Why Are Mortgage Rates Rising?

General Bob Rees 30 Mar

Dr Cooper, thank you for your insight during these unprecedented times 🙂


Why Are Mortgage Rates Rising?

Over the past month, the Bank of Canada has lowered its overnight rate by a whopping 1.5 percentage points to a mere 0.25%. Many people expected mortgage rates to fall equivalently. The banks have reduced prime rates by the full 150 basis points (bps). But, since the second Bank of Canada rate cut on March 13, banks and other lenders have hiked mortgage rates for fixed- and variable-rate loans. That’s not what happens typically when the Bank cuts its overnight rate. But these are extraordinary times.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted everything, shutting down the entire global economy and damaging business and consumer confidence. No one knows when it will end. This degree of uncertainty and the risk to our health is profoundly unnerving.

Most businesses have ground to a halt, so unemployment has surged. Hourly workers and many of the self-employed have found themselves with no income for an indeterminate period. All but essential workers are staying at home, including vast numbers of students and pre-school children. Nothing like this has happened in the past century. The societal and emotional toll is enormous, and governments at all levels are introducing income support programs for individuals and businesses, but so far, no cheques are in the mail.

In consequence, the economy hasn’t just slowed; it has frozen in place and is rapidly contracting. Travel has stopped. Trade and transport have stopped. Manufacturing and commerce have stopped. And this is happening all over the world.

What’s more, the Saudis and Russians took advantage of the disruption to escalate oil production and drive down prices in a thinly veiled attempt to drive marginal producers in the US and Canada out of business. This has compounded the negative impact on our economy and dramatically intensified the plunge in our stock market.

Many Canadians are now forced to live off their savings or go into debt until employment insurance and other government assistance kicks in, and even when it does, it will not cover 100% of the income loss. The majority of the population has very little savings, so people are resort to drawing on their home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), other credit lines or adding to credit card debt. Businesses are doing the same.

The good news is that people and businesses that already have loans tied to the prime rate are enjoying a significant reduction in their monthly payments. All of the major banks have reduced their prime rates from 3.95% to 2.45%. So people or businesses with floating-rate loans, be they mortgages or HELOCs or commercial lines of credit, have seen their monthly borrowing costs fall by 1.5 percentage points. That helps to reduce the burden of dipping into this source of funds to replace income.

So Why Are Mortgage Rates For New Loans Rising?

These disruptive forces of Covid-19 have markedly reduced the earnings of banks and other lenders and dramatically increased their risk. That is why the stock prices of banks and other publically-traded lenders have fallen very sharply, causing their dividend yields to rise to levels well above government bond yields. As an example, Royal Bank’s stock price has fallen 22% year-to-date (ytd), increasing its annual dividend yield to 5.31%. For CIBC, it has been even worse. Its stock price has fallen 30%, driving its dividend yield to 7.66%. To put this into perspective, the 10-year Government of Canada bond yield is only 0.64%. The gap is a reflection of the investor perception of the risk confronting Canadian banks.

Thus, the cost of funds for banks and other lenders has risen sharply despite the cut in the Bank of Canada’s overnight rate. The cheapest source of funding is short-term deposits–especially savings and chequing accounts. Still, unemployed consumers and shut-down businesses are withdrawing these deposits to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Longer-term deposits called GICs, which stands for Guaranteed Investment Certificates, are a more expensive source of funds. Still, owing to their hefty penalties for early withdrawal, they become a more reliable funding source at a time like this. As noted by Rob Carrick, consumer finance reporter for the Globe and Mail, “GIC rates should be in the toilet right now because that’s what rates broadly do in times of economic stress. But GIC rates follow a similar path to mortgage rates, which have risen lately as lenders price rising default risk into borrowing costs.”

To attract funds, some of the smaller banks have increased their savings and GIC rates. For example, EQ Bank is paying 2.45% on its High-Interest Savings Account and 2.55% on its 5-year GIC. Other small banks are also hiking GIC rates, raising their cost of funds. Rob McLister noted that “The likes of Home Capital, Equitable Bank and Canadian Western Bank have lifted their 1-year GIC rates over 65 bps in the last few weeks, according to data from noted housing analyst Ben Rabidoux.”

