While Canadian bank advocates and their skeptics exchange words, the formerly-white hot housing market is now in deep freeze. March sales in Vancouver collapsed by 31.4% year-over-year according to the local real estate board, the worst showing since 1986 and down 46% from the 10-year average for March. Prices also lurched lower, with the benchmark detached home price falling 10.5% year-over-year to C$1.44 million ($1.08 million). Things are more stable in Toronto, where March sales and benchmark prices were little changed from a year earlier, but those figures remain 40% and 14% below their respective levels from March 2017.
As the housing market sputters, the highly-leveraged Canadian consumer displays increasing signs of distress. According to the Bank for International Settlements, Canada’s household debt stands at 100.2% of GDP as of the end of September, by far the highest ratio among G7 economies (the U.K. is next at 86.5%), while the debt service ratio, or the percentage of disposable income allocated to principal and interest payments, rose to 14.9% in the fourth quarter per Statistics Canada, just shy of the 2007 peak.
That debt burden is starting to weigh on consumers. Auto loan delinquencies rose to 0.97% at year-end according to Equifax, Inc., the highest since 2009. At the same time, 36% of new auto loans in the fourth quarter were leases, the largest such share since 2007. Bill Johnston, vice president of data and analytics at Equifax Canada Co., noted that “we’re starting to see consumer behavior shift to keep the payments as low as possible.”