Poloz Says He’s Confident Canada Housing Will Return to Growth

(Bloomberg) -- Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said he’s confident the nation’s housing sector will return to growth later this year, as markets like Toronto and Vancouver stabilize and the impact of new regulations is absorbed.

In a speech in Winnipeg that focused on housing and mortgages, Poloz downplayed the effect of higher policy rates and tougher mortgage qualifications in the recent cooling, painting instead a picture of a sector still supported by a growing economy and labor market. For markets undergoing adjustments, Poloz said, it’s mostly due to local circumstances.

“Fundamentals of the Canadian housing market remain solid, and growth will resume once the effects of reduced expectations for house price inflation and the new mortgage guidelines have been absorbed,” said Poloz, according to prepared remarks of a speech he’s giving Monday to the Canadian Credit Union Association.

For example, he blamed the cooling of markets in Toronto and Vancouver to a build-up of froth in recent years that had been driven by “extrapolative expectations” for price gains. These expectations had fueled speculative demand and prompted other buyers to rush in for fear of missing out in those markets.

“What we take from this is that it is not higher interest rates and changes to mortgage lending guidelines that have had the greatest effect on housing,” said Poloz. “Rather, it is their interaction with froth that matters most.”

Froth

“How much a housing market adjusts depends on how much froth there is,” said Poloz, adding the Toronto and Vancouver are still stabilizing. In contrast, gains in other markets across the country “look quite healthy,” he said.

Weak markets in Alberta and Saskatchewan, meanwhile, are primarily due to the ongoing weakness in the oil sector.

Poloz also said there is little evidence the Bank of Canada’s five interest rate increases since 2017 are having an impact on borrowing costs for mortgage renewals this year, largely because of a recent drop in global bond yields.

“From our initial look at individual loan-level data in 2019, we see that mortgage payments did not rise for most borrowers who recently renewed a five-year, fixed-rate mortgage,” he said.

Poloz also continued to champion tougher mortgage qualification rules that have recently come under attack by the real estate industry. He said that to the extent these new measures have curbed demand, they’ve also made the financial system more resilient and helped reduce speculative behavior.

“Evidence suggests that the new guidelines have been working as designed,” Poloz said.

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