As we move into yearend, we have every reason to believe that the economy has slowed and inflation, while still above target, has dropped significantly. But slower inflation does not mean falling prices in most markets. Yes, gasoline prices are down, and food inflation has slowed, but the purchasing power of households has not improved.
Consumer confidence is down as many households fear their mortgage renewals, where rising monthly payments will dig even deeper into their discretionary income.
Mortgage arrears are still at historical lows, but credit card and auto loan delinquencies are rising. Housing markets have slowed considerably, even as lenders cut their fixed mortgage loan rates. Declines in variable-rate loans generally await an easing in monetary policy by the Bank of Canada, which is still likely at least six months away.
The good news is that interest rates have likely peaked. So far, the economy is on a glide path for a ‘softish’ landing. I doubt we will see two consecutive quarters of negative growth. And, if we do, the central bank will respond sooner with rate cuts.
The fiscal authorities' hands are tied. Many accuse Ottawa of increasing budgetary red ink too quickly over the past eight years, especially during the pandemic. Now that market-determined interest rates have risen sharply, the debt financing costs are spiking. The Liberals’ popularity is waning, and while business is calling for investment tax credits and everyone wants more affordable housing, the feds can only marginally affect these issues, given budgetary and political constraints.
The latest gimmick is to reduce short-term rentals by restricting Airbnb properties in some ways, but that will again have a meagre impact. Encouraging construction with GST elimination and cheaper credit is helpful. Still, even if they do lead to 30,000 new rental properties, that’s a drop in the bucket when planned permanent immigration is slated for 500,000 people per year.
The real rebound in economic activity is coming when the BoC signals it will cut the overnight policy rate. In the meantime, it is now a buyers’ market in many localities as home prices decline. The spring housing market could show a meaningful pickup in anticipation of lower rates and more housing supply. Motivated sellers will be out there, and buyers can pre-approve and take their time finding the right fit. The multiple-bidding wars are over. The housing market will lead the economy upward next year.