Vancouver, BC – June 15, 2020. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 4,518 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in May 2020, a decline of 45.2 per cent from May 2019. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $728,898, a 3.2 per cent increase from $706,394 recorded the previous year. Total sales dollar volume in May was $3.3 billion, a 43.5 per cent decrease over 2019.

“There were encouraging signs of recovery in May,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “While activity is still far below normal, both sales and listings are up significantly from April’s lows.”

New listings activity started to normalize around the first week of May, reversing a slide in total active listings. However, active listings are still down close to 24 per cent year-over-year and are more than 10,000 listings below where they would normally be in the spring months.

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was down 6 per cent to $18.6 billion, compared with the same period in 2019. Residential unit sales were down 14.2 per cent to 24,695 units, while the average MLS® residential price was up 9.6 per cent to $753,155.  
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Vancouver, BC – June 10, 2020. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) released its 2020 Second Quarter Housing Forecast today.

Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) residential sales in the province are forecast to decline 21 per cent to approximately 61,000 units this year, after recording 77,347 residential sales in 2019. MLS® residential sales are forecast to increase 45.3 per cent to 88,500 units in 2021.  

“The bright outlook for 2020 home sales has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession,” said Brendon Ogmundson, BCREA Chief Economist. “However, as the economy “re-opens” and measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are gradually eased, we expect home sales will start to rebound, aided by record-low mortgage rates and pent-up demand.”  

The impact of the current pandemic and associated recession on prices is largely determined by the reaction of supply. Given the unusual nature of COVID-19, the supply of listings for sale has declined for at least the first few months of the pandemic. A muted rise in for-sale inventory may translate to home prices remaining relatively firm in 2020. We are forecasting the provincial MLS® average price to finish the year up 1.8 per cent and to increase a further 5.6 per cent in 2021.
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Canadian employment grew by 290,000 jobs in May (1.8%, m/m), representing about 10 per cent of the jobs lost since the pandemic was declared. The number of workers who had their hours reduced also decreased by almost 9 per cent. The national unemployment rate rose by 0.7 percentage points to 13.7 per cent from the previous month, as more individuals started looking for work in May. Three-quarters of the gains in May were in full-time work (219,000), while although the number of self-employed workers held steady, their hours worked continue to be reduced significantly. 

Regionally, the distribution of gains was consistent with re-opening measures across the country, as Quebec represented almost 80 per cent of the gains with 230,900 jobs. With the exception of Ontario (-64.5k), all provinces reported employment gains. The goods-producing sub-sectors such as construction and manufacturing reported a stronger rebound in May than in the services-producing sector. This meant that men saw a faster increase in employment than women, as men account for a larger share of employment in goods-producing industries. Compared to the same month last year, Canadian employment was down by -13.5% (-2.6 million).   

Meanwhile, employment in BC grew by 43,300 jobs (2%, m/m) in May. However, the provincial unemployment rate grew by 1.9 percentage points to 13.4, as more individuals started looking for work. Almost all of the employment increase was in the services-producing sector, led by accommodation and food services (12.4k), educational services (11.9k) and retail (11.8k). This is consistent with the province's first phase of reopening announced on May 6, which includes lifting the restrictions on non-essential services such as retail, restaurants, non-medical health services, and some schools. Compared to one year ago, employment in BC was down by 15.1% (-390k) jobs. 

This was a good news report, as it appears we are on the path to a slow recovery. That being said, any continued employment gains will depend on consumers' demand for goods and services, which is expected to be hampered by the still 350,000 unemployed individuals in BC since February. Also, the rate of people returning to work will depend on their willingness to do so given ongoing health concerns.
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The Bank of Canada held its overnight rate at 0.25 per cent this morning, a level it considers its effective lower bound. In the statement accompanying the decision, the Bank noted that incoming data seems to signal that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy has peaked, though there remains significant uncertainty regarding the outlook. The Bank further commented that the Canadian economy appears to have avoided the most severe scenario the Bank had previously presented as a possible outcome of COVID-19, though it does expect a 10-20 per cent decline in the level of GDP in the second quarter.  However, positive growth is expected to resume in the third quarter.

Like the Bank, BCREA is projecting that the Canadian, and BC economy will start to recover in the third quarter.  Positive signs of recovery are emerging in the housing market, with sales and listings activity improving from April lows.  Actions by the Bank of Canada have helped ease rising once risk premiums, leading to 5-year mortgage rates falling to near record lows.  Those low rates, along with building pent-up demand should lead to a healthy recovery in home sales over the next 12 months.
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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.

