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Economic cost of Canadian oil price discounts counted in billions of dollars

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Imagine producing a bumper crop of a product in high demand around the globe, only to learn you must settle for a discounted price because there’s no easy way to get your product to market.

Canadian grain farmers experienced that situation in 2013 and again last winter when their harvest outstripped the transport capacity of Canada’s rail companies. Western Canada’s oil companies are now in the same boat thanks to production gains that have not been matched by export pipeline capacity gains.

Like those farmers, oil producers have filled storage to bursting while they wait for a solution to appear. The price discounts or “differentials” that had mainly affected heavy oil have spread to light oil and upgraded synthetic oilsands crude as pipeline space tightens.

Estimates on the cost to the economy vary wildly, but the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers officially estimates the impact as at least C$13 billion in the first 10 months of 2018.

$50 million cost per day

It estimates the cost at about $50 million Cdn per day in October as discounts for Western Canadian Select bitumen-blend crude oil versus New York-traded West Texas Intermediate peaked at more than $52 US per barrel.

“The differential has blown out to such an extreme level for two reasons, the lack of access to markets and the fact we really have only one customer (the United States),” said Tim McMillan, CEO of CAPP.

Getting an exact number on how much discounts are costing Canada is all but impossible thanks to ingrained sector secrecy about transportation and marketing, he said, adding it’s entirely possible the real costs could be as high as $100 billion per year.

We’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars that’s going to subsidize drivers in the United States.-Tim  McMillan , CEO of  CAPP

Producers’ exposure to WCS prices differ depending on what kind of oil they produce, where they sell it and how they transport it.

Calgary-based Imperial Oil Ltd., for instance, says about one-quarter of its output of 300,000 barrels of bitumen per day is influenced by WCS pricing — the rest is used in its Canadian refineries or shipped by pipe or rail to the U.S. Gulf Coast where it gets close to WTI prices.

The company announced last week it will build a 75,000-bpd oilsands project, going on faith that pipelines will be in place for when production begins in about four years (a prospect that took a hit Thursday when a U.S. judge put TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline on hold until more environmental study is done).

Meanwhile, it is ramping up rail shipments from its co-owned Edmonton terminal as fast as it can.

Other oilsands producers including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Cenovus Energy Inc. are cutting production to avoid selling at current prices.

The industry’s problems receive little sympathy from environmentalists like Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

“The root of the problem is that companies kept expanding production even when they knew there was no new transport,” he said.

But McMillan pointed out it takes years to plan, win regulatory approval and build projects.

For example, producers would have had no way of knowing ahead of time that the 525,000-barrel-per-day Northern Gateway pipeline project approved in 2014 by a Conservative government would then be rejected by a Liberal government in 2016, he said.

“If Northern Gateway had come on as planned, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” said McMillan.

In a report last February, Scotiabank analysts estimated the differential would shave $15.6 billion Cdn in revenue annually, with a quick ramp up in crude-by-rail expected to shrink the hit to $10.8 billion Cdn by the fall.

At that time, discounts had widened to about $30 US per barrel from an average of around $13 US in the previous two years.

A depot used to store pipes for the planned Keystone XL pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota, in 2017. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)

Crude-by-rail shipments increased to a record 230,000 bpd in August but haven’t reduced the differential.

According to Calgary-based Net Energy, the WCS-WTI differential averaged $45.48 US per barrel in October and has averaged $43.75 US so far in November.

In an analysis last March, Kent Fellows, research associate at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, estimated the differential would translate into a $13-billion economic loss if it persisted for a year — $7.2 billion to the Alberta government, $5.3 billion to industry and $800 million to the federal government.

The differential has gotten much worse, he said in an interview this week, which means the lost opportunity is proportionately worse.

Higher differentials hit provincial governments in the form of lower-than-expected royalties — their cut of every barrel produced from land where mineral rights are Crown owned — while the federal government will see lower corporate income taxes, Fellows said.

“If this keeps up and we start to see either a lack of growth or more shutting in some of this production … you’re losing jobs and even personal income tax as well,” he said.

The Alberta government estimates that every annual average $1 increase in the WCS-WTI differential above $22.40 US per barrel costs its treasury $210 million Cdn.

In Saskatchewan, Western Canada’s other major oil-producing province, each $1 change in the differential is equivalent to about $15 million in revenue, based on an assumed WTI price of $58 US per barrel, the government says.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said in an interview that if current discounts continued for a year, the Saskatchewan industry’s lost revenue would be about $7.4 billion Cdn.

Part of the reason WCS discounts were wider in October is that WTI, which opened the year at $60.37 US per barrel, jumped to more than $76 US. Producers exposed to WCS didn’t get the benefit of the higher U.S. oil prices.

McMillan said the differentials are being noticed by potential energy investors — CAPP expects capital investment of $42 billion in the Canadian oilpatch in 2018, down from $81 billion in 2014.

“We’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars that’s going to subsidize drivers in the United States.”

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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