Sunday, May 28, 2006

CIBC lowers mortgage costs

Two days after the Bank of Canada raised short-term interest costs, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TSX: CM) said Friday it is trimming its posted mortgage rates.
Among the changes, CIBC's one-year closed rate slips to 6.25 per cent from 6.30 per cent, while the three-, five- and 10-year rates each decline by one-fifth of a percentage point, to 6.45 per cent, 6.75 per cent and 7.55 per cent.
The bank's move followed Wednesday's quarter-point increase in the prime lending rate to six per cent at all the major commercial banks, after the Bank of Canada raised its overnight rate to 4.25 per cent from four per cent.
While it increased the cost of short-term money for the seventh time since last autumn, the central bank also signalled that its series of hikes is likely over.
On bond markets, where banks fund their mortgage obligations, the Canadian yield curve flattened this week, as would be expected after the central bank's increase at the short end.
'Interestingly, though, the flattening came through entirely in the long end, where yields declined four basis points,' a commentary from the Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX: BNS) observed.
'For both the Canadian and U.S. curves, yields between the target policy rate all the way to the long end are now nearly flat.'"

Monday, May 22, 2006

A real pain in the gas

"Unlike the United States, motor fuel prices are a sleeper issue here in Canada. At least politicians, at both the federal and provincial levels, are sleepwalking through it.

Stateside, it's one of the three key issues gripping the U.S. mid-term elections (illegal immigrants and Iraq being the others) and threatening to oust the Republicans from the House and Senate, ruining George W. Bush's final two years in office.

It may be resting peacefully in the minds of the politicians here, but Canadians are wide awake on how they are getting hosed at the pumps.

Serious discontent

According to a damning - if you are an oil company or elected official - Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday, there's a serious mood of discontent out there. That's even true in Alberta, where high energy prices bring mega-millions into the provincial treasury and have touched off the largest energy boom in the province's history.

Albertans seriously resent the high cost of gas and diesel. So much so that only 40% of Albertans polled in late April and early May feel that gas prices are set 'fairly.'

In Ontario the number who feel that gouging is going on rises to 70%. In Quebec the distrust level hits 82%.

Poll respondents also have an inkling where the extra cash is going. Overall, 71% feel that energy company prices are excessive and the feds should bring in a 'special tax on windfall profits' that are made from gas.

Maritimers were the real cost-control hawks at 79%. In Alberta, only 37% "disagreed" with going after the pump pirates. Not an overwhelming endorsement of the leaderless Alberta Tories, especially considering oilsands outfits are getting their bitumen virtually royalty-free until payout in these times of record world oil prices.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's bold plan to roll back the hated GST by 1% apparently didn't impress Canadian gasoline consumers either.

Asked if the 1% token gesture was an "appropriate" response, seven in 10 Canadians gave Stevo the thumbs-down.
But the most distressing response to the poll - if you're a politician - was what Canadians answered when asked if the government should step in and regulate gasoline prices.

Across the country, 72% back the government getting involved in setting gasoline prices. In Atlantic Canada the support was greatest at 87%. That makes sense because some provinces already regulate pump prices, and the Nova Scotia election is being fought over throwing a noose around gas companies.

But the most telling number comes from free-enterprising, redneck Alberta, where only 39% said no to government intervention at the pump.

The inflationary effect of high gasoline prices may be about to have repercussions in other parts of the economy. It's the old ripple effect.

The C.D. Howe Institute circled the wagons this week and asked a panel of economic experts what Bank of Canada governor Dave Dodge should do on May 24 when he sets Canada's trendsetting interest rate again. It was a six-to-five split decision. But the slim majority recommended Dodge nudge up the rate by another 25 basis points to 4.25%.
Some even said the country's top money man must continue jacking up rates "significantly above the current level" to keep inflation at 2%.

Higher mortgage rates

If this translates into higher mortgage rates - which it inevitably will - then it could put even more pressure on Alberta consumers.

Yesterday, the Royal Bank of Canada revealed that we face the second-worst affordability in the country when it comes to buying a house.

"The good times for the Alberta economy have come at a cost to homeowners," the RBC Financial Group gloomed. House prices may be up 25% over a year ago, and income and employment growth may be the envy of the country.

"However the price of appreciation and higher mortgage rates outpaced this growth."

Remember what happened the last time Canadians were seriously stung with high gasoline prices and a roaring Alberta economy? Pierre Trudeau was able to muster enough political clout to bring in the national energy program to skim excessive windfall profits.

Stephen Harper is no Trudeau. But the Ipsos- Reid poll shows there's serious hurt across Canada - and right here in Oilberta - over gasoline prices.

Klein and Harper have been warned.

Home buyers look south of the line

The strong dollar has Canadians snapping up properties in Point Roberts.
Out of all my buyers this month, 50 per cent were Canadian, says Paul Rush of the Points National Real Estate, via telephone.

Ive had an increase in Canadian buyers in the last two to three months, prior to that it was mostly US buyers. Canadians are strictly going by the exchange rate and they know (Point Roberts) is close.

Waterfront properties, after all, may seem more affordable in the U.S. as the going price is about $10,000 per foot (measured along the shore). Small beach-front properties are selling for US $550,000 to $600,000 although at least one luxurious home is selling for US $1.6 million.

