U.S. President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through Canada’s economy this past week, first promising punishing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, then at the last minute exempting Canada from those tariffs, at least temporarily.
It’s becoming painfully clear that Trump’s policies (or pronouncements, or whims, or whatever they are) have the potential to upend Canada’s economy, and with it, the lives of Canadians. So maybe it’s time for this real estate-obsessed nation of ours to pose a question that until recently seemed too obscure — or maybe just too weird — to ask: What does Donald Trump mean for Canada’s housing market?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but Trump’s aggressive protectionism might actually work to support house prices.
The Bank of Canada this week decided against yet another interest rate hike, and among its reasons was this statement: “Trade policy developments are an important and growing source of uncertainty for the global and Canadian outlooks.”
Analysts took that to mean the BoC is worried that Trump’s protectionist measures, such as the steel and aluminum tariffs or potential withdrawal from NAFTA, could harm Canada’s economy. And if Trump manages to scare the BoC into a more dovish outlook on the economy, it will mean fewer interest rate hikes in the months to come.
That might actually be good news for Canada’s heavily indebted mortgage borrowers, who are under increasing pressure these days. We’ve seen the BoC hike interest rates three times since last summer, and major mortgage lenders have followed suit. Meanwhile, new mortgage rules are forcing some homebuyers to scale back their ambitions.
The result is a slowing housing market, both nationally and in the two super-pricey markets of Toronto and Vancouver. And the Bank of Canada might now be getting worried about the impact of that slower housing market on Canada’s economy.
“Notably, household credit growth has decelerated for three consecutive months,” the Bank noted in its decision Wednesday.
Canada has been growing increasingly reliant on its housing market for economic growth in recent years, so a slowdown could take a real bite out of employment, and that, in turn, could mean a broader economic downturn.
The irony of it is that, if Trump were to abandon his protectionist measures and the BoC were to assume a more rosy outlook, it would likely mean more rate hikes ahead, and more downward pressure on housing.
All of which is not to say we should be hoping for Trump to slap Canada with massive tariffs or cancel NAFTA; a move like that would cause all sorts of economic damage of its own, regardless of housing. But if Trump pulls the trigger on his protectionist agenda, the Bank of Canada may well respond by freezing interest rates, and some analysts say it may even reverse course and start dropping them.
So a trade war with Trump’s America, while likely to be ugly, will at least help keep those property values from crashing. That may be the closest thing to a silver lining in this whole mess.