Why five-year variable rates will likely save money versus their fixed-rate equivalents in 2022 (and beyond).
We begin 2022 with Canadian inflation at its highest level since 2003.
Prices have been driven higher by a combination of surging demand, fueled by generous government support payments, and supply shortages tied to the pandemic.
Both the Bank of Canada (BoC) and the US Federal Reserve have been predicting that these factors will have only a transitory impact on inflation.
The term transitory means “non-permanent”, which still appears to be the correct assessment, but it also means “of brief duration”, which hasn’t been the case.
The experience of hotter and stickier inflation has caused both bond-market investors and the wider public to lose confidence in our central bankers.
That is concerning because if people lose faith in their ability to keep inflation contained, they may start accelerating their purchase plans to avoid future price increases, and any such additional increase in demand would push prices still higher. The longer inflation persists, the more likely it becomes that workers will push for higher wages to compensate for their reduced purchasing power. This engenders a self-reinforcing cycle, where the fear of higher inflation causes it to materialize.
With public confidence waning, both the BoC and the Fed had no choice but to stop using the term transitory and to turn more hawkish on monetary-policy tightening. At this point, higher mortgage rates in 2022 appear all but inevitable. But how high will they go?
The five-year Government of Canada (GoC) bond yield, which our five-year fixed mortgage rates are priced on, has already surged higher in anticipation of five quarter-point BoC rate hikes in 2022 and two more in 2023. Those are some big moves that are already priced into five-year fixed rates if you lock in today.
Meanwhile, for at least a little while longer, the BoC’s policy rate stands at 0.25%, and that means five-year variable mortgage rates are still available in in the low 1% range, or about 1.25% below their fixed-rate equivalents. That is a much larger buffer than normal.
The futures market is expecting that spread to disappear by the end of the year, but I am skeptical for the following five reasons:
- Omicron’s Impact Is Being Underestimated
In their initial assessment of the Omicron variant, policy makers assumed that its economic impacts would, like its typical symptoms for the vaccinated, be relatively minor.
The Fed initially predicted that Omicron would exacerbate supply shortages and put more pressure on inflation over the short term, but thus far, Fed Chair Powell has said that Omicron will not have much impact on its plans.
I predicted (here) when he made that statement in December that he would regret it, and if he doesn’t already, I expect he will soon. While Omicron’s typical medical impact on the vaccinated has been minor compared to previous COVID variants, it has still caused hospitalizations to spike and is proving quite severe in the unvaccinated.
US vaccination rates and public safety measures have lagged those in Canada and most other developed countries, and that makes the country much more vulnerable to Omicron. If lockdowns are sworn off and US vaccination rates continue to lag, US hospitals may be overrun. That rising risk increases the likelihood that US economic momentum will slow and that the Fed will turn more dovish.
The approach of most Canadian provinces to Omicron has been more cautious. We have closed schools and reinstituted other lockdown restrictions to try to slow infection rates and keep our health-care system from becoming overwhelmed. That reduces our risk of health harm, but it also increases our risk of economic harm, and that, in turn, should turn the BoC more dovish.
- Inflation Will Cool More Rapidly Than the Market Expects
Our Consumer Price Index (CPI) captures price changes over the most recent twelve months.
Prices started to surge in the second half of 2021, and if inflation is going to maintain its current pace into the second half of 2022, it will take another fresh round of price spikes. This seems increasingly unlikely. Supply constraints are gradually being rectified and Omicron has already made consumers more cautious with their spending.
The consensus expects another demand-fueled price spike when we finally free ourselves from the pandemic’s clutches. The theory goes that consumers will spend the cash that they have built up, and that we will see a repeat of the Roaring 20s, when growth and demand surged after the Spanish flu ended.
I have already rebutted that prediction in previous posts. To summarize, the US population was much younger then, US government and household debt levels relative to GDP were miniscule compared to today, and World War I had devastated Europe’s manufacturing capacity, which made the US the world’s dominant exporter over that decade. Very different times.
But what if I’m wrong and we do see a return to the Roaring 20s? Does it follow that inflation will take off?
If past is prologue, the answer is still a firm no.
The chart below shows what happened to inflation when the Spanish Flu ended (and it went on to average less than 2% over the entire 1920s decade).
- There Will Be Much Less Stimulus in 2022
Our policy makers used record levels of fiscal stimulus to offset the pandemic’s initial economic shock.
Those stimuli created many positive short-term impacts that included elevating our GDP, increasing demand, and driving wage growth higher. But those benefits came with a cost. Both US and Canadian budget deficits have soared, driving our government debt levels still higher into the stratosphere.
In addition to being the main contributor to our economic growth in 2021, massive fiscal stimulus was also the primary driver of today’s demand-induced inflationary pressures. But that powerful stimulus has already been sharply reduced on both sides of the 49th parallel, and our governments simply cannot deploy the same largesse to offset any future shocks caused by the pandemic.
The BoC and the Fed are in the same boat as their respective federal governments. They slashed their policy rates to the floor and used quantitative easing (QE), first to flood financial markets with liquidity and then to push bond yields lower. Those moves stimulated financial markets and helped to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression, but they did so by causing asset values to soar, and thereby raising bubble risks across the economy.
Our central bankers now feel compelled to tighten monetary policy to maintain their inflation credibility and help stave off those bubble risks, but that tightening will likely exacerbate, not alleviate, the pandemic’s negative impacts over the year ahead.
If the aggressive rate cuts that have helped asset values surge higher since 2020 are reversed, asset prices would normally reverse direction as well. If that happens, the wealth effect that caused consumers to spend more last year because they were richer (on paper) would also dissipate and cause consumers to turn more cautious.
- The Impact of Rate Hikes Will Be Magnified
Caught between the devil (inflation expectations becoming unanchored) and the deep blue sea (negative economic shocks tied to the pandemic), the BoC and the Fed are reaffirming their commitments to maintain price stability above all else.
But with much less fiscal stimulus buoying economic activity (and exacerbating inflationary pressures), with Omicron’s impacts proving more substantial than first expected, and with elevated debt levels increasing the overall cost of each rate rise, the impact of each hike will be magnified.
All that makes it likely that fewer hikes will ultimately be required to bring inflationary pressures to heel.
If we see anything close to the five BoC rate hikes the consensus is betting on, I think it will prove to be a misstep that will drive our economy into recession. If that happens, rate cuts would almost certainly follow thereafter.
- Labour Costs Will Be Contained
Despite many anecdotes to the contrary, the hard data show that wages are still largely contained in both Canada and the US, even though our employment backdrops are quite different.
In the US, average wages have risen by 4.7% year over year, but they still haven’t kept pace with overall inflation. By the Fed’s own assessment, average wages were suppressed prior to the pandemic, and some of that increase is therefore a catch up. While US employers are still experiencing labour shortages, US workers are expected to return to the labour force now that emergency benefits have expired and they are burning through their built-up cash reserves.
US wages may continue to rise, but so too should the labour-force participation rate as workers start to re-engage out of necessity.
In Canada, our employment recovery has significantly outpaced our overall economic recovery. That’s good for the hiring data but seriously bad for our productivity levels. We are employing more people to do the same amount of work, and that helps explain why our average wages have only increased by 2.9% on a year-over-year basis and why they remain well below their pre-pandemic level with no signs of any imminent breakout.
Now let’s tie all the above commentary back to the key question of whether fixed or variable mortgage rates will prove cheaper in 2022 and over the next five years.
My crystal ball doesn’t come with any guarantees, but with that said, I fundamentally believe the following:
- Omicron’s greater-than-expected impact will make both the BoC and the Fed more dovish.
- Supply challenges will continue to be overcome in the year ahead, and inflation will subside more quickly than expected.
- Demand will moderate without the powerful tailwind of fiscal stimulus.
- The impact of each rate hike will be magnified, and as such, we will need fewer of them.
- Wage growth will not push inflationary pressures materially higher.
Against that backdrop, I expect that variable mortgage rates will save money over their fixed-rate alternatives over the year ahead, and, true to their usual form, are a good bet to do so over the next five years.
It won’t be as easy for variable-rate borrowers this year, because I do expect some rate hikes to ensue, but the gap of about 1.25% over the available five-year fixed rate alternatives provides a large and significant buffer that I don’t think that will close in 2022 as the consensus predicts.
Meanwhile, GoC bond yields have spiked in anticipation of five BoC rate hikes in the year ahead, with two more the year after, and I expect these rates to move lower if and as it becomes clear that the Bank’s raising schedule will be both more gradual and less severe than the consensus forecast.
The Bottom Line: US bond yields have recently surged higher in response to the release of the Fed’s minutes from its December meeting, which revealed that it may tighten more quickly than previously forecast. GoC bond yields have risen in sympathy.
That said, all the pandemic-related news since then has been worse than expected, and that should soon put an end to the current run up. In the meantime, however, the five-year GoC bond yield has recovered to near its previous high, and if it continues its current trajectory, five-year fixed mortgage rates could move higher over at least the short term.
Five-year variable rate discounts have recently widened a little, and for the reasons outlined above, I don’t expect the BoC to increase at nearly the pace bond-market investors are currently pricing in over the year ahead.
This just in data is when mortgage interest rates are expected to rise.
DATA JUST IN
Canada’s latest employment and inflation numbers have triggered new expectations about the next steps by the Bank of Canada and the arrival of interest rate increases.
BoC Governor Tiff Macklem continues to offer soothing words about inflation, which is current running at 4.1%. That is an 18 year high and more than double the central bank’s 2.0% target.
Macklem has repeatedly said high inflation is temporary; the result of low prices during the pandemic lock-downs, and supply chain problems that have cropped-up as the economy reopens.
Macklem points out that a key factor in long term inflation – wage growth – has not materialized. That is despite Canada returning to pre-pandemic employment levels with the addition of 157,000 jobs in September. It should be noted that the growth of Canada’s labour force during the pandemic means the country is still 276,000 jobs short of full employment. Last week however, Macklem did concede that this temporary inflation may linger for longer than initially expected.
Several prominent economists have weighed-in. Benjamin Tal cautions that inflation is a lagging economic indicator. He says the risks for long-term inflation are present and the Bank of Canada would be better to start raising rates earlier to help mitigate those risks. Doug Porter says there is a growing chance rate increases will come earlier. He expects they will happen quarterly rather than every six months. And, Derek Holt would like to see a rate hike by the end of the year, given that emergency levels of stimulus are in place while inflation is well above target.
Look for mortgage interest rates to start going up close to the end of 2021 and continue until they are back close to PRE-Covid Rates of about 3.35% for the 5-year fixed.
Mortgage Mark Herman, best Calgary mortgage broker for the masses!
Best answer I have seen yet is below … it still makes the 5-year fixed the better option right now (for most people)Mortgage Mark Herman, Top Calgary Mortgage Broker
The latest significant news was good, but modest. Canada’s unemployment rate dipped to 7.5% with the creation of 94,000 jobs in July. Most of those are full-time and in the private sector.
Employment levels are linked to inflation, which is a key factor watched by the Bank of Canada in setting interest rate policy which, in turn, can affect mortgage rates.
As the labour market tightens up, employers tend to offer higher wages to attract workers. That increases the cost of producing goods and services, driving inflation. As well, as more people get work and earn more money demand for goods and services increases. If that demand outpaces supply, inflation can also result.
Canada finds itself in this position now. Inflation is running high chiefly because of supply constraints caused by the pandemic. At the same time, more and more people are heading back to work.
That has some analysts forecasting the Bank of Canada will be raising rates to calm inflation. The Bank, however, has been saying otherwise.
It is also useful to watch what is happening in the United States. The two economies are tightly linked and actions in the U.S. can offer useful clues about what will happen here.
In its latest assessment of the American economy the U.S. Federal Reserve continued to down play inflation – which is running high there as well – as “transitory”. The Fed continues to look to the second half of 2023 as the most likely time for any possible rate hikes. While the Bank of Canada has said it expects rates could start rising as much as a year sooner than that, it would be unusual for the BoC to move before the Fed.
There is LOTS of room for rates to go up, and very little for rates to go down or even hold steady.
Fixed mortgage rates are predicted to rise by 40% and go back to Pre-Covid rates or higher:
- 2.9% (from 2.09% now) for less than 20% down; CMHC insured
- 3.10% (from 2.24% now) for more than 20% down; conventional / not insured.
Prime – what variable rates are based on:
- The Bank of Canada has moved their target for Prime increase from 2023 to 2022.
- The US Fed has moved their target for Prime increase from 2024 to 2023, and the market expects that to move to 2022 as well.
- Prime is 2.45% today, it was 3.95% just before Covid (Feb, 2020) and will be trending back that way soon.
- Prime – 1% is the rates for today. 2.45% – 1% = 1.45% which is a great rate but how soon and how much will it move?
