Friday, February 10, 2012
CAAMP'S VIEW ON TODAY's MORTGAGE ISSUES
BASED ON OUR RESEARCH AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE SECTOR, WE SEE NO REASON TO TIGHTEN OR RESTRICT ACCESS TO RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGES AT THIS TIME 1. CURRENT ENVIRONMENT Canada has a well-earned reputation for exercising economic prudence. As a result, we have managed to avoid a mortgage or housing market meltdown. Our banks are stable and our economy, while impacted by the general global economic slowdown, remains healthier than most. CAAMP’s extensive industry research indicates that the Canadian mortgage industry is healthy. We must continue to “stress test” our own financial sector to determine how it would withstand potential weakening of the economy. The more educated we are about the debt we incur (mortgages, credit cards, lines of credit), the better off we will be 2. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ACTIONS TAKEN The federal government responded promptly when it was determined changes were needed in the mortgage market. There have been three significant sets of changes in the past 36 months: - Amortization periods shortened to 30 years from 35 and 40 years - Minimum down payment increased to 5 per cent of purchase price. No 100% LTV mortgages - Homeowners refinancing their mortgage may borrow up to 85 per cent of the equity in their home; down from 90% and 95% - These changes have impacted the mortgage market; re-financings have decreased dramatically and mortgage credit growth has slowed Based on our extensive research and knowledge of the sector, we see no reason to further tighten or restrict access to mortgages at this time 3. REASONS FOR CURRENT CONCERN 1) Housing Market Prolonged low interest rates are making it more attractive to purchase a home Research shows that the vast majority of homeowners can accommodate rate increases (84 per cent surveyed in CAAMP’s fall 2011 research said they could handle a $200/month increase) CAAMP’s fall 2011 survey indicates mortgage borrowers are prudent, increasing their lump sum payments and paying down their mortgage faster than required Supply and demand drive housing prices – provinces and municipalities should be more aware of their land-use policies and how they impact housing supply 2) Media Focus on Insurance Ceiling - Changes in Some Banks’ Lending Practices It is a fact that CMHC is approaching its $600 billion government-imposed limit on mortgage default insurance. Private insurers have a $300 billion limit. This has nothing to do with mortgage insurers being responsible for an increasing number of higher risk mortgages Lenders are buying portfolio insurance against defaults on low risk mortgages - cases where homeowners have more than 20 per cent equity in their homes. These are not high risk mortgages. CMHC is approaching its limit because the number of mortgage holders has grown, the population and housing units have increased and lenders have been insuring low risk mortgages, leveraging the government’s triple A credit rating for other bank business Residential mortgage credit in Canada continues to expand. During the past five years, outstanding residential mortgage credit has expanded by 53%, or an average rate of 8.9% per year. The growth rate is slowing The volume of outstanding residential mortgage credit passed the $1 trillion threshold in July 2010, and as of August 2011, it reached $1.079 trillion Increased homeownership results in an increase in mortgage default insurance However, mortgage defaults are rare. CMHC reported it paid out $454 million in the first nine months of 2011 which represents a 0.42 per cent default rate Overall mortgage arrears rates in Canada are declining and never approached the level of the early 1990s. The housing market in Canada is growing organically and safely There is no parallel in Canada to the subprime default problems that plagued the US market 3. FURTHER RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS TO MORTGAGES Who will be affected? Self-employed borrowers who represent a growing portion of our labour force (currently 2.67 million people, or 15% of employment in Canada) New Canadians who can afford a down payment but have yet to build credit and employment history First time homebuyers who want to enter the homeownership market and build equity These are not the people who fall in to a sub-prime loan category like we saw in the US; yet these changes will impact them The housing industry is an engine of growth in Canada. If we impede its growth, we will add to unemployment and depress the economy If fewer mortgage lenders are able to insure their loans simply because the insurance program has not kept pace with the growth in the mortgage market, then consumers will have less choice when it comes to negotiating a mortgage. Less choice, or less competition, will inevitably lead to higher borrowing costs for the Canadian consumer Likewise, if mortgage brokers are restricted in the mortgage products they can offer, consumer choice will be diminished and costs will increase This reduced access to capital will make it more difficult for people who can legitimately afford to buy a home 4)What are the Risks of Further Restricting Access to Mortgages? CAAMP has one of the most comprehensive collections of research on the mortgage industry. It includes original data on borrowers and the characteristics of mortgage loans. This research has revealed repeatedly that borrowers and lenders in Canada have been prudent, and only a very small share of borrowers would have trouble affording future rises in mortgage rates. There are risks, but most are related to the broader economy through two channels: Unemployment The broader economic data suggests that the Canadian economy is slowing. If that results in job losses, the housing market would be negatively affected, and there would be impacts on mortgages held by people who lose jobs and then struggle to make payments. Declining Housing Prices Housing prices could decline in a weaker market. In a recession, there is the threat of a downward spiral: a weak economy harming the housing market which negatively affects the broader economy. We believe and trust that the federal government will act to mitigate such a negative scenario. These risks have nothing to do with mortgage products themselves. Risks to the Canadian mortgage market are dependent on the performance of the broader economy. In that light, the best means to control mortgage market risk is through strong economic management. In particular, care must be taken not to take any measures in the mortgage market that unnecessarily reduce housing activity that would be damaging to the economy.