National Post


Increase widely anticipate­d this week

- On the Contrary Martin Pelletier Financial Post Martin Pelletier, CFA is a Portfolio Manager and OCIO at TriVest Wealth Counsel Ltd, a Calgary- based private client and institutio­nal investment firm specializi­ng in discretion­ary risk- managed portfolios a

Strange things are afoot with central banks these days as many are following the U. S Federal Reserve’s lead and looking to tighten monetary conditions by raising interest rates. While we like to think that we chart our own course, Canada is no different in playing follow-theleader as evidenced by the historical correlatio­n in interest rate movements between our two countries and the recent indication­s by the Bank of Canada and its governor Stephen Poloz.

In particular, Canadian bond yields are now implying a 91.4-per-cent probabilit­y that the Bank of Canada will raise interest rates this week, according to recent analysis by the Financial Times. This is up from the 4.6 per cent recorded just over 30 days ago.

What is interestin­g is that there has been no change in the Bank’s outlook since its last two meetings and the economic data — other than the recent jobs report — has either been in- line with or slightly below the Bank’s expectatio­ns.

While a 25- basis- points hike may not sound l ike much, it has certainly had a meaningful i mpact to the Canadian dollar and bond market over the past month. Government of Canada Marketable Bonds with terms from one to five years have seen their yields increase 75 per cent since the beginning of June.

The loonie has now delinked from its historical relationsh­ip to oil prices and has gained an impressive seven per cent against the U. S. dollar since May and could soon surpass the US$0.80 mark. While a higher loonie is great for those of us who vacation south of the border, it will not be good for our energy producers, who sell oil in U. S. dollars, and our overall balance of trade on a national level.

The debt- heavy consumers who are driving our economic growth also don’t appear ready or able to take on higher interest rates. A recent survey by MNP Ltd indicated that 27 per cent of Canadians who have a mortgage agree that they are in over their heads with their current mortgage payments. The same survey also showed that 77 per cent of Canadians would have difficulty absorbing an additional $130 per month in interest payments on debt. That’s the cost of a Starbucks Caramel Frappuccin­o per day.

They will soon be tested though as a number of Canada’s big banks have already begun increasing their mortgage rates from five to 20 basis points in anticipati­on of a Bank of Canada rate hike. The problem is that our economy has become realestate focused and it is un- clear just how much of an effect higher interest rates will have on GDP growth. For example, according to Stats Canada and Macquarie Research, just the transactio­n fees alone associated with a buying and selling a home now account for a record two per cent of GDP. Talk about a great time to be a realtor!

What worries us is that Toronto home sales appear to have peaked and are rolling over, with the number of transactio­ns falling by more than 37 per cent from last June and by more than 50 per cent in the past three months. This is important as nearly half of all the highratio mortgages ( loan- to- income ratios in excess of 450 per cent) in Canada originated in Toronto.

As a result of a slowing housing market, weak energy prices, and a rising loonie, it wouldn’t surprise us to see a material impact to our country’s economy going forward. We’re not alone as Capital Economics is forecastin­g moderating GDP growth to a paltry 1.2 per cent next year.

In the end, this could all be moot since our central bank tends to follow its big brother south of the border regardless of our own situation.

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