The banks are having to set aside funds to cover rising loan loss reserves, which exacerbates their earnings decline. An unusually large component of Canadian bank loan losses is coming from the oil sector. Still, default risk is rising sharply for almost every business, small and large–think airlines, shipping companies, manufacturers, auto dealers, department stores, etc.

Lenders have also been swamped by thousands of applications to defer mortgage payments.

Hence, confronted with rising costs and falling revenues, the banks are tightening their belts. They slashed their prime rates but eliminated the discounts to prime for new variable-rate mortgage loans. Some lenders will no doubt start charging prime plus a premium for such mortgage loans. Banks have also raised fixed-rate mortgage rates as these myriad pressures reducing bank earnings are causing investors to insist banks pay more for the funds they need to remain liquid.

An additional concern is that financial markets have become less and less liquid–sellers cannot find buyers at reasonable prices. The ‘bid-ask’ spreads are widening. That’s why the central bank and CMHC are buying mortgage-backed securities in enormous volumes. That is also why the Bank of Canada has started large-scale weekly buying of government securities and commercial paper. These government entities have become the buyer of last resort, providing liquidity to the mortgage and bond markets.

These markets are crucial to the financial stability of Canada. Large-scale purchases of securities are called “quantitative easing” and have never been used before by the Bank of Canada. It was used extensively by the Fed and other central banks during the 2008-10 financial crisis. When business and consumer confidence is so low that nothing the central bank can do will spur investment and spending, they resort to quantitative easing to keep financial markets functioning. In today’s world, businesses and consumers are locked down, and no one knows when it will end. With so much uncertainty, confidence about the future diminishes. The natural tendency is for people to cancel major expenditures and hunker down.

We are living through an unprecedented period. When the health emergency has passed, we will celebrate a return to a new normal. In the meantime, seemingly odd things will continue to happen in financial markets.

French translation of this email will be available by 5pm ET April 1.

La traduction de ce courriel sera disponible d’ici 17 heures, le 1 avril.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Bank of Canada Moves to Restore “Financial Market Functionality”

General Bob Rees 27 Mar

Thank you Dr Cooper, another prime rate drop ….. interesting time!


The Bank of Canada today lowered its target for the overnight rate by 50 basis points to ÂĽ percent. This unscheduled rate decision brings the policy rate to its effective lower bound and is intended to provide support to the Canadian financial system and the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic (see chart below).

Strains in the commercial paper and government securities markets triggered today’s action to engage in quantitative easing. The Governing Council has been meeting every day during the pandemic crisis. Market illiquidity is a significant problem and one the Bank considers foundational. These large-scale purchases of financial assets are intended to improve the functioning of financial markets.

Credit risk spreads have widened sharply in recent days. People are moving to cash. Liquidity has dried up in all financial markets, even government-guaranteed markets such as Canadian Mortgage-Backed securities (CMBs) and GoC bills and bonds. The commercial paper market–used by businesses for short-term financing–has become nonfunctional. The Bank is making large-scale purchases of financial assets in illiquid markets to improve market functioning across the yield curve. They are not attempting to change the shape of the curve for now but might do so in the future.

These large-scale purchases will create the liquidity that the financial system is demanding so that financial intermediation can function. Risk has risen, which creates the need for more significant cash injections.

At the press conference today, Senior Deputy Governor Wilkins refrained from speculating what other measures the Bank might take in the future. When asked, “Where is the bottom?” She responded, “That depends on the resolution of the Covid-19 health issues.”

The Bank will discuss the economic outlook in its Monetary Policy Report at their regularly scheduled meeting on April 15. In response to questions, Governor Poloz said it is challenging to assess what the impact of the shutdown of the economy will be. A negative cycle of pessimism is clearly in place. The Bank’s rate cuts help to reduce monthly payments on floating rate debt. He is hoping to maintain consumer confidence and expectations of a return to normalcy.

The oil price cut alone would have been sufficient reason for the Bank of Canada to lower interest rates. The Covid-19 medical emergency and the shutdown dramatically exacerbates the situation. All that monetary policy can do is to cushion the blow and avoid structural problems to the economy. The overnight rate of 0.25% is consistent with market rates along the yield curve.

