Name: Robert McLister

Email: robert@canadianmortgagetrends.com

Biographical Info: Robert McLister is one of Canada’s best-known mortgage experts, a mortgage columnist for The Globe and Mail, editor of CanadianMortgageTrends.com (CMT) and founder of intelliMortgage Inc. and RateSpy.com. Robert created CMT in 2006. The publication now attracts 550,000+ annual readers, is a four-time Canadian Mortgage Awards recipient and has been named one of Canada’s best personal finance sites by the Globe & Mail. Prior to entering the mortgage world, Robert was an equities trader for eleven years and a finance graduate from the University of Michigan Business School. Robert appears regularly in the media for mortgage-related commentary (recent coverage: http://bit.ly/tUjp3Q). He can be followed on Twitter at @CdnMortgageNews


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Mark Squire, Manulife Bank

Manulife Bank keeps padding its leadership roster. And its latest signing should get it to the playoffs.

Former National Bank broker channel head, Mark Squire, is now Manulife Bank’s Head of Mortgage Broker Services.

Squire, one of the channel’s more respected and broker-friendly executives, helped lead NBC from less than 2.2% market share in the broker channel in 2009, to 6.1% in Q2 2014. NBC peaked at #6 in the top 10 broker lenders.

That, of course, was before National’s HQ pulled the carpet out from under the broker channel by starting to favour its internal sales forces.

At Manulife, we suspect Squire will look to build a top-10 channel lender in short order (i.e., in several quarters versus several years). And he’ll go head-to-head with his old employer to do it. Both Manulife and NBC have similar marquis products: the Manulife One and the National Bank All-in-one.

Jeff Spencer, VP, Retail Sales & Distribution, sent CMT this statement about the hire:

“I am very pleased to have Mark joining our sales team and further increasing our bench strength in the Mortgage Broker space. We also have six new [former NBC] Business Development team members joining us who will exclusively support top-producing brokers in our soon-to-be-announced loyalty program. These new additions to our team have extensive broker experience and knowledge that will benefit our broker partners and existing sales team. We are very excited to add these new team members and further display our commitment to the Mortgage Broker space.”

In other news, as Spencer revealed, Manulife has a new broker loyalty program coming “very” soon. “We will be focused on individual relationships in the program,” he says, alluding to the fact there will be no (or limited) pooling of volume among brokers, in order to achieve loyalty rewards.

But that’s not all. “We see that the key producers in the industry recognize the need to create recurring revenue streams to build value in their businesses,” he added. “With that in mind, we are considering trailing commissions, especially given the long-term nature of Manulife One.” Trailers are a big lure for some brokers, but they’re also costly (hence why Street Capital ditched them in 2015). 

Last, but not least, the bank is planning a late-March pilot launch in Quebec. That’s great news for QC brokers as it currently only has a broker referral program there.

Manulife has thrown down a major investment in the broker space since it officially launched in March 2016. It’s also got a big balance sheet — an edge that can’t be overstressed with Ottawa slowly turning its back on securitization. With slightly better pricing and the rollout of more conventional products, its management could make it a channel superpower.

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Bank earnings_sq

Q1 bank earnings season came and went with less fanfare than usual, at least on the mortgage front. 

Executives’ mortgage commentary focused primarily on conditions in Canada’s two hottest housing markets and on strong credit quality.

Earnings reports show continued robust mortgage activity at CIBC and National Bank, with both reporting a 12% year-over-year increase in mortgage volumes. We also saw stronger-than-expected mortgage volumes at Scotiabank.

As we do every quarter, we’ve picked through the Big Banks’ quarterly earnings reports, presentations and conference calls, and compiled all the mortgage notables right here. Key tidbits are highlighted in blue.

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READ MORE

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More than three months after the Minister of Finance’s surprise unilateral blow to mortgage competition, the mortgage industry keeps fighting back.

“There’s no hope for getting through [to officials] if we can’t keep the pressure on,” DLC President Gary Mauris told CMT. He says his firm is spending “significant” resources to defend the industry’s position that consumers are being harmfully disadvantaged by the new rules.

Below are some of the various initiatives presently underway to reach policy-makers.

