Saturday, January 12, 2008

Real Estate Market Update from New Home Building Permit Perspective

Building Permits: From Boom to Gloom?

We don't normally write about a drop in Canadian building permits, even one like the 9.9% setback in November. However, given the suddenly heightened sensitivity over every twitch in the economy, today's decline is worth looking at, especially given the fact that it follows hard on the heels of a 19.6% drop in December housing starts and last week's 12.8 point plunge in the Ivey PMI for the same month. Is this trio of steep sags in admittedly third-tier economic indicators an ominous warning for the Canadian economy? In two words…probably not. While there is plenty to be concerned about on the outlook primarily the softening U.S. economy this sudden run of weak data in very volatile series is likely noise.

Putting it in perspective, building permits in the first 11 months of 2007 were up a hefty 12.4% from year-ago levels even with the November decline. And, keep in mind that the drop in November followed a 7.3% pop in the prior month. The latest setback was concentrated in the non-residential sector, which had been particularly frothy earlier last year (up 15.5% so far in 2007). Residential permits were also off 5% m/m, but were up by a surprisingly sprightly 10.5% year-to-date. (Contrast that with the 25% y/y plunge in U.S. building permits in the same period.)

Most provinces saw declines in November, led by Alberta (-13.8%) and B.C. (-20.0%). However, the top of last year's leaderboard was still crowded with western provinces. Permits in Saskatchewan were up 33.9% last year, with Alberta (15.2%) next in line. Notably, Ontario was in third spot, thanks to a strong 26% rise in non-residential activity.

In a separate release, new home prices were a touch firmer than expected in November, rising 0.5% m/m. This held the annual trend steady at 6.1%. In a sign of just how far-flung home price pressures are in Canada, the two biggest monthly increases were posted in Halifax and Quebec City. In contrast, new prices dipped again in Calgary, where annual price increases of 5% are now below the national average.

The Bottom Line: The Canadian building industry appears to be in the first stages of losing some momentum after a blow-out year in 2007. That's still a far cry from the deepening housing descent in clear view south of the border. In fact, given widespread talk of labour shortages in the Canadian industry, some cooling in the sector in 2008 may not be such a bad thing.

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A. Mark Argentino
P. Eng. Broker
Specializing in Residential & Investment Real Estate

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