ooops!  But as a comforting side effect, it appears that appraisals that came in too high in a hot market did enable the CMHC to collect higher fees.  Read the full article here.

Trade deficit at record levels

Patriotz pointed out this article at the CBC: Canadas trade deficit has grown to the largest level ever, and this at a time when oil and commodity prices are high.

The gap between what Canada sells to the world and what it buys from other countries expanded to the largest point on record in July, as its trade deficit expanded to an all-time high of $2.3 billion.

Exports fell 3.4 per cent during the month, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday. That was more than the corresponding decline in imports, which were down 2.2 per cent.

Exports of energy products fell 8.5 per cent to $8.2 billion for the month, the data agency reported, while exports of automotive products dropped 5.3 per cent to $5.9 billion.

“This is about as bad as it gets for Canadian exporters, at least so far,” Scotiabank economist Derek Holt said in a note following the release of the data. “[And] the details are worse.”

Read the full article here.