"History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in.... I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all - it is very tiresome." Jane Austen spoken by Catherine Morland in 'Northanger Abbey'
The 2 Sided Loonie
The chart mashup shows the difference in labour unit cost between Canada and the U.S. in the top panel and the steady drop in the CAD relative to the USD since 2011 (middle panel) and the Canadian balance of trade in the bottom panel.
Only about 30% of Canada's GDP is derived from exporting and most Canadian exporters will enjoy the CAD falling against the USD because most of their export trade (75%) is to the U.S.
But the Loonie remained relatively high against the USD for 5 years (2002-05) and that led to purchasers of Canadian exports to look for alternative sources and that led to more layoffs in Canadian production plants (Bombardier cut 1700 jobs, Kellogg cut 500, Heinz cut 740, Blackberry cut 4500 - Bloomberg).
Layoffs are not easily reversed, and as the top panel of the mashup shows, the Canadian unit labour cost is 14-15% above the U.S. making it that much harder to sell into the U.S. or anywhere else (IMF via Reuters).
As a consumer society, disposable income is also shrinking in Canada as the price of everything we import goes up against the falling CAD and a falling safe haven status compounded by the end of the Canadian Immigrant Investor Program this month which only attracted 130,000 people since the 1986 inception (Globe & Mail).
The foreign investor class has good reasons to look at their Canadian asset portfolios and high on the list will be negative yielding real estate bought in the last 10 years. We could see some drama on the MAR-MOI charts this year if real estate inventory for sale surprises to the upside.
Cold Enough For You?
Anyone with a Twitter feed knows that this year a lot of correlations are being made with the weather. The bottom panel of the mashup shows the latest housing start data in the midwestern U.S. The chart came via Joe Weisenthal at the Business Insider with the question "Think the weather isn't having a major effect on the economy?"
Well yes the weather does "effect ... the economy"; snow tires are doing a booming trade but the chart is housing starts in the midwest and I noticed by looking at a 24 year chart (top panel inset) of U.S. mortgage applications that since the Pit of Gloom in 2009, mortgage demand has dropped even more across the U.S. into a 5 year well defined narrow range similar to but more extended than the mid 1990's.
Yes it's cold out there but as I have highlighted on the lower panel midwest chart, the winter of 2012 saw a spike in starts as dramatic as the current slump and according to a USA Today news item in December 2012 "...parts of 17 states are (were) under winter weather advisories as far west as Washington state and as far east as Maine." At the time of the news, 7 people had already died from weather related events, thousands of flights had been cancelled and tens of thousands were without power. Housing starts peaked that winter.
Multi-unit buildings count each unit as a start and if current weather delays the footings being poured then potential multiple units don't make the "start" count. For the last 5 years, midwest starts have been trending up to a peak in 2012 regardless of weather and this year starts have plunged. It could be a drop in demand for the midwest as a correlation with the rest of the U.S.
In real estate, location and employment opportunities can trump weather.
I had to Post This
The mashup to the left is with thanks to the Vancouver Price Drop blogger who has been tracking the behaviour of Vancouver vendors who are chasing the market down as purchaser sentiment switches. They can't help themselves. The sample price drop building reminded me of New York where the term "jonesing" is said to have originated and the news item of Cory Weeds closing The Cellar Jazz Club reminded me that Vancouver ain't New York no matter what the condo brochure says. Why did everyone take on historic levels of debt just to live in inefficient housing units? Watch the 12.39min video explanation below by Belabed & Theobald of how the middle class, has just been trying to keep up with the consumption norms of the upper class, which kept expanding as more aggregate income flowed upwards. In other words you have depleted your savings and borrowed as much as you could because you have been jonesing to keep up with the Jones'.
Now listen to Sam Harris' 12.10min video explanation of how the illusion of Free Will can have you behaving against your own best interests. Finally enjoy Bob Dylan's live performance 6.52min video of the Ballad of the Thin Man.
New Economic Thinking
Christian Belabed and Thomas Theobald: Inequality and the Current Account
Relative Income Hypothesis
Free Will by Sam Harris
"Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don’t have it. In Free Will, Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris’s books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice."
Ballad of the Thin Man
First released on Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited in 1965.