High household debt levels have historically been a concern. Monetary policy easing helps to bridge the gap until the health concerns are resolved. The housing market, according to Wilkins, is no longer a concern for excessive borrowing by cash-strapped households.

At this point, the Bank is not contemplating negative interest rates. Monetary policy has little further room to maneuver, given interest rates are already very low. With businesses closed, lower interest rates do not encourage consumers to go out and spend money.

Large-scale debt purchases by the Bank will continue for an extended period to provide liquidity. The Bank can do this in virtually unlimited quantities as needed. The policymakers are also focussing on the period after the crisis. They want the economy to have an excellent foundation for growth when the economy resumes its normal functioning.

Fiscal stimulus is crucial at this time. The newly introduced income support for people who are not covered by the Employment Insurance system is a particularly important safety net for the economy. There are many other elements of the fiscal stimulus, and the government stands ready to do more as needed.

The Canadian dollar has moved down on the Bank’s latest emergency action. The loonie has also been battered by the dramatic decline in oil prices. Canada is getting a double whammy from the pandemic and the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The loonie’s decline feeds through to rising prices of imports. However, the pandemic has disrupted trade and imports have fallen.

The Bank of Canada suggested as well that they are meeting twice a week with the leadership of the Big-Six Banks. The cost of funds for the banks has risen sharply. CMHC is buying large volumes of mortgages from the banks, which, along with CMB purchases by the central bank, will shore up liquidity. The banks are well-capitalized and robust. The level of collaboration between the Bank of Canada and the Big Six is very high.

The Stock Market Has Had Three Good Days

As the chart below shows, the Toronto Stock Exchange has retraced some of its losses in the past three days as the US and Canada have announced very aggressive fiscal stimulus. As well, the Bank of Canada has now lowered interest rates three times this month, with a cumulative easing of 1.5 percentage points. The Federal Reserve has also cut by 150 basis points over the same period. In addition to lowering borrowing costs, the central bank has also announced in recent days a slew of new liquidity measures to inject cash into the banking system and money markets and to ensure it can handle any market-wide stresses in the financial system.

The economic pain is just getting started in Canada with the spike in joblessness and the shutdown of all but essential services. Similarly, the US posted its highest level of initial unemployment insurance claims in history–3.83 million, which compares to a previous high of 685,000 during the financial crisis just over a decade ago. These are the earliest indicator of a virus-slammed economy, with much more to come. All of this is without precedent, but rest assured that policy leaders will continue to do whatever it takes to cushion the blow of the pandemic on consumers and businesses and to bridge a return to normalcy.

French translation of this email will be available by 5pm ET March 30.

La traduction de ce courriel sera disponible d’ici 17 heures, le 30 mars.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

The plumbing behind world’s financial markets is creaking. Loudly

General Bob Rees 16 Mar

Contrary to public opinion, we have been told (and have already seen) that fixed rates will now increase.  Please see below article that explains.

The plumbing behind world’s financial markets is creaking. Loudly

LONDON (Reuters) – The coronavirus panic is jolting stock markets, with steep drops in major indexes grabbing the public’s attention. But behind the scenes, there is less understood and potentially more worrying evidence that stress is building to dangerous levels in crucial arteries of the financial system.

Bankers, companies and individual investors are dashing to stock up on cash and other assets considered safe in a downturn to ride out the chaos. This sudden flight to safety is causing havoc in markets for bonds, currency and loans to a degree that hasn’t been seen since the financial crisis of a dozen years ago.

The key concern now, as in 2008, is liquidity: the ready availability of cash and other easily traded financial instruments – and of buyers and sellers who feel secure enough to do deals.

Investors are having trouble buying and selling U.S. Treasuries, considered the safest of all assets. It’s a highly unusual occurrence for one of the world’s most readily tradable financial instruments. Funding in U.S. dollars, the world’s most traded currency, is getting harder to obtain outside the United States.

The cost of funding for money that companies use to make payrolls and other essential short-term needs is rising for weaker-rated firms in the United States. The premium investors pay to buy insurance on junk bonds is increasing. Banks are charging each other more for overnight loans, and companies are drawing down their lines of credit, in case they dry up later.

Taken together, warn some bankers, regulators and investors, these red flags are starting to paint a troubling picture for markets and the global economy: If banks, companies and consumers panic, they can set off a chain of retrenchment that spirals into a bigger funding crunch – and ultimately a deep recession.

