The Bank of Canada today lowered its target for the overnight rate by 50 basis points to ¼ percent. This unscheduled rate decision brings the policy rate to its effective lower bound and is intended to provide support to the Canadian financial system and the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic (see chart below).
Strains in the commercial paper and government securities markets triggered today’s action to engage in quantitative easing. The Governing Council has been meeting every day during the pandemic crisis. Market illiquidity is a significant problem and one the Bank considers foundational. These large-scale purchases of financial assets are intended to improve the functioning of financial markets.
Credit risk spreads have widened sharply in recent days. People are moving to cash. Liquidity has dried up in all financial markets, even government-guaranteed markets such as Canadian Mortgage-Backed securities (CMBs) and GoC bills and bonds. The commercial paper market–used by businesses for short-term financing–has become nonfunctional. The Bank is making large-scale purchases of financial assets in illiquid markets to improve market functioning across the yield curve. They are not attempting to change the shape of the curve for now but might do so in the future.
These large-scale purchases will create the liquidity that the financial system is demanding so that financial intermediation can function. Risk has risen, which creates the need for more significant cash injections.
At the press conference today, Senior Deputy Governor Wilkins refrained from speculating what other measures the Bank might take in the future. When asked, “Where is the bottom?” She responded, “That depends on the resolution of the Covid-19 health issues.”
The Bank will discuss the economic outlook in its Monetary Policy Report at their regularly scheduled meeting on April 15. In response to questions, Governor Poloz said it is challenging to assess what the impact of the shutdown of the economy will be. A negative cycle of pessimism is clearly in place. The Bank’s rate cuts help to reduce monthly payments on floating rate debt. He is hoping to maintain consumer confidence and expectations of a return to normalcy.
The oil price cut alone would have been sufficient reason for the Bank of Canada to lower interest rates. The Covid-19 medical emergency and the shutdown dramatically exacerbates the situation. All that monetary policy can do is to cushion the blow and avoid structural problems to the economy. The overnight rate of 0.25% is consistent with market rates along the yield curve.
High household debt levels have historically been a concern. Monetary policy easing helps to bridge the gap until the health concerns are resolved. The housing market, according to Wilkins, is no longer a concern for excessive borrowing by cash-strapped households.
At this point, the Bank is not contemplating negative interest rates. Monetary policy has little further room to maneuver, given interest rates are already very low. With businesses closed, lower interest rates do not encourage consumers to go out and spend money.
Large-scale debt purchases by the Bank will continue for an extended period to provide liquidity. The Bank can do this in virtually unlimited quantities as needed. The policymakers are also focussing on the period after the crisis. They want the economy to have an excellent foundation for growth when the economy resumes its normal functioning.
Fiscal stimulus is crucial at this time. The newly introduced income support for people who are not covered by the Employment Insurance system is a particularly important safety net for the economy. There are many other elements of the fiscal stimulus, and the government stands ready to do more as needed.
The Canadian dollar has moved down on the Bank’s latest emergency action. The loonie has also been battered by the dramatic decline in oil prices. Canada is getting a double whammy from the pandemic and the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The loonie’s decline feeds through to rising prices of imports. However, the pandemic has disrupted trade and imports have fallen.
The Bank of Canada suggested as well that they are meeting twice a week with the leadership of the Big-Six Banks. The cost of funds for the banks has risen sharply. CMHC is buying large volumes of mortgages from the banks, which, along with CMB purchases by the central bank, will shore up liquidity. The banks are well-capitalized and robust. The level of collaboration between the Bank of Canada and the Big Six is very high.
The Stock Market Has Had Three Good Days
As the chart below shows, the Toronto Stock Exchange has retraced some of its losses in the past three days as the US and Canada have announced very aggressive fiscal stimulus. As well, the Bank of Canada has now lowered interest rates three times this month, with a cumulative easing of 1.5 percentage points. The Federal Reserve has also cut by 150 basis points over the same period. In addition to lowering borrowing costs, the central bank has also announced in recent days a slew of new liquidity measures to inject cash into the banking system and money markets and to ensure it can handle any market-wide stresses in the financial system.
The economic pain is just getting started in Canada with the spike in joblessness and the shutdown of all but essential services. Similarly, the US posted its highest level of initial unemployment insurance claims in history–3.83 million, which compares to a previous high of 685,000 during the financial crisis just over a decade ago. These are the earliest indicator of a virus-slammed economy, with much more to come. All of this is without precedent, but rest assured that policy leaders will continue to do whatever it takes to cushion the blow of the pandemic on consumers and businesses and to bridge a return to normalcy.
Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres
It may sound like we’re talking about football formations here, but if you are considering the purchase of a rental property or already own a rental property, knowing about addbacks and offsets is an important concept to understand when qualifying for your next mortgage. Addbacks and offsets are two different methods for accounting for the rental income from an investment property.
Before I explain the differences and provide an example of how these two methods impact your mortgage qualification, note that regardless of the method, lenders use only a percentage of the rental income in the equation and for most lenders this percentage is 50% of the rental amount. This is just fine if your employment income is high enough and you have a significant down payment and a small amount of other debts. But this treatment isn’t going to make the investment opportunity work for many people. As a mortgage broker and a real estate investor myself, I feel the frustration of this 50% approach. Imagine a strategy to own a rental property for 10 years but assuming it will be vacant for 5 of those years. That’s what the 50% assumption would suggest, and that just doesn’t make sense. Fortunately, some lenders use 60% of the rental income, a few use 80%, and I know of one lender that actually uses 100% of the rental income. The difference between 50% and 100% has a significant impact on your overall qualification as 50% of the rental income can make a rental property look like it’s losing money when it’s actually cash flow positive.
Similarly, there is also a big difference between the addback and offset methods. Many lenders use the addback method to account for the rental income on investment properties. What this means is that they will add the rental income to the rest of your income in order to calculate your ability to make payments on the mortgage and other debts, hence the term addback. Now if rent is $1,600 a month ($19,200 per year), this is not going to add a lot to the mortgage amount you qualify for. On the other hand, an offset approach does far more for you to qualify and is the more favorable of the two approaches. An offset applies the monthly rental income against the monthly housing costs, and only the difference must be covered by your other income. The monthly rental income used in the calculation is based on the percentage of income used by that particular lender, and the housing costs refer to the mortgage payments, property tax, heating costs, and half of the maintenance fees if the investment property is a condo or townhome.
An example is the best way to understand the real impact of these two methods: Assume a couple earn $100,000 a year in household income, the rental property they wish to purchase is a condo for $380,000 with expected rental income of $1,600, and they are requesting a mortgage of $300,000. Factoring in some reasonable estimates for their existing property, a car loan, and the property tax, heat, and maintenance fees on the rental property, the addback approach using 50% of the rental income would result in their mortgage application being declined. In fact, it would suggest they need to earn $110,000 per year to qualify. Yet the offset approach using 50% of the rental income would indeed allow them to qualify. In fact, it would allow them to qualify if they earned $96,000 per year. Touchdown! The offset method versus the addback method can be the make or break of whether an investment opportunity becomes a reality for this couple trying to get ahead in building their wealth through real estate. Their employment income would need to be $14,000 or 15% higher under the addback method – when was the last time you got a 15% raise?
Mortgage brokers like myself know the policies of each lender we work with and can balance the likelihood of qualification under different rental income treatments while finding a mortgage that prioritizes the four mortgage strategies that every mortgage should consider: lowest cost, lowest payment, maximum flexibility, and lowest risk.
Give myself (Todd Skene) or your local Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker a call to assess how to finance your rental investments!
Dominion Lending Centres – Mortgage Professional
Todd Skene is the founder of DLC Home SMART Mortgage with DLC Pilot Mortgage Group based in Vancouver, BC.
Global Markets in Turmoil, Oil Prices Plunge Along With Yields
Markets shuddered in the face of a price war for oil and the economic fallout from the growing outbreak of coronavirus. Frightened investors poured into haven assets sending yields to unprecedented lows. Oil prices tumbled 30% after Saudi Arabia said it would cut most of its oil prices and boost output when Russia refused to join OPEC in propping up prices (see chart below). Foreign exchange markets convulsed, as the steep drops in oil and share prices overnight sparked a flight from commodity-linked currencies into the perceived safety of the Japanese yen and the US dollar. The Canadian dollar fell to 0.7362 as of this writing. The Government of Canada 5-year bond yield was as low as 0.284% overnight but has since recovered roughly 0.535%, still well below Friday’s closing level of approximately 0.65% (second chart below).
Stock prices have fallen very sharply in the first hour of North American trading. Panic selling sent the Dow down 2,000 points, and the S&P500 sank 7% after triggering a circuit breaker that halted trade for 15 minutes. The TSX took a dizzying nosedive on the open, down more than 1400 points or nearly 9.0% led down by oil stocks and financials.
The spread of coronavirus outside of China tripled over the past week. The US State Department announced yesterday that older people should avoid travel on cruises, particularly if they have compromised immune systems. All of this amplifies recession fears as the outbreak spreads.
There is concern in the US that the government is not handling the outbreak appropriately. Mixed messaging and an inadequate supply of testing kits came as the number of coronavirus cases in the US topped 500 over the weekend. President Trump retweeted a meme of himself fiddling on Sunday, drawing a comparison to the Roman emperor Nero who fiddled as Rome burned around him. This is a time when leadership is of paramount importance.
Borrowing costs are falling sharply–a silver lining for first-time homebuyers. The best advice for investors is not to panic. This, too, shall pass, although no one knows when.
Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres