Monday, June 30, 2008

Frog and Scorpion

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" - Upton Sinclair

And yet, people expect realtors to give a ‘fair’, ‘balanced’ or unbiased perspective on the current market situation. It just can’t happen. It’s not unlike the old fable of Frog and Scorpion. No matter what the ‘realtor’ says, his or her motive is only one- to make the sale. And you can’t blame them. To not sell would mean to go out and look for another calling. So beware of the advice you get from those whose only interest is to sell more houses for commission.

On the market front, things are going almost as per the expectations. Demand and supply effect is now showing up in the statistical metrics for prices. Prices have resumed their fall once again, at least in Calgary and in Edmonton condos. Even though almost anyone on street could attest that prices through out 2008 have been lower than in last few months of 2007.

After all, what would you expect with inventory close to all time highs, anemic sales volumes, rising inflation and banks about to unleash a wave of interest rate hikes?

For those who are planning to buy, there's just one advice- WAIT. Renting is still a lot cheaper than buying and prices are expected to decline to get them in line with the historical trends. Read through the posts and comments on this blog and other places as well to make a well informed decision. Remember, mainstream media will mostly rehash the press releases of the realtors without an iota of original research or analysis.

My apologies for the less than frequent posting, but I’ve been busy with a new project and taking time off to enjoy the weather.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Inflationary Scenario

Quite a lot has happened in macro economic world since I wrote the ‘deflationary scenario’. While there are still quite a number of deflationary proponents holding there ground, the mainstream economists and pretty much all the central banks are getting perturbed over rising commodity prices. And for once, their words have some meaning as demonstrated by Bank of Canada holding interest rates steady, increasing the probability of rate increases in future. Just a couple of months ago such a scenario would have been unthinkable amidst all the talk of the global credit crunch.

Clearly, Central bankers in Canada, UK and the US are afraid of 1930s style deflation, but they are also not comfortable with the 1970s style stagflation. I guess they are stuck at a Morton’s fork point- raising rates will further worsen the housing market and create problems but keeping status quo will further raise prices making things much worse for them.

The implications will not be salubrious for the health of Alberta and Canadian real estate. Inventory is at highest levels ever seen, sales at levels close to the lowest levels for this time of the year. Meanwhile, new product is still coming to the market at a pace far faster than markets can absorb. Meanwhile, the nouveau landlords are learning some painful lessons on the 'joys of becoming a landlord.'

One of the scenarios that was often discussed on this blog was a disruption in the oil sands development in Alberta (environmental issues, commodity bubble bust etc) leading to a significant deterioration in the Alberta real estate market. The inflationary scenario, if it bears fruition, will lead to a direct impact on the real estate market. It could make properties that are ‘barely breaking even’, bleed cash profusely. As interest rates go up, a lot of speculators and double property holders who are somehow holding on to their properties in anticipation of a rebound of prices to Spring 2007 levels will likely capitulate.

Rising interest rates could expedite the widespread decline that has been so far avoided.

How likely do you think is a rise in interest rates?

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