In Tsawwassen, however, RE/MAX manager Bob Cooke could find only two listings for waterfront homes and the cheapest was $1.7 million for 3,500 square feet and a 35-foot shoreline frontage, looking west.

Views are anywhere from $1 million to $2 million, Cooke says. Waterfront starts at about $1.8 million. I think theres a shortage of waterfront properties and prices are only going to rise.

But before you sell your home or drain that bank account to join the migration, Canadian buyers need to know a few things about purchasing American land.

First off, a Canadian without a Green Card may only reside across the border for 182 days per year and must have a home in Canada. The purchase must be for recreational use or pleasure.

Rush notes there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to access your property when you want to, either.

“It’s really up to US Immigration whether they let you in at all. It’s very strict; you need a permanent residence in Canada, not just an address, and you may have to show your mortgage payments or utilities as proof. It’s a delicate thing – I’ve known them to not let people in.”

As a result, Rush has found that most of the Canadians appearing at his office have dual citizenship, like him.
“They’re taking advantage of the high prices of Canadian real estate, selling out and moving here.”

Point Roberts realtor Jim Julius says most of his Canadian buyers are grandparents who are shopping for recreational property for their grandchildren.

“What we have now is a baby boomer demand for properties. They’re looking for places for their grandchildren so their children’s children have a chance to get out of the city—that’s a big deal.”

Home-buying intentions up slightly, report says

Renovation market also staying strong
May 20, 2006. 01:00 AM

More than 380,000 households in major Canadian cities indicated they were ready to buy a home this year, according to a survey released this week by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

The results of the CMHC's Consumer Intentions to Buy or Renovate a Home survey represents an average of 8 per cent of households in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.

While 8 per cent declared that they have a high chance of buying a home and could be considered as 'ready to buy' within the next 12 months, 5 per cent indicated that they have a 50-50 chance of buying. The survey is conducted using a sample of about 4,000 households in each centre surveyed.
'Intentions to buy are up from 2005 when 5 per cent of households were ready to buy a home. This year, strong intentions to buy are consistent with continued high levels of housing starts and sales of existing homes.

Favourable economic conditions, such as low mortgage rates and a healthy labour market are contributing factors to home-buying intentions,' said Bob Dugan, chief economist at the CMHC.

'Home-buying intentions are strongest in Calgary and Halifax, where 10 per cent of households reported that they are ready to buy a home. Purchase intentions are also strong in Vancouver and Toronto where 8 per cent of households are ready to buy, while the share is slightly lower in Montreal (7 per cent).

"Home renovations will remain strong this year, with 13 per cent of surveyed homeowners reporting they were ready to undertake renovations this year, costing $1,000 or more," said Dugan.
"The share of serious renovators is down compared to 2005 when 17 per cent of homeowners were ready to renovate. While the share of homeowners who intend to renovate decreased in 2006, the total dollar amount that will be spent on renovations is expected to increase."

Meanwhile, increases in Canadian house prices over the past five years — dramatic in Alberta and British Columbia and strong in the rest of the country — are the result of a robust economy that also provided a dramatic rise in key economic indicators and popular lifestyle and consumer items, according to a report released this week by Century 21 Canada.
Price increases over five years for typical homes across the country in a selection of markets surveyed by Century 21 range from as high as 129 per cent in Vernon, B.C. to as low as 12 per cent in Thunder Bay.

In Vernon, a 1,200-square-foot bungalow with three bedrooms and two bathrooms on a 55-foot by 100-foot lot increased in value to $355,000 this year (2006) from $155,000 in 2001.

The hottest housing markets in Ontario include Peterborough and Kitchener-Waterloo, Century 21 reported.

In Peterbourgh, the price of a typical home — 1,050-square-foot bungalow with three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths — increased to $202,000 in 2006 from $131,000 in 2001, an increase of 54 per cent.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, a typical home — 1,200 square foot two-storey home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms — rose to $245,500 in 2006 from $163,000 in 2001, an increase of 51 per cent.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Hot housing market expected to cool

Boosted by Alberta�s red-hot housing market, national home sale prices jumped by the highest amount in more than 16 years in March, Statistics Canada said this week.
Eye-popping increases of 29.6 per cent in Calgary and 14.3 per cent in Edmonton helped to increase the national average rise in houses prices to an annualized 7.6 per cent in March � an increase not seen since at least January 1990.

More moderate price increases were seen in Vancouver, with a 6.9 per cent rise, while Quebec saw a 6.6 per cent increase.
The average price for a residential property in the Halifax area was $279,748, a 4.8 per cent increase last year. Toronto reported a 4.3 per cent annualized increase while in Montreal, home prices rose by 3.3 per cent.

The only monthly drop was in St. John�s, Nfld., where prices slipped 0.1 per cent from February. But if you haven�t bought your home yet, don�t panic � the federal housing agency says the market should begin to soften in 2006.

Rising mortgage prices and market saturation will begin to cool demand, at least a bit this year, says Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
Home construction starts will slip to 222,200 units this year, down from the 225,481 units that were built last year, the Ottawa-based agency said. 'Higher mortgage carrying costs and rising house prices will temper housing demand this year,' Bob Dugan, CMHC�s chief economist, said in a statement.
But that still represents a higher rate this year than previously forecast by CMHC.

