Garry Marr and Gordon Isfeld, Financial Post, March 26, 2014 - Maybe it’s a coincidence that former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is gone but Bank of Montreal signalled it is about to kick off another round of mortgage rate wars. The bank, which drew the wrath of Mr. Flaherty for starting a battle which saw rates drop to record lows, is ready to hit the marketplace again with its 2.99% offer for a closed five-year fixed rate mortgage.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver again warned Thursday that he is monitoring the mortgage market closely, but the government has no plans to intervene in the commercial banking sector.
Mr. Oliver, who took over the federal government’s No. 2 position from Jim Flaherty on March 19, said BMO chief Bill Downe told him late Wednesday that the bank had lowered its rate.
“There’s a market and the bank made its decision, and the chief executive officer of the Bank of Montreal informed me about it,” Mr. Oliver told reporters Thursday in Ottawa.
“I listened to his explanation, his reasons. I reiterated what I’ve just stated — the government is gradually reducing its involvement in the mortgage market.”
Asked if the government would take further steps if a housing bubble formed, Mr. Oliver said: “I don’t have to get into a hypothetical negative.”
“We’ve been, over a long time, reducing the Canadian [government] involvement in the mortgage market to protect the indebtedness of Canadian consumers and Canadian taxpayers, and will continue on in that regard.”
Earlier in an emailed statement, Mr. Oliver said the Conservative government “took action four times, from 2008 to 2012. Budgets 2013 and 2014 announced additional measures to reduce the government’s exposure to the housing market.”
“We will continue monitoring the market,” he said.
“With BMO, homebuyers can lock-in below 3% for a full five years of protection against rising rates. With a maximum amortization of 25 years, our mortgage offer is the responsible choice as it can help Canadians become mortgage-free faster,” said Martin Nel, vice-president of personal products, with BMO Bank of Montreal, in a release.
Mr. Flaherty, took great pains to slow the housing market, and tightened mortgage rules on four occasions. One of the most noted changes was shrinking amortization lengths from 40 years to 25 years for mortgages covered by government-backed mortgage default insurance.
Bank of Montreal started last year’s battle with its 2.99% offer and other banks started matching with similar deals. Manulife Financial Corp. even took its five-year product down to 2.89% before being stopped in its tracks.
“After consulting with the Department of Finance, Manulife Bank has withdrawn the promotional campaign and reverted to our previous posted rate,” a spokesman for Manulife said at the time.
But Mr. Flaherty is long gone from finance and it remains to be seen how tough his replacement Joe Oliver will be on the housing sector.
“This is driven by the fact that bond yields have fallen and we are in what has traditionally been the busiest season for buying a home,” said Paul Deegan vice-president, government and public relations with BMO Financial Group about whether the move was driven by the fact there was a new finance minister.
At the present discount, BMO is even getting close to what some of the best discounters are offering. The site ratesupermarket.ca says the best five-year rate is now 2.94% among discounters.
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