"You know something is happening but you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones"
The id (German: Es) is the unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives. Id is the only component of personality that is present from birth. It is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives. The id contains the libido, which is the primary source of instinctual force that is unresponsive to the demands of reality. The id acts according to the "pleasure principle"—the psychic force that motivates the tendency to seek immediate gratification of any impulse—defined as, seeking to avoid pain or unpleasure (not 'displeasure') aroused by increases in instinctual tension. If the mind was solely guided by the id, individuals would find it difficult to wait patiently at a restaurant, while feeling hungry, and would most likely grab food from neighbouring tables. (Wikipedia)
Housing prices in Germany are rising as demand for owner occupied dwellings increases for the rising levels of employed.
But only about 53% of Germans own their homes, compared with 70% in the U.K. and Canada and 65% in the U.S.
Since the end of WW II, the national consensus in Germany has been that housing provision is an essential public resource to be protected from speculation using regulation that promotes rental accommodation and fosters tenancy protection as well as municipal planning that releases land with incentives for developers to create rental housing when needed.
As the lower panel of the chart mashup above shows, a big incentive to provide rental housing is the yield on rentals being superior to Government 10 year bonds and stock dividends over time.
In the OECD, German households on average spend 21% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads and 93% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%. This high level of subjective satisfaction reflects Germany’s good performance in objective housing indicators. SOURCE
Austerity? Not for the Canadian Consumer
Canadian Consumer Debt Zoomed 9% Y/Y in 2013 according to Equifax as reported by CBC News today in advance of Minister of Finance Mr Flaherty's Budget, scheduled to be tabled tomorrow. If the government budget again includes their mantra "We are going to Balance The Budget in 2015" (Oct 2015 is when the next federal election is), then a 9% annual growth in private sector consumer debt is going to increase even more unless lenders freak and turn off the tap, or consumers withdraw into balance sheet repair. Don't worry about non-conventional mortgages (mortgages of more than 80% Loan to Value); they are all insured mostly by you dear tax payer. Mortgage debt clocks in at almost two thirds of Canadian Consumer Debt and that increased 12% over the last year.
As can been seen by the charts below, Government Debt to GDP is curving down and that is not occurring because we are a successful export country. Nope... we are an import country as reflected in our Trade Balance which has been locked into a 5 year negative channel since the March 2009 Pit of Gloom. Government Spending Growth has been reduced (via Balance the Budget Policy) and the hit to the CA$ in the last year has driven up the cost of imports and most of the stuff we buy. In order to maintain its lifestyle, the Private Sector is using credit in the absence of Government Sector spending and a chronic Trade Balance deficit.
U.S. All Cash Buyers
In October 2013 we observed that the big profit money in house flipping is in the 2-5 million$ high end range and that volumes peaked in 4Q 2012 (Chart).
But in the fall of 2013 the really big institutional money who had been aggressively buying bank foreclosures in mega wholesale lots since at least the spring of 2012, came back in with even more investment and have sent the "All Cash Buyer" stats up to record highs. The institutional vigor has been good for short term flippers who in 2013 needed less than 3 months to make capital gains per unit flip of close to $60,000 per transaction. Cash is king in a low yield world.
The bottom panel of the chart mashup shows that the mortgage market is a different story. "Low Cash Buyers" disappeared into the March 2009 Pit of Gloom and then disappeared some more as their participation in household ownership formation has plunged even lower to levels of the mid-1990's according the the MBA Purchase Index at January 2014.
Solar & Market Behaviour
"Predicting the behavior of a sunspot cycle is fairly reliable once the cycle is well underway." MSFC-NASA
“My opinion is that we are heading into a Maunder Minimum,” said Mark Giampapa, a solar physicist at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona. “I’m seeing a continuation in the decline of the sunspots’ mean magnetic field strengths and a weakening of the polar magnetic fields and subsurface flows.”
Meanwhile a sudden flight to lower yields via up ticking CPI and global equity valuation fear. Notice the TSX Real Estate index has been in a trading range since the summer of 2012 and has failed to break through the spring 2013 top. It's similar to the Canadian real 10 year yield and if that plunges with more CAD dollar sell off, we will probably see more unwillingness to subsidize equity positions, and real estate appraisers (and margin clerks) will become busy again. DIY here.
History, Charts & Curated Readings
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement; and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense