Canadian Housing Is Being Propped Up By Just One City by Jeff Desjardins, Visual Capitalist
Without Vancouver’s gains, the market would have dipped -1.1% in February 2016
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“Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” – John Maynard Keynes
The last time we gave a good run down of Canadiian housing market was in May 2015, when we noted that The Economist gave it the dubious title of the most overvalued housing market in the world. Since then, in just 10 months, prices in Vancouver and Toronto have soared to marks that are 14.1% and 8.7% higher respectively.
Frothy prices, million-dollar shacks, and buying frenzies have prompted world-class short-sellers to come out of the woodwork. Speculators like Marc Cohodes, who advises hedge funds on Wall Street that want to bet against the Canadian housing market, sees this type of classic bubble behavior as music to his ears.
“The cross currents are beyond crazy in Vancouver — it’s a mix of money laundering, speculation, low interest rates,” says Cohodes, who was once profiled as Wall Street’s highest-profile short-seller by the New York Times. “A house is something you live in, but in Vancouver you guys are trading them like the penny stocks on Howe Street.”
Mr. Cohodes has recently said that Canadian real estate has reached “peak insanity”, and it’s part of the reason that investors around the world are trying to find a way to bet against the market.
Home Capital Group, one of Canada’s largest financial institutions, is now the seventh most-shorted stock on the Canadian exchanges. The same alternative mortgage lender recently also came under scrutiny for suspending 45 of its brokers for falsifying borrower income.
Just as falling oil prices helped to drag the Canadian dollar down, the “lower for longer” price environment for crude has had a similar effect on house prices in the Prairies. Homes in Fort McMurray, the epicenter of the Canadian oil sands, have crashed an average of $117,000 in just a year.
Meanwhile, price tags in the once-strong housing market of Calgary have declined from their peak in October 2014 by -5.4%. The city, which is a financial center for Canadian energy, is bracing for a particular tough year ahead as well. Houses are spending more time on the market, and sales volume and prices continue to fall.
It’s not just Canada’s oilpatch that is starting to see the writing on the wall.
Toronto, which has helped to buoy the rest of the country’s housing growth for years, has also started to cool down. According to the Teranet – National Bank House Price Index, prices have risen just 0.3% since October in Canada’s largest real estate market. It’s not expected to heat back up, either. With the prospect of rising interest rates in the future, TD Bank expects that Toronto will have a “moderate” decline in 2017.
And Then There was One…
For investors bullish on near-term gains in Canada’s housing sector, there is one last hope that resides on the West Coast.
Vancouver’ housing market sailed again in February, shooting up a record 3.2% in just one month. This is the best month for the market since August 2006. It was so good, in fact, that it single-handedly propped up Canada’s national index for housing.
Canada’s market as a whole saw gains of 0.6% in the month, but it would have dropped to a lacklustre -1.1% without the inclusion of Vancouver in the 11-city index.
The only problem?
While Keynes is right in that markets can remain irrational for longer than one can stay solvent, it seems that Canadian housing has turned a corner: regional markets in other parts of the country have stumbled, and the last remaining pillar is Vancouver.
It may continue to buck the trend for now, but it is a wobbly pillar at best.