By Anita Balakrishnan
OTTAWA- About $1 billion worth of mortgage payments were deferred each month during the pandemic, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said on Thursday.
The calculation, released in CMHC’s annual residential mortgage industry report, is based on Equifax Canada’s estimate that the average monthly mortgage payment in Canada is $1,333.
CMHC also said that it also expects fewer Canadians to get ahead on their mortgage payments this year, compared with 2019, a trend that will add to the national level of mortgage debt by the end of this year.
By the end of the second quarter, relatively few people were defaulting on their mortgages, although CMHC said it is expecting a rise in delinquent mortgages as deferral programs come to an end this fall.
CHMC’s report comes as the financial industry is closely watching how homeowners react to resuming deferred mortgage payments.
When asked about housing activity at a Thursday press conference, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem told reporters that household credit growth is still “quite modest” at the moment.
“Incomes have been reasonably well-sustained, consumption has slowed, and so savings overall in the economy have gone up. That’s helpful in reducing vulnerabilities,” said Macklem on a conference call.
“Having said that, we’ve been very clear at the Bank of Canada, we’ve underlined the vulnerabilities caused by household indebtedness and too much reliance on the housing sector. Those have not entirely gone away, but when you look at our policy response _ the best predictor of whether somebody is going to repay their mortgage is whether they have a job.”
A Sept. 9 note by RBC Economics suggested that by the end of July, many Canadians had already resumed mortgage payments. Among the country’s six major banks, 12.4 per cent of mortgages were deferred, down from 15.2 per cent at the end of April, wrote RBC senior economist Josh Nye.
But while high-income households have taken advantage of low interest rates and lockdown savings to pay down debt, Nye’s note said that lower-income households are still struggling with existing debt levels, coupled with job losses related to low oil prices and the pandemic.
Nye noted that even before the pandemic, insolvencies jumped in both Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta, while Saskatchewan led the country in mortgage defaults.
Canadians under the age of 35, meanwhile, have been more likely in recent years to carry mortgages that are harder to refinance, said Nye. Younger mortgage holders have less equity, their loans are more likely to be much higher than their income, and they tend to have more years of repayment ahead of them, Nye said.
CMHC’s report suggested that, depending on how the lender accommodated them during the COVID-19 pandemic, about 20 per cent of consumers said they were mulling moving their mortgages to a different lender. That data, cited by CMHC, stemmed from an April FIRM Residential Mortgage Survey by Altus Group and Ipsos.
CMHC also said that after interest rates were cut this year, variable rate mortgages gained popularity in April and May of this year.
Home Capital Group Inc. chief executive Yousry Bissada, who spoke at a conference on Wednesday, said that many of the borrowers who opted for Home Capitals’ two-month mortgage deferrals this summer had FICO scores of 700 and above.
Despite a huge rush to defer payments during the early stages of the pandemic, Bissada said at the conference that after four to six weeks, most borrowers opted to begin repayment, after considering interest costs, savings from reduced spending on restaurants and vacations, or government support payments.
Bissada also said that lenders who have equity in homes have an incentive to renegotiate terms to accommodate borrowers going forward.
“The trend seems to be quite positive,” said Bissada at the Scotiabank Annual Financials Summit.-With files from Jordan Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2020.