29 Jun

Are we headed for rapid rate rises?


Posted by: Mike Hattim

Bloomberg News

Central banks need to start raising interest rates to control inflation and may have to act faster than in the past, the Bank for International Settlements said.

“Tighter global monetary policy is needed in order to contain inflation pressures and ward off financial stability risks,” the BIS said in its annual report published Sunday in Basel, Switzerland. “Central banks may have to be prepared to raise policy rates at a faster pace than in previous tightening episodes.”

While policy makers in Asia and Latin America are already raising borrowing costs to damp price pressures, rates remain near record lows in the world’s largest developed economies. Central banks in the U.S., U.K. and Japan have signalled they intend to keep that stimulus in place for some time, with only the European Central Bank moving to gradually tighten credit as inflation risks increase.

“Global inflation pressures are rising rapidly as commodity prices soar and as the global recovery runs into capacity constraints,” said the BIS, which acts as a central bank for the world’s central banks. “These increased upside risks to inflation call for higher policy rates.”

With U.K. inflation running at 4.5%, more than double the Bank of England’s target, the BIS said “one wonders how long its current policy can be sustained.” The pound rose half a cent in early European trading to $1.5985 before retracing to $1.5931 at 9 a.m. in London.

Crude oil prices have gained 20% in the last 12 months, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and pass on higher costs to consumers.

“The price pressure is there,” said Carsten Brzeski, chief European economist at ING Group NV in Brussels. “One of the lessons of the financial crisis is that you shouldn’t leave rates too low for too long. Now is the time to remember that lesson.”

BIS General Manager Jaime Caruana said global headline inflation has risen a percentage point to 3.6% since April 2010. At the same time, short-term interest rates adjusted for inflation “have actually fallen in the past year, from minus 0.6% to minus 1.3% globally,” he said in a speech in Basel Sunday.

“The world economy is growing at a historically respectable rate of around 4%,” Caruana said. “The resurgence of demand has put concerns about deflation behind us. Accordingly, the need for continued extraordinary monetary accommodation has faded.”

The ECB in April raised its benchmark interest rate from a record low of 1% and has signalled another quarter-point step is likely in July.

By contrast, the Federal Reserve last week repeated a pledge to keep its policy rate close to zero for an “extended period,” while the Bank of Japan this month held its benchmark near zero and kept credit and asset-purchase programs in place.

Minutes of the Bank of England’s last policy meeting this month, at which the key rate was held at 0.5%, show some officials see the potential to extend bond purchases to boost a faltering recovery.

The BIS said that in “some advanced economies” policy tightening still needs to be balanced against the “vulnerabilities” associated with balance-sheet adjustment and financial sector fragility.

Still, “undue delay in the normalization of the monetary policy stance entails the risk of creating serious financial- market distortions,” it said. Furthermore, a “timely tightening” of policy in both emerging-market and advanced economies will be needed “to preserve a low-inflation environment globally and reinforce central banks’ inflation- fighting credibility.”

The BIS said central banks should reduce the size of their balance sheets, though it would be “dangerous” to cut them “too rapidly or too indiscriminately.”

In response to the financial crisis, the Fed and the Bank of England “sharply” increased their total assets from about 8% of gross domestic product to just below 20%, while the ECB expanded its assets from 13% of GDP to more than 20%, according to the BIS.

“Balance-sheet policies have supported the global economy through a very difficult crisis,” it said. “However, the balance sheets are now exposed to greater risks — namely interest-rate risk, exchange-rate risk and credit risk — that could lead to financial losses.”

The BIS also urged governments to pursue fiscal consolidation, saying the biggest risk is “doing too little too late rather than doing too much too soon.” In Europe, policy makers must fix the region’s debt crisis “once and for all,” it said.

“Nowhere is the link between fiscal sustainability and financial health more apparent than in parts of Europe today,” Caruana said. “There is no easy way out, no shortcut, no painless solution.”

The BIS warned that a failure of the U.S. to tackle its budget deficit could become a source of instability, with potentially “far-reaching ramifications for the global economy” should a rapid depreciation of the dollar result.

“The current ability of the United States to easily finance its deficit cannot be taken for granted,” the report said.