Parliament Meetings

On March 6 and 7, some of the biggest names in the broker industry will be in Ottawa attending the first-ever Parliament Hill Advocacy Days.

Organized by Mortgage Professionals Canada, participants include Paul Taylor, Boris Bozic, Jared Dreyer, Dave Teixeira, Dave Trithart, Eddy Cocciollo, Claude Girard, Mark Kerzner, Hali Strandlund, Dan Putnam and Michael Wolfe, among others.

“We have arranged a large number of meetings with MPs, parliamentarian decision-makers and key policy-makers,” MPC said in a statement. Its key asks to parliament:

  • Allow refinances to once again be eligible for portfolio insurance
  • Decouple the stress test rate from the posted Bank of Canada rate
  • Require all mortgages to qualify at the stress test rate, not just insured mortgages.

MPC continues to encourage concerned citizens and industry members to contact their MPs about the inequitable new restrictions. It has set up this page to make that easy.

Bank of Canada Meeting

Lawrence Schembri, Bank of Canada

The Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mr. Larry Schembri, has requested a meeting with DLC President Gary Mauris on March 22. Its goal: to hear more “perspectives on the impact of recent policy changes on the housing market.”

“The fact that they are listening and now have asked for our perspective, [via] the Deputy Governor is extremely encouraging,” says Mauris. The Bank of Canada directly advises the Department of Finance.

“I plan on taking hundreds of real-life stories with me to demonstrate the unfair, un-level playing field that these changes have created,” Mauris said in an announcement to his firm. “We are soliciting hundreds of stories from every broker network. We are going to edit, layout and provide submission binders to all MPs, CMHC, the Bank of Canada, etc.”

If you’re a mortgage industry professional and have a client or first-time homebuyer who’s been adversely and unfairly affected by the new policies, you can send that story to Mr. Mauris by March 15.

Finance Committee Hearings

Gary Mauris, DLC

Mauris also recently spoke in parliament about the rule change. He testified that DLC’s non-prime business has soared from 3-4% of originations three years ago to 12% now.

“The government is driving Canadians into higher costs,” he asserts.

Indeed, the more that Ottawa pulls back from the mortgage market, the more that safe prudent consumers pay. They too get caught in the “risky borrower” dragnet. (If anyone at the Department of Finance and OSFI had the good sense to consult practising home financing experts, they might have realized that sooner.)

Parliament’s Finance Committee is currently preparing a report that could be finalized in April. According to a person we spoke to who’s familiar with the process, the Liberals have a majority on the committee and can essentially veto any recommendations from the opposition that they don’t like. The Minister of Finance’s office may exert pressure on the Liberal MPs to toe the party line here.

After the report is finalized it will be tabled—i.e., publicly announced in Parliament. The Minister of Finance then has 120 days to officially and publicly respond to the committee thereafter. Our source suggests the report may not be tabled (and made public) before the summer, possibly July or August.

In the meantime, the industry will closely watch the Minister’s budget this month—hoping there’s a slight (and we do mean slight) chance that one or more of the rules will be relaxed.

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About a third (34%) of millennials (Canadians born in the 80s and 90s) are homeowners, finds a new HSBC survey.

Of those who don’t own, 82% plan to buy in the next five years. But there’s a minor problem:  70% of them haven’t saved enough for a down payment.

Enter the parental units.

Dependent supporters are rushing to the rescue of a small chunk of newbie buyers. 

If history is a guide, in 2017:

  • roughly 37% of millennials will take parental support for part or all of their down payment
  • about 21% will move back in with the ‘rents to save their down payment (recent empty-nesters, don’t turn your basements into storerooms just yet).

For millennials who can’t qualify for a mortgage (for example, who don’t pass the government’s new 4.64% stress test):

  • 59% would “consider” spending less on leisure and going out
  • 37% say they’d consider a smaller than ideal home
  • 30% would consider delaying children.

So there we have it, more casualties from the new mortgage rules: theme parks, bars and child-care workers. Bet that wasn’t an “intended consequence.”


Daily Fact: Twice as many millennials in China own a home; 70%, versus 34% here in Canada. 

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Below is the second and last instalment of our commentary on the February 13th testimony to Parliament by CMHC’s CEO. (See part I here)

In that hearing, Evan Siddall argues that the new rounds of mortgage insurance rules were necessary and their side effects were fully intended.

His supporting data for his assertions comes under fire, however, with one opposition MP claiming regulator arrogance was behind the rules and their hasty implementation.

Here are Siddall’s positions in his words, with some “alternative” viewpoints.


Siddall on whether the feds targeted Toronto & Vancouver

“…The October 3 changes were not targeted at escalating house prices in the Toronto and Vancouver markets.” There is “strong evidence of problematic conditions in the Canadian housing markets as a whole” and high indebtedness is a problem “across the country.”

Counterpoint:  CMHC notes that strong overvaluation exists in just four census metropolitan areas (CMAs) that it tracks—Toronto, Vancouver, Hamilton and Quebec City. There are 35 CMAs nationwide. Folks with high mortgage-debt-to-income are found mainly in three metro areas (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary), says the Bank of Canada. Interestingly—Toronto and Vancouver excluded—Canadian mortgage payments are about 24% of median family income (i.e., reasonable). And despite the popular misconception, “The majority of consumers are actually decreasing their debt,” says Equifax. So we have mainly regional extremes exacerbated by a minority of debt-addicted consumers. Yet, the personal finance police in Ottawa claim that spiraling debt is a plague so nationally ingrained as to demand immediate blanket mortgage policy—policy that depresses the majority of already-stable real estate markets and strips all homeowners coast-to-coast of low-cost financing options.

Siddall on who’s impacted by the new stress test:

The stress test on borrowers ensures people can withstand higher rates, Siddall stated. It “will impact only borrowers who are or who would be highly indebted following the purchase of their house, regardless of where they live.”

Counterpoint:  The numbers don’t bear that out. Consider a family earning the average income, with average consumer debt, buying the average priced Canadian home with 20% down. If that family is qualified on a 5-year fixed contract rate, their total debt service ratio is under the 40% traditional guideline. This is not highly indebted.

Impose a 4.64% qualification rate, however, and suddenly they’re above the 44% TDS maximum, they no longer qualify for that same mortgage and they are now “highly indebted.”

With respect to the stress test, Siddall was silent on another key point. The stress test now makes it impossible for many Canadians to switch lenders and get the lowest possible rates. Why? Because some non-bank lenders—which used to offer the lowest conventional rates in Canada—must now upcharge if a borrower is even 0.00001% above the 44% TDS limit, which now happens all too often.

Siddall on Canada’s “high” homeownership rate:

“…We have among the highest homeownership rate at 69%.”

Counterpoint:  Canada is actually well down the list. In 28 countries of the EU, for example, the average homeownership rate is 70% and one-half have rates of 75% or more. (My thanks to economist Will Dunning for noting this data.)

Siddall on killing insured refinances:

“There were a number of business models that were substantially based on…refinancing.” Refinances are “not a housing need…that is a housing want…and still is freely available in the public markets but to the extent there is government support for it, that didn’t strike us as something the government should be supporting…“[Mortgage finance companies’] business has dried up because the government was involved in a market providing stimulus and the Minister of Finance decided to remove some of that stimulus.”

Counterpoint:  Those “business models” Siddall refers to were keeping rates competitive for all responsible well-qualified Canadians. Those “business models” were effectively regulated by multiple sources: OSFI, CMHC and the lender’s aggregators. Those “business models” have consistently maintained arrears rates of half of those at regulated banks, with even higher-credit-score borrowers than the big banks.

(OSFI does not directly regulate mortgage finance companies. But it does require bank mortgage funders to strictly enforce OSFI underwriting rules on these lenders.) 

Siddall on the evidence that portfolio insurance needed to be eliminated for refinances:

“The evidence is in economic crises throughout history, for the 46 financial crises for which we have data, the overwhelming majority of those (70%) were preceded by housing boom and bust cycles,” said Siddall, quoting from this book, which he cited as “evidence” justifying the portfolio insurance changes. (Economist Will Dunning challenges Siddall’s conclusions from that book here.)

“We were jeopardizing the economic future of Canada by promoting an economic cycle in housing markets that could result in a crash and unemployment for people.”

Counterpoint:  Did anyone notice that Mr. Siddall did not answer the question? That question was: “What evidence of risk was present to eliminate portfolio insurance on refis and rentals where there was a delinquency of 0.24% in the current portfolio?”

Another question also needs answering, and that is:  Would it not have been possible to preserve financing options and keep refinance costs low for well-qualified borrowers, while raising qualification requirements to weed out risky borrowers?

The implication that most refinancers are debt-crazed maniacs is absurd. MP Dan Albas mentioned, “Part of refinancing allows for people to be able to invest in their small business, it allows them…to survive a lockout or a strike…it allows them to be able to purchase a home from a spouse because of a divorce.” Canada’s federal mortgage guarantee promotes refinance options and maximizes interest savings for well-qualified homeowners, folks who essentially present zero, zitch, zippo risk to taxpayers. And that risk is carefully monitored and controlled because our lending overlords, CMHC and the Department of Finance, strictly enforce their own guidelines on lenders and borrowers.

Siddall on the Financial Crisis:

“I wouldn’t suggest that the financial crisis as it applied in Canada was a true stress test…We published stress tests that are far more aggressive than that…I would suggest that a single-digit decline in house prices is not a crisis.”

Counterpoint: A 3-point unemployment surge and one of the worst global recessions of all time is nothing to scoff at. But more interesting were the severe employment shocks in the 80s and 90s. Canada’s mortgage market weathered those economic disasters admirably.

But that’s not all. CMHC’s own “far more aggressive” stress tests show that CMHC could withstand conditions more hideous than the U.S. housing apocalypse, and not even run out of capital, and that was before the Finance Minister’s latest draconian insurance and capital tightening.

Oh, and Alberta’s unemployment just hit a 22-year high. Arrears there are currently just half their post-recession peak (albeit they’ll climb a bit more).


Source: tradingeconomics.com

Siddall on what keeps him up at night:

“The problem we worry about most…is unemployment.”

Counterpoint: MP Ron Liepert responded on this point, telling Siddall, “We have a situation in Alberta where we’ve gone through two years of job losses unprecedented in this country and foreclosures have barely changed. So how do you justify what you recommended to the minister based on exactly what’s been happening in Alberta for the past two years?”

Siddall on why low arrears don’t matter (enough):

“People in Canada will determinedly pay their home so the fact that our arrears rates are low is worrisome in the sense that someone will save their home by not buying a car, by not buying a fridge, by economizing on their groceries…What that does is it reduces consumption, and when we reduce consumption we reduce economic activity, and when we reduce economic activity someone loses their job. And that is what we’re concerned about.”

Counterpoint:  CMHC’s own data suggests just 1 in 5 borrowers have a GDS ratio above the traditional 32% guideline. So if those people are the problem, why not target them, remove them from the market and leave options for the remaining majority of cautious financially stable Canadians? Siddall didn’t touch on this.

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“Arrogant.” That’s how some critics are describing Siddall and his regulatory brigade. But arrogance can sometimes be confused with perspicacity, so we must be careful.

Nonetheless, it is statements like these from Siddall that make people wonder:

  • “…[Other witnesses] have people they represent and I would suggest that you may want to take that into account.”—Evan Siddall on the credibility of lender and broker testimony, Feb. 13 , 2017 (The implication: He’s got no angle. It’s the people who disagree with him who have an angle.)
  • “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.”—Evan Siddall, commenting on whether lender concerns about the government’s portfolio insurance prohibitions were valid, November 18, 2016 (Sure, because it’s biologically impossible for folks in a profession to tell the truth about that profession, or offer practical insights about that profession. Is this right? P.S. Since we’re on the topic of logical fallacies, please, whatever you do, never ask a barber regulator if you need a haircut.)
  • “…The distortionary effects of portfolio insurance…in my view was stimulating excess credit and contributing to higher levels of household debt.”—Evan Siddall, November 18, 2016 (…his view…)
  • “We help Canadians meet their housing needs, not exceed them”—Evan Siddall (Rest assured: Policy-makers know what all Canadians need.)
  • “…Lenders have, as I’ve said in the past, no skin in the game and therefore the incentives are misaligned with good risk management.”—Evan Siddall, Oct. 4, 2016 (Implication: Lenders have little to lose and insufficient business sense to stay in business by underwriting prudently, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)
  • “Some critics now accuse us of overlooking the ‘unintended consequences’ of our actions. In fact, the results of these policy changes were fully intended.”—Evan Siddall, Oct. 17, 2016 (Possible translation: We intended to damage the mortgage market and no apologies are required. If you don’t like the rules, deal with them.)

A sense of superiority often comes with power, and regulators have had virtually unfettered unaccountable power. 

“The policy somewhat smacks of a nanny state,” MP Albas told Siddall. “Some of the best advice I ever received was to think of people, not for them…It sounds like your agency is thinking for people.”

Is this what we want? Do we put our finances in the hands of bureaucrats who think for us all and make one-size-fits-all policy? If we do, it’s a given that Ottawa will emasculate one of the world’s most successful and most envied housing finance systems. And if they do, neither we, nor politicians who care, nor the mortgage industry of Canada, will ever let them forget it.

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For the first time in forever, D+H has a major threat to its mortgage software dominance.

Newton Connectivity Systems—the old Marlborough Stirling Canada, and a Dominion Lending Group company—is launching “Velocity.”

Velocity is a cloud-based desktop for mortgage brokers. In a nutshell, it lets brokers send applications to lenders, pull credit reports, store client documents securely, email conditions updates to applicants, route documents to lenders and send automated marketing emails and newsletters.

The platform launches March 1 and basic connectivity and deal submission is free to all brokers. A CRM add-on will sell later for $50 a month. The new front-end is built partly on Otto, technology that CEO Geoff Willis’s old firm brought to Newton. 

The biggest pain about the software’s predecessor (MorWeb) was that it didn’t connect to all lenders. But DLC President Gary Mauris says that prior holdouts (e.g., TD, Home Trust & CMLS) “are all fast tracking integration” and should be on the system in a matter of months—in some cases, year-end at the latest.

The other criticism, mainly from non-DLC Group brokers, is that they don’t trust DLC to not spy on their client data. We asked Willis about this point blank. He offered this assurance:

“The goal with Newton is to have it stand as its own company and we want to service the entire mortgage industry—not just DLC or a handful of other networks. It would be short sighted and morally—and perhaps legally—wrong for us to pass along identifying information to DLC or any other organization.

We are here to build long-lasting relationships with brokerages and lenders. So let me plainly say, Newton WILL NOT look at a user’s client information or use it in any way without the consent of that user.

The safe collection, transmission and permitted use of data is the key to effectively operating Newton, we take that obligation very seriously. In our terms of service found right on the Newton website now, there are restrictions with how we share client data both internally and externally. If a broker or brokerage is a Velocity user or a user of another third-party point-of-sale system, we will be making provisions in the future to remove that client data post completion, as you will have it in your database and our role of providing the connection bridge has been completed.”

“It is our intention to migrate all $38 billion [of DLC Group origination] over to Newton within the next 30 months,” says Mauris. (If that’s not a shot across D+H’s bow, we don’t know what is.)

D+H, not to be outdone, and probably not coincidentally, emailed this to the broker industry today:

“…D+H has made a strategic decision to strengthen its commitment to the mortgage business in Canada, which you’ll be hearing more about in the coming months. This commitment will be particularly relevant to individual mortgage broker professionals, especially as the digital transformation takes hold in our industry.”

The company goes on to say: “The lending experience of 2020, just 3 years on, will look drastically different than we know it today…”


Sidebar: Coming Newton enhancements include: calendar syncing, production statistics, reporting based on virtually any client data, automated rate sheets for Realtors and email click-tracking. In 2018, Newton plans to add automated NOA and bank statement retrieval (to verify income and down payment funds), Teranet Purview integration, a client portal for doc uploads, e-signatures and payroll.

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If you thought Parliament’s hearings on the new mortgage rules was boring, you missed last week’s exchange between MP Ron Liepert and CMHC head, Evan Siddall.

This 4-minute video captures the tension…

Never, to our recollection, has there been such animosity towards the regulatory 3-Amigos: CMHC, OSFI and the Department of Finance. The trio’s insurance policies have ravaged mortgage competition, jacked up borrowing costs and are destined to cost consumers billions (literally billions)…if they’re not overturned. 

With most industry professionals we speak to, there’s an almost palpable loss of respect for federal regulators. It’s unhealthy, it’s unnecessary and it could have all been avoided. 

How? By conferring with industry experts before decreeing their policies, and by preserving sacred competition in Canada’s oligopoly-dominated mortgage market. These two reasonable measures would not have prevented rulemakers from achieving their goal, mitigating consumer debt risk. 

In his testimony, Siddall acknowledged making recommendations to the Finance Minister. Those recommendations resulted in the withdrawal of vital insurance and securitization options for:

  1. refinances
  2. average-priced houses in Toronto and Vancouver
  3. rental properties
  4. amortizations over 25 years, and
  5. low-ratio mortgages qualified at the contract rate.

Had officials justified these specific edicts in their testimony (with relevant data), it might have disarmed their critics. Instead, government representatives unapologetically demonstrated how little they thought about the wake of destruction they’ve left for lenders and consumers.

What follows is a sampling of testimony from one who many consider to be Canada’s biggest promoter of the new rules, Evan Siddall.

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Siddall on why the mortgage industry was never consulted:

“…More often than not our advice and analysis is provided confidentially, given that housing finance policy decisions can affect the marketplace…Broad consultations are not always appropriate.”

Counterpoint:  Industry was consulted countless times before on pending regulation. Given the gravity of these particular rules, this time should not have been an exception. The fed’s defence seems to be that traders might have shorted lenders’ stocks if the government tipped its hand before announcing the rules. But banks are public companies and they were consulted, noted MP Dan Albas. Why did policy-makers find it appropriate to solicit feedback from banks (but virtually no other lenders) before decreeing the most devastating rule changes the non-bank industry has ever seen. With no one to counterbalance regulators’ proposals, the mortgage industry got rash bank-biased policy. Canadian families will now bear layers of new costs, for possibly years to come. (Side note: There’s no reason to blame banks for these rules but, relatively speaking, they do benefit from them.)

Siddall on the damage to mortgage competition:

“…The results of these policy changes were fully intended…We did expect lower levels of competition in certain areas as well as a modest increase in mortgage rates…In our judgment the mortgage insurance regime was providing undesirable stimulus in the marketplace so indeed we sought to remove distortion…”

Counterpoint:  So the government picked favourites. It chose to cripple non-banks instead of raising qualification standards on all lenders equally. Siddall supported these changes despite non-banks demonstrating 50% lower delinquency rates than banks, based on his (CMHC’s) own data. Non-banks, and the brokers they distribute through, have been a primary reason why consumers get bigger discounts on mortgages today than they did two decades ago. But now they’ve been marginalized and consumers will pay the price. By the way, regulators’ idea of “modest” rate increases is up to “50″ bps. That’s up to $6,800 of extra interest on a $300,000 mortgage, over just the first five years. That money could pay someone’s university tuition for a year, or cover a family’s child-care expenses, or pay a homeowner’s hydro bill for four years—all of which are better uses of a family’s hard-earned income than government-imposed interest costs.

Siddall on the government’s key concern:

“…Action, we thought, was…needed to address the level of household indebtedness in Canada…The Bank of Canada calls this factor the greatest vulnerability to our economic outlook”

Counterpoint:  No one can argue that surging consumer debt isn’t dangerous. It is. And the government is reasonable for wanting to take action. But Siddall and his cohorts didn’t just take action. They cut off a leg to treat a gangrenous toe. There were multiple alternative treatments they could have prescribed to keep fringe borrowers from O.D.-ing on debt. (Examples). And all of those methods would have left the patient—Canada’s world-class competitive mortgage market—intact. 

Part II will follow this week…


Sidebar: Here’s a link to all of the Finance Committee’s hearings on mortgage policy.

Commentaries reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the views of this publication’s parent.


 

 

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When it comes to the total mortgages arranged in Canada each year (by all lenders), definitive data isn’t easy to find. So we have to rely on estimates.

CIBC economist Benjamin Tal is one of the best estimators out there. And his latest figures suggest the market is a lot bigger than some in our business may think. 

The estimates we typically cite for annual residential mortgage originations range from about $210 to $250 billion. But that doesn’t include renewals.

By Tal’s calculations, the total of all residential mortgages negotiated or renegotiated in 2016 was $405 billion. This figure is a much truer indication of what the theoretical potential market is for mortgage lenders.

