Low Interest Rates in Canada are creating a Housing Bubble Similar to the one that led to the Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2012

Week in Review

Easy credit created a housing bubble in the U.S.  And inflation.  When the Fed increased interest rates to stop that inflation they burst that housing bubble.  And caused the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  Which caused the Great Recession. 

Easy credit.  The hallmark of Keynesian economics.  To maintain a small but ‘manageable’ permanent level of inflation.  To make recessions a thing of the past.  But this permanent inflation has only created bubbles.  Like housing bubbles.  Such as the one that led to the Great Recession.  Making it longer and far more painful than it would have been had they left interest rates to market forces.

Credit wasn’t as easy in Canada.  So they escaped much of the fallout from the Great Recession.  But they still practiced Keynesian economics.  Kept interest rates low these past few years to stimulate their economy.  And stimulated they did.  Perhaps a little too much (see Look out below posted 2/4/2012 on The Economist).

When the United States saw a vast housing bubble inflate and burst during the 2000s, many Canadians felt smug about the purported prudence of their financial and property markets. During the crash, Canadian house prices fell by just 8%, compared with more than 30% in America. They hit new record highs by 2010. “Canada was not a part of the problem,” Stephen Harper, the prime minister, boasted in 2010.

Today the consensus is growing on Bay Street, Toronto’s answer to Wall Street, that Mr Harper may have to eat his words. In response to America’s slow economic recovery and uncertainty in Europe, the Bank of Canada has kept interest rates at record lows. Five-year fixed-rate mortgages now charge interest of just 2.99%. In response, Canadians have sought ever-bigger loans for ever-costlier homes. The country’s house prices have doubled since 2002…

Bankers are becoming alarmed. Mark Carney, the governor of the central bank, has been warning for years that Canadians are consuming beyond their means. The bosses of banks with big mortgage businesses, including CIBC, Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, have all said the housing market is at or near its peak. Canada’s ratio of household debt to disposable income has risen by 40% in the past decade, recently surpassing America’s (see chart). And its ratio of house prices to income is now 30% above its historical average—less than, say, Ireland’s excesses (which reached 70%), but high enough to expect a drop. A recent report from Bank of America said Canada was “showing many of the signs of a classic bubble”…

However, the state has refused to use its most powerful tool. To protect business investment, the central bank has made clear that it plans to keep interest rates low. As long as money stays cheap, the balloon could get bigger—perhaps big enough to become a fully fledged bubble after all.

So, to further stimulate the economy (i.e., to protect business investment) they are keeping interest rates low.  When all the signs indicate that this economic growth is growing a rather large real estate bubble.  Normally a good time to start raising interest rates.  So housing prices don’t get so high that when they fall they hurt.  Like they did in the U.S.  Where they fell over 30%.  And are still falling in some areas.  And when they fall from that height it hurts.  It really hurts.  Just ask someone whose mortgage is underwater.  Where their mortgage is greater than the current price of their house.  You can ask just about any homeowner in the U.S.  Or, perhaps, any homeowner in Canada in the not so distant future.

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