Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Bank of Canada warns of rising risks from household debt, and a hot housing market

Many households have taken on large mortgages compared with their income

The Bank of Canada says its concerns are mounting that households are piling on too much debt and posing what the central bank says is a key vulnerability to the economy.

In its latest financial system review, the Bank of Canada said Thursday that many households have taken on large mortgages compared with their income, limiting their flexibility to deal with an unforeseen financial shock like the loss of a job.

The bank notes that total household debt has increased by four per cent since the start of the pandemic, picking up sharply since the middle of last year as the housing market started to heat up.

The Bank of Canada’s report says the boom may help the economy rebound in the short-term, but could lead to a future bust if households have to cut spending because of another downturn in the economy.

The bank’s latest review of the risks to the country’s financial system also highlighted concerns about a too-soon withdrawal of pandemic aid for businesses.

For businesses, the concern is about their future viability when government support ends because much remains uncertain about what post-pandemic life and economic activity will look like, the central bank said.

For banks and insurance companies, the Bank of Canada said cybersecurity remains one of their top three concerns.

But it is housing and high household debt levels that plays a key role in the central bank’s report Thursday.

Government aid and work by the central bank to drive down interest rates during the pandemic have helped put a financial floor on households and businesses, many of whom have fared far better than could have been expected during the economic downturn.

The report adds that the activity in the market and troubling figures on mortgages is reminiscent of 2016 just before stress tests were brought in on mortgage applications to make sure buyers could handle payments if rates went up.

House prices were up 23 per cent nationally relative to one year earlier, the bank said in its report. The Canadian Real Estate Association said this week that the average price of a home sold in Canada in April was just under $696,000.

The bank said the recent surge in prices is more widespread in cities than five years ago when things were largely concentrated in and around Toronto and Vancouver. In the bank’s view, the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Montreal are overheated and Ottawa is on the precipice of joining them.

With house prices rising, and supply of available homes lagging demand, some homeowners may be tempted to buy now out of concern that they won’t be able to afford something in the future.

The bank’s report warns that some households are biting off more than they can chew with a new mortgage, making them more vulnerable to rising interest rates when it comes time to renew their loan.

A federal bank regulator is looking at tightening the test for uninsured mortgages, and the Trudeau Liberals have been pressed to do something similar for insured mortgages.

The federal budget last month proposed a one per cent foreign-buyers tax on vacant property. The central bank said the measure “would likely reduce speculative demand in the housing market.”

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland met with a panel of private sector economists. A readout from the meeting provided by Freeland’s office noted that she asked about the housing market and affordability issues.

—Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Canadian economy lost 207,000 jobs in April, unemployment rate rises

RELATED: Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

FinanceHousing

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

White Rock beach was buzzing with activity on Father’s Day. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: White Rock beach buzzing with activity on Father’s Day

High of 27C drew hundreds of people to the beach

White Rock beach was buzzing with activity on Father’s Day, which saw the temperatures in the area hit a record high. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock breaks 83-year-old weather record on Father’s Day

Temperature in city hit 28.7, beating 1938 mark by 1.5 degrees

SFN councillor Joanne Charles, White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker and Coun. David Chesney listen to welcoming remarks from Chief Harley Chappell (Xwopokton). (FIle photo)
White Rock, SFN grieve together on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Residents encouraged to wear orange on Canada Day

Surrey RCMP are investigating after shots were fired at a white Jeep Saturday evening in Newton. (Shane MacKichan photo)
UPDATE: Surrey RCMP asking for video after shots fired in Newton

Surrey RCMP said a silver SUV shot at a white Jeep

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Most Read