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The Canadian economy contracted 8.2 per cent at a quarterly annualized rate in the first quarter, including a 7.2 per cent decline in March following the paralysis of economic activity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Household spending fell 2.3 per cent, the steepest drop ever recorded, while exports were down 3 per cent and government spending fell 1 per cent due to school closures and government curtailments.  Total housing investment was down 0.1 per cent, with both renovation spending and ownership transfer costs falling. New home construction, however, rose 1.6 per cent.

As dramatic as the first quarter decline appears, it will almost certainly be overshadowed by the potential for a  30 per cent or more annualized decline in the second quarter,  when the impact of COVID-19 on the economy is expected to be the most severe.  Note that those are annualized estimates. The actual peak-to-trough decline in Canadian real GDP is estimated at 10-15 per cent before things begin to normalize and growth rebounds in the third and fourth quarter of this year.
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Seasonally-adjusted Canadian retail sales fell by a whopping 10% in March to $47.1 billion. The largest drop since the data became available in 1991. About 40% of retailers closed their stores mid-month due to the pandemic, while in the clothing sub-sector 91% closed. Sales were down in 6 of 11 sub-sectors, representing 39% of retail sales. Leading the drop were clothing stores (-51%), auto dealers (-36%), and gas stations (-20%). In contrast, sales were up at grocery stores (23%), health and personal care stores (5%), and general merchandise stores (6%). 

The shutdown of physical stores caused many retailers to shift or expand their online presence. E-commerce sales were up by 40% in March year-over-year at $2.2 billion, accounting for almost 5% of total retail sales. This excludes Canadians purchasing from foreign e-commerce retailers.      

Sales were down in all provinces, leading the decline were Ontario (-9%), Quebec (-16%), and Alberta (-13%). In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales were down by 4.6% at $7 billion in March. Looking at the non-seasonally adjusted change shows a different picture. Retail sales in March were up by 5.3% from the previous month, notably at grocery stores (31%), building and garden material stores (26%), and at electronics and appliance stores (23%). Compared to the same time last year, BC retail sales were down by 3%.  

Given that retailers were closed only starting mid-March, it is expected that the April decline will be higher. Advance estimates provided by Statistics Canada for April indicates retail sales declined by 15.6%. As some provinces begin to re-open, we can expect retail sales to gradually return, but the magnitude will largely depend on consumer demand, which has been cautious in other countries that have started to re-open. Moreover, unemployed individuals and individuals who have had their working hours reduced will likely not be making non-essential purchases in the near future.
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Vancouver, BC – May 13, 2020. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 3,284 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in April 2020, a decline of 50.8 per cent from April 2019. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $737,834, a 7.8 per cent increase from $684,430 recorded the previous year. Total sales dollar volume in March was $2.4 billion, a 46.9 per cent decrease over 2019.

"We expected to see a sharp drop in sales for April as we confronted the COVID-19 pandemic,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “However, buyers and sellers are adapting to a new normal, and activity should pick up as the economy gradually re-opens.”

While home sales were down by more than half compared to this time last year, the supply of homes for sale, which normally rises through the spring, was down close to 10 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis and down 23.7 per cent year-over-year. That slide in total active listings means that prices remained firm despite the sharp fall in sales.

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was up 9.6 per cent to $15.3 billion, compared with the same period in 2019. Residential unit sales were down 1.7 per cent to 20,164 units, while the average MLS® residential price was up 11.6 per cent to $758,614. 
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After three months of growth, Canadian real GDP was essentially flat in February as disruptions to education services and the transportation and warehousing sector stalled the economy.  Excluding those sectors, economic growth was 0.2 per cent with 13 of 20 sub-sectors recording increased output. Activity in the real estate sector rose 5.9 per cent in February, the largest increase since December 2017.


Statistics Canada has also made a flash estimate for March 2020 real GDP which it estimates declined a staggering 9 per cent on a monthly basis due to the COVID-19  pandemic and associated mitigation measures. If that estimate is accurate, first quarter real GDP will contract by close to 10 per cent on an annualized basis. As dramatic as the first quarter decline appears, it will almost certainly be quickly overshadowed by what most expect to be a 30 per cent or more annualized decline in the second quarter.  Note that those are annualized estimates. The actual peak-to-trough decline in Canadian real GDP is estimated at 10-15 per cent before things begin to normalize and growth rebounds in the third and fourth quarter of this year.

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Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 0.9 per cent in March year-over-year, down from a 2.2 per cent increase in February. This marked the largest decline in the CPI since the measure began in 1992. Energy prices were the main drag on inflation, excluding this category, national CPI rose by 1.7 per cent year-over-year. The downward pressure on gas prices began before the spread of COVID-19, but were exacerbated as global demand dropped (e.g., limitation on international travel), while supply continued to increase. The Bank of Canada's three measures of trend inflation fell 0.2 percentage points, averaging 1.8 per cent in March. Prices rose in six of the eight major components, led by shelter (+1.9%). In contrast, prices fell for transportation (-1.2%) and recreation, education and reading (-0.5%). 

In B.C., CPI grew to 1.2 per cent year-over-year, following a 2.4 per cent increase in the previous month. The drag on price growth was primarily due to a fall in gas prices (-14.5%) and to a lesser extent, transportation (-3.2%). Meanwhile, price growth was reported in clothing (2.2%) and household furnishings (1.1%). 

Statistics Canada notes that the March CPI was largely unaffected by COVID-19, as the majority of prices were collected prior to the implementation of domestic physical distancing measures. As such, we can expect to see steep drops in prices in next month's CPI report.
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Seasonally-adjusted Canadian retail sales were up by 0.3% in February at $52 billion. The rise in February was driven by auto dealers and general merchandise stores. Sales were up in 6 of 11 sub-sectors, representing 63% of retail sales. Some retailers reported that both the rail blockades and COVID-19 negatively impacted their sales in February. In contrast, sales were positive at stores selling sporting goods, hobby, book and music, building material and garden equipment, and health and personal care. 

In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales were up by 1.2% at $7.4 billion in February. Looking at the non-seasonally adjusted change shows a different picture. Retail sales in February were down by 0.1% from the previous month in half of the sub-sectors, notably at general merchandise stores (-11%), clothing (-5%) and electronics/appliances (-5%). Meanwhile, Vancouver reported a monthly increase of 1.2% in retail sales. Compared to the same time last year, BC retail sales were up by 6.4% in February.

Given that the majority of physical distancing measures and store closures were not implemented until mid-March, the impact of COVID-19 on retail sales will be more apparent in next month's data release. We can expect a steep drop in dining and entertainment, accommodations and at gas stations, while increases will likely be reported at grocery stores and in e-commerce. Compared to the same time last year, e-commerce reported an increase of 18% in February, accounting for about 3.6% of total retail sales in Canada (excludes Canadians purchasing from foreign e-commerce retailers). In March, many Canadian retailers reported opening or expanded their e-commerce platforms.

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The Bank of Canada maintained its overnight policy rate at 0.25 per cent this morning, a level it considers to be its effective lower bound. The Bank also announced additional new measures to support the Canadian financial system. In its statement, the bank noted that efforts necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 have caused a sudden and deep contraction in economic activity and employment worldwide.  The bank judges the current outlook to be too uncertain to provide a complete forecast, though it expects real GDP growth to decline 1-3 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 and a further 15-30 per cent (annualized) drop in the second quarter.

To offset any potential dysfunction in financial markets and to keep credit channels operating smoothly, the Bank will continue its purchase of Government of Canada as well as provincial government, and even investment grade corporate bonds in the secondary market.  These measures, along with those implemented by the Federal Government, will help to ease pressure on Canadian borrowers at all levels, from large corporations, to small businesses to households.
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Vancouver, BC – April 15, 2020. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 6,717 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in March 2020, an increase of 17.2 per cent from March 2019. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $789,548, a 15.1 per cent increase from $685,892 recorded the previous year. Total sales dollar volume in March was $5.3 billion, a 35 per cent increase over 2019.

“Provincial housing markets started the month very strong before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to activity,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “Activity will slow considerably in April as households and the real estate sector implement measures necessary to mitigate the spread of this virus.”

“While we don’t know when this unprecedented period will end, markets will be boosted by pent-up demand and historically low interest rates when it does,” added Ogmundson. “The ultimate strength of the recovery will depend on how long the economy remains effectively shut down, as well as the efficacy of federal and provincial measures to bridge households through the financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic.”

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was up 37.1 per cent to $12.9 billion, compared with the same period in 2019. Residential unit sales increased 21.7 per cent to 16,866 units, while the average MLS® residential price was up 12.6 per cent to $763,031.  

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The Canadian economy grew  0.1 per cent on a monthly basis in January as weather and labour disputes offset more positive developments in some sectors.  Before the abrupt change in the world economy due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadian economy was set to grow a solid 1.8 per cent in the first quarter.  We may start to see the impact of COVID-19 starting with February's GDP data though the impact will mostly be observed in April, which is likely to show an unprecedented decline in economic activity.

Once the outbreak is contained, the Canadian economy should post a strong recovery due to pent-up demand, large amounts of fiscal stimulus and historically low interest rates.

