By Wolf Richter, a San Francisco based executive, entrepreneur, start up specialist, and author, with extensive international work experience. Originally published at Wolf Street.
Canadians have been gung-ho about their magnificent housing bubble, feeding it with an endless willingness to pay every higher prices, even as regulators and international institutions issued warnings, as short sellers began circling, as subprime liar-loan scandals made their reappearance, and as a generation was getting priced out of the hottest housing markets in Canada, the metros of Toronto and Vancouver, and as locals came up with an acronym to describe what has fired up the market: HAM – Hot Asian Money.
But the Vancouver housing bubble, the hottest even in Canada, hit rough waters in early summer. By July the first serious troubles appeared. Even as apartment prices soared 27% year-over-year and detached house prices 38%, overall sales plunged 19%, while sales of detached homes plummeted 31% [Vancouver Housing Bubble, Meet Pin].
Then on August 2, British Columbia’s notorious 15% transfer tax on home purchases involving foreign investors took effect. Preliminary data indicate that sales over the first two weeks in August plunged 51% year-over-year, with sales of detached homes down 66%.
And this flood of news on the Canadian housing bubble and speculations about a Canadian housing crash have now begun to slice into the previously imperturbable confidence of regular Canadians in their housing miracle.
The housing related part of the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index just had its worst spill in the history of the monthly data series, going back to May 2013: The percentage of the respondents who expected a decline in local home prices jumped from 12% to 20.5% in one fell swoop.
The percentage of those who expected home prices to rise dropped 2.3 percentage points to 41.4%, and the percentage of those expecting little change dropped 5.3 percentage points to 36.3%. Bloomberg:
The reading marks a change from almost unbridled consumer optimism in a housing market that has carried the Canadian economy since the 2008 global financial crisis, even as policy makers warn price gains in some cities are unsustainable.
That list of fretting policy makers, regulators, and other organizations now includes:
The IMF (January 2015), the Bank of Canada (most recently in June 2016), the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which found “strong evidence of problematic conditions,” and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (July 2016), which said that it would require smaller banks to stress-test their mortgage portfolios to ensure they could withstand a drop in Vancouver home prices of 50%.
Plus, warnings about record levels of household debt have been circulating for a couple of years.
So when Nik Nanos, Chairman of Nanos Research Group, commented on the soaring expectations of home price declines in the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index, he said it showed Canadians’ “increasing concern about the value of real estate.”
The monthly data didn’t exist during the Financial Crisis. The quarterly data available at the time showed that expectations of price declines soared by 24 percentage points at the end of 2008. But it was just a blip. Two quarters later, optimism was higher than before, and Canadian home prices resumed their surge, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto.
Canadians have been bombarded with news about their housing bubble and by warnings about a potential housing crash, and by even more numerous and vigorous counter-arguments larded with hype that everything was hunky-dory, that now was the best time to buy or else you’ll be forever priced out of the market.
This summer, famed short seller Marc Cohodes came out of retirement (he now raises chickens on a farm in Sonoma County, CA, and sells the eggs for a fortune in San Francisco) and jumped into ring with a number of interviews on TV and in the print media, and this too rattled some nerves – largely because it hit home.
“I think it’s a money laundering-induced market,” he said as we reported at the time. “Where the local politicians, or the BC Liberals, are kept or in cahoots with the real estate brokers, developers, lawyers, that angle. And they have sought Chinese money to keep the market propped up and it won’t last,” he said. “China has capital controls on, and Vancouver has become the money laundering mecca of either the world or North America, and something is going to change and change drastically.”
He’s shorting the housing market not by shorting the banks but by going after “alternative” lender – in US Financial-Crisis English “subprime” lender – Home Capital Group, the same company I lambasted over a year ago.
Despite industry assurances that the hottest housing markets in Canada, particularly Vancouver, will always remain hot, and that it is physically impossible for prices to decline in this miracle economy, Canadians are now becoming aware that those assurances have just been another load of industry hype. And a larger share of them are starting to grapple with a new reality – a reality in an over-leveraged, inflated housing market where prices have come to rest on the edge of a cliff.
In Vancouver’s once white-hot commercial real estate market, the hunt is now on for Chinese buyers as big institutional investors are trying to unload. Read… Suddenly Scared of Vancouver’s Commercial Property Bubble?