Francesco Papadia, who oversaw the European Central Bank’s market operations during the region’s debt crisis a decade ago, said his biggest fear is that the “illiquidity of markets, generated by extreme uncertainty and panic reaction” could “lead to markets freezing, which is an economic life-threatening event.”

“It does not seem to me we are there already, but we could get there quickly,” Papadia said.


A sign of the times is a hashtag now trending on Twitter: #GFC2 – a reference to the possibility of a second global financial crisis.

The warning signals so far are nowhere near as loud as they were in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, or the 2011-2012 euro zone debt crisis, to be sure. And policymakers are acutely aware of the weaknesses in the financial-market plumbing. In recent days, they have ramped up their response.

Central banks have cut interest rates and pumped trillions of dollars of liquidity into the banking system. On Sunday, the U.S. Federal Reserve slashed rates back to near zero, restarted bond buying and joined with other central banks to ensure liquidity in dollar lending to help shore up the economy.

“The one thing central banks know how to do following the experience of 2008 is to prevent a funding crisis from happening,” said Ajay Rajadhyaksha, head of macro research at Barclays Plc and member of a committee that advises the U.S. Treasury on debt management and the economy.


While the panic sweeping markets is reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis, comparisons only go so far. Central bankers have last decade’s shocks fresh in their memories. Another key difference: Banks are in better shape today.

In 2008, banks had far less capital and far less liquidity than they have now, said Rodgin Cohen, senior chairman of Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and a top advisor to major U.S. financial firms.

Instead, investors and analysts said, the risk this time comes from the pandemic’s impact on the real economy: shuttered shops, travel bans and sections of the labor force sick or quarantined. The freeze means a severe blow for corporate revenues and earnings and overall economic growth, and for now, there is no end in sight.

Countrywide quarantines to block the virus, such as Italy’s, mean “businesses are going to be hit really hard when it comes to receipts, to revenue,” said Stuart Oakley, who oversees forex trading for clients at Nomura Holdings Inc. “However, liabilities are still the same: If you own a restaurant and you borrow money for the rent, you’ve still got to make that monthly payment.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co economists expect first-half contractions in growth across the globe. And this is as the U.S. response to the coronavirus is only getting started.

GRAPHIC: Coronavirus hits financial markets – here

Reuters Graphic


Investors and regulators have been alarmed, in particular, by liquidity problems in the $17 trillion U.S. Treasuries market.

There are several signs that something is off. Interest rates, or yields, on Treasuries and other bonds move in inverse relation to their prices: If prices fall, the yields rise. Changes are measured in basis points, or hundredths of a percent.

Typically, yields move a few basis points a day. Now, large and unusually quick swings in yields are making it hard for investors to execute orders. Traders said dealers on Wednesday and Thursday significantly widened the spread in price at which they were willing to buy and sell Treasury bonds – a sign of reduced liquidity.

“The tremors in the Treasury market are the most ominous sign,” said Papadia, the ex-ECB official.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the closing bell in New York, U.S., March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Another alarming signal is the premium non-U.S. borrowers are willing to pay to access dollars, a widely watched gauge of a potential cash crunch. The three-month euro-dollar EURCBS3M=ICAP and dollar-yen JPYCBS3M=ICAP swap spreads surged to their widest since 2017, before dropping on Friday after central banks pumped in more cash.

A measure of the health of the banking system is flashing yellow. The Libor-OIS spread USDL-O0X3=R, which indicates the risk banks are attaching to lending money to one another, has jumped. The spread is now 76 basis points, up from about 13 basis point on Feb. 21, before the coronavirus crunch began in the West. In 2008, it peaked at around 365 basis points.

GRAPHIC: Dollar funding – here

Reuters Graphic


As funding markets creak, heavily indebted companies are feeling the heat.

Credit ratings firm Moody’s warns that defaults on lower-rated corporate bonds could spike to 9.7% of outstanding debt in a “pessimistic scenario,” compared with a historical average of 4.1%. The default rate reached 13.4% during the financial crisis.

The cost of insuring against junk debt defaults jumped on Thursday to its highest level in the United States since 2011 and the loftiest in Europe since 2012.