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For the second time this month, the Bank of Canada has lowered its overnight policy rate before its regularly scheduled announcement date, taking the overnight rate down a further 50 basis points to 0.25 per cent.  That level is what the Bank considers its effective lower bound, meaning it can not reduce rates further without potentially disrupting key short-term funding markets.


The Bank also announced two new programs to ensure the continued smooth functioning of credit markets and to promote credit availability.  The first, the Commercial Paper Purchase Program, is targeted at alleviating strains in the short-term funding market  and the second entails the Bank purchasing Government of Canada bonds in the secondary market. The latter program is a type of what is generally called "quantitative easing" though the Bank's program is targeted at all maturities, rather than longer term yields as in traditional quantitative easing.


All of these actions represent a serious and significant amount of firepower aimed at keeping the Canadian financial system and credit markets functioning during this extraordinary time.  If successful, we should see currently elevated risk spreads on mortgage products start to decline, reversing recent increases in Canadian mortgage rates.

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A weak report to start off 2020. Seasonally-adjusted Canadian retail sales were up by 0.4% in January at $52 billion. The rise in January was driven by auto dealers and gas stations. Minus these two sub-sectors and sales were down 0.3% in the month. Sales were up in 4 of 11 sub-sectors, representing 48% of retail sales. The impact of COVID-19 on the retail sector will become more evident in the months to come. Statistics Canada notes that respondent comments for February shows that business activities have been impacted.

Regionally, 8 of 10 provinces reported monthly increases in January. Notable increases were reported in Quebec (1.7%) and Alberta (1.6%). In contrast, retail sales were down in Ontario (-0.8%).

In BC, seasonally-adjusted retail sales were unchanged at $7.3 billion in January. Looking at the non-seasonally adjusted change shows a different picture. Retail sales in January were down from the previous month in all sub-sectors, except at auto dealers and gas stations. Meanwhile, Vancouver reported a monthly decrease of 1% in retail sales. Compared to the same time last year, BC retail sales were down by 0.4% in January.

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Canadian inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 2.2 per cent in February year-over-year, down from a 2.4 per cent increase in January. Excluding the impact of gasoline prices, national CPI rose by 2.0 per cent year-over-year, matching last month's increase. Gas prices rose less on a year-over-year basis as a result of lower global demand following the COVID-19 spread, and tensions between oil-producing countries. The Bank of Canada's three measures of trend inflation was unchanged, averaging 2.0 per cent in February. Prices rose in seven of eight major components, led by transportation (4.4%) and shelter (2.3%).

In B.C., CPI grew to 2.4 per cent year-over-year, slightly above last month's increase of 2.3 per cent. Notable increases in prices were for recreation (2.0%) and gas (1.7%), where the increase for gas was largely due to the regional Pacific Northwest market. In contrast, prices for food was the only component to report a price decline (-0.5%).

Given recent events around the spread and containment efforts of COVID-19 (e.g., temporary closure of stores and service providers), continued tensions between oil-producing countries, the lowering of interest rates, and disruptions to global supply chains, we expect significant impact on prices going forward.

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Today, in an emergency inter-meeting policy action, the Bank of Canada again lowered its overnight rate by 50 basis points to 0.75 per cent. This follows the previous cut to 1.25 per cent on March 4, 2020. This move is in response to the spread of COVID-19, which according to the Bank is "having serious consequences for Canadian families, and for Canada's economy". In its statement, the Bank noted that lower interest rates will help to support confidence in households by lowering borrowing costs for new purchases and for those renewing their mortgages. Additionally, lower prices for oil will weigh heavily on the economy.

We expect this rate cut to be followed by an additional reduction of the Bank's overnight rate at its April 2020 meeting.

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Vancouver, BC – March 12, 2020. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 5,741 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in February 2020, an increase of 26.3 per cent from February 2019. The average MLS® residential price in BC was $758,863, a 12 per cent increase from $677,681 recorded the previous year. Total sales dollar volume in February was $4.4 billion, a 41.4 per cent increase over 2019.

“Housing markets in BC continued to trend near long-term average levels in February,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “Recent declines in mortgage rates and favourable changes to mortgage qualifying rules may provide a boost to home sales heading into the spring, although there is significant economic uncertainty lingering over the outlook.”

Total MLS® residential active listings fell 8.4 per cent to 28,303 units compared to the same month last year. The ratio of sales to active residential listings increased 20.3 per cent from 14.7 per cent last February.

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was up 38.4 per cent to $7.6 billion, compared with the same period in 2019. Residential unit sales increased 24.8 per cent to 10,135 units, while the average MLS® residential price was up 10.9 per cent to $745,501.   

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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.

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