Sudden rise in interest rates could cause home prices to drop 30 per cent: CMHC

Federal housing agency sounds warning as it releases stress test findings on Canadian mortgages

Worries are growing that a sharp interest rate rise could deflate home prices.

TORONTO – A sudden rise in interest rates could cause house prices to plummet on average 30 per cent nationally, according to stress tests performed by Canada’s federal housing agency released Thursday.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said it studied the impact of two interest rate hikes – a one percentage point increase over one quarter this year, followed by a 1.4 percentage point rise during one quarter next year.

CMHC said its mortgage insurance business would incur $1.13 billion in losses in such an event but that it could withstand the hit. A spokesman for the agency stressed that the scenario is an “extreme case” and would be unprecedented.

Interest rates have started to go up this week as a sell-off in the U.S. bond market has driven bond yields higher, making it more expensive for banks to access capital.

Two of Canada’s biggest banks – TD Bank (TSX:TD) and Royal Bank (TSX:RY) – have hiked their fixed mortgage rates, anywhere from 0.05 percentage points to 0.4 percentage points.

There are concerns that as interest rates rise, some Canadian homeowners could encounter difficulty making their mortgage payments and face the risk of default.

“Households are so leveraged right now and house prices are at such incredibly high levels relative to household incomes,” said David Madani, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics.

“Even a moderate doubling in interest rates – which sounds like a lot but we’re talking about maybe 200 basis points (two percentage points) – could potentially pop the housing bubble.”

Interest rates have been trending lower for more than a decade, but that has not always been the case.

Fuelled by inflation, mortgage rates soared in the 1980s and posted five-year fixed rates topping more than 20 per cent in 1981.

According to data kept by the Bank of Canada, the posted five-year rate for a conventional mortgage at the big Canadian banks climbed from 13.25 per cent in January 1980 to 16.75 per cent in April 1980, an increase of 3.5 percentage points.

However, Canada started using an inflation target to guide monetary policy in 1991 and since then inflation has been mostly tamed and interest rates have fallen.

The stress test conducted by CMHC was one of several extreme scenarios it examined over a time period from 2017-2021. They included a U.S.-style housing correction, a high-magnitude earthquake that destroys critical infrastructure in a major Canadian city and a drop in oil prices where they fall to US$20 per barrel next year and remain between US$20-30 for another four years.

Another scenario that the agency tested involved a “severe and prolonged” economic depression, which CMHC said would see house prices drop 25 per cent and unemployment rise to 13.5 per cent. The insurer said it would incur $3.12 billion in losses in that case.

CMHC said its capital holdings were sufficient to withstand all scenarios it tested. None of the scenarios should be considered a prediction or forecast, the agency added.

“Stress testing involves searching out extreme scenarios that have a very remote chance of happening and planning for them,” Romy Bowers, CMHC’s chief risk officer, said in a statement.

“Rigorous stress testing is an essential part of our risk management program and allows CMHC to evaluate its capital levels against these scenarios.

– Alexandra Posadzki, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Shaving minutes off commutes among the goals for Victoria bus lanes

Work on southbound Douglas Street lane between Tolmie and Hillside getting underway

VicPD nab distracted driver with expired licence

On the phone while in motion, man had overdue fines from driving while impaired

Cooking with ‘Killer’

Reporter Dawn Gibson shares some of her favourite meals to make

Vic-Alert faces tidal wave of registration after tsunami warnings

City of Victoria system is free and provides early warnings of disaster

Sirens don’t sing in tsunami warning for Esquimalt

Officials pleased with process, say sirens would have been activated had threat escalated.

WATCH: Greater Victoria residents gather at higher ground during tsunami warning

Ocean Boulevard and the Esquimalt Lagoon reopened shortly before 5 a.m. Tuesday

Saanich signals support for in-fill developments in Gorge-Tillicum

The Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood continues to experience infill. Council’s committee-of-the-whole signaled Saanich’s support… Continue reading

Castlegar homicide victim identified

The victim was 38-year-old Jordan Workman of Castlegar, B.C.

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates get one last prime-time pitch

Leadership campaign to be decided in Feb. 3 vote

How high is safe from a tsunami? Four metres above sea level

Be disaster ready with food, water and clothing for seven days

Victoria Film Festival set for triumphant return to the big screen

Two decades on, diverse film lineups keep movie-goers coming to the box office

Andrew Scheer on trade, Trump and Trudeau

Canada’s Conservative leader begins three-day visit to B.C.

Victoria’s most wanted for the week of Jan. 23

Crime Stoppers will pay a reward of up to $2,000 for information that leads to arrests or the seizure of property or drug

Victims restrained, sex toys and cash stolen from B.C. adult store

Armed suspects sought in adult store robbery

Most Read