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April 26, 2020 | The Cost

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.


It’s been a month, more or less, since the emergency began. Consequences pile up.

Few aspects of life have escaped change. Civil liberties, for example, have been slashed. So far most people are willing to trade unemployment, inconvenience, long hair, hug deficits, closed borders, self-anointed cops and draconian rules for what they’ve been told is a reprieve from death-by-virus. Politics are being altered. Trudeau’s approval rate has soared. Trump’s is faltering. Public finances may be changed for a generation or more. Your child’s child will still be paying Covid taxes. Airplanes won’t be fun anymore. Mass events are done. Packed bars and open-concept offices may be a year away. Or more.

Financial markets panicked and crashed 35%, bounced and have retraced half that loss. Balanced portfolios did their job and losses are modest. Interest rates crashed and will stay that way for a long time. Mortgages fell in price then crept higher as lenders smelled risk. The jobless rates spiked wildly and government support payments have ballooned. Many small businesses won’t open again. Airbnb is toast. Half the restaurants are gone forever. Hotel occupancy is 5% or less, with most shut. The health care system held, but many folks missed surgeries or cancer treatments. All the schools and government offices shut, but no teachers or civil servants were furloughed. Some people wonder about that.

In short, we’ll long remember 2020 and its lessons. Did government over-react? Was the media irresponsible in its pandemic panic? Was public opinion manipulated? Or will this be a triumph of society, arresting a killer bug in its slimy little tracks? And might this be the end of a globalized world where the next health crisis rides a routine flight into YVR or YYZ?

One thing’s for sure. We offed the economy.

Canada’s GDP could be 15-20% lower in the next few months (that’s 1930s levels), with a third of the workforce on pogey and a majority of mortgagees asking lenders for relief. Here’s a snapshot: the Broadview-Danforth business association, in a frantic part of Toronto, asked members how long they can survive during the current emergency (some will qualify for the rent relief Ottawa has announced). Half could not pay April rent and 72% said May would be impossible. Over 70% of landlords said they missed receiving April’s full rent and 82% expect nothing next week.

Worse, 61% of small business owners believe they’ll be roadkill within three months, and 76% will fail within five. Ouch


Yes, politicians are pouring on billions in borrowed money, but recovering from the emergency will take a lot longer than most expected, or can survive. Provinces say it will take months just to get barbers or dentists working, with restricted retail operations allowed and no eateries or pubs as in the past. Given all this, an unemployment rate of 15% or so will not fall back to 5% for a wicked long time. Government deficits will be gut-wrenching. Taxes rise.

And what of real estate, where so many Canadians park all of their net worth?

Not so hot.

In this past month in Toronto, for example, detached home sales tanked by 73%, condo sales declined 76% and townhouse deals collapsed 90%. Buyers are retreating, sellers are withdrawing listings, and realtors are running around in facemasks, nitrite gloves and booties as they madly FaceTime the few prospects left.

Here are the sales stats for Ottawa:

Calgary and Edmonton are disasters, with the residential markets reflecting the chaos and vacuity of the commercial market. We told you about Vancouver on Friday – where prices are expected to decline by up to a third – and meanwhile the BC realtors’ association is forecasting a deep recession and sharp decline in home prices. Bad news in a real estate-lusty province where $22 billion a year was generated by house sales.

Amateur landlords everywhere are being creamed. Many bought units to rent out short-term, but visitors and tourists are gone. No sense trying to rent them residentially, since cash flow is marginal or negative. Selling’s the only option – but no market in which to do so. What once held the promise of cash flow and capital gains is now mired in the morass of illiquidity.

While this occurs, thousands of people who bought in February and early March are trying to get out of closings in April and May. (Good luck with that.) Others who bought firm with existing homes face a market without buyers and the potential for financial ruin. Others purchased in March when prices were cresting, only to have the properties appraised for less this month. That means a lower mortgage, and the need to cough up extra cash.

In short, this ain’t a pretty picture. Given what now appear to be structural changes in the economy (high jobless numbers, business failures, increasing tax, reduced mobility, oil price plop) why should we expect buyers to leap back into action? How is it logical a robust market and rising prices can co-exist with the post-pandemic detritus? Beats me.

One month, and all this.

Let’s hope we, at least, saved humanity.

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April 26th, 2020

Posted In: The Greater Fool

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