This article is awesome, and clear on what the changes mean. The summary above is all you need but you love this data, then read on …
Canadian Mortgage Rates Forecast To Rise Over 40%, Posted Rate Can Hit 7%
Canadian inflation is marching higher, and so are the expectations for mortgage rates. One bank sees the 5-year posted rate having more room to rise than fall in the future.
The institution has forecast the posted 5-year fixed-rate mortgage can rise up to 40% by 2024.
While the posted rate is rarely the rate paid by mortgage borrowers, it does impact a number of things. More importantly, it reflects an environment where credit is tightening.
The Posted Mortgage Rate Vs What You Really Pay
The posted mortgage rate is an unusually high mortgage rate that’s kind of like the sticker price of a car. It’s unreasonably high, few people will use it, and it’s mostly to help buyers feel like they’re getting a deal. The spread between the posted rate and a lender’s best available rate is usually between 220 to 250 bps. This means the rate borrows often pay is a full 2.2 to 2.5 percentage points lower than the posted rate. That doesn’t mean the posted rate is useless though.
The two biggest impacts it has are on payment penalties and the stress test. If you were to break your fixed-rate mortgage early, for say refinancing at a lower rate, you have to pay a penalty. That penalty is usually 3-months of interest, or the interest rate differential (IRD). The IRD is the difference between your rate and the posted rate closest to your remaining term. Then subtract any discount you received at origination. It’s pretty much what banks use to make sure you pay a big ole’ penalty for changing plans.
The stress test rate is also likely to be influenced by the posted rate, but maybe not directly. Originally the Bank of Canada benchmark rate was used to determine the stress test rate. This was based on the posted rate at various banks. OSFI, the bank regulator, found it wasn’t very responsive to risk though. Rather than rely on the benchmark, they established a rate floor — the minimum rate that can be used. The criteria for how the floor can evolve can change a lot from now until 2024. However, it’s unlikely the stress test rate would ever fall below the posted rate. The stress test rate is currently around 50bps higher than the posted rate.
Canadian 5-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages Have More Upside Risk Than Downside
There’s uncertainty, but Canada’s faster than expected recovery shows more upside than down. The five-year posted fixed rate is 4.74% currently. In a downside scenario, they see this falling to 4.40% by the fourth quarter of 2021. The upside scenario sees it rising up to 5.25% in the same quarter. Higher inflation expectations are also contributing to a stronger upside scenario.
Canadian Posted 5-Year Fixed Rate Forecast
By next year, the posted 5-year fixed rate is forecast for an even higher maximum — breaching the 6 point mark. Rates are forecast to have a downside of 4.6% in 2022, and an upside of 6.20%. In 2023, the range rises to 4.70% to 6.60% for the full year. In 2023, it gets a little more uncertain with the range widening from 4.55% to 6.95%. While the latter range is wider, it has a lot more upside than downside. The probability of it falling would likely require a substantial economic slowdown.
Since a number of factors go into a forecast, the longer the date, the more uncertainty it faces. Economic conditions would have to worsen and inflation drop for rates to fall. For rates to rise, Canada would have to continue a strong recovery, and/or see higher levels of inflation. Canada is so dependent on housing now, we likely have many people cheering on a crash to keep rates low.
Link to the full article is here: https://betterdwelling.com/canadian-mortgage-rates-forecast-to-rise-over-40-posted-rate-can-hit-7-desjardins/
- 5 Year fixed are going up and never getting back down to where they are now.
- Variables are also great – right now they are Prime – 1% or 2.45% – 1% = 1.45%, and as below, should stay there until 2023! Almost 20 more months!
Both of these are awesome options right now.Mortgage Mark Herman, Top Calgary Alberta mortgage broker for 1st time home buyers
Bond traders believe inflation is going to be rising over the coming months and have been demanding increased bond yields. That has led to increasing interest rates for bonds and, consequently, increasing rates for the fixed-rate mortgages that are funded by those bonds.
The traders say the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and plans for vast infrastructure spending – particularly in the U.S. – are boosting expectations of a broad recovery and an increase in inflation. Better than expected GDP growth in Canada and shrinking unemployment in the U.S. would tend to support those expectations.
This, however, puts the traders at odds with the central banks in both Canada and the United States.
The Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve also expect inflation will climb as the pandemic fades and the economy reopens. There is a pent-up demand for goods and services, after all. The central banks see that as transitory, though, and appear to be looking past it. The U.S. Fed has gone so far as to alter its inflation target from 2% to an average of 2%, over time, thereby rolling any post-pandemic spikes into the bigger, longer-term calculations.
