Commercial Activity Nosedives in 2020 Q1

The BCREA Commercial Leading Indicator (CLI) was down sharply in the first quarter of 2020 from 134.2 to 123.2, reflecting the slowdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to the same time last year, the index was down by 4.8 per cent.

The pandemic-induced shutdown of the economy in the last two weeks of the first quarter of 2020 had a notable impact on the CLI, turning all components negative. On the economic activity component, manufacturing sales led the decline. On the employment component, a fall in key commercial real estate sector jobs was the primary driver. Meanwhile, the financial component had the largest negative impact on the CLI, as REIT prices tumbled and risk spreads widened in March. The underlying trend in the CLI was relatively flat in the previous six quarters, but has taken a sudden downward turn due to the pandemic. This suggests that going forward, the environment for commercial real estate activity in the province will be weak as the economy gradually re-opens, and temporarily unemployed individuals slowly return to work.

BC's economy was beginning to slow in the last quarter of 2019, but the rate of slowing was exacerbated by the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020. A fall in manufacturing sales of both durable and nondurable goods were the main drag on economic activity. Also contributing to the drag, but to a lesser extent, were lower wholesale trade sales in motor vehicles, and building material and supplies. Meanwhile, although growth in retail sales was positive in the first two months of 2020, it was not enough to offset the 10 per cent monthly decline in March, as retail stores across the province were shut down halfway through the month due to the pandemic.

Employment growth in key commercial real estate sectors such as finance, insurance, real estate and leasing was negative for the first time since the summer of 2018, down by about 13,500 jobs in the first quarter. Additionally, manufacturing employment fell by about 1,830 jobs from the previous quarter.

The CLI's financial component was negative in the first quarter of 2020 as growing fears of the potential impact of the pandemic resulted in a full market meltdown in late February, sending equity markets into free fall and government bond yields plummeting. However, private borrowing costs rose sharply due to elevated risk premiums, causing a tightening of credit conditions.

US Real GDP Growth (Q4'2016) - January 27, 2017


US real GDP growth registered a weaker than expected 1.9 per cent growth the final quarter of 2016, and 1.6 per cent growth for the year as a whole.  Growth was pulled lower by a widening US trade deficit, while consumer demand and business investment were robust. Most economists expect US economic growth to accelerate to about 2.2 per cent in 2017.

The pace of economic growth in the United States could be a key determinant in the BC housing market this year. While faster US growth is generally positive for the BC economy, a stronger pace of growth along with a possibly significant shift in the fiscal outlook due to the large tax cuts and ramped-up spending plans of the Trump administration, is already translating to rising long-term interest rates as markets anticipate higher inflation and consequent monetary tightening by the US Federal Reserve. In turn, that uptrend in rates is putting pressure on Canadian mortgage rates, with many lenders increasing their best offered rates. 

 

Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.



Canadian Retail Sales - January 20, 2017


Canadian retail sales inched 0.2 per cent higher in November.  Sales were higher in just 5 of 11 sub-sectors, with motor vehicle and parts dealers and building materials supplies leading the way.  E-commerce sales accounted for 3 per cent of total retail sales, the highest proportion to date in 2016.  Given today's data,  we are currently tracking fourth quarter Canadian real GDP growth at 1.5 per cent. 

In BC, retail sales were down 0.7 per cent on a monthly basis, but were 5.5 per cent higher year-over-year.  Year-to-date, retail sales in the province are up 6.5 per cent. 


Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.


Canadian Manufacturing Sales - January 19, 2017


Canadian manufacturing sales rose 1.5 per cent in November after posting a moderate decline the previous month.  Sales were higher in 14 of 21 manufacturing sub-sectors. After adjusting for inflation, the total volume of sales was 1.2 per cent higher. 

In BC, where the manufacturing sector is a significant employer and a key driver of economic growth, sales were up 2.4 per cent on a monthly basis and 9.2 per cent year-over-year. The manufacturing sector has been on a significant upswing after a slow first half with sales posting nearly 8 per cent growth over the second half of the year. That growth is adding to already strong momentum in other sectors and supporting housing demand across BC communities where manufacturing, particularly of forestry products, is an important driver of local economic activity. 


Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.


Bank of Canada Interest Rate Announcement - January 18, 2017


The Bank of Canada announced this morning that it is holding the target for its overnight rate at 0.5 per cent. In the press release accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that uncertainty in the global outlook, particularly with regard to policies in the United States, is undiminished. The Canadian economy is forecast to grow 2.1 per cent in both 2017 and 2018, implying the Canadian economy will return to full capacity in mid-2018.  On inflation, the Bank noted that it continued to be lower than expected but should return to it 2 per cent target in coming months.

Political uncertainty in the United States will likely govern the direction of both policy rates and long-term bond yields over the next year. The interest rate on 5-year government of Canada bonds has risen to its highest point in a year, which is adding upward pressure to mortgage rates offered by Canadian lenders.  While the Canadian economy is forecast to post steady growth in 2017, overall slack in the Canadian economy remains persistent.  Without a significant uptick in economic growth, inflation will likely continue to trend at or below the Bank's 2 per cent target.  That, along with lingering uncertainty, will keep the Bank sidelined through 2017 with a chance of lowering its target rate should current downside risks to the economy become realized.


Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.