The BIS holds currency reserves on behalf of its members and provides policy makers with a forum for discussion. Attendees at the annual general meeting in Basel Sunday included ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann.

28 Jun

Why economists see a modestly stronger second half for 2011 after a dismal 6 months


Posted by: Mike Hattim

By Christopher S. Rugaber,Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Farewell and good riddance to the first half of 2011 — six months that are ending as sour for the economy as they began.

Most analysts say economic growth will perk up in the second half of the year. The reason is that the main causes of the slowdown — high oil prices and manufacturing delays because of the disaster in Japan — have started to fade.

“Some of the headwinds that caused us to slow are turning into tail winds,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

For an economy barely inching ahead two years after the Great Recession ended, the first half of 2011 can’t end soon enough. Severe storms and rising gasoline prices held growth in January, February and March to a glacial annual rate of 1.9 per cent.

The current quarter isn’t shaping up much better. The average growth forecast of 38 top economists surveyed by The Associated Press is 2.3 per cent.

The economy has to grow 3 per cent a year just to hold the unemployment rate steady and keep up with population growth. And it has to average about 5 per cent growth for a year to lower the unemployment rate by a full percentage point. It is 9.1 per cent today.

As welcome as the stronger growth envisioned in the second half is, the improvement should be modest. For the final six months of the year, the AP economists forecast a growth rate of 3.2 per cent.

So far this year, high gas and food prices have discouraged people from spending much on other things — from furniture and appliances to dinners out and vacations. That spending fuels economic growth.

And some U.S. auto factories had to suspend or trim production after the March earthquake in Japan interrupted supplies of parts and electronics. American dealerships have had fewer cars to sell.

The latest dose of glum news: The government reported Monday that consumer spending was about the same in May as in April, the first time in a year that spending hasn’t increased from the previous month.

The report confirmed the toll that high gas prices, Japan-related disruptions and high unemployment have taken on personal spending in the second quarter.

“Here’s to a better third,” says Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Relief is in sight, economists say. Oil prices have been falling since Memorial Day. The drop has lowered the price of regular unleaded gasoline by 23 cents in the past month, to a national average of $3.57 a gallon, according to AAA.

The timing of the drop in gas prices is especially fortunate because they usually rise during summer driving season, says Robert DiClemente, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup .

And the kinks in the global manufacturing chain are starting to be smoothed out as the Japanese factories that make cars and electronics resume production.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, says auto sales should improve “quite substantially” later this year because the lost production from the earthquake is coming back faster than had been expected.

One sign of that rebound came when the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported Monday that manufacturing in the Midwest rebounded in May after falling sharply in April.

And last week, the government said orders for machinery, computers, cars and other durable goods rose slightly in May after dropping in April. Economists attributed the turnaround, in part, to Japanese factories that started to rev up.

The U.S. economy is also expected to get a slight second-half boost from reconstruction in flood-ravaged sections of the South and Midwest. Construction workers will be employed rebuilding homes and businesses. People will replace destroyed cars and other possessions. Analysts predict the economic losses from the floods in the April-June quarter will be reversed in the July-September quarter.

The economists surveyed by AP predict unemployment will fall to 8.7 per cent at year’s end. It is not exactly the start of a boom: The economy is still carrying too much baggage from the financial crisis — damaged banks, depressed home prices, debt-burdened consumers — to achieve much liftoff.

Though some of the economy’s weakness in the first half is temporary, “it is hard to see much on the horizon to cheer about,” Swonk says.

23 Jun

Bank of Canada’s Carney warns of mounting risk, predicts bad quarter for economy


Posted by: Mike Hattim

By Julian Beltrame, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Strain from a world awash in debt is increasing the risk to what is already a fragile and weak economic recovery, the Bank of Canada warns.

And Canada faces a second, more immediate challenge from temporary factors such as disruptions from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that will limit growth to about one per cent this quarter, governor Mark Carney added Wednesday.

“This is a disruptive time, there are a major series of changes going on … so there will be some volatility,” Carney told a Senate committee after his bank released its latest biennial Financial Systems Review.

The U.S. economy — which most Canadian exporters depend on — is a shadow of itself, he said, adding that U.S. households may need a decade to get out from debt.

