For many years, the Canadian and U.S. housing markets tracked each other fairly closely, but that hasn’t been the case since the U.S. housing bubble burst in the middle years of the last decade.
According to an analysis from BMO chief economist Doug Porter, the difference between the two housing markets has never been greater, with average resale prices in Canada now 66 per cent higher than resale prices in the U.S.
The strength of Canadian home prices has surprised even optimistic observers. The latest data from the country’s real estate boards indicates resale prices (not including new builds) jumped six per cent in the past year, and the average price of an existing home in Canada has now pushed past $400,000.
That compares to an average price of around $250,000 in the U.S.
Comparisons like this are never as telling as they seem, because of differences in how average prices are measured, and because average prices say little about which way a housing market is headed.
And then of course there is the fluctuating exchange rate, but Porter notes that even after adjusting the numbers for exchange rate changes, Canada’s housing market is still about 50 per cent more expensive than the U.S.
“The main takeaway is that, contrary to all expectations, the Canadian housing market has just kept on rolling in 2014 even as the U.S. housing market has paused for breath (after a steep climb out of the dungeon),” Porter wrote in a client note last week.
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But will it keep on rolling? The seemingly endless debate continues between those forecasting a Canadian housing bubble burst and those saying the market is healthy.
Yet with recent weakness in housing starts and building permits, some economists — such as BMO’s Sal Guatieri — have started to warn that a housing market correction could cause a recession.
Guatieri noted in a report earlier this month that Canada has become more reliant on real estate-related jobs than it has been in the past, making the economy more vulnerable to a correction.
But overall, the bank sees the odds of a serious housing market bust-out as being low.
All the same, a significant number of international investors have gone bearish on Canada’s housing market, predicting double-digit price collapses. Pimco, the trillion-dollar hedge fund run by billionaire Bill Gross, recently predicted a 30-per-cent collapse in house prices in Canada over the next few years, starting this year.
If Pimco’s prediction were right on the money, and nothing changed in the U.S. market, Canadian average resale prices would still be about a third higher in Canada than in the U.S. — even after the price crash.