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No matter the politics, Trump’s wall could provide jobs, stimulus if recession strikes: Don Pittis

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If a U.S. recession is around the corner, the construction of President’s Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border could be an economic godsend.

Last week, the world’s most powerful central banker, U.S. Fed Chair Jerome Powell, assured us that economic growth would continue in 2019. Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has been similarly optimistic.

But the forecasts after that are more cloudy.

The International Monetary Fund has already warned that the world is unprepared for the next slowdown, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recommended countries dust off plans for fiscal spending when recession hits.

Self-inflicted illness?

It may be that for Trump, if such a slowdown comes, it will be an example of economic Munchausen syndrome — a self-inflicted condition caused by his “easy to win” trade war with China and others.

But whatever the cause, fighting recession with big infrastructure spending projects has a long tradition around the world. 

The creation of the Promenade des Anglais, in the French Mediterranean city of Nice in the 1800s, was an early example, when wealthy English residents contributed to build a shoreline walkway to provide jobs for the unemployed and to get beggars off the street.

In the Dirty ’30s, governments organized similar make-work projects, including the deepening of Regina’s Wascana Lake, using shovels, wheelbarrows and more than 2,000 labourers.

An early plan by English architect Thomas Mawson for a giant park in the centre of Regina at Wascana Lake. In the 1930s, the lake was deepened and reshaped using shovels as a make-work project. (Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists)

More recent projects have been much bigger. Before the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the Hong Kong government launched a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project to build a new airport, port and road connections, to boost the economy despite uncertainty during the transfer of power.

And according to Canadian research, such spending really works. In the construction phase alone, infrastructure projects multiply the value of the taxpayer money — ​or government borrowing — that’s spent.

“Spent money on infrastructure generates, in addition to economic benefits like short-term employment and things of that kind in construction, … positive net flow to the government,” said Michael Fenn, a visiting fellow at Western University’s Ivey School of Business and former head of Ontario transport agency Metrolinx, who has been described as an “infrastructure guru.”

“The fiscal dividend for infrastructure is something like $1.60 for every dollar spent,” said Fenn.

That doesn’t include such advantages as preventing the dispersion of workers or keeping their skills fresh during a recession. And it doesn’t include the future stream of benefits to society from the project after it’s completed.

Fiscal dividend of the wall

Even at $1.60 to $1, it’s still not clear how much stimulus constructing a wall would add to the U.S. economy — partly because the amount to be spent remains confusingly disputed.

Trump’s request of $5.7 billion means it wouldn’t make much of a difference to the gigantic U.S. economy during a recession. But then neither would it make much of a wall.

Research by the Brookings Institute puts the figure as high as $70 billion, which really would create plenty of make-work jobs.

Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma suspension bridge is shown under construction before the 1997 handover of the Crown colony to China. It’s an example of stimulus with a large, long-term return. (Reuters)

There are at least two problems with the wall as a make-work project. One is that if the project really did start soon, before recession hit, there might not be enough workers to build it. (The irony of importing labourers from South and Central America to do the job would be too much.)

With U.S. unemployment at the lowest it has been in nearly 50 years, building a wall now could very well drive up inflation, giving the Fed one more reason to raise interest rates.

The other issue to be considered is long-term value creation, which studies consistently show can be the biggest payback for infrastructure spending. On well-chosen projects, it dwarfs the immediate $1.60 to $1 ratio of the original stimulus.

Money well-spent?

Sometimes the stimulus itself is well worth the money spent. The long-term benefit — as in the esthetic advantage of the Promenade des Anglais or Wascana Lake — may be hard to measure. 

Jackie Schmidt, president of Heritage Regina, says the beautification of the enormous artificial lake in that Prairie city was worth the money. “I think the product was worth it, no matter how you paid for it.”

But it’s not clear if anyone would spend the money the same way now.

The economic payback of Hong Kong’s giant construction project was easier to measure, maintaining the former British colony’s place as a transport hub, even while mainland infrastructure grew up in competition.

The long term value of a wall?

Trump’s belief that it would be a barrier to drugs or terrorism has been widely discredited. There might be a certain economic advantage in making Trump supporters feel more secure — though that is hard to measure.

And should the existence of a wall prove to be a deterrent to would-be border crossers, the humanitarian benefit of reducing the number people who die in the desert would certainly have value.

Building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would create jobs, but it might not add as much value as other would-be infrastructure projects. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

But even in a recession, the value of a make-work project must be assessed in many ways.

“The first question you would ask is, ‘Is this the best way to address the issue?'” said Fenn. The second critical question, he says, is among all possible projects, does this one provide best value for money?

“In Canada, a project like the wall would compete with a whole lot of other things in health care, education, transportation and telecommunications to see where the money was best spent.”

Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, says his members profit from construction spending — whether it is wise or not.

For the best projects, the value of doing such things as removing transportation bottlenecks or preventing costly flooding can be easily shown to pay their costs back many times over in increased business activity or reduced future expenses.

“On the other side of the coin, if you do short-term political thinking,” he said, “then you may be spending on projects that have a negative return, which you don’t want.” 

Based on his long experience in the industry, Manahan said he suspects that Trump’s wall is of the second variety.

“My personal opinion is that it’s a waste of money and time.”


Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

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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Real Estate

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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