|The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in February bounced 2.3% from the previous month. Homeowners and buyers were comforted by the guidance from the Bank of Canada that it would likely pause rate hikes for the first time in a year.
The Canadian aggregate benchmark home price dropped 1.1% in February, the smallest month-to-month decline of rapid interest rate increases in the past year. The unprecedented surge in the overnight policy rate, from a mere 25 bps to 450 bps, has not only slowed housing–the most interest-sensitive of all spending–but has now destabilized global financial markets.
In the past week, three significant US regional financial institutions have failed, causing the Fed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Treasury to take dramatic action to assure customers that all money in both insured and uninsured deposits would be refunded and the Fed would provide a financial backstop to all financial institutions.
Stocks plunged on Monday as the flight to the safe haven of Treasuries and other government bonds drove shorter-term interest rates down by unprecedented amounts. With the US government’s reassurance that the failures would be ring-fenced, markets moderately reversed some of Monday’s movements.
But today, another bogeyman, Credit Suisse, rocked markets again, taking bank stocks and interest rates down even further. All it took was a few stern words from Credit Suisse Group AG’s biggest shareholder on Wednesday to spark a selloff that spread like wildfire across global markets.
Credit Suisse’s shares plummeted 24% in the biggest one-day selloff on record. Its bonds fell to levels that signal deep financial distress, with securities due in 2026 dropping 20 cents to 67.5 cents on the dollar in New York. That puts their yield over 20 percentage points above US Treasuries.
For global investors still, on edge after the rapid-fire collapse of three regional US banks, the growing Credit Suisse crisis provided a new reason to sell risky assets and pile into the safety of government bonds. This kind of volatility unearths all the investors’ and institutions’ missteps. Panic selling is never a good thing, and traders are scrambling to safety, which means government bond yields plunge, gold prices surge, and households typically freeze all discretionary spending and significant investments. This, alone, can trigger a recession, even when labour markets are exceptionally tight and job vacancies are unusually high.
Canadian bank stocks have been sideswiped despite their much tighter regulatory supervision. Fears of contagion and recession persist. Job #1 for the central banks is to calm markets, putting inflation fighting on the back burner until fears have ceased.
Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, reminded us yesterday that previous cycles of rapid interest rate tightening “led to spectacular financial flameouts” like the bankruptcy of Orange County, Calif., in 1994, he wrote, and the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ’90s. “We don’t know yet whether the consequences of easy money and regulatory changes will cascade throughout the US regional banking sector (akin to the S.&L. crisis) with more seizures and shutdowns coming,” he said.
So it is against that backdrop that we discuss Canadian housing. The past year’s surge in borrowing costs triggered one of the record’s fastest declines in Canadian home prices. Sales were up in February, the markets tightened, and the month-over-month price decline slowed.