The Bank of Canada and the Fed have committed to keeping interest rates low, probably through 2023. Both say inflation will have to be sustained before interest rate moves are made to contain it. The integrated nature of the Canadian and American economies means it is unlikely the BoC will move on interest rates before the U.S. Fed.
This link does a great job explaining why rates are coming down right now for mortgages.
- Events that could cause a stock market crash tend to also cause a “flee to safety” and the 5-year Canadian Mortgage Bond is that safety net.
- When investors buy these bonds the demand goes up so the bonds pay less as everyone wants them.
- The lower cost of the bond means a lower interest rate on your mortgage
This should be a short term blip, so if you are buying a home take advantage of it quickly
Mark Herman, top Calgary mortgage broker
TD is/ was the 1st and only bank to charge higher mortgage prime rate for their mortgages.
TD is now the 1st of the big banks to now charge interest on their late-interest-owed:
With the latest developments the Bank of Canada (BoC) has clear path to reduce the Prime rate from 3.95 to probably 3.70%
The Bank of Canada is feeling the pressure to get back into the game with a rate reduction and one obstacle has now been removed.
The bank held its rate the same for an 8th straight meeting on October 30th.
At the same time it has clearly signaled it may not be able to hold that line much longer.
The bank pointed directly at trade conflicts (such as the U.S. – China tariff war) as the key cause of a global economic slowdown and around the world more than 35 other central banks have already cut rates in an effort to keep growth up.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has made three cuts in the past several months. That has boosted the strength of the Canadian dollar which makes the country’s exports more expensive on the world market which is unwelcome.
Great news that the Bank is not concerned that a drop in interest rates will trigger a renewed frenzy of debt-funded consumer spending. It is satisfied that the biggest component of household debt – mortgages – have been stabilized by the B-20 regulations. And another big obstruction has been removed. The federal election is over so the bank can operate without risking the appearance of political favoritism.
Fixed rates are still the way to go right now.
They are close to the all time 119-year lows right now.
Mortgage Mark Herman
The Big-5 banks do not love you, they love your money, and now they can “trap” you in their mortgages if you fail the Stress Test.
Highlights of the last post are below. The post from January is here: https://markherman.ca/how-the-big-5-banks-trap-you-in-their-mortgages/
The new mortgage rules – called the B20 – allow the banks to renew you at almost any rate they want – or at least not a competitive one – if your credit, income, or debts should mean you can’t change banks.
If your mortgage is at your main bank they can see:
- your pay and income going into your accounts
- debt balances on your credit report
- what your credit score is
- your debt payments
- your home/ rental addresses so they can accurately guess at your home value.
ALL THIS MEANS they can calculate if you can pass the new “Stress Test.”
If you can’t pass it then they know you can’t change banks, are you are now totally locked into them for your renewal. They can renew you at POSTED RATES … 5.34%, not actual discounted rates they offer everyone, today (June 2019) about 2.99%.
The GOOD NEWS is broker banks do not do any of this … so having your mortgage at your main bank only helps them “grind you” later on. …. so how convenient is having your mortgage at your bank now?
Highlights of the article link below are:
Canada’s biggest banks are tightening their grip … as new rules designed to cut out risky lending make it harder for borrowers to switch lenders … the country’s biggest five banks … are reporting higher rates of renewals by existing customers concerned they will not qualify for a mortgage with another bank.
“B-20 has created higher renewal rates for the big banks, driving volumes and goosing their growth rates,” said an analyst. “It’s had the unintended consequence of reducing competition.”
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), said last month that mortgage renewal rates [are up …] due in part to the B-20 regulations.
Ron Butler said, “Even if they are up-to-date with their repayments, borrowers may find they don’t qualify with other lenders so they’re stuck with their bank at whatever rate it offers,” he said.
Senior Canadian bankers such as RBC … and TD … voiced their support for the new rules prior to their introduction, saying rising prices were a threat to Canada’s economy.
While analysts say RBC and TD are expected to benefit from higher-than-normal retention rates in 2019, not everyone is sure borrowers will benefit.
“The banks are becoming more sophisticated in targeting borrowers who would fail the stress test and they can charge them higher rates at renewal knowing they can’t move elsewhere,” Butler said.