The following is an article by Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres. One thing that I completely agree with, is the statement that these actions do nothing to address the shortage of housing supply. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss any of this with me, I would welcome your phone call.
Morneau’s Big Guns Aimed At Housing
This week, Ottawa unveiled major initiatives to slow housing activity both by potentially discouraging foreign home purchases and, more importantly, by making it more difficult for Canadians to get mortgages. As well, the Finance Minister is limiting the degree to which mortgage lenders can buy portfolio insurance on mortgages with down payments of 20% or more. Ottawa has clearly taken out the big guns to slow housing activity, which is widely considered to be too strong in Vancouver and Toronto. Ironically, home sales have already slowed precipitously in Vancouver in recent months and the BC government introduced a new 15% land transfer tax on foreign purchases of homes effective August 6, the effects of which are yet to be fully determined.
The measures announced by Finance Minister Morneau are more far reaching than anything considered to date and could well have quite a significant impact. Not only are these initiatives intended to close loopholes for foreign investors, which might help to make housing more affordable for domestic purchasers, but they will actually make homeownership less attainable for the marginal borrower, which is often younger Canadian first-time home buyers.
Officials at the Department of Finance have been studying the housing market and have led a working group with municipalities and provinces, as well as federal agencies such as the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). This in-depth analysis has informed today’s announcement.
Measures Aimed At Foreign Homebuyers
Measures Affecting All Homebuyers
The Finance Department says in its press release that, “Protecting the long-term financial security of Canadians is a cornerstone of the Government of Canada’s efforts to help the middle class and those working hard to join it.” This is a “Nanny State” measure to protect people from themselves, as the Bank of Canada has long been concerned about the growing number of households with excessive debt-to-income ratios. It will make housing less attainable, at least in the short run. If it, therefore, substantially reduces housing demand, home prices could decline, ultimately improving affordability. This, of course, is not what the 70% of Canadian households that already own a home would like to see.
For borrowers to qualify for mortgage insurance, their debt-servicing ratios must be no higher than the maximum allowable levels when calculated using the greater of the contract rate and the Bank of Canada posted rate. Lenders and mortgage insurers assess two key debt-servicing ratios to determine if a homebuyer qualifies for an insured mortgage:
To qualify for mortgage insurance, a homebuyer must have a GDS ratio no greater than 39% and a TDS ratio no greater than 44%. Qualifying for a mortgage by applying the typically higher Bank of Canada posted rate when calculating a borrower’s GDS and TDS ratios serves as a “stress test” for homebuyers, providing new homebuyers a buffer to be able to continue servicing their debts even in a higher interest rate environment, or if faced with a reduction in household income.
The announced measure will apply to new mortgage insurance applications received on October 17, 2016 or later.
Lenders have the option to purchase mortgage insurance for homebuyers who make a down payment of at least 20% of the property purchase price, known as “low-ratio” insurance because the loan amounts are generally low in relation to the value of the home. There are two types of low-ratio mortgage insurance: transactional insurance on individual mortgages at the point of origination, typically paid for by the borrower, and portfolio (bulk pooled) insurance that is acquired after origination and typically paid for by the lender. The majority of low-ratio mortgage insurance is portfolio insurance.
Lender access to low-ratio insurance supports access to mortgage credit for some borrowers, but primarily supports lender access to mortgage funding through government-sponsored securitization programs.
Effective November 30, 2016, mortgage loans that lenders insure using portfolio insurance and other discretionary low loan-to-value ratio mortgage insurance must meet the eligibility criteria that previously only applied to high-ratio insured mortgages. New criteria for low-ratio mortgages to be insured will include the following requirements:
These tighter mortgage insurance regulations will reduce the supply of mortgages and/or increase their cost to the borrower.
Consultation on Lender Risk Sharing
The Government announced that it would launch a public consultation process this fall to seek information and feedback on how modifying the distribution of risk in the housing finance framework by introducing a modest level of lender risk sharing for government-backed insured mortgages could enhance the current system.
Canada’s system of 100% government-backed mortgage default insurance is unique compared to approaches in other countries. A lender risk sharing policy would aim to rebalance risk in the housing finance system so that lenders retain a meaningful, but manageable, level of exposure to mortgage default risk.
This proposal by CMHC has been floated for some time and, needless to say, the Canadian Bankers’ Association, is against it. The measure would certainly increase the risk associated with funding mortgages and therefore likely increase the capital required to be set aside against this additional risk. Therefore, in essence, it increases the cost to the lenders to finance mortgages. The lenders will undoubtedly attempt to pass off this increased cost to the borrower or reduce its supply of credit. Right now, the cost of mortgage insurance is borne by the taxpayer.
Bottom Line: These are very meaningful initiatives to slow housing demand, making it more difficult for Canadians to borrow. Finance Minister Morneau has taken out the big guns. I have no doubt that the pace of mortgage lending will slow from what it would otherwise be as a result of these government actions. However, these actions do nothing to address the shortage of housing supply in Vancouver and Toronto.
Housing has been a very important pillar for the Canadian economy, especially at a time when oil price declines have decimated the oil sector and manufacturing continues to struggle. This is a case of being very careful what we wish for– I’m concerned that we might see more of a slowdown in housing than the government was counting on, which will certainly affect jobs and growth and reduce tax revenues at a time when budget deficits are mounting and fiscal stimulus has yet to do its job.