Canada’s a real estate nation, just waiting for a crash

Here’s why the Toronto real estate market is so crazy
(Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

A year ago, when Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz cut interest rates for the second time in six months, we knew we’d have to take the bad with the good. Slashing the bank’s overnight rate in half to 0.5 per cent would surely further inflate regional real estate bubbles. But that, we figured, was just the price to pay in order to fuel non-energy exports and a sustainable recovery.

A year later, we’re still waiting for the second half of the equation to kick in. The real estate sector keeps setting new records. Indeed, it’s now Canada’s biggest industry, leaving Alberta’s oil patch and Ontario’s manufacturing heartland in the dust. Ongoing weakness in those latter sectors is generating talk of yet another rate cut, no doubt to the delight of the friendly neighbourhood broker who keeps urging you to sell.

Canada is now a real estate nation, with little else to keep the economy from sinking into an even deeper funk. Gross domestic product shrank 0.1 per cent in May, and that’s after excluding the negative impact of Alberta’s wildfires on oil sands output. Yet, we’re still buying houses like there’s no tomorrow.

The so-called economic rotation from oil to manufacturing exports that rate cuts (and the related decline in the Canadian dollar) were supposed to produce has not only failed to materialize but policy makers have pumped helium into an already overheated real estate sector that is masking structural weaknesses in the economy and setting us up for a bigger fall.

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