Canadian Housing Starts Weaken; Broad Saw-tooth Declining Pattern for Still-resilient Starts
Canadian housing starts have been in a pattern of saw-tooth declines from their 2021 peak. However, starts, viewed broadly, in a longer-term framework, are still quite firm. Starts are higher than their August 2023 level in only twenty-three of the last thirty-seven months, on data back to August 2020. Yet, the August 2023 reading is higher than nearly all monthly results prior to August 2020 (only seven exceptions on data back to January 1990 - 367 observations before August 2020). As a result, I view weakness in housing as limited and recent.
In Canada, housing is not weak and is holding up well. This is despite a 5-year mortgage rate of 5.99% in July, up from rates at or below 3.3% from January 2021 through September 2021. On data from January 2021, Canadian 5-year mortgage rates average 4.12% Their current 5.99% level in July is significantly higher. But interest rates and inflation rates move together and inflation rates are now moderating.
Canada’s 5-year mortgage rate is at 5.99%; historically it has been even higher from May 2006 through December 2008, more or less consistently. From January 1990 through December 2003, it also was above 5.99%. The current mortgage rate is high relative most recent historic experiences but not so much in a broad historic context. Still, mortgage rates moved up above their average since January 2012 (4.12%) as of April 2022 and rates have been elevated ever since. The five-year mortgage rate is currently on its cycle high, but it is only higher by 11 basis points from its level of eight months ago. The momentum for rising rates has dissipated.
The period of interest rate shock would seem to be over for the housing market. Canadian house prices have fallen year-over-year for only four-months in a row (April 2023- July 2023). On data back to 2000, housing prices in Canada rose by double digits only from June 2006 to January 2007… until during the Covid period, when prices rose by double digits from April 2021 through May 2022. House prices in July 2023 in Canada are still stronger than April, May and July of 2023 and are lower only than a string of months from April 2022 to March 2023.
Housing and housing prices are still a reliable store of value. The outlook for further rate increases has dimmed with inflation’s backtracking. Financing costs still are high and the combination of high prices and mortgage rates weighs on overall affordability.
With inflation off peak and much closer to the zone of acceptability that the Bank of Canada seems willing to work with, it may be that the threat to housing from interest rates has passed. The new risk may be more liable to come for the business cycle itself and economic weakness. However, for the time being, housing does not appear to be a threat to Canada’s economic expansion. Growth rates for sales in retailing have slowed and have fallen in manufacturing and wholesaling; the economy has slowed. The economy faces risks and there is still question of how inflation will behave in the global environment with continuing uncertainty over oil prices. But housing does not appear to be a threat to ongoing recovery; neither can we say that the sector is out of the woods.
Robert BruscaAuthorMore in Author Profile »
Robert A. Brusca is Chief Economist of Fact and Opinion Economics, a consulting firm he founded in Manhattan. He has been an economist on Wall Street for over 25 years. He has visited central banking and large institutional clients in over 30 countries in his career as an economist. Mr. Brusca was a Divisional Research Chief at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY (Chief of the International Financial markets Division), a Fed Watcher at Irving Trust and Chief Economist at Nikko Securities International. He is widely quoted and appears in various media. Mr. Brusca holds an MA and Ph.D. in economics from Michigan State University and a BA in Economics from the University of Michigan. His research pursues his strong interests in non aligned policy economics as well as international economics. FAO Economics’ research targets investors to assist them in making better investment decisions in stocks, bonds and in a variety of international assets. The company does not manage money and has no conflicts in giving economic advice.