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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Canada's housing starts indicate an ever expanding bubble

Back to the news... If you are looking for MY QUEST FOR A CONDO, click here.

Canada's housing starts have almost doubled since the start of 2009. In the last 3 years Canada's housing starts have gone from approx. 130,000 in January 2009 to almost 250,000 by April 2012.

HOWEVER AT THE SAME TIME Canada's household debts has skyrocketed from $1.3 trillion (it was $600 billion in January 2000) to $1.61 trillion in only 3 years. So either way you look at it ($300 billion in 3 years or $1.01 trillion in 12 years) we've really been piling on the household debt in the form of mortgages, credit cards, lines of credit...

NOTE: $300 billion is enough to buy 600,000 houses for the average price of $500,000. I would hazard a guess that Canada's housing bubble is being fueled by too much credit and household debt.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney says he regards Canada's household debt — which currently is at a near-record 151 per cent of disposable income —as the No. 1 domestic risk to the Canadian economy. Individual household debt was $39,597 in 2009, but has risen to approx. $48,735 by April 2012.

Remember that is an average debt per household. It may not seem like a lot, but when you consider the demographics of WHO is in debt you start to realize its a lot more than $48,000.

The following is from Statistics Canada:

32% of working Canadians are not saving anything (for retirement or anything else because they have too many debts to worry about right now).

For people making less than $35,000 a year, 49% surveyed reported that their debt levels rose in the last three years. 42% for people $35,000 to $75,000 a year. 38% for people making over $75,000.

So evidently its effecting lower income people more, but when you consider middle income and upper income people are also packing on the debts (and when you consider its middle and upper income people who buy houses and condos) it becomes self-evident that if a housing market collapse happens it will be the middle class people who have a huge mortgage they cannot afford which will end up losing their shirts.

Driving the housing starts is all the pressure on condos currently happening in Toronto and Vancouver, where the condo markets are so red hot you'd have to be a complete fool to be purchasing during a bubble. (Because when the bubble pops you won't be able to refinance...)

In theory Canadian banks should be more cautious about whom they give mortgages to, but the problem is that the banks don't insure their own mortgages. The CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) insures them. Its basically the equivalent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the USA.

NOTE: When the US housing market collapsed in 2007-08 it ended up costing American taxpayers $700 billion in bank bailouts and hundreds of billions of dollars more in economic stimulus from the resulting economic fallout. Due to the CMHC's policies the same thing will likely happen here in Canada between now and 2015.

I say 2015 because that is when the condo market in Toronto and Vancouver will likely implode due to the sheer number of condos currently being built which will become available by 2015, despite the fact that people aren't buying that many condos... See my older article Toronto condo market might burst for complete details.

Toronto currently has 199,000 condo units, but another 27,504 are under construction right now and will be finished by 2015. That will boost supply by roughly 14%. The problem is that there is not enough demand for people to buy 27,500 extra condos in the next years. Prices will have to take a huge hit (by maybe 10 to 12% over the short term), but over the long term it will kickstart a collapse of housing prices in Toronto.

A lot of it is fueled by overseas investors who purchase the condo using a Canadian mortgage (via a Canadian bank, insured by the CMHC) and then flipping it for a profit when the property is built. However if they start taking losses all the investors will pull out of Canada in a hurry and the prices won't just fall, they will PLUMMET.

So yeah, doom and gloom.

But there is a sunny side of this for people like me who wants to get a condo (see My Quest for a Condo). It means that when people are desperate to sell they might be willing to trade...

NOTE: Household debt is leveling off, slowing to 4% annual accumulation in 2012 from a high of 10% in 2011. Why? Many Canadians have reached their credit limits and can't get more credit. The danger however is that this means many people might cut back on spending, which will hurt consumer confidence levels, cause more companies to go bankrupt, layoffs, economic downturn... and possibly a housing market collapse ahead of schedule.

I am still betting it will happen by 2015 to coincide with the condo market overflow of supply, but if it happens sooner than I expect then I won't be complaining. It will just make it easier to buy (or trade) for a condo when the prices drop to half.

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