Vancouver Real Estate Mania
On January 29th, 2016, Vancouver went crazy.
The story of a humble 86-year-old home in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood was widely circulated by national media outlets and became a lightning rod for local frustration with skyrocketing property values.
The “knockdown”, with its rotting walls and $2.4 million asking price, perfectly underscored how crazy the region’s overheated housing market had gotten.
A month later, the house was sold for $80,000 above its asking price, rekindling public outrage.
How did Vancouver reach this point?
This infographic’s purpose is to connect the dots between Vancouver’s history of speculation, demographic waves, public policy, and external pressures that have all had a hand in shaping today’s hot real estate market in the city.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Chapter One: Birth of a Boomtown
In a surprise move in the late 19th century, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced that the tiny town of Granville would become the terminus of the future Trans-Canada Railway. Granville, with just 400 people, is now the nucleus of Vancouver – and the well-connected men who had conveniently purchased property in the area made a fortune as prices rocketed up.
By the close of 1888, the local newspaper was packed with property speculation ads, and Vancouver real estate companies outnumbered restaurants by a margin of over 250%.
These bets on real estate weren’t in vain. Vancouver actually outpaced all major West Coast cities in growth between 1900 and 1910. While Seattle and San Francisco grew at 194% and 22% respectively, Vancouver’s population soared by a clip of 271% over the same period.
Chapter Two: Expo 86
Hosting the 1986 World Exposition was a pivotal moment in Vancouver’s history. The legacy of Expo is far-reaching, including: rapid transit, new neighbourhoods, a connected seawall, increased investment, and a new stadium (BC Place).
The 70 hectare (173 acre) Expo site was carved out of industrial land and the former Canadian Pacific Railway yard. Once the fair ended, the provincial government looked to sell off the entire block of land for redevelopment.
In 1988, after recognizing the potential of the site, Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-Shing formed Concord Pacific and purchased the site for $320 million.
Chapter Three: Hong Kong Loves Vancouver Real Estate
In the 1990s, there was much trepidation in Hong Kong over the looming handover of the colony to China. Many people were looking to move themselves and their money to a more stable market. Concord Pacific, and Li Ka-Shing’s name, sparked enormous interest in the Vancouver real estate market.
Other Hong Kong businessmen also got in the development game in Vancouver. Cheng Yu-tung’s company built International Village and Sun Hung Kai Properties is now well-known for being the driving force behind Coal Harbour.
Immigration from Hong Kong, coupled with an influx of Canadians from other provinces, led to drastic home price increases during the early ’90s. The fabric of the city was changing, and existing residents were vocal about it. The “Monster House” debate raged in the local media throughout the decade.
Chapter Four: The Welcome Mat
During the same year as Expo 86, the Canadian Federal government and the Quebec government wanted to use immigration to bolster their economies. They created programs such as the Immigrant Investor Program (IIP) and the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program (QIIP) to attract wealthy foreigners.
Between the two programs, there were over 110,000 approvals to come to Canada between 2002 and 2014. (Note: From 2007 to 2012, the United States only accepted 19,433 wealthy immigrants through its EB-5 program)
The Quebec Loophole
A recent study tracked the addresses of 5,120 Quebec immigrant investors who arrived from 2000 to 2008. An astonishing 94% of the newly-arrived investors eventually had an address in British Columbia and most were living in the Vancouver area.
The Quebec government now has a quota of 1,330 applications per year from China. Assuming those applicants migrate to Vancouver at similar rates as in previous years, the flow of multi-millionaire immigrants will continue for some time.
Chapter Five: Vancouver’s Housing Feeding Frenzy
Fast forward to 2016. Vancouver is seeing record-breaking prices, and the momentum for single-family homes is showing no signs of slowing down.
In April 2016, the average detached home in Greater Vancouver sold for $1.82 million, which is a 30% increase year over year. That was not a typo – the price of a detached home in Vancouver is now nearly twice that of Greater Toronto ($968k), and multiples higher than Calgary ($540k) or Montreal ($343k).
Record high prices aren’t dampening sales though. In 2016, sales have been brisk with nearly 17,000 houses sold in the first four months of the year. Many of these have sold for significant sums above their asking prices.