Meanwhile, although emerging economies are booming, Canada’s exporters, with the exception of commodities, are under-represented in that world.

And lastly, there’s the mountain of debt weighing on the balance sheets of advanced countries, from Japan to parts of Europe to the U.S., that will dampen growth for years.

The summary put into stark language the findings of the central bank’s financial systems review, released earlier in the morning, which took a more pessimistic view of the recovery.

The big problem facing the world is debt. Debt even threatens Canada’s economy, given that household indebtedness is at record levels and could grow further before tailing off.

“The key risks to the stability of the Canadian financial system remain elevated and have edged higher since December,” the bank concludes in the systems review.

For the first time, Carney revealed to a Senate committee that the current second quarter in Canada could see growth drop all the way to one per cent, from 3.9 per cent in the first three months.

Acknowledging that he had previously predicted growth of two per cent this quarter, which ends June 30, Carney told the senators: “The growth could be even lighter than that, it could be in the one per cent range.”

He added, however, that he still expects the economy to do better in the second half of this year.

The bank report and Carney’s testimony comes as Greece is again under the gun to hold off a credit default that would likely cripple some European banks and possibly touch off a new round of global financial jitters.

But the Bank of Canada says the debt woes extend further than Greece to other peripheral European nations — Spain, Portugal and Ireland — and over the longer term, to the U.S. and Japan .

Canada too faces a troubling household debt issue, the bank warns, which could be exacerbated by shocks, including an economic downturn and interest rate hikes.

In a separate report card, U.S. Federal Reserve officials also took a darker view of the situation, downgrading growth expectations both for the economy and job creation.

All these risks “are interconnected and mutually reinforcing,” the Bank of Canada said.

Carney urged Canadians to keep things in perspective, however, growth is “reclining, not declining,” and Canada still benefits from sound fundamentals.

Canada’s financial system got a “healthy” grade both in terms of the soundness of the banking system and business balance sheets, but it is vulnerable somewhat to outside forces.

Carney said Canada’s exposure to Europe’s sovereign debt is small, but not insignificant, given the interconnectiveness of the international banking system.

“The Canadian financial system is not immune to the tensions that are currently affecting European markets,” the bank’s policy council says in the report.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has also expressed concern about the Greek crisis, urging European policy-makers to “create a firewall that would ensure that this type of issue would not spread beyond Greece.”

Despite the weak recovery and the pain it will cause, governments have no choice but to start the process of getting their fiscal houses in order, said Carney.

He cautioned that indebted countries, even the U.S., shouldn’t assume bond markets will be always be prepared to fill their credit needs at reasonable rates. Canada learned that lesson the hard way in the 1990s, he pointed out.

“Our experience in the mid-1990s is that the bond market is there and then it’s not,” he said.

Domestically, the bank is still very worried about Canadian household debt, which is at an all-time high of 147 per cent of disposable income.

The risk, it says, is that as household finances get squeezed, Canadians will have less money to spend on consumer goods, which would slow down economic growth.

“Further moderation in the pace of debt accumulation by households is needed to contain the buildup of this vulnerability,” it says.

The bank also cites global imbalances, the two-speed recovery where advanced nations grow far slower than emerging economies, as additional risks that appear no closer to resolution.

“If the significant fragilities that still burden the financial system are not addressed in a timely manner, the progress achieved to date could be derailed,” the bank said.

TD Bank economist Diana Petramala said the report suggests the Bank of Canada is very much in worry mode, and is unlikely to raise interest rates — which could weaken the economy — until 2012.

“All of these risks (cited by the central bank) could have significant economic consequences on Canada’s economy and financial system,” if they are borne out, Petramala said.

“In addition, they are medium-term (rather than short-term) in nature, suggesting they are unlikely to disappear any time soon. Under our current forecast, we don’t anticipate Canada’s overnight rate to reach a more normal level of three per cent until 2013.”

The bank last hiked interest rates last September , lifting its policy setting to one per cent, still exceptionally low by historical standards.

