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Trump’s attacks on central bank rate hikes risk creating future economic trouble: Don Pittis

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As markets have tumbled, U.S. President Donald Trump has been leading a charge against Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell’s interest rate increases, and he’s not alone.

Investors watching markets slide have added their voices, worried that three rate hikes this year, one projected in December and another three next year will bring more carnage.

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz faced similar criticism after last week’s quarter-point hike to 1.75 per cent.

But while skittish markets — during a month when markets are often skittish — have focused on small rises in interest rates as the death knell for the current economic revival, there are good reasons to think the worries of traders are baseless.

Hike happy 

As told by Trump, who fears that rising interest rates will wreck the stock market boom he has claimed as his own, the argument is pretty simple.

“Every time we do something great, he raises the interest rates,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview last week. The “he” in that quote is Powell, who Trump said “almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates.”

Anyone who watches his public appearances knows the serious-minded Powell never looks especially happy. But, oddly, with a doctorate from Princeton and experience at the highest level of investment banking, Powell has seemed unconcerned that interest rate increases will somehow send the economy into a tailspin.

When he met with reporters after the Fed’s latest rate rise, he expressed confidence that the economy was going through one of its best times.

In the complex world of finance, no one knows the future, but one question market traders might want to ask themselves is, when it comes to economics and the state of the markets, should they trust the president or the Fed chair?

You don’t have to go too deep into the complexity of real-world economics to show that some sort of one-to-one relationship of creeping hikes in interest rates leading directly to a crashing economy and tumbling stock market is just not what happens.

Blaming the punch bowl

And maybe part of the blame should be directed at William McChesney Martin, the longest-ever serving head of the U.S. Federal Reserve, who created the famous punch bowl analogy.

The central banker, said Martin in a 1955 speech to a group of investment bankers, “is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.”

Fear of the proverbial punch bowl being taken away may have accentuated October market jitters, but rate hike worries could well be overblown. (Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

So the question is: Do gradually rising interest rates really slam the brakes on a thriving economy, as this conventional reading of the punch bowl analogy insists?

According to a paper by longtime monetary policy expert Philip Turner, formerly at the Bank of International Settlement — the so-called central bank’s central bank — the relationship, if it exists, is not obvious. He points to the fact that interest hikes before the crisis of 2007-08 did little to rein in market excesses.  

“The substantial increase in the Federal funds rate from mid-2004, reinforced by higher policy rates elsewhere, did not prevent further increases in risk-taking in the financial markets during this period,” Turner wrote in a 2017 paper titled “Did central banks cause the last financial crisis? Will they cause the next?” 

A recent interview in the New York Times with Paul Volcker, the Federal Reserve chair who really did bring the economy down with high interest rates, was also a reminder that those times were completely unlike today.

Volcker’s scourge

When Volcker took office in 1979, the rate of inflation was already soaring in the wake of the first oil crisis and by 1980 had risen to 15 per cent. The savings of older people living on fixed incomes were melting away.

“Volcker comes in and he says, ‘Hey, guys, this is bad, this is very costly for the economy,'” says Christopher Ragan, currently in the headlines as head of the pro-carbon tax Ecofiscal Commission, but actually a specialist in monetary policy at McGill University. 

He says Volcker was forced to take extreme action, raising the Fed rate to a peak of 20 per cent, pushing commercial lending and mortgage rates to much higher than that. The economy was smashed. Unemployment soared. Businesses went broke. Farmers protested.

“You basically create a recession and you wring inflation expectations out of the system,” says Ragan. It’s not that central banks cause recessions, he says, it’s that central banks are forced to create recessions when people begin to expect high and sustained inflation.

If banks followed Trump’s advice and left the impression inflation could rise and rise — “Five begets six begets seven which begets eight,” Ragan quotes one central banker as saying — then eventually they could be forced to follow the Volcker strategy.

But that is not what is happening now. Instead, inflation expectations remain at about 2 per cent, and central bankers have no need to hike interest rates enough to create a recession, just enough to convince everyone that they will not let inflation climb out of the 2 per cent range.

“Every time inflation shows a tendency to rise, you raise interest rates a little bit,” says Ragan. “And people say, ‘Oh! The central bank really means it.'”

Ragan says there is no reason homeowners or market traders should be terrified that small rate increases will damage a strong economy.

“We are raising rates because the economy is sturdy and strong.”

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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Canadian mortgage rules: What you should know

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If you’re a new homebuyer seeking a mortgage, or an existing homeowner looking to switch or refinance, it’s important that you’re up-to-date on the new mortgage rules in Canada. Here are some of the top things you should keep in mind if you’re looking for a new home. 

The Canadian Mortgage Stress test in 2021

The stress test was introduced on January 1, 2018, as a way to protect Canadian homeowners by requiring banks to check that a borrower can still make their payment at a rate that’s higher than they will actually pay.  The purpose of the stress test is to evaluate if a borrower (a.k.a. the potential homeowner) can handle a possible increase in their mortgage rate.

For Canadians to qualify for a federally regulated bank loan, they need to pass the stress test. To do this, homebuyers need to prove that they can afford a mortgage at a qualifying rate. For homebuyers who have a down payment of 20% or more, currently the qualifying rate is determined using the Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark or the interest rate offered by the lender plus 2%, whichever is higher. For homebuyers who have a down payment of less than 20%, the qualifying rate is the higher of the Bank of Canada five-year benchmark rate and the interest rate offered by the lender.

This stress test is also performed with homeowners looking to refinance, take out a secured line of credit, or change mortgage lenders. Those who renew with the same lender will not have to undergo the stress test.

Other new mortgage rules in Canada

As of July 2020, a number of changes were implemented for all high-ratio mortgages to be insured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

A high-ratio mortgage is one where the borrower has a minimum down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home. A high-ratio mortgage is also referred to as a default insured mortgage. Let’s break down what recent changes have been made.

Qualification rate

The new CMHC rules will lower the amount of debt that borrowers with a default insured mortgage can carry. Mortgage applicants will be limited to spending a maximum of 35% of their gross income on housing and can only borrow up to 42% of their gross income once other loans are included. This is down from the previous 39% and 44%.

Credit score

The new rules also require the borrower to have a minimum credit score of 680 (good score). If you are purchasing a home with your partner, one of you must have a score of 680. This is up from the previous minimum score of 600 (fair score).

Down payment

Homebuyers are now required to use their own money for a down payment instead of borrowed funds. This means homebuyers are no longer able to use unsecured personal loans, unsecured lines of credit or credit cards to fund their down payment.

Homebuyers with a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price are required to purchase mortgage default insurance. Properties costing $1 million or more are not eligible for mortgage default insurance.

CMHC and CREA projections

Due to the pandemic, job loss, business closures, and a drop in immigration, CMHC predicted a 9% to 18% decrease in housing prices from June 2020 to June 2021.* However, this prediction hasn’t come to fruition.

Instead, 2020 ended up being a record year for Canadian resale housing activity, according to Costa Poulopoulos, the Chair of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).**

The CREA predicts that all provinces except Ontario will see an increase in sales activity into 2021 as a result of low-interest rates and an improving economy. As for the CMHC, they stand by their original prediction.

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