Some companies are now paying more for short-term borrowing. The premium that investors demand to hold riskier commercial paper versus the safer equivalent rose to its highest level this week since March 2009.

Several companies are drawing down on their credit lines with banks or increasing the size of their facilities to ensure they have liquidity when they need it. Bankers said companies fear lenders may not fund agreed credit lines should the market turmoil intensify.

An official at a major central bank said the situation is “pretty bad, as all stars are aligned in a negative way.””Cracks will start to emerge soon,” the official said, “but whether they will develop into something systemic is still hard to say.”

Additional reporting by Sujata Rao and Yoruk Bahceli in London, Tom Westbrook in Singapore and Lawrence Delevingne and Matt Scuffham in New York.; Editing by Paritosh Bansal, Mike Williams and Edward Tobin

Steady February Job Market Ahead of Virus Scare

General Bob Rees 16 Mar

Steady February Job Market Ahead of Virus Scare

Job growth in Canada remained robust last month, with net employment gains of 30,300, all of which were in private-sector full-time jobs. The unemployment rate rose a tick to 5.6%, but that is still down from a year ago and around multi-decade lows. The positive news was wage growth remained strong at an annual rate of 4.1%, well above the rate of inflation.

But these data are a rear-view mirror snapshot of economic activity. They will matter little for financial markets fixated on the growing impact of the coronavirus that sparked dramatic rates cuts by both the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada this week.

That the labour market held up in February is not a surprise. Earlier reports on consumer and business confidence were surprisingly resilient in the past month despite disruptions from rail blockades and coronavirus concerns abroad. The Ontario teachers’ strike, however, did result in reduced hours worked for the educational services sector.

British Columbia and Ontario posted the most significant job losses last month; they also saw the unemployment rate rise notably as more people searched for work. Quebec posted job gains of 20,000 continuing a trend of substantial growth in employment in the province for several months, and the Quebec unemployment rate fell to 4.5%, the lowest since at least 1976. For the first time in recent memory, Quebec has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada (see table below), surpassing BC for that honour.

In February, most of the disruptions from the coronavirus were concentrated in China. Imports from that region to Canada were reportedly down in January in numbers released separately this morning, but mainly due to fewer finished goods (cell phones) rather than a significant drop in the supply of industrial inputs.

The US jobs report for February was also released this morning, showing considerable strength. Employment surged, and the jobless rate declined to match a half-century low of 3.5%. The data did little to alter a flight to safety in financial markets, as investors remained focused on the potential economic fallout from the virus. The yield on the 10-year Treasury was down 20 basis points to 0.74% while the S&P 500 fell 2.6%, bringing the monthly decline to -11.6% as of this writing. The US Treasury 5-year yield is only 0.56%.

Canadian financial markets have been similarly impacted, with the government of Canada 5-year yield trading this morning at .65%, down from 1.69% at the start of this year (see chart below). The graph shows the government bond market in a free fall. The TSX has dropped -8.32% over the past month. Oil prices are down sharply, falling -16.7% over the same period. Gold prices are up sharply, reflecting its safe-haven status.

Bottom Line: The markets currently are predicting overnight interest rates will continue to fall as the Fed and the Bank of Canada react aggressively. Another cut by the BoC is priced in at its April 15th meeting. The Fed is expected to cut again at its regularly scheduled meeting on March 18th.

At times like these, there is no predicting how far this will go or for how long. The best advice is to avoid panic selling. From a housing market perspective, lower interest rates make housing more affordable. Governor Poloz, following a speech in Toronto yesterday, said that restoring confidence is crucial. He defended the Bank’s 50 bp rate cut–its most aggressive move in more than a decade–from criticism that it will fuel excessive household debt accumulation. He argued that the rate cut would improve cash flow for those with flexible rate mortgages and will boost confidence. He believes the virus could slow housing demand and suggests that the Bank’s actions will forestall a damaging slowdown in the housing market.

“Indeed, declining consumer confidence would naturally lead to reduced activity in the housing market,” he said. “In this context, lower interest rates will actually help to stabilize the housing market, rather than contribute to froth.”

He might well be right about that, as none of us know just how close to pandemic we might be. In any event, the monetary easing provides a buffer for the economy.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Extraordinary Coordinated Policy Actions To Ease the Economic Impact of Pandemic In Canada

General Bob Rees 13 Mar

Well, this is getting interesting ……


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would introduce a “significant” fiscal stimulus package, as part of a coordinated effort with other Group of Seven countries to counter the virus-driven global economic slowdown and calm markets. In an exceptional press conference held at 2 pm today, Finance Minister Morneau sat at the side of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, and the head of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) to announce measures to soothe financial markets, boost confidence and support the Canadian economy.

Only nine days after the Bank of Canada cut the overnight policy rate by 50 basis points to 1.25%, Governor Poloz announced another 50 bps reduction in the policy rate to a level of 0.75%. Here is the Bank of Canada’s official statement:

  • “The Bank of Canada today lowered its target for the overnight rate by 50 basis points to Âľ%. The Bank Rate is correspondingly 1%, and the deposit rate is ½ percent. This unscheduled rate decision is a proactive measure taken in light of the negative shocks to Canada’s economy arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent sharp drop in oil prices.
  • It is clear that the spread of the Coronavirus is having serious consequences for Canadian families, and for Canada’s economy. In addition, lower prices for oil, even since our last scheduled rate decision on March 4, will weigh heavily on the economy, particularly in energy-intensive regions.
  • The Bank will provide a full update of its outlook for the Canadian and global economies on April 15. As the situation evolves, Governing Council stands ready to adjust monetary policy further if required to support economic growth and keep inflation on target.”
  • The Bank has also taken steps to ensure that the Canadian financial system has sufficient liquidity. These additional measures were announced in separate notices on the Bank’s website. The Bank is closely monitoring economic and financial conditions, in coordination with other G7 central banks and fiscal authorities.”

At the press conference, a reporter asked Poloz whether he would take the policy rate down to negative levels. He responded that he “does not like negative interest rates” and that “there is sufficient fiscal firepower in Canada” so that, hopefully, “negative interest rates are not likely to be needed.”

He also commented: “Combined with the other measures announced today, lower interest rates will help to support confidence in businesses and households. For example, borrowing costs will be lowered both for new purchases of homes and through variable-rate mortgages and mortgage renewals.”

Today, the Bank also announced a new Bankers’ Acceptance Purchase Facility. This facility will support a key funding market for small- and medium-sized businesses at a time when they may have increased funding needs, and credit conditions are tightening. The facility will buy 1-month BAs starting the week of March 23. More details are forthcoming. This comes in addition to introducing a 6-month and 12-month bi-weekly repo operation yesterday.

Finance Minister Morneau announced he would deliver a fiscal stimulus package next week that will include an additional $10 billion in new funding to the country’s two business financing agencies — the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. This announcement follows $1 billion of funding for the country’s public health response outlined earlier this week, which came with some modest measures to support disrupted workers.

So significant fiscal stimulus measures are coming next week. There were no details on the size of these measures, but something on the order of 1% of GDP seems like a reasonable estimate. Mr. Morneau also noted that the government is looking at providing direct aid to individuals and families. The floodgates are about to be flung open.

The final bit of stimulus came from OSFI’s lowering capital requirements for the Big Six Canadian banks. Jeremy Rudin, head of Canada’s banking regulator, announced he would reduce the nation’s “domestic stability buffer” by 1.25 percentage points of risk-weighted assets, effective immediately. The buffer will drop to 1%, from its prior level of 2.25%. He said that the government is looking at providing direct aid to individuals and families. This action will free up about $300 bln in funds for the big banks to lend. It will also offer some solace to the stock market, where bank stock prices have plunged in the past two weeks. Concern about the Canadian banks’ balance sheets is always rife when markets are stressed.

In another move, the government announced that it is suspending consultation on the proposed change to the uninsured mortgage stress test. The insured stress test revision will start on April 6 as planned. OSFI wants to wait until markets return to more normal activity before making a final decision on the insured qualifying rate. Hopefully, banks will cut their posted mortgage rates in response to the combined 100 bp decline in the overnight rate and the plunge in 5-year bond government yields (see chart below). As of yesterday, March 12, the BoC Daily Digest held the conventional mortgage rate (5-year, aka the posted rate) steady at 5.19%.