22 Jun

4 Ways To Value A Real Estate Rental Property


Posted by: Mike Hattim

Stephan Abraham

During the first half of the 2000s, investing in real estate became more common for average Americans. With easily available financing and minimal down payment requirements many Americans made handsome profits by flipping homes. Well, as we are all aware of, this couldn’t go on forever, and the real estate bubble popped in 2007, leading to The Great Recession. Notwithstanding this fundamental change, real estate investment is certainly not unprofitable. Some economic factors such as high unemployment and very strict lending standards by financial institutions have contributed to low vacancies for rentals across the United States. Perhaps real estate investors should look at rental investments as an alternative to a buy and sell approach. So, how does one go about valuing real estate rentals? Here we will introduce at a high level some ways to value rental property.

Sales Comparison Approach
The sales comparison approach (SCA) is one of the most recognizable forms of valuing residential real estate. This approach is simply a comparison of similar homes that have sold or rented over a given time period. Most investors will want to see an SCA over a significant time frame to glean any potentially emerging trends.

The SCA relies on attributes to assign a relative price value. Price per square foot is a common and easy to understand metric that all investors can use to determine where there property should be valued. If a 2,000 square foot townhome is renting for $1/square foot, investors can reasonably expect a similar rental income based upon similar rentals in the area. Keep in mind that SCA is somewhat generic; that is, every home has a uniqueness that isn’t always quantifiable. Buyers and sellers have unique tastes and differences. The SCA is meant to be a baseline or reasonable opinion and not a perfect predictor or valuation tool for real estate. It is also important for investors to use a certified appraiser or real estate agent when requesting a comparative market analysis. This mitigates risk of fraudulent appraisals, which became widespread during the 2007 real estate crisis. 

Capital Asset Pricing Model

The capital asset pricing model (CAPM) is a more comprehensive valuation tool for real estate. The CAPM introduces the concepts of risk and opportunity cost as it applies to real estate investing. This model really looks at potential return on investment (ROI) derived from rental income and compares it to other investments that have no risk, such as United States Treasury bonds or alternative forms of real estate investments such as real estate investment trusts (REITs).

In a nutshell, if the expected return on a risk-free or guaranteed investment exceeds potential ROI from rental income, it simply doesn’t make financial sense to take the risk of rental property. With respect to risk, the CAPM considers the inherent risks to rent real property. For example, all rental properties are not the same. Location and age of property are key considerations. Renting older property will mean landlords will likely incur higher maintenance expenses. A property for rent in a high crime area will likely require more safety precautions than say a rental in a gated community. This model suggests building in these “risks” before considering your investment or when establishing a rental pricing structure.

Income Approach
The income approach focuses on what the potential income for rental property yields relative to initial investment. The income approach is used frequently for commercial real estate investing. The income approach relies on determining the annual capitalization rate for an investment. This rate is simply the projected annual income from the gross rent multiplier divided by the original cost or current value of the property. So if an office building costs $120,000 to purchase and the expected monthly income from rentals is $1,200, the expected annual capitalization rate is 10%.

This is a very simplified model with few assumptions. More than likely there are interest expenses on the mortgage. Also, future rental income may be less or more valuable five years from now than they are today. Many investors are familiar with the net present value of money. This concept applied to real estate is also known as a discounted cash flow. Dollars received in the future will be subject to inflationary as well as deflationary risk and are presented in discounted terms to account for this.

Cost Approach
The cost approach to valuing real estate states that property is really only worth what it can reasonably be used for. It is estimated by summing the land value and the depreciated value of any improvements. Appraisers from this school often espouse the “highest and best” use to summarize the cost approach to real property. It is frequently used as a basis to value vacant land. For example, if you are an apartment developer looking to purchase three acres of land in a barren area to convert into condominiums, the value of that land will be based upon the best use of that land. If the land is surrounded by oil fields and the nearest person lives 20 miles away, the best use and therefore the highest value of that property is not converting to apartments but possibly expanding drilling rights to find more oil.

Another best use argument has to do with property zoning. If the prospective property is not zoned “residential,” its value is reduced since the developer will incur significant costs to get rezoned. It is considered most reliable when used on newer structures, and less reliable for older properties. It is often the only reliable approach when looking at special use properties.

The Bottom Line
Real estate investing isn’t out of vogue by any stretch of the imagination. Since the last crash, however, the housing market has changed dramatically. Flipping homes financed with no money down is an artifact of the past and possibly gone forever. But real estate rentals can be a profitable endeavor if investors know how to value real property. Most serious investors will look at components from all of these valuation methods before making a rental decision. Learning these introductory valuation concepts should be a step in the right direction to getting back into the real estate investment game.

21 Jun

Flaherty says Canada house market shows moderation


Posted by: Mike Hattim

 Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Monday he continues to monitor the country’s housing market, which has some “hot spots”, but said the situation remained stable.

“We have seen some moderation in the housing market in Canada,” Flaherty told reporters after a speech in Toronto. “There are a couple of hot spots in the country, including Vancouver, the condo market in Vancouver, but overall I’m satisfied that there is some moderation in the market.”

Last week, housing figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) showed home resale prices slipped 0.6 percent in May from April, partly because of the effect of stricter mortgage rules that came into effect in the spring. It was the first full month of data that reflected the new rules.

To try to prevent the housing market problems that led other countries into financial crisis, and to curb rising household debt levels, the government has tightened mortgage rules three times since 2008.

The CREA data showed Vancouver’s hot market again had a big influence in May on the average national price, which rose 8.6 percent from a year earlier to C$376,817 ($384,507). The price gain is similar to those of the past several months, due to very high prices in some Vancouver neighborhoods and broad gains in Toronto.

Flaherty said there were no plans to take further action on mortgage rules, having just introduced the latest set, which took aim at mortgage amortization and refinancing.

20 Jun

Canadian economy still near the top of G7


Posted by: Mike Hattim

  • By Julian Beltrame

Canada will continue to outperform most economically advanced countries over the next two years, even as the pace slows and risks mount, the IMF says.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest forecast presents Canada as a relative sea of tranquility amid rising global turbulence from European and U.S. debt issues, the aftermath of Japan’s natural disasters, and growing inflationary pressures.

This will result in growth in advanced countries of about 2.5 per cent this year, it says, about half a point lower than last year. And emerging economies as a group will suffer a one-point drop in growth to 6.5 per cent.

As well, the downside risks to the outlook have risen sharply since the IMF’s previous report in April.

“The balance of risks point down more,” it says. “Downside risks due to heightened potential spillovers from other further deterioration in market confidence in the euro area periphery have risen. Market concerns about possible setbacks to the U.S. recovery have also surfaced.

The report doesn’t mention Greece by name but the potential for its government to default on its massive debts — amid public opposition to austerity measures required by its lenders — have been unsettling financial markets.

“If these risks materialize, they will reverberate across the rest of the world — possibly seriously impairing funding conditions for banks and corporations in advanced economies and undercutting capital flows to emerging economies,” it adds.

Despite this, the international financial organization sees Canada trundling along with 2.9 per cent growth this year, and 2.6 per cent next, virtually unchanged since it’s previous forecast. Those numbers are also identical to the Bank of Canada’s call, made in April.

The projections are in line with a new forecast from the TD Bank, which also sees the global economy slowing but Canada hanging on with 2.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent growth rates this year and next.

Among G7 nations, the IMF sees only Germany doing better with an expected 3.2 per cent expansion this year, but slowing to two per cent next year.

All the forecasters point to a soft spot in the economy occurring at this very moment, in part due to supply-chain disruptions from the Japan disaster.

For Canada, the lull will result in the economy slowing to just over one per cent during this current quarter, from a strong 3.9 per cent in the first three months of 2011.

Friday’s Statistics Canada report that wholesale fell 0.3 per cent in April, in volume terms, adds to the narrative of a struggling economy.

However, the vast majority of analysts view the lull as temporary.

“The fundamental drivers of growth remain in place: overall still-accommodative macroeconomic conditions, pent-up demand for consumer durables and investment, and strong potential growth in emerging and developing economies,” concludes the IMF analysts.

The big change in the report is the IMF’s alarm about future risks. It makes clear the world has come out of the recession, but is not all the way out of the woods yet.

It warns of a heightened potential for negative consequences from the European debt crisis, and fiscal hangovers in the U.S. and Japan.

The IMF says the two economic powerhouses must get their fiscal houses in order.

“For the United States, it is critical to immediately address the debt ceiling and launch a deficit reduction plan that includes entitlement reform and revenue-raising tax reform,” the group says, offering the same advice to Japan.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty offered a similar assessment in a speech in New York, warning that not only America’s economy would be impacted by failure to address the problem, but Canada’s and the world’s.

17 Jun

Can’t pay property taxes? Defer them


Posted by: Mike Hattim

Garry Marr, Financial Post

Stop paying your property taxes if you’re short of cash.

That advice may sound a little extreme but that’s exactly what Vancouver-based certified financial planner Clay Gillespie is telling some of his clients.

“I do it all the time, it’s one way of getting equity out of your house,” says Mr. Gillespie, who is the managing director of Rogers Group Financial Advisors Ltd.

Given the price of homes in Vancouver, which now average $801,252, there be might be more than one Vancouverite struggling with a mortgage. “On a house here, $8,000 in tax is the norm,” the certified financial planner says.

The reason why this all makes sense is the interest rate, which is just 1% under the British Columbia Property Tax Deferment Program. It’s not even compounded. On an $8,000 tax bill, that’s a mere $80 in interest.

Before you get too excited, there are a few rules. For starters, one spouse must be 55 or older (or turning 55 in the year of application) where a home is registered in both names.

You also need to have minimum equity of 25% in your home based on assessed values determined by the province -a measure likely included so the province makes sure the money is actually repaid in case prices collapse. Applicants must have fire insurance and only Canadian citizens or permanent residents under the Immigration Act who have lived in British Columbia for at least one year need apply.

“This is the most effective way of getting money out of your house,” Mr. Gillespie says. “It’s the norm for people in Vancouver.”

There are similar tax-deferral programs in other cities like Halifax and Ottawa. It’s worth checking out whether your local jurisdiction has the break.

Unlike B.C., most cities have a means test before they will let you defer taxes. In Halifax, if your household income is less than $30,000 you can defer your property tax, not to mention apply for a rebate. The interest rate is prime minus two percentage points.

In Ontario, a bill recently defeated called for a provincewide program that would allow fixed-income seniors to defer up to $5,000 in property taxes each year.

But even where programs like this exist, some seniors are not ready to embrace the concept. In Ottawa, there are only 90 ratepayers currently taking advantage of the city’s generous property tax-deferral program.

The program allows seniors 65 or over and people with disabilities to defer their taxes, as long as they have a household income of less than $37,125. The rate is 5% but is not compounded. The normal rate for unpaid taxes in Ontario is 15% and it is compounded.

“It can make sense because the value of your property is going up. The increase in your property will cover the taxes,” says Ken Hughes, deputy treasurer at the city.

So why so little interest in the program? “You are talking about a generation that wants to pay their way, they don’t want a handout,” Mr. Hughes says. The truth is the city’s borrowing costs are so low they are more than covered off by the 5% rate seniors are being charged.

B.C. mortgage planner Wayne Mah says some people have gotten themselves into trouble with the tax deferral. “I’m not against it but people may not realize the potential ramifications of deferring property taxes,” says Mr. Mah, noting that having a property tax lien could handcuff you when it’s time to renew your mortgage.

All of that’s true but if the government is telling you you don’t have to pay taxes now, you need the cash for living and the interest rate is below prime, who wouldn’t go for it?

17 Jun

10 Reasons not to panic


Posted by: Mike Hattim

Jonathan Ratner

The European sovereign debt crisis, a potential hard landing in China, weak U.S. economic data, and the U.S. debt ceiling debate have provided investors with plenty to worry about. Since none of these problems look like they will be resolved in the immediate future, don’t be surprised if global financial markets continue to be in a rough patch for at least a few more weeks.

Despite the unpleasant stew that is brewing, it is not noxious enough to either derail the economic recovery or upend the market rally of 2011, says Joseph P. Quinlan, chief market strategist at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management.

In a recent research note, Mr. Quinlan points out that June is often a lousy month for equities, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen for the past six years.

“Early indications are that this June will be no better,” he says. “However, beyond the daily gloom and doom, investors should not overlook the fact that the financial markets and global accounting, while facing some stiff headwinds, also have a number of significant tailwinds working in their favor.”

