Canadian financial system in danger due to possible housing collapse

by Ephraim Vecina on 14 Jun 2017
Canada’s financial system is becoming increasingly exposed to economic shocks as household debt levels continue to climb and major housing markets remain red hot, the Bank of Canada said last week.

However, while the country’s most significant weak spots have indeed widened, governor Stephen Poloz said the overall financial system remains resilient and broader economic conditions have shown signs of improvement, The Canadian Press reported.

The bank’s assessment was rolled into its bi-annual review, which explored and identified the main vulnerabilities and risks surrounding the stability of the financial system.

The two biggest concerns on the bank’s radar are also intertwined. It said the growth in mortgage lending in Toronto and Vancouver has largely fuelled an increase in Canada’s overall household indebtedness since the bank’s last review six months ago.

“Highly indebted households have less flexibility to deal with sudden changes in their income,” the bank warned. “As the number of these households grows, it is more likely that adverse economic shocks to households would significantly affect the economy and the financial system.”

The bank outlined the two key risks to the financial system.

The first risk is a large, persistent shock in foreign demand that would lead to a severe recession. While the bank noted the probability of such a risk is low, it said that rising household vulnerabilities mean the severity of such an event, should it occur, has expanded.

The other risk identified in the review, which has a “moderate” chance of occurring, is a regional correction in housing prices in sizzling markets like Toronto, Vancouver and their surrounding areas. Such a development would hurt the broader economy and the financial system, the bank said.

The document was released as concerns about the Canadian real estate market – domestically and from abroad – continue to pile up.

Over the past year, various governments in Canada have introduced housing measures and policy changes that the bank predicted will help ease the vulnerabilities over time.

However, while recent federal measures have improved the credit quality of insured mortgages, the banks said the share of uninsured mortgages has increased and their characteristics are showing more signs of risk.

The report cautioned that another financial stability concern could emerge if more and more borrowers accumulate debt elsewhere to enable them to put down bigger down payments because of recent changes to mortgage rules.

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