There’s another one of those semantics question articles in the Financial Post:
Canadian Housing: Bursting bubble or gentle landing?
Here’s one chunk of that article with a few asides that always seem to be missed:
Lewandowski believes Canada will not suffer a U.S.-style housing crash simply because policymakers had the benefit of watching it happen next door.
“What we experienced here in the U.S. with housing markets and regulators goes directly to the attitude and changes the minister of finance has made in Canada. A regulator who is being proactive is taking Step One in making sure the housing market doesn’t find itself in a bubble,” Lewandowski said.
So often it seems that ‘bubble’ is used as if it refers to the collapse in prices. It doesn’t. The ‘bubble’ is the inflation of prices beyond reason. By the time the collapse comes the damage is already baked in, falling prices are a correction of the problem, not the problem itself.
Both Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have been on the march against a housing bubble for years, aware how low rates and loose lending standards in the United States ignited a boom and bust there.
Well, Carney and Flaherty have definitely been ‘warning’ of consumer debt levels for a while, but government policies like following the US into 40 year zero down mortgages didn’t help to prevent a housing bubble.
The central bank has held rates low since the global financial crisis because growth remains tepid and global woes weigh on Canada’s export market, and Canadians can find a five-year mortgage rate below 3%.
Meanwhile in the states you can lock in to a 30 year mortgage for 3.35%. In fact, while house prices in the US were correcting, interest rates were falling as well.
But the government’s gradual tightening of rules for borrowers — a firm admission that the market was hotter than anyone was comfortable with — has taken some steam out of the market, and economists, like Carney, seem to believe a soft landing may be at hand.
“We’re encouraged by the fact the level of housing starts has come down to slightly below demographic demand, as we see right now, there’s still more adjustments to go,” he said in testimony to Parliament last week. “We’re encouraged by the evolution of house prices in a number of markets. We’re on the path to a balanced evolution of the household sector and we all have to continue to be vigilant.”
Ok, we’ll continue to be vigilant then.