Booming demand in Alberta and British Columbia led the agency to increase its outlook for this year’s construction to 208,700. Still, a gradual cool is coming, says CMHC.
"Over the medium term, housing starts will continue to slow gradually, reaching 184,400 units by 2010," Dugan said.
The resilient housing market is one more factor that will likely convince the Bank of Canada to raise short-term interest rates in late May, said Marc Levesque, chief fixed income strategist with TD Securities.

"This is just one more tick mark in the tightening column," for the central bank, which has already boosted its key interest rate on six consecutive opportunities to four per cent. "This is one sector of the economy that is being supported pretty well by low interest rates."

Record low unemployment and a flourishing resource sector all threaten to push up inflation, something the central bank desperately aims to avoid. Its next chance to raise rates comes on May 24 and many analysts have forecast another quarter-point rate hike as the central bank aims to hold the consumer price index to about two per cent.

Monday, May 08, 2006

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Housing market continues

Eric Beauchesne, CanWest News Service
Published: Saturday, April 29, 2006
OTTAWA - Home sales and prices hit all-time highs in the first quarter of this year, according to a report Friday which will add to puzzlement, and possibly more inflation worries, at the Bank of Canada.
There were 125,142 existing homes sold from January through March, up 2.4 per cent from the fourth quarter of last year, and 0.2 per cent above the previous record high set in the third quarter of last year, the Canadian Real Estate Association said.
Earlier in the week, Bank of Canada governor David Dodge said ``we're a little bit surprised'' at the strength of the housing market considering the steady climb in interest rates and prices since last summer.
And real estate association chief economist Gregory Klump agreed it was a surprise that sales hit new record highs.
``Rising household incomes and upbeat consumer confidence are keeping resale housing activity on a tear, even with rising home prices and interest rates,'' Klump said.
The industry association reported sales reached their highest level of any quarter on record for both the number of units sold and the total dollar volume. The value of sales reached $33.4 billion, a 5.8 per cent increase from the final quarter of 2005, and the highest level ever, with records set in most provinces.
New quarterly sales records were set in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The quarterly surge in sales was despite a decline in March, when sales slipped 1.4 per cent from February, which was the second highest month of sales on record. British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario led the decline in sales, while sales rose in Quebec, New Brunswick, and in Nova Scotia where sales hit a record for the month of March.
While sales slipped in March, the average home price continued to rise to reach a record $274,163, up 12.4 per cent from a year earlier. The average price in the quarter was up 12.1 per cent from the same quarter in 2005, which was the steepest increase since the 1980s housing boom, which eventually went bust.
In March, the average price of a home was at an all-time high in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. And during the quarter, the average price was at an all-time high in every province except Quebec.
The average price of a home sold in March was highest in British Columbia at $383,712, up nearly 20 per cent from a year earlier. The steepest increase in the average price was in Alberta at 24.7 per cent to $267,641.
While most analysts continue to predict housing sales should eventually slow this year and price increases moderate, they say that unlike during the 1980s, there is no housing bubble to burst.
``Interest rates are widely expected to be near their peak,'' Klump noted. ``The continued ability to negotiate rates is also helping to keep sales activity high by keeping monthly payments down and affordability reasonable.''
The posted five-year closed mortgage rate is now 6.6 per cent, which is up less than a full percentage point from a low of 5.7 per cent last July, before the Bank of Canada resumed raising rates.
``It's not a substantial increase,'' Klump said, noting a recent survey by mortgage brokers found even with the higher rates, families are finding their housing payments manageable.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Stock markets up on earnings; Canadian dollar at 14 1/2-year high

