The Macro-Dynamics of the US and the Canadian Housing Markets: An Analytical Comparison

This article examines three key fundamental questions: (1)-Would the US housing market face any reversal given what is happening in the US and global economy? (2)-As predicted by some pundits, would the Canadian economy undergo any serious correction? (3)-What are the key macroeconomic factors which impact the Canadian and the US housing markets? And using this framework what predictions can we make both for short and long term trends of real estate markets?

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The US housing bubble was created miracle sheet guide by “Steroids Banking” using “Securitization” process and taking advantage of low interest rates and massive inflow of investment money from abroad. The housing prices in most regions almost doubled 2001 to 2006; and subprime lending escalated astronomically. The private Mortgage banks were applying their creativity and greed in designing highly risky esoteric mortgage products using the “Securitization” process.

What is “Securitization”? Put simply this is packaging of mortgages (including subprime) into structured products (Mortgage backed securities, Collateralized debt obligations). The manufacturing mortgage bank then removes these esoteric products from its balance sheets to minimize any risks and sells these products to institutional investors using SIV (Structured investment vehicles). The buyers of these products erroneously assumed that the underlying mortgages of these securities were “safe collateral” given upward trending housing market. However, when subprime mortgages defaulted and housing market began to sink, these structured products built around defaulting mortgages fell sharply in value, thereby freezing the entire global credit system. Added to this turmoil was dilution of commercial paper because of potential default of big lending institutions. The global financial system was under siege. Ironically, the Credit default swaps, which mean to insure against default of these mortgages collapsed under their own weight, thereby reinforcing the Credit crisis. The US Treasury and the Fed intervened and injected trillions of dollars to save the collapsing US Housing and Banking system.

This crisis is a classic example of “Moral Hazard” issue. Who was responsible for over-leveraging the system beyond its buoyancy point? Technically the Mortgage banks had packaged the mortgages and passed on the risks to the institutional investors. The institutional investors made the wrong assumption that the US housing market will move North forever. The Fed and other institutions did not have a proper regulatory-monitoring structure as envisioned in the BASEL guidelines to avert such over-leveraging. Nobody knew who will be responsible if the edifice collapses. Worst of all, the institutional investors assumed wrongly that the “Credit default swaps” (CDS) instruments would work miracles; and bail out defaulting mortgages. This is known as Moral hazard problem. Ultimately everybody was looking forward to the Fed and the Treasury to bail out the global financial system from reaching the doomsday.

The “Mortgage Delinquency Rate (MDR)” is a key metric that speaks of the real fallout of the US housing crisis (2007-2008). It measures the percentage change in delinquency of residential loans. In June 2007, the MDR was 2.17% and reached its highest level in March 2011 at 11.36%. It recovered back to 2008 levels at 10.4% recently. MDR is a key lagging indicator that reflects economic difficulties. Another key metric reflecting the state of housing health in the US is the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index. This is an index reflecting change in housing prices of 20 (and 10) key US metropolitan areas. The home prices in April 2012 for 20-city composite have reached the level existing in the start of 2003. In April 2012, the home prices have declined about 34-35% from its peak level in 2006.

The main reason for a stagnant US housing market as evidenced from the MDR data is a fragile labor market. Slow job growth rate is due to weak consumer spending, which is the 70% component of real GDP and key driver of job creation in the US. Consumer spending is directly related to job growth rate, the saving rate and the consumer confidence. In an uncertain environment, spending falls and both the US dollar and saving rate increases. Although savings are recycled by the intermediaries as investments for

businesses, this does not necessarily translate onto investment spending and GDP growth. Companies in a high risk environment aim to trim their balance sheets by paying off their debts, a process called as deleveraging. They do not want to burden their balance sheets by borrowing from banks. This deleveraging process slows down the level of investment in the economy thereby indirectly moderating the job growth rate. Deleveraging also runs counterproductive to low interest rates and impedes growth in jobs and therefore fast recovery of real estate prices.

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