CMHC keeps red flag on Canada’s housing market, with several cities still too hot

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is not removing the red flag it raised three months ago for the housing market, saying it still sees strong overall evidence of problematic market conditions.

The Crown corporation, which provides housing advice for the federal government, said Thursday it has kept the rating for a second consecutive quarter due to overvaluation and price acceleration in the country’s housing markets.

“Price acceleration in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto and Hamilton indicates that home price growth may be driven by speculation as it is outpacing what economic fundamentals like migration, employment and income can support,” said Bob Dugan, chief economist with CMHC.

Dugan said, during a call a conference call with reporters,  that Victoria saw moderate evidence of overvaluation which contributed to its overall rating. CMHC reported this week that price acceleration has spread this week to neighbouring communities around Toronto and had warned previously of similar affects in the Vancouver area.

“There seems to be a fanning out of price pressure,” Dugan said.

Royal Bank of Canada issued its own “housing check” on the market Thursday and it reported affordability-related concerns in both Toronto and Vancouver continue to exist although those concerns are somewhat tempering in British Columbia’s largest city.

The bank says improving trends and prospects for oil prices have led to positive developments for housing risk in the oil-producing provinces .

The latest reports come after the federal’s government recent crackdown on lending designed to slow the market. Among key changes has been a stress-testing of government backed mortgages and a requirement that consumers with those products qualify based on the five-year Bank of Canada posted rate of 4.64 per cent.

CMHC noted in its release that even though prices rose seven per cent on a year-over-year basis at the end of the third quarter of 2016, once Ontario — and its red-hot Greater Toronto Area market — was removed, house prices remain flat through the period.

CMHC says its quarterly Housing Market Assessment report provides an “early warning system” to alert Canadians about concerns the Crown corporation has about housing markets so people can take action. CMHC says the goal is to promote stability in the market.

Conditions are broken down into four categories, overheating, price acceleration, overvaluation and overbuilding. Each category gets a weak, moderate or strong rating and 15 centres are studied with an overall rating and then further overall rating produced for the country.

Six cities made it into the red zone for overall strong evidence of problematic conditions. Vancouver, Saskatoon, Regina, Hamilton and Toronto were on for a second quarter in a row, while Calgary dropped off to moderate replaced by Victoria which now shows strong evidence of problematic conditions.

The Crown corporation says overvaluation and overbuilding are the most prevalent problematic conditions and were detected in eight of the 15 centres covered.

In Calgary, CMHC said there is evidence problematic conditions have decreased since the previous assessment as some housing markets in oil-dependent centres are now rebalancing.

“As Calgary home prices have become more in-line with economic and demographic fundamentals, our overall assessment posted an improvement from strong to moderate evidence of problematic conditions,” said Richard Cho, a market analyst in Calgary for CMHC. “However, overbuilding is still a concern as Calgary’s rental apartment vacancy rate remains at an elevated level.”

Financial Post

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