14:42:51 EDT Apr 26, 2006

TORONTO (CP) - Base and precious metals stock helped lift the Toronto stock market slightly higher Wednesday afternoon as investors took in another slew of positive earnings reports.
The Canadian dollar was up 0.29 of a cent at a 14 1/2-year high of 88.65 cents US, a day after the Bank of Canada raised interest rates and said another hike is likely.
'There is certainly not a lot of inducement to buy (stocks) right now,' said Julie Brough, assistant vice-president at Morgan, Meighen and Associates. 'It does look a little bit tired and the valuations, in my mind, are not anything to get excited about.'
U.S. indexes were higher on some better-than-expected corporate earnings reports, a broker upgrade for General Motors Corp. (NYSE:GM) and positive economic data.
Toronto's S&P/TSX composite index was 21.67 points higher at 12,351.46, held back by declines in tech stocks and energy stocks as oil continued to move away from last week's record highs.
The TSX Venture Exchange moved down 3.38 points to 3,091.61.
Wall Street's Dow Jones industrial average gained 62.44 points to 11,345.69, with GM jumping $1.31 to $22.72 US after Merrill Lynch upgraded the automaker one notch to 'neutral' from 'sell,' citing beliefs that its restructuring plan is moving in the right direction.
The Nasdaq rose 3.15 points to 2,333.45 while the S&P 500 was up 4.44 points at 1,306.18.
In economic news, the U.S. Commerce Department said orders of durable goods jumped 6.1 per cent in March, more than triple the 1.8 per cent economists predicted. The department also said new home sales climbed 14 per cent to 1.21 million for the month, handily beating estimates for 1.1 million despite the rebound in mortgage rates.
The base-metals sector climbed one per cent, with AUR Resources Inc. (TSX:AUR) ahead 55 cents at $16.55.
Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. (TSX:IVN) has agreed to exchange its Mongolian coal interests to Asia Gold Corp. (TSXV:ASG) for a majority stake in the junior miner. Ivanhoe shares advanced 19 cents to $10.97 while Asia Gold shares surged 29 per cent to $2.70.
The June contract for bullion on the Nymex was up $7.80 to $642 US an ounce, taking the TSX gold sector ahead 0.95 per cent. Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K) added 14 cents to $13.62.
Elsewhere in the materials sector, Alcan Inc. (TSX:AL) moved up $1.39 to $59.75 and Gerdau Ameristeel (TSX:GNA) rose 35 cents to $12.35.
The TSX energy sector fell 0.3 per cent as the June contract for light sweet crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange was down 63 cents at $72.25 US a barrel.
Prices headed lower as the U.S. Energy Department said gasoline inventories fell 1.9 million barrels last week while crude stocks fell 200,000 barrels.
Shares in EnCana Corp. (TSX:ECA) were 63 cents higher to $58.23 after the company said it is boosting its quarterly dividend as first-quarter profit jumped to $1.47 billion US on a huge accounting gain, while operating profit rose 14 per cent to $694 million US.
After its first reporting period as an income trust, Precision Drilling Trust (TSX:PD.UN) said its first-quarter profit rose to $224.2 million, from a year-earlier $138.5 million, and it will boost its distributions to unitholders by 15 per cent to 31 cents a unit. The company's units were up 50 cents to $41.60.
Information technology stocks losing ground included Nortel Networks Corp., (TSX:NT), down four cents to $2.97.
Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. (TSX:POT) shares fell 79 cents to $103.89 after the company reported a net profit of $125.5 million US, down from $131.3 million US for the same period last year as a pricing dispute cut fertilizer shipments to China.
Newsprint giant Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. (TSX:A) is cutting jobs and has narrowed its first-quarter loss to $33 million from $51 million a year ago as rising prices and tighter inventories helped the company improve its finances. Its shares fell 16 cents to $4.87.
Nova Chemicals shares (TSX:NCX) declined 19 cents to $34.03 as the firm swung to a first-quarter loss of $5 million US from a year-earlier profit of $94 million US.
Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (TSX:MFI) earned a $17.3-million profit in the first quarter of 2006, compared with $12.7 million in the year-ago period. Its shares edged seven cents higher to $12.90.
Fuel cell maker Ballard Power Systems (TSX:BLD) has cut its first-quarter loss to $17.2 million US from a year-earlier $32.4 million and revenues rose 14 per cent to $12.5 million US. Its shares gained 52 cents to $11.68 Cdn.
In the U.S., Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA) shares added 32 cents to $85.43 US as the company reported a better-than-expected 29 per cent jump in first-quarter profits.
Shares in PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE:PEP), the world's No. 2 soft-drink maker and owner of snacks maker Frito-Lay, were up 35 cents to $57.85 US after it said first-quarter profit jumped almost 12 per cent to $1.02 billion US. (Nasdaq:AMZN) reported earnings dropped 35 per cent after a hefty gain boosted last year's profit. The online retailer's results still met Wall Street targets and its shares gained 26 cents to $35.81.

Variable mortgage rates on the rise

Fiona Anderson, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Homeowners with variable mortgages will see their interest rates increase in response to a boost in the Bank of Canada's trendsetting overnight rate on Tuesday.
BMO Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank both announced rate increases of 0.25 percentage points, raising their three-year open rate to 5.75 per cent after the Bank of Canada said it was increasing its overnight rate by 25 basis points. All major banks also increased their prime lending rates to 5.75 per cent.
But fixed mortgage rates have remained unchanged, at least for now.
Rob Hafer, regional sales manager for Invis on Vancouver Island, said variable rates are attached to prime rates, so anyone with a variable mortgage will see rates rise. But even though fixed rate mortgages depend on a number of factors other than the prime rate, those rates have also been going up recently.
'So the costs of borrowing for all consumers is going up unless you are already locked into a [mortgage] term,' Hafer said.
And while rates go up, consumers should shop around to make sure they are getting the best deal, he said. Over the last few years, the number of lenders have steadily increased, making the market more competitive. As posted rates go up, lenders are getting more aggressive with the discounts they will offer from those posted rates, he said."