Chapter Six: Business is Booming
In response to skyrocketing detached home prices, Vancouverites are increasingly living in condos. Residential development construction is practically propping up British Columbia’s economy.
BC had the highest GDP growth in the country in 2015, and it’s expected to put up strong numbers in 2016 as well. Between April 2015 and April 2016, BC accounted for 110,000 of Canada’s 144,000 net new jobs with construction leading the way.
Business is so good that the value of building permits broke a new city record in 2015 with over $3 billion. There were at least 10 major construction projects – each valued at more than $50 million – approved over the course of the year.
And Vancouver realtors? They’re doing well.
With so much money to be made selling property and condos, the Vancouver real estate industry is thriving. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says licensed membership is at an all-time high.
Chapter Seven: Locals are Getting Fed Up
The dream of owning a home is getting further out of reach even for well-off Vancouverites. Surging home prices and stricter down-payment rules mean that it can take over two decades to save up a down payment for a home.
Vancouverites seeking relief from the super-heated single family home prices won’t find it elsewhere in the market. The median condo price in Vancouver is up over 40% since 2014.
Renters are not immune to price increases either, as price-to-rent ratios are way out of whack in Metro Vancouver. According to real estate website Trulia, in nearby Seattle it takes 14.5 years of rent to equal the price of a house. In Vancouver, it takes 36.9 years.
Lastly, many residents worry that this red-hot demand is obliterating Vancouver’s character. Land values are so high that viable housing is often demolished to make way for new buildings. As a result, thousands of homes are torn down each year.
Chapter Eight: Is This Growth Sustainable?
The experts are far from reaching a consensus on whether Vancouver’s market can continue on as it is now.
On one hand, experts such as Stéfane Marion (Chief Economist, National Bank) say that growth in the working age population in Vancouver is 70% higher than the national average, and it can help sustain home price inflation. Meanwhile, Thomas Davidoff, an Associate Professor of Economics at UBC, points out that if Vancouver is a magnet for China, this housing run could continue for quite a while.
Davidoff may be onto something – there were 9,000 Chinese millionaires that emigrated from Mainland China in 2015, and there are 654,000 millionaires still in China today. The latter number is expected to double by 2025. It’s also noteworthy that in a recent poll by Barclays that 47% of Chinese millionaires expressed a desire to move abroad in the “next five years”.
The contrasting view, of course, is that Vancouver is in a bubble that is overdue for popping.
Marc Cohodes, a famous Wall Street short-seller we recently profiled in another recent chart we did on Canadian housing, argues that Vancouver is a casino in which residents feel pressured to play, otherwise they miss out. Meanwhile, David Madani, the Senior Canadian Economist at Capital Economics, says that severe overvaluation, high household debt, and overbuilding is going to make the housing correction end in a way that is deeper and more prolonged than initially feared.
The Bank of Canada has sounded the alarm on household debt recently, and “unsustainable debt” per household has soared in the country. Between 2008 and 2014, the amount of Canadian households with debt-to-income ratios greater than 250% jumped from 28% to 40% of all households.
Which province is home to the highest rate of households with “unsustainable debt”? BC, of course.
Vancouver’s parabolic prices may eventually cool down, but in the near-term, Vancouver real estate mania is here to stay.
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News Explainer: The Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is currently in an economic crisis with over $50 billion in debt and consumer inflation at 39%. So how did they get here?
Explained: the Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is currently in an economic and political crisis of mass proportions, recently culminating in a default on its debt payments. The country is also nearly at empty on their foreign currency reserves, decreasing the ability to purchase imports and driving up domestic prices for goods.
There are several reasons for this crisis and the economic turmoil has sparked mass protests and violence across the country. This visual breaks down some of the elements that led to Sri Lanka’s current situation.
A Timeline of Events
The ongoing problems in Sri Lanka have bubbled up after years of economic mismanagement. Here’s a brief timeline looking at just some of the recent factors.
In 2009, a decades-long civil war in the country ended and the government’s focus turned inward towards domestic production. However, a stress on local production and sales, instead of exports, increased the reliance on foreign goods.
