Housing slump? Recession? Not so fast…

By Canada Mortgage News | December 27, 2018

Remember all those pessimists who were calling for a housing bubble or collapse?

If you listened to them and rented for the past eight years, how much would you have lost? How much would your rent have increased since then? And would you still be able to rent that condo or house… or would your landlord possibly have plans to sell it and leave you out in the cold?

We used to expect an economic slowdown or recession every five years. But something happened after the last big recession in 1990. Since then, there has really only been one recession: in 2009.

This came off the heels of the infamous US subprime mortgage crisis that crippled most of the world’s economies for years. Yet, in Canada, we got off relatively easy. Our slowdown lasted less than a year.

Some want to give credit to our strong banking system or strict government regulations. But the truth is, we are – and have always been – around five years behind the US. The truth is, we only started to try out those subprime mortgages when the sky fell on the global financial markets in 2009.

We need to understand that what happens in the US will ultimately impact Canada in some way. And so, with that in mind, let’s look at what has been happening in the US, its economic forecast and how this will impact Canada.

The longest sustained period of growth in the US with no recession was from 1991 to 2001. A full 10 years. The second-longest period of sustained economic expansion is now. From 2009 to…? That’s nine years and counting.

The natural conclusion would be to assume a recession is due or just around the corner. (I’m sure the pessimists would love to hear that.) This is where the message is different. But don’t just take my word for it!

A few weeks ago, I had the honour of enjoying one of my favourite economists – Benjamin Tal – again. He was presenting at the annual national Mortgage Professionals Canada conference.

Benjamin Tal contradicted history in his latest presentation!

His presentation was called “Normalizing the Abnormal”. If we follow the data and history, it would be natural to assume that a recession is due, perhaps even overdue.

But Tal looked deeper. A closer examination of the data shows that, while we’re in the midst of the second-longest positive economic cycle without a recession, we’re only in the midst of the second-strongest bull market economy without a recession in history.

In other words, our economy has not grown all that much. Slow and steady, as they say. Makes me think of that children’s book, The Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady won the race. The hare should have won, but the straight-focused tortoise took home the victory. This is true with real estate and mortgages. Stay focused. Don’t get distracted.

I’m sure many of you have noticed Canada has not had as strong a stock market performance as our neighbours to the South have enjoyed over the past two years. While President Trump is taking all the credit, it has more to do with his tax cuts and increased spending. Tal said this is bound to catch up with the US.

The US has a staggering $21 trillion national debt coupled with a $1.2 trillion annual budget deficit, meaning they’re spending $1.2 trillion annually more than the taxes they’re collecting. WOW!

Canada isn’t doing much better. Our national debt has ballooned to $1.5 trillion with an $18 billion annual budget deficit.


Unemployment is reported to be below 6% in Canada and at 4% in the US. These are the lowest levels in the past 20-30 years.

While this is welcome news, the data is somewhat skewed. A closer look reveals some troubling stats: In Canada, from 2009 to 2017, the workforce has been aging. And this older group (aged 55+) is working fewer hours (32.2 hours per week) and earning less total annual income.

Ben Tal Slide 10

Ben Tal Slide 11

So, we have lower unemployment levels, but there is less work, which results in lower income. As well, more part-time and quasi full-time jobs are being created. Overall, wages aren’t rising.

Conclusion: The economy has remained steady for the last 10 years with no big peaks or dips. Actually, somewhat boring (yawn). But boring is good when talking about money and the economy. Boring is predictable. It’s also why we’ve had low mortgage rates for so long. And it’s also why home prices are expected to remain healthy.


Housing slump? Recession? Not so fast…

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