The strategist provided ten reasons why investors should not panic.


1. Corporations are flush with cash

After a two-year profit boom, corporations are putting this money to work in the form of both climbing capital expenditures and hiring. At the same time, share buybacks and higher dividends are on their radars. So despite the deleveraging of U.S. households and the government’s credit limit challenge, the strong capital position of many corporations will be an important driver of the economic expansion in the medium term.

2. Unemployment numbers are misleading

The U.S. unemployment rate remains elevated at 9.1% in May 2011. However,95% of the skilled labour force is currently employed as workers with four-year college degrees or more have an unemployment rate of 4.5%. This cohort accounts for a disproportionate share of personal consumption.

3. U.S. exports are going strong

Total exports hit an all-time high of US$172-billion in March 2011. With the weak U.S. dollar and continued growth overseas, exports should remain strong over the medium term and cement America’s position as the top exporter of goods and services globally.

4. State finances are improving

The weak housing market continues to put pressure on state finances, but the worst is over for many as better-than-expected retail sales and other receipts are helping to establish a floor for their financial position.

5. The Fed isn’t changing its stance

The Fed’s second round of quantitative easing is due to conclude at the end of June, but the central bank’s benign monetary stance will be maintained well into the second half of 2011. The Fed is expected to err on the side of too-easy money rather than premature tightening, unlike the European Central Bank.

6. China will engineer a soft landing

With some US$3-trillion in reserves, the Chinese government has the wherewithal to keep growth in the 7% to 8% range in the near term. Despite challenges such as rising wages and higher food and energy costs, China’s economy may slow, but it will still grow faster than most countries again this year. It managed to post more than 9% GDP growth in 2009 as the global economy slumped.

7. Economic weakness provides relief for food and energy prices

The soft patch for global economies will help contain inflation risks and improve consumer sentiment around the world.

8. The euro crisis will be contained

The euro zone’s wealthiest member, Germany, will provide both the political will and capital to prevent Greece, Portugal or Ireland from imploding.

9. The U.S. debt ceiling will be raised

The debt ceiling has been increased more than 100 times in the past. Once this happens again, the focus will shift to tackling the U.S. federal budget deficit.

10. Everyone is not broke

Nor are they in the midst of austerity campaigns. In fact, the IMF estimates that developing nations have somewhere around US$7.5-trillion in international reserves. The deployment of these excess savings will come faster as a result of slow growth in the United States and Europe, helping the global economy maintain a growth rate of 3.5% to 4% in the near term.

16 Jun

Household debt puts Canadians in "dire" situation


Posted by: Mike Hattim


While the pace of debt accumulation continued to decline through the beginning of 2011, household debt levels still soared to a new record of $1.5-trillion in the first quarter, leaving many Canadians with lower or stagnant incomes in a “dire” situation, says a report Tuesday from the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.

“The debt of a typical household is rising,” said Rock Lefebvre, the group’s vice-president of research and standards and co-author of the report. “And the financial situation of certain groups of households is much worse than average and continues to deteriorate. This is concealed if you focus only on the national or aggregate picture.”

The report shows that more than half of indebted Canadians are borrowing money just to meet their day-to-day living expenses.

As a result, single-parent families, retirees and those with annual income of less than $50,000 “face a bleak financial situation,” the report warned.

It also said that if household debt was spread evenly across all Canadians, a family with two children would owe an estimated $176,461.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has warned in the past of the impact of rising Canadian debt levels, and in a separate report Tuesday, TD Economics warned that “following five years of excessive debt accumulation, Canadian households are finally tapped out.”

“A continued cooling in household borrowing is expected to constrain real consumer spending to a two per cent pace over the forecast horizon,” the TD report cautioned.