This data includes purchases, refinances and renewals of owner-occupied and residential investment properties (including 1- to 4-unit and 5+ unit residential properties).

Tal writes that the total number is up 5.5% over 2015. Canada’s “typical” home price rose 13% in the same timeframe, according to Royal LePage dataBut with insurers already citing a 15-20% drop in business since the mortgage rule changes, 2017 volumes won’t be as rosy.

 

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MPs are questioning why the Liberal government took liquidity out of the refinance market, and Dan Albas is one of the most vocal.

In the House of Commons yesterday, the Conservative MP charged the Department of Finance with “Increasing interest costs on refinanced mortgages.” This of course is a result of the Finance Minister’s ban on default insuring refinances. The move has decimated competition in the refi space, which Albas says “hurts middle-class Canadians.”

“Will the Liberals reverse this punitive and damaging change?” he questioned on his Facebook page today. Albas asked the equivalent in Parliament yesterday, to which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance responded but, “didn’t answer the question at all!” Albas charges. 

Here’s a video of that exchange…

Still Pressing The Liberals on Mortgage Interest Rates

Yesterday I asked why the Liberals took away CMHC insurance when Canadian families refinance their mortgage. The "Talking Point" in response – of course – didn't answer the question at all!Increasing interest costs on refinanced mortgages hurts middle class Canadians and it hurts affordability.Will the Liberals reverse this punitive and damaging change?

Posted by Dan Albas on Friday, February 10, 2017

This debate followed hours of testimony these past two weeks about the new mortgage rules. Those hearings were held by Parliament’s Finance Committee and included 38 expert witnesses.

In an opinion piece today that touched on the hearings, Albas said:

As the public servants involved in this area could not provide a coherent reason for this punitive [refinance] policy, a motion I put forward to have the Finance Minister appear directly before the Finance Committee was adopted thanks in part to some Liberal MPs voting in support.

It appears, however, the Finance Minister is sending others to talk for him (on Monday), namely:

  • Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
  • Rob Stewart, Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Finance
  • Cynthia Leach, Chief, Housing Finance, Capital Markets Division, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance

CMHC head Evan Siddall will also speak at the same meeting. Siddall has been quoted by Bloomberg as saying lenders have “no skin in the game” and “misaligned” incentives, which he later called a misstatement on his part. So the mortgage industry will be watching for any new bombs he might drop on Monday.

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Are regulators oblivious to the consequence of their own mortgage policies? That’s what certain industry stakeholders and MPs suggested to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance this past week.

Well, observers can now decide for themselves, based on officials’ own comments—starting with those of OSFI Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Rogers.

Rogers testified last week. Below are a sampling of her statements, with commentary on each…

  • On the Destruction of Lending Competition: MP Dan Albas asked Rogers if the harm done to competition is a concern, stating, “We’re not just making life tougher for consumers, we’re also making the market less competitive.”
    .
    National Bank Financial (NBF) substantiated that concern in an unrelated report this week, stating: “…We believe increased portfolio insurance premiums could materially impair residential mortgage origination capabilities of mortgage finance companies (MFC)…Increased premiums shift both pricing power and market share control to balance sheet lenders like the Big Six Canadian Banks, highlighting that further downside risk could emerge for MFCs…We believe increased portfolio insurance premiums could materially impair MFCs’ ability to originate residential mortgages in the 65% to 80% LTV ratio range, which we estimate at 35% to 45% of (their) total residential mortgage origination, including insured and uninsured mortgages.”
    .
    Rogers, for her part, expressed no such concern. She responded to the MP’s question by acknowledging only that the government’s rules are having a “disproportionate impact” on bank challengers. Her testimony made little effort to elaborate on the serious “side effects” noted above. Nor did she make an attempt to help parliamentarians grasp the extent of those repercussions on consumers and lenders.
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  • On Refinancing: Rogers stated that the new rule landscape “doesn’t preclude any one lender from doing refinancing.” This was either a tacit admission that she/OSFI doesn’t understand lenders’ funding challenges, or refuses to acknowledge them in public. For as every mortgage professional in Canada knows, there are indeed lenders who have lost their ability to offer refinancing to their customers. Most can still do refinances but with a serious rate handicap versus the major banks. NBF estimates that MFC rates on 80% LTV purchases and renewals have had to rise up to 30 bps due to premium changes alone. We’re seeing 15-50 bps rate premiums on MFC refis. A 15-50 bps rate disadvantage cuts the knees out from most securitizing non-bank lenders, pushing volume into the arms of OSFI-regulated lenders. This is solely the result of a deliberate government agenda.
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  • One-sided Stress Tests: Rogers failed to elaborate on how her agency chose not to apply the new “stress test” to uninsured low-ratio mortgages. OSFI’s decision has created an enormous bank advantage over MFCs (which must apply the test to all mortgages, or incur much higher funding costs). OSFI could have coordinated with the Department of Finance to apply the same test to banks. This would seem logical given the Bank of Canada’s public warning that uninsured mortgage indebtedness (e.g., the ratio of uninsured borrowers with loan-to-income ratios over 450%) was rising to concerning levels. OSFI and/or the Department of Finance consciously chose not to subject banks to the same standard as insurers and (by extension) non-banks.
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  • On the Policy-maker’s Intentional Failure to Consult Non-bank Stakeholders: Albas said he was told by officials in October that the government chose to only consult with the likes of major banks, despite roughly 2 in 5 mortgages being originated by non-bank lenders. Rogers had no answer to why policy-makers failed to confer with industry experts before making such game-changing rules.
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  • On the Regional Aspect of OSFI’s Rules: Rogers stated that OSFI’s policies “are regionally neutral.” How this can be true when the new capital requirements specifically use location in their formula is anyone’s guess.
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  • On Higher Resulting Mortgage Rates: Rogers essentially disclaimed responsibility for hiking costs on consumers, saying “Pricing decisions belong to the lender. We (OSFI) don’t set prices. We set capital requirements. And if lenders and insurers choose to pass the capital requirements on to consumers in the form of higher prices, that’s a business decision and not a regulatory decision.” Meanwhile, considerably higher funding costs have ravaged certain MFCs’ businesses, with some lenders reporting a 30 to 50%+ drop in year-over-year volume. Why? Because they had no choice but to terminate products and jack up rates, thus harming consumer choice. OSFI and the Department of Finance knew this would result from their capital changes, or at least they should have.

Rogers’ testimony omitted the true impact that OSFI’s capital changes are having in the marketplace, contained statements that could be interpreted as misleading, and failed to provide any substantive evidence justifying her agency’s changes. She delivered this testimony snidely at times, at one point scoffingly commenting, “I might have guessed…that was the source…” after it was revealed that an MP’s concern was related to a worry from mortgage firm DLC.

This hearing will cast serious doubt on OSFI’s credibility and motives. For as CMHC CEO Evan Siddall has stated, the market consequences of the government’s actions were “fully intended.” The rule changes thus appear to have been purposely targeted and premeditated based on false (or at least questionable) pretenses.

Government officials said in their testimony that they want consumers and the industry to be resilient to future potential shocks. That’s a worthy and necessary goal. But, we all must remember that the prior system:

  • was a product of extensive prior rule tightening (over 30 new lending restrictions since 2008 alone)
  • held defaults on MFC’s insured mortgages to half that of the major banks (MFC arrears were a minuscule 14 bps, said the Bank of Canada in December)
  • limited prime mortgage arrears to a paltry 45 bps during one of the worst recessions on record
  • was mostly based on a level playing field among lenders, unlike today.

Despite all this, regulators once again failed to share any meaningful evidence that Canada’s prior time-tested regulatory system:

  • was immoderately risky
  • justified OSFI’s and the Department of Finance’s devastation of non-bank lenders
  • justified forcing hard-working Canadians to pay thousands more in interest.

In his questioning, MP Albas suggested policy-makers were “spinning” their position, to convince Canadians these rules are in their best interests, while simultaneously taking away critical financing options and raising costs on Canadian families. Rogers’ testimony did nothing to counter this charge. In fact, her statements demand legislators’ immediate scrutiny on her agency’s one-sided decisions, to confirm the unparalleled cost of those policies justify OSFI’s purported benefits.


Commentaries reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the views of this publication’s parent.