Don't rush into fixed-rate mortgage, experts suggest as rates rise

16:41:56 EDT Apr 25, 2006
TORONTO (CP) - Tuesday's rise in variable mortgage rates will have some homeowners looking to lock in their rates, but experts say not to be hasty. It could be just a blip.
The cost of a variable mortgage has risen for the sixth time since the summer, after the Bank of Canada announced Tuesday it is hiking its benchmark interest rates by a quarter-point. About 22 per cent of Canadian mortgages are now variable, moving in step with the bank's prime lending rate, says CIBC World Markets (TSX:CM) senior economist Benjamin Tal.
Andrew Moor, CEO of mortgage brokerage firm Invis, says more customers have been opting for fixed-rate mortgages over the last few months as interest rates have risen.
But, he adds, the carrying costs on a variable mortgage are still less than those on a fixed-rate mortgage.
After Tuesday's rate hikes, a competitive variable mortgage rate will be about 4.85 per cent, up from 3.45 per cent at the beginning of September, according to Invis.
As a result, the payments on a $150,000 mortgage will have risen from about $745 a month to about $860.
A five-year fixed mortgage could be obtained at 4.5 per cent in September. That would cost about $830 a month on a $150,000, 25-year mortgage.
Today the rate is more like 5.25 per cent, costing $894, Invis said.
Within hours of the Bank of Canada's announcement Tuesday, mortgage lenders were already posting new variable mortgage rates that were up by a quarter of a percentage point.
"Every time something happens with the rates, there are people who decide, instead of going variable, to go fixed," said Jim Rawson, a regional sales manager for Invis working in downtown Toronto.
But he said economists don't expect the Bank of Canada to continue its credit-tightening policy for much longer.
"It may be a blip in the market and, therefore, you may not need to worry about going into a fixed term if you're used to playing the variable game," he said.
"There's really no need to panic. For those who are finding that it may be a bit of a pinch, there are things like longer amortizations."
He said stretching mortgage payments over a 30-or 35-year window may be a good temporary solution for young homeowners who need to reduce their monthly payments in the short term but know they can increase them in a few years when their salaries are higher.
"It comes down to your risk tolerance," Rawson said of the final decision on fixed-versus-variable mortgages.
"If you're the type of person who is going to lose sleep worrying about rates ... take a fixed-rate mortgage. It's not worth it if you're going to be worrying about it every day. But there are savings to be had with a variable-rate product."
Moor added that steep competition in the Canadian mortgage market has been good news for consumers.
"The pricing of variable-rate mortgages in Canada is becoming very competitive, and in fact Invis has witnessed mortgage lenders battling for market share by offering variable-rate mortgage rates well below prime - discounts not previously seen in the Canadian market," Moor said.

Bank of Canada raises key interest rate to 4%

Updated Tue. Apr. 25 2006 11:29 PM ET News Staff
The Bank of Canada boosted its trend-setting overnight rate by a quarter of a percentage point to four per cent on Tuesday.
The latest hike will impact the prime interest rate charged by commercial banks, affecting variable mortgage rates, as well as the cost of car loans and lines of credit.
This marks the sixth consecutive rate increase by the Bank of Canada since last summer -- when it was 2.5 per cent -- and some are wondering how many more rate hikes could be on the way.
In its statement today, central bankers said 'some modest further increase in the policy interest rate may be required to keep aggregate supply and demand in balance and inflation on target over the medium term.'
The Bank of Canada said the global economy is strong. 'At the same time, global competition and the past appreciation of the Canadian dollar continue to pose challenges for a number of sectors of the economy.'
Meanwhile, the core inflation rate appears to be staying within the central bank's target band of one to three per cent. Data released last week shows core inflation held steady at 1.7 per cent in March.
Canada's annual inflation rate remained unchanged at 2.2 per cent in March as higher gasoline prices were offset by lower prices for computer gear and clothing.
'Against this backdrop, the Bank decided to raise its target for the overnight rate,' said central bankers.
CTV's business editor Linda Sims said this probably means at least one rate hike is likely on the way. However, the rate is still quite low, compared to historic levels.
'We have got good job growth and decent economic growth in this country," Sims told CTV Newsnet.
"It will not put much of a crimp on the economy, including the housing market, going forward."
The next announcement on the overnight rate is scheduled for May 24.
Looking forward, the Bank of Canada predicts the Canadian economy will grow by 3.1 per cent in 2006, 3.0 per cent in 2007, and 2.9 per cent in 2008.

Mortgage fraud growing problem across Canada

By The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER � Runaway housing prices and a highly competitive mortgage industry are contributing to a growing problem with mortgage fraud across the country, experts say.
But it�s a complex issue and one lenders don�t really want to talk about.
'Mortgage fraud is a problem, and I don�t think anybody can deny it,' said Ken Fraser, executive director of investigations for B.C.�s Financial Institutions Commission, which investigates fraud complaints involving mortgage brokers and real-estate agents.
'A lot of figures have been bandied back and forth over the years about the degree of it, but I don�t think anybody has a figure on it. It is definitely escalating.'
Mortgage fraud is any act that convinces a lender to grant a mortgage that would have been rejected if the truth were known. For instance, providing a letter of employment listing an inflated salary, or a note from a relative confirming a gift toward the down payment on a purchase when the money is really a loan.
This is known as 'shelter fraud.' It happens when borrowers are trying to buy a home for which they don�t qualify.
In a hot real-estate market, these frauds are rarely detected and don�t result in a loss to lenders because the mortgages are repaid.
It�s 'fraud for profit' that is a growing concern for lenders � and in some cases, innocent property owners are the victims.
In these instances, unscrupulous mortgage brokers, bankers, real-estate agents, lawyers or appraisers may use false appraisals to increase the value of a property.
They are able to sell it a few times through fake documents and get a mortgage for a far higher amount than the real value of the property, leaving the ultimate purchaser to pay the bills.
Or false documents or identities may be used to mortgage homes for marijuana grow-ops or crystal meth labs.
Criminals also can use identity theft to pose as the owner of a property at the provincial land-title office. They then are able take out a mortgage on the home or sell it to an innocent purchaser and make off with the proceeds.
Earlier this month, a Surrey, B.C. woman pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud after posing as the owner of a vacant lot and taking out a $170,000 mortgage on the property.
The mortgage was arranged through a mortgage broker but another broker figured out the scam and alerted police.
The fraudster was ordered to repay the Royal Bank for the mortgage as well as $2,500 to cover the costs of the elderly Vancouver woman who owned the land and had to fight to clear her title. Two other suspects are still before the courts.
"The problem with mortgage fraud is you’re dealing with identity theft," said Barry Elliott, Ontario-based creator and coordinator of Phonebusters, a national police-sponsored call centre that tracks fraud.
"You can be victimized with a mortgage on your property and not be aware of it, or have property purchased in your name and not even know about it," he said.

Friday, April 21, 2006

GE Money Targets 10% Share of Canadian High-Risk Mortgages

April 20 (Bloomberg) -- GE Money, General Electric Co.'s consumer-finance arm, is expanding in Canada in a bid to capture 10 percent of the country's C$10 billion ($8.8 billion) market for high-risk mortgages, said Stephen Motta, chief executive of the Canadian unit.
The finance company plans to sell mortgages through independent brokers across Canada by year-end, and is trying to hit its market share target in three years, he said. GE Money started selling mortgages in Ontario last year, and has since become licensed in Alberta and British Columbia.
``We're on a pretty significant growth trajectory, but growing from zero,'' Motta, 43, said in a telephone interview. ``It is a longer-term vision we have for the Canadian market, rather than bursting on the scene, making some noise, and not being here three years from now.''
GE Money, a unit of the world's No. 2 company by market value, is competing with firms such as Toronto-based Xceed Mortgage Corp. Xceed estimates the so-called ``near prime'' market that GE Money is targeting may grow to about C$60 billion, or 10 percent of Canada's overall mortgage market.
Canada's mortgage business is growing as job and wage increases fuel expansion in the economy, which the Bank of Canada predicts will grow 3.1 percent in 2006, the fastest in six years. New home construction during the first three months of the year was the highest in more than 18 years, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
High-Risk Loans
GE Money and Xceed offer loans at higher interest rates than standard mortgages because their clients are typically self-employed, new to the country or don't have a credit history. GE is focusing on"

Monday, April 17, 2006

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Selecting investments that tend to react differently to the economic climate helps to make it more likely that at least a portion of the investments will be performing well at any point in time. The highs and lows of any single investment should be partially offset by the performance of the other investments in the portfolio. Foreign investments will help to reduce risk and increase your potential returns.

Automatic portfolio rebalancing to keep your portfolio on track with your objectives
You get the freedom from monitoring your investments because your Strategic Portfolio will be reviewed on a quarterly basis and automatically rebalanced to your original asset mix.

Getting Started: Determine Your Investor Profile
Most banks will offer an easy-to-follow questionnaire that helps you understand your investment preferences. Based on this information, they will match you with an investment portfolio that is right for you.

Conservative Investor
The Conservative investor is looking for safe financial products. Your risk tolerance level is low, and you are most comfortable investing in products where the interest rate, maturity dates, and payout schedule of interest earnings are predetermined.

Moderate Investor
The Moderate investor is looking for significant investment income and a high level of security. However, you are willing to invest a portion of your funds in classic financial products carrying a certain level of risk.

Audacious Investor
The Audacious investor is ready to tolerate a little more risk to achieve long-term capital growth. While remaining cautious in your strategy, you invest close to half of your portfolio in the stock market.

Ambitious Investor
The Ambitious investor is looking for high-growth potential over the long term. Since you are aiming for a higher return, you accept a higher level of risk for up to two-thirds of your portfolio, which is invested in the stock market.

Dynamic Investor
The Dynamic investor has a high tolerance for risk and is looking for high-growth investments, opting for the potential for capital appreciation in the stock market. Your portfolio is mostly made up of stock securities.

Go to the questionnaire to find out what category you fall under

Woman a victim of mortgage fraud

House bought from her after signature forgedA serious problem in GTA, says title insurance officialApr. 13, 2006. 11:10 AMHAROLD LEVYSTAFF REPORTEREarlier this year, Susan Lawrence discovered that the 100-year-old Victorian home she had been living in for 30 years had been stolen by identity thieves.The North York widow had been blissfully unaware the thieves had used her forged signature to purchase the house from her and discharge a mortgage she had put on the property.They had then put a new mortgage on the property for almost $300,000, pocketed the money, defaulted on the mortgage, faded out of sight, and left her facing eviction.Lawrence soon learned she had become a victim of mortgage fraud — one of the growing number of people in the Greater Toronto Area who are being victimized by real estate savvy swindlers."I just could not believe it, and anybody I talked to couldn't believe it either," Lawrence said in an interview. "They all asked, `How could anybody sell your house from right under you?'"To make matters worse, Lawrence had contracted to sell the home, which she no longer owned, to a young couple.Lawrence discovered something was wrong when she went to her bank to discuss her mortgage in view of the pending sale and was told the bank could find no record of it."The clerk told me not to worry because it must be a mistake," Lawrence says. "A week later the bank called to say I was a victim of fraud."Susan Leslie, a senior official of First Canadian Title, a title insurance firm, says mortgage fraud has become a serious problem in the Greater Toronto Area and throughout Canada, and that it is on the rise."Quite frankly, these fraudsters are one step ahead of us," Leslie said. "As housing prices rise, this becomes a very lucrative crime."The Law Society of Upper Canada says in a report that mortgage fraud has also proliferated because people can borrow large amounts of money without having to meet anyone in person — and vast amounts of information about properties and homeowners are now available through Ontario's electronic land registry system.The Law Society also noted that increased competition within the mortgage industry leads to pressure to close a deal without taking all of the steps necessary to determine if it's legitimate.Lawrence says that when she got in touch with Toronto lawyer Morris Cooper, she expected to hear that the law would help her out of her predicament because she was the innocent victim of a callous crime.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Don't pay more tax than you have to

Apr. 12, 2006. 06:45 AM

What do tax tips and spring flowers have in common? They pop up in April.
I've gone through my garden of money-saving tax advice and picked some of the prettiest blooms for your inspection"

Don't pay interest on top of interest.

If you owe money, the government will charge daily compound interest on your debt. This means you pay interest not only on the original amount you owe, but also on the interest that starts adding up.

"If you can't pay the amount that's due, talk to your financial institution about a loan or a line of credit that charges a lesser interest rate than the Canada Revenue Agency," says lawyer Stanley Kershman, author of Put Your Debt on a Diet (Wiley).

Ottawa can also charge you a late-filing penalty — and interest on the penalty. So, you should file your return on time to avoid penalties, even if you can't pay the amount due.

Work out your tax factor.

This is important to know when you're making financial decisions, says Dale Ennis, editor of Canadian Moneysaver magazine.

Let's take Joe, an Ontario taxpayer with $35,596 in employment income. His marginal tax rate — what he pays on the last dollar of income earned — is 31.15 per cent.

If you divide 100 by 100 minus 31.15, you get 1.45. This is Joe's tax factor. It means he must earn about $1.45 in before-tax dollars to have $1 for his personal use.

Joe carries personal debt at 10 per cent interest. Multiply by 1.45 and you find his after-tax interest rate is 14.5 per cent.

Now let's take Sally, an Ontario taxpayer with $71,191 in income. She has a marginal tax rate of 37.16 per cent and her tax factor is 1.59.

Sally has to earn $1.59 in before-tax income to have $1 for her personal use. And a 10 per cent loan actually costs her 15.9 per cent after tax.

Know your break-even formula for investments.

You should try to come out ahead after taxes and inflation when investing your money outside a tax-sheltered retirement account.
Ennis has done some calculations on the break-even rate when inflation is running at a rate of 4 per cent.

Divide 4 by 100 minus your marginal tax rate. This will give you the break-even formula for an interest investment.
Joe has a marginal tax rate of 31.15 per cent. So, he needs to earn 5.81 per cent. to break even on his interest investments.
Sally has a marginal tax rate of 37.16 per cent. Her break-even rate for interest investments is 6.37 per cent.

Dividends are taxed at a lower rate than interest. Joe needs to earn 4.75 per cent to break even on dividends, while Sally's break-even rate for dividends is 5.52 per cent.
Capital gains have the lowest tax rate. Joe needs 4.74 per cent to break even on stocks and equity funds, while the rate Sally needs for capital gains is 5.11 per cent.

Claim tax credits for disabled family members.

Substantial tax credits are available for anyone with a severe or prolonged disability that is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.
To claim the disability amount, you have to get a medical practitioner to sign form T2201 (the disability tax credit certificate).
The tax credit can be transferred to a family member if the disabled person has no tax to pay.

"This is possibly one of the most lucrative, yet most missed, provisions on the tax return," says author Evelyn Jacks in her self-published book, Essential Tax Facts.
"Note that if a person was diagnosed with cancer in September and the condition of the disease became debilitating by the end of the year, the amount would be claimable for the whole year."

Claim tax credits for post-secondary students.

If you have children going to college or university, you can use any tax credits the children can't use.

Students are allowed to claim their tuition and $400 for each month they're enrolled full-time (or $120 a month for a part-time student).

Any unused credits can be carried forward indefinitely by the student. Or the credits can be transferred to a parent, grandparent, spouse or common-law partner. The maximum tax credit available to transfer is $800.

To claim the fees, you have to get form T2022A (tuition and education amounts certificate).
This tax form is provided by the educational institution, but not necessarily in the mail. You may have to go online, using the student's user name and password, and print out a copy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Where to invest in real estate now

"Want to buy a house in Vancouver? Hope you have lots of cash. The average price of a house in Lotus Land hit $490,004 in February. Think about it for a second. That's nearly half a million dollars--and 26.5% higher than a year ago. Put another way, it now takes a household income of $142,000 a year to comfortably purchase a place to live.
Wasn't the real estate market supposed to slow down this year? Apparently not. And it's not just Vancouver that's experiencing double-digit price increases so far this year. Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) figures show the average home price from February 2005 to February 2006 rose 26% in Calgary and 15.5% in Edmonton, both economic boomtowns of late. But even relatively moribund Toronto saw an increase of nearly 6%, for an average price of almost $354,000. That's a lot of money to put on the line if you're thinking of investing in the real estate market--let alone looking for a place to live.

No wonder people are talking about another housing bubble in the making. Prices continue to soar. Interest rates are on the rise. Vacancy rates are comparatively higher, making renting an attractive option once again. But let's get one thing clear: there isn't a housing bubble."

Story Continued...

Monday, April 10, 2006

CHIP Reverse Mortgage for Seniors

Created from a senior’s perspective, a CHIP Reverse Mortgage is a unique home equity borrowing opportunity for homeowners in Canada who are age 62 and older.
Senior homeowners can access up to $500,000 tax-free with no payments required on the loan until the home is sold or owners move out.

The amount available to the homeowners is based on the appraised value of the home, the age and gender of the homeowners, marital status, property type, and location. CHIP Reverse Mortgages are available in most areas across Canada, on most types of homes. Leaseholds, co-ops, manufactured homes and large rural acreages are not eligible.

The proceeds from the reverse mortgage are received as a cash lump sum. Homeowners are initially approved for a maximum sum, but may choose to receive a lesser amount initially and then request subsequent advances on the remaining available proceeds.

As part of a well-balanced financial plan, a CHIP Reverse Mortgage can add new flexibility to a senior’s finances and is an effective way to:

Create new and tax-efficient sources of income;
Preserve existing investments for continued growth and income generation opportunities;
Reduce personal income tax; Provide cash resources to fund a large project, purchase a vacation property, fund medical home care, start a new business or hobby, make cash gifts to children and grandchildren, and more.

Unique Protections and GuaranteesAlone among home equity borrowing options, the CHIP Reverse Mortgage offers these unique protections and guarantees:
No repayment is required while the homeowners continue living in the home.
The homeowners have complete freedom to sell or move at any time.
Homeowners will never be asked to move or sell to repay the loan.

As with other mortgages, up-to-date payment of property taxes, fire insurance, condominium/ maintenance fees, and maintenance of the property is required.

The loan amount to be repaid is guaranteed not to exceed the fair market value of the home at the time it is sold, protecting the balance of the senior’s estate.

Tax-savings OpportunitiesA CHIP Reverse Mortgage may also assist seniors in their tax-savings strategies. Proceeds from the reverse mortgage are received tax-free and are not added to taxable income. When the proceeds are used to purchase new investments, the interest expense of the loan may be used to offset tax on the new investment income and reduce the overall tax payable.

Terms of RepaymentBecause no payments are required on the reverse mortgage while the homeowners are living in their home, interest is added to the outstanding balance and is compounded semi-annually. The full amount only becomes due upon the death of the last surviving spouse, when the home is sold, or when the last surviving spouse moves out. The homeowner may leave the home for up to 12 months before the loan in considered payable, accommodating situations where a senior requires institutionalized medical/nursing home care for a short term.

All or a portion of the accrued interest may be paid once every calendar year, which can reduce the accumulation of interest on the outstanding balance and help preserve greater equity in the home.

The reverse mortgage may be repaid in full at any time. If payment is made within 36 months of the advance of funds, a pre-payment amount will apply. An interest rate differential payment may also be required. This will be waived if the reverse mortgage is repaid as a result of the death of the last surviving spouse or reduced if the reverse mortgage is repaid as a result of the long-term medical care institutionalization of the last surviving spouse.

A serious commitment to seniors.As Canada’s only national provider of reverse mortgages, CHIP’s commitment to seniors is at the core of the way the company does business. At every stage of their relationship with clients, CHIP ascertains that the senior is fully-informed and comfortable with the decision they are making. Seniors are encouraged to involve their family and their personal financial advisor. CHIP also requires the senior to seek an independent legal review of their contract. (CHIP offers a referral to a list of lawyers across Canada who have experience with reverse mortgages.)

If CHIP believes that a reverse mortgage is not in the best interests of a client, or that the senior is being pressured by outside influences, they will discuss that situation frankly and, if necessary, decline to proceed.

The CHIP Reverse Mortgage is available directly from CHIP by calling toll-free 1-800-563-2447 or by visiting the CHIP website. A do-it-yourself estimate is available on the CHIP website. Alternatively, seniors can request a CHIP Reverse Mortgage estimate through most of Canada’s major banks or with the assistance of their personal financial planner.

Understanding Your Credit Report

If you have been turned down for a loan or for a mortgage loan based on your Credit Report, don't continue to apply elsewhere. You need to know the reasons why and unfortunatley most of the time lenders will not advise you of any errors on your report or how to fix it. Each time you apply for credit, it lowers your beacon score. (Credit Score). Your Beacon Score is a significant factor in calculating your ability to repay, rates and terms for your loan. With a low Beacon Score you should expect to pay higher interest and the lenders may look at is as though you are too much of a risk and will not be able to repay your loan.

The best way to save time is to find out what is stopping you from getting approved and if there are some problems, how to fix them.

You can get your credit report from one of the following two credit bureaus in Canada
Equifax or Tranunion

You can pay for a copy of your credit report and see it immediately at the Equifax web site or you can fill out an application and get a copy mailed to you for FREE.

You can visit Equifax to view your Credit Report online now or
Request a FREE copy of your Equifax Credit Report here

After you have obtained a copy you can refer to the Credit Report Guide, this will explain how to read your Report.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to explain it to you.

Rachelle Czartorynskyj
Mortgage and Finance Specialist