By Susan Pigg, The Toronto Star, April 3, 2014 - The lack of public data around Canada’s housing market is “mind-boggling” and could leave the country, and the economy, especially vulnerable when interest rates start to rise, says a leading bank economist.
“We have a new finance minister now, a new head of the CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), maybe it’s time to turn the page here and see what we can do,” said Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, in an unusual note to clients Friday from an executive of one of the Big Five banks.
Tal made his comments as Toronto house prices continued their unrelenting climb, up 8.5 per cent at the end of the first quarter of 2014, year over year, according to figures released Thursday by the Toronto Real Estate Board.
The average sale price of a GTA home inched up to a new record of $557,684 last month as demand continued to far outstrip listings.
It’s impossible to really assess risk in the Canadian housing market, says Tal, without knowing the dollar value of new mortgages in the last quarter, the credit scores for borrowers/home buyers, the average down payment, how many foreign investors are in Canada’s condo market, and what the market’s exposure is from non-conforming mortgages, the Canadian equivalent of the devastating U.S. subprime mortgages.
“The gap between the importance of the real-estate market to the economy and the lack of publicly available information on it is mind-boggling,” Tal said in his note.
“Interest rates will eventually rise and we will be tested. This market is overshooting and what we do over the next 12 months is crucial,” he added in a telephone interview.
Housing analyst Ben Rabidoux has echoed Tal’s concerns for some time and says the federal regulatory body, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, would make an ideal clearing house for housing data and could help banks, for instance, get around propriety or competitive concerns.
“We’ve got policy-makers trying to guide direction for housing policy and we don’t have a clue about some of this important data,” said Rabidoux.
The lack of detailed data is contributing to the “short Canada” position that has many major foreign fund managers now betting on a housing downturn north of the border, said Tal.
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