We will now watch what the Canadian banks do in response to these actions. Will they cut their prime rates another full 50 basis points? And will they pass that on to borrowers of variable-rate mortgage money? Monday will be an interesting day.

Bottom Line: This is an excellent start to getting ahead of what will likely be a very challenging period for the Canadian economy. However, we need to see more of the details. Look for additional fiscal stimulus to be announced in the coming days and weeks (from the federal government as well as the provinces), and expect the Bank of Canada to ease policy rates another 50 bps to a level of 0.25% for the overnight benchmark rate by April. And, if conditions deteriorate more than anticipated, there’s room for the BoC, government and OSFI to do more.

This is in direct contrast to the inept and disjointed policy response south of the border. Hopefully, the financial markets will take note that Canada is far better equipped both financially as well as from a public health perspective than our recent stock market performance has suggested.

French translation of this email will be available by 5pm ET March 17.

La traduction de ce courriel sera disponible d’ici 17 heures, le 17 mars.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Global Markets in Turmoil, Oil Prices Plunge Along With Yields

General Bob Rees 9 Mar

Thank you Dr Cooper for your insight 🙂




Global Markets in Turmoil, Oil Prices Plunge Along With Yields

Markets shuddered in the face of a price war for oil and the economic fallout from the growing outbreak of coronavirus. Frightened investors poured into haven assets sending yields to unprecedented lows. Oil prices tumbled 30% after Saudi Arabia said it would cut most of its oil prices and boost output when Russia refused to join OPEC in propping up prices (see chart below). Foreign exchange markets convulsed, as the steep drops in oil and share prices overnight sparked a flight from commodity-linked currencies into the perceived safety of the Japanese yen and the US dollar. The Canadian dollar fell to 0.7362 as of this writing. The Government of Canada 5-year bond yield was as low as 0.284% overnight but has since recovered roughly 0.535%, still well below Friday’s closing level of approximately 0.65% (second chart below).

Stock prices have fallen very sharply in the first hour of North American trading. Panic selling sent the Dow down 2,000 points, and the S&P500 sank 7% after triggering a circuit breaker that halted trade for 15 minutes. The TSX took a dizzying nosedive on the open, down more than 1400 points or nearly 9.0% led down by oil stocks and financials.

The spread of coronavirus outside of China tripled over the past week. The US State Department announced yesterday that older people should avoid travel on cruises, particularly if they have compromised immune systems. All of this amplifies recession fears as the outbreak spreads.

There is concern in the US that the government is not handling the outbreak appropriately. Mixed messaging and an inadequate supply of testing kits came as the number of coronavirus cases in the US topped 500 over the weekend. President Trump retweeted a meme of himself fiddling on Sunday, drawing a comparison to the Roman emperor Nero who fiddled as Rome burned around him. This is a time when leadership is of paramount importance.

Borrowing costs are falling sharply–a silver lining for first-time homebuyers. The best advice for investors is not to panic. This, too, shall pass, although no one knows when.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

The Fed Brings Out The Big Guns

General Bob Rees 3 Mar

 Let’s see what the Bank of Canada does tomorrow 🙂  ……….
 In a remarkable show of force, the US Federal Reserve jumped the gun on its regularly scheduled meeting on March 18 and cut the target overnight fed funds rate by a full 50 basis points (bps) to 1%-to-1.25%. This now stands well below the Bank of Canada’s target rate of 1.75% and may well force the Bank’s hand to cut rates when it meets tomorrow, possibly even by 50 bps.

The Fed has not cut rates outside of its normal cycle of meetings since October 8, 2008, as the collapse of Lehman Brothers roiled financial markets. Such moves are rare, but not unprecedented.

The BoC is conflicted, in that such a dramatic rate cut would fuel household borrowing and the housing market, which the Bank considers to be robust enough.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC, the Fed’s policymaking group) released the following statement: “The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. In light of these risks and in support of achieving its maximum employment and price stability goals, the Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/2 percentage point, to 1 to 1‑1/4 percent. The Committee is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

In an 11 AM (ET) news conference, Chairman Powell said the broader spread of the virus poses an evolving risk to the economy that required immediate action. The FOMC judged the risk to the economy had worsened. The Fed acted unilaterally, in contrast to the coordinated central bank move taken during the financial crisis in 2008.

However, the Fed is in active discussion with other central banks around the world, and the European Central Bank indicated earlier today that they would take any necessary actions. Central banks in the euro-area and Japan have less scope to follow with rates already in negative territory.

Governor Carney said earlier today that the Bank of England would take steps needed to battle the virus shock. Carney hinted at the complexity of dealing with the trauma for central banks in assessing whether the impact falls on demand — which they have more capacity to address — or supply — which is harder to for central banks to treat.

G-7 finance chiefs and central bankers are scheduled to have a rare conference call today.

With election tensions running strong in the US–after all, today is Super Tuesday–it’s easy to imagine that this move by the Fed is as much political as economic. It comes amid public pressure for a rate cut by President Trump. Moreover, following today’s dramatic move, the president called for more, demanding in a tweet that the Fed “must further ease and, most importantly, come into line with other countries/competitors. We are not playing on a level field. Not fair to USA.”

Politicizing the Fed is dangerous and reduces the global credibility of the US central bank.

Stock markets around the world reversed some of today’s earlier losses on the news. The US stock markets opened today with a significant selloff following a rally yesterday. Bond yields continued to decline on the news.

Bottom Line for Canada: The key government of Canada 5-year bond yield has fallen sharply today to 0.925% and falling at the time of this writing. The 5-year yield was 1.04% before the Fed’s announcement. The Bank of Canada will likely cut overnight rates tomorrow for the first time since October 2018–but by how much? I would guess by 25 bps given Poloz’s concern about household debt.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres

Virus Anxiety Hits Canada

General Bob Rees 2 Mar

 Not good news for your investment funds … but great news for mortgage rates!


 Virus Anxiety Hits Canada

As though things weren’t volatile enough, a new wave of virus terror is wreaking havoc on global financial markets. The novel conronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread causing panic in worldwide stock and bond markets for the seventh day. Share prices have plummetted in Asia, Europe, the U.S. and Canada. The sell-off is fueled mostly by concern that measures to contain the virus will hamper corporate profits and economic growth, and fears that the outbreak could get worse.

Interest rates are falling sharply, hitting record lows reflecting a movement of cash out of stocks and commodities like oil, into the safer havens of government bonds and gold. In Canada, the 5-year bond yield has fallen to 1.16% this morning, down more than 50 basis points (bps) year-to-date and down 65 bps year-over-year (see chart below). Mortgage rates are closely linked to the 5-year government bond yield, so further downward pressure on mortgage rates is likely. Oil prices have fallen sharply, hitting the Prairie provinces hard. Crude oil WTI prices have fallen to just over US$45.00 a barrel compared to $62.50 earlier this year.

The Canadian dollar has also taken a beating, down to 0.7468 cents US, compared to a high of 0.7712 early this year.

The Canadian economy was already battered as today’s release of fourth-quarter GDP data shows. Statistics Canada reported that the economy came to a near halt in Q4 as exports dropped by the most since 2017 and business investment declined. Household spending was a bright spot–a reflection of a strong labour market and rising wages.

Monthly data for December, also released this morning, came in stronger than expected, showing the economy had some momentum going into 2020 before the coronavirus reared its ugly head.

The weak 0.3% growth in Q4 was expected as a series of temporary factors including a week-long rail strike, manufacturing plant disruptions and pipeline shutdowns slowed growth. Even though December posted an uptick, the first quarter will no doubt be hampered by the rail blockade and now virus-related supply and travel disruptions as well as reduced tourism.

Bottom Line: Panic selling in the stock market is never a good idea. The TSX opened down more 550 points this morning following yesterday’s outage. Trading on Thursday was suspended around 2 PM for technical reasons.

None of this is good for psychology or the economy.

The Bank of Canada meets next Wednesday, and clearly, their press release will address these issues. It’s unlikely the Bank will cut rates in response on March 4, but if the economic disruption continues, rate cuts could be coming by mid-year.

The new stress test will be in place on April 6. If rates were at today’s level, the qualifying rate for mortgage borrowers would be more than 40-to-50 basis points lower than today’s level of 5.19%. This will add fuel to an already hot housing market.


Dr. Sherry Cooper
Chief Economist, Dominion Lending Centres