Poloz Warns Potential Homebuyers on Toronto, Vancouver Risks

by Greg Quinn

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz gave one of his bluntest warnings to date about the country’s housing boom, saying Vancouver and Toronto buyers should realize strong price gains probably can’t be sustained by economic fundamentals.

“This suggests that prospective homebuyers and their lenders should not extrapolate recent real estate performance into the future when contemplating a transaction,” Poloz said in a statement from Ottawa. The bank released its semi-annual Financial System Review Thursday. Poloz and Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins are scheduled to hold a press conference at 11:15 a.m.

Home-price gains in Vancouver accelerated to a 30 percent year-over-year pace in May, from 15 percent at the end of last year, the bank said. In Toronto, the pace of price gains quickened to 15 percent from 10 percent over that period. The two cities are also leading a rise in the share of new mortgages exceeding 450 percent of borrower income, the central bank said.

Markets in the Toronto and Vancouver are exposed to a cycle where rising mortgage debt and prices feed off each other as buyers rush to get into the market, the central bank said, adding a crash is the biggest risk to the financial system. Poloz’s warning about what has been the world’s safest lending system through the 2008 financial crisis follows comments in the past week from bank executives and Vancouver’s mayor that past regulations to tighten mortgage rules haven’t been enough.

“Fundamental factors underpinning housing demand in the greater Vancouver and Toronto areas are strong, but the rapid pace of price increases seen over the past year raises the possibility that prices are also being supported by self-reinforcing price expectations,” policy makers said in the report. “It is unlikely that the current pace of price increases in the greater Vancouver area and greater Toronto area can be sustained.”

The risk of a housing crash remained “elevated” in the central bank’s report, the middle of five risk categories that range from low to very high. The probability of major damage from a housing correction “remains low,” the central bank said, citing the aid of a growing economy.

Positive factors supporting home prices are job growth in Vancouver and Toronto, as well as a strained supply of single-family homes, the bank said.

Policy makers also reiterated the divide between signs of overheating markets in Toronto and Vancouver and the pain felt in oil-producing regions from Calgary to Newfoundland.

Poloz cut his trend-setting interest rate to 0.5 percent last year and said the side effects in a booming housing market are best dealt with by regulators and in the decisions of individual lenders and borrowers. The Governor has said the rate cuts were needed to sustain an economy hit by an oil shock, despite any side effects in consumer finances

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