Canada Needs Fund to Shield Against Mortgage Meltdown: C.D. Howe

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Canada housing oversight would ease central bank’s dilemma: economists

By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada should make the central bank’s job easier by splitting off responsibility for risks such as the hot housing market, leaving it to focus on inflation and the broader economy, economists said ahead of a key interest rate decision this week.

The Bank of Canada decides on Wednesday whether to stimulate a flagging economy by cutting interest rates for the second time this year, a move that would pour fuel on a property market it has called overvalued.

But the government could ease such dilemmas if it followed the lead of Britain and others that separate monetary policy from financial stability issues, two former senior Bank of Canada officials wrote in a paper last month. (

‘It would take away one of the big roadblocks to a potential rate cut,’ said Bank of Montreal Chief Economist Doug Porter.

Their recommendations included setting up a clear framework for what is known as macroprudential regulation, using regulatory tools such as requiring larger mortgage down payments.

The Bank of Canada’s main mandate is to control inflation. Both Governor Stephen Poloz and predecessor Mark Carney, who now heads the Bank of England, have said interest rate policy should be the last line of defense against systemic risk or financial instability.

After January’s surprise rate cut, Poloz said the bank had considered the fact that this might boost Canada’s high household debt levels by encouraging borrowing, but decided it was a risk it had to take.

The Bank of Canada had no comment because of a blackout ahead of Wednesday’s decision. Finance Minister Joe Oliver did not provide a comment immediately.

‘I’m a fan of the old ‘one instrument, one target’ line of thinking, leaving the central bank to focus on inflation targeting with the interest rate tool,’ said Royal Bank of Canada Chief Economist Craig Wright.

He said any effort to combat financial stability risks should be done via macroprudential regulation.

While parts of the Canadian housing market have cooled, Toronto and Vancouver are red-hot, and the country’s ratio of household debt to disposable income is at a near-record 163.25 percent.

U.S. Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainerd said last year that Britain, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand had confronted housing booms with regulation, not rates.

In Britain, a special committee imposed limits on the ratios of loan to value and of debt to income for mortgages on owner-occupied homes.

To be sure, Canada’s Conservative government has stepped in four times since 2008 to tighten mortgage lending rules without a formal framework.

And even if housing was taken care of, said Derek Holt, vice president of economics at Bank of Nova Scotia, it is not clear that the central bank should ease again.

(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Lisa Von Ahn)