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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langford bartender hosts singalong livestream for seniors

Live Senior Singalong takes place daily at 1 p.m. on Facebook

Langford woman frustrated over visitor restrictions to see 96-year-old mother

Island Health to introduce virtual visits at long-term care facilities

Shot fired through young family’s home in Victoria, man in custody

No injuries reported from incident in 1200-block of Yates Street

West Shore churches embrace technology to cope with pandemic

Langford, Colwood and View Royal churches find online audience

Saanich looks at creative alternatives after popular summer events cancelled

Residents likely to be invited to celebrate virtually, at home, mayor says

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

82% of all test-positive COVID-19 cases in B.C. have recovered

B.C. had 303 active cases as of Saturday, May 23

COVID-19: B.C. puts cap on number of vehicles at outdoor drive-in events

New ban on vehicles at events comes as B.C. records 18 more cases of COVID-19 and three deaths

Most Read