The CGA report listed the following key findings:

  • Fifty-seven per cent of indebted respondents said daily living expenses are the main cause for their increasing debt;
  • More than half — 58% — said their household income had remained unchanged or decreased over the past three years, while 86% of those whose income did increase said it did so only modestly;
  • The debt-to-income ratio in households reached a record high of 146.9% in the first quarter of 2011, compared to 144% in late 2009.
  • Savings rates inched down in 2010 and continue to cause concern. Twenty-seven per cent of non-retired Canadians commit no resources whatsoever to savings, even for retirement;
  • Households with an income of $50,000 and under are six times more likely to be financially vulnerable in terms of debt-service ratio;
  • The single-parent family is the only category where debt increases with age. Those families have two-thirds more debt than couples with no children;
  • More Canadians are carrying debt into retirement, with one-third of retired households carrying an average debt of $60,000 and 17% carrying $100,000 or more.
16 Jun

Carney warns of trouble in overheated housing market once interest rates rise


Posted by: Mike Hattim

By Keven Drews

Canada’s housing market is entering overheated territory and many Canadians could be financially hurt once interest rates begin to rise, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is warning.

The central banker on took his case for moderation on Wednesday to Vancouver, the epicentre of Canada’s hot housing market where he says home prices are now on par with Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, as they relate to average incomes.

And some sectors of the market, like condos in big cities, could overshoot because of speculation from foreign investors.

The housing market is still expected to moderate, he said, but recent signals have been mixed.

Carney has been cautioning Canadians for about two year against getting overextended on mortgage borrowing, but Wednesday’s speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade suggested some frustration that his words have mostly fallen on deaf ears.

The governor said he has been expecting the housing market to slow, but besides some stuttering signals, it has picked up again of late along with borrowing and mortgage credit.

Once again, Carney repeated his warning to Canadians about becoming overextended.

“It is important that it’s emphasized, because it can be forgotten, that we are living in extraordinary times with interest rates that are unusually low, that the outlook for the Canadian economy, the strength of the Canadian economy, the expectations both in the medium term and sooner than the medium term, is that rates are not going to stay at these unusually low levels,” he said told a later news conference.

“And so Canadians in taking on debt, or Vancouverites, more specifically, in taking on debt, need to…ensure that they can continue to service those debts comfortably in a higher-rate environment.”

Carney’ speech came on the day the Canadian Real Estate Association released new data showing that average resale home prices rose 8.6 per cent in May from a year ago, and that in Vancouver prices were up 25.7 per cent to $831,555.

At those levels, Carney said Vancouverites are paying 11 times family household income for a home, a multiple similar to global housing hot spots Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia.

When asked if he had any advice to young people who hope to buy a house in Vancouver, Carney responded, “Well, get a good job. That would probably be a good one. Study hard, stay in school and get a good job. How’s that?”

The situation is not as dramatic in the rest of the country, but it’s bad enough, he said.

He noted that it took nearly 12 years for real estate investment to regain its peak after the 1990s recession. It has taken a year and a half this time and, in fact, average home prices are now 13 per cent higher than where they stood before the 2008-2009 slump.

Carney takes some of the blame for the unprecedented run-up in prices, since the key difference between the two eras is that he drove interest rates down to historic lows in order to salvage the economy. The policy succeeded, but at a cost of driving investment from more productive outlets of the economy to housing.

But he also lays some blame on home buyers, who he implies should know better. He said some Canadians are taking on mortgages as if they believe current ultra-low rates will last forever. They won’t, he warns.

“Rates will not remain at their current levels forever,” he said. “(And) the impact of eventual increases is likely to be greater than in previous cycles.”

A four per cent real mortgage interest rate would see home affordability in Canada fall to the worst level in 16 years, he said. The current real mortgage interest rate, which excludes inflation, is about 2.4 per cent.

Other than issuing a general alert, Carney gave few hints what he can do about it and implied that the ball is in the federal government’s court to tighten borrowing requirements again if necessary.

Carney refused to comment when asked whether the government should restrict home ownership to those with Canadian citizenship.

“Obviously, if one restricts demand and takes an important element of marginal demand out of the equation there’s going to be an adjustment to price,” he said.

“But those type of decisions are decisions for communities to make, and they’re complex decisions, and nothing should be read into our commentary about the current environment and housing, whether its in Vancouver or across the country.”

“We’re not weighing into that issue at all.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty this week also expressed concern with household debt — now amounting to a record $1.5 trillion in the aggregate — and noted he has tightened mortgage requirements three times in the past three years.

Carney suggested in his speech that he will use monetary policy, or interest rate setting, to impact the inflation rate and not exclusively the housing market.