Unprompted cuts were introduced on income tax in 2019, leading to significant losses in government revenue, draining an already cash-strapped country.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world causing border closures globally and stifling one of Sri Lanka’s most lucrative industries. Prior to the pandemic, in 2018, tourism contributed nearly 5% of the country’s GDP and generated over 388,000 jobs. In 2020, tourism’s share of GDP had dropped to 0.8%, with over 40,000 jobs lost to that point.
Recently, the Sri Lankan government introduced a ban on foreign-made chemical fertilizers. The ban was meant to counter the depletion of the country’s foreign currency reserves.
However, with only local, organic fertilizers available to farmers, a massive crop failure occurred and Sri Lankans were subsequently forced to rely even more heavily on imports, further depleting reserves.
In early April this year, massive protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, sparked in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo.
In May, pro-government supporters brutally attacked protesters. Subsequently, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of President Rajapaksa, stepped down and was replaced with former PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Recently, the government approved a four-day work week to allow citizens an extra day to grow food, as prices continue to shoot up. Food inflation increased over 57% in May.
Additionally, the increasing prices on grain caused by the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices globally have played into an already dire situation in Sri Lanka.
The Key Information
“Our economy has completely collapsed.”
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament last week.
One of the main causes of the economic crisis in Sri Lanka is the reliance on imports and the amount spent on them. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- 2021 total imports = $20.6 billion USD
- 2022 total imports (to March) = $5.7 billion USD
In contrast, the most recent reported foreign currency reserve levels in the country were at an abysmal $50 million, having plummeted an astounding 99%, from $7.6 billion in 2019.
Some of the top imports in 2021, according to the country’s central bank were:
- Refined petroleum = $2.8 billion
- Textiles = $3.1 billion
- Chemical products = $1.1 billion
- Food & beverage = $1.7 billion
Of course, without the cash to purchase these goods from abroad, Sri Lankans face an increasingly drastic situation.
Additionally, the debt Sri Lanka has incurred is huge, further hampering their ability to boost their reserves. Recently, they defaulted on a $78 million loan from international creditors, and in total, they’ve borrowed $50.7 billion.
The largest source of their debt is by far due to market borrowings, followed closely by loans taken from the Asian Development Bank, China, and Japan, among others.
What it Means
Sri Lanka is home to more than 22 million people who are rapidly losing the ability to purchase everyday goods. Consumer inflation reached 39% at the end of May.
Due to power outages meant to save energy and fuel, schools are currently shuttered and children have nowhere to go during the day. Protesters calling for the president’s resignation have been camped in the capital for months, facing tear gas from police and backlash from president Rajapaksa’s supporters, but many have also responded violently to pushback.
India and China have agreed to send help to the country and the the International Monetary Fund recently arrived in the country to discuss a bailout. Additionally, the government has sent ministers to Russia to discuss a deal for discounted oil imports.
A Foreshadowing for Low Income Countries
Governments need foreign currency in order to purchase goods from abroad. Without the ability to purchase or borrow foreign currency, the Sri Lankan government cannot buy desperately needed imports, including food staples and fuel, causing domestic prices to rise.
Furthermore, defaults on loan payments discourage foreign direct investment and devalue the national currency, making future borrowing more difficult.
What’s happening in Sri Lanka may be an ominous preview of what’s to come in other low and middle-income countries, as the risk of debt distress continues to rise globally.
The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) was implemented by G20 countries, suspending nearly $13 billion in debt from the start of the pandemic until late 2021.
Some DSSI and LIC countries facing a high risk of debt distress include Zambia, Ethiopia, and Tajikistan, to name a few.
Going forward, Sri Lanka’s next steps in managing this situation will either serve as a useful example for other countries at risk or a warning worth heeding.
Note: The debt breakdown in the above visual represents total outstanding external debt owed to foreign creditors rather total debt.
Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country
Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?
Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country
Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.
This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.
How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?
To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.
Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.
Rising Interest Rates and Inflation
With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.
|Jurisdiction||Jan 2022 Inflation||May 2022 Inflation||Jan 2022 Policy Rate||Jun 2022 Policy Rate|
The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.
On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.
Pacing Interest Rate Hikes
Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.
However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.
“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair
It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.
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