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On Wednesday the central bank will raise its key rate. The third time in ten months. Three more to come by late Spring or early summer. Tomorrow (Monday) mortgage brokers expect to see one or more major banks jump the gun and add a quarter point or so to their five-year home loan rates.

Mr. Market says a Bank of Canada trigger-pull is 100% certain. So, if is doesn’t happen, the dollar will crush. But, fear not. It’s a done deal, despite soft inflation stats out last week.

Here’s the latest scorecard of Overnight Index Swaps, indicating universal confidence about what happens Wednesday morning at 10 am ET.


An hour later Governor Poloz and his minions will hold a media conference and give a little taste of what lies ahead. According to Scotiabnk’s Derek Holt, it will be hawkish. While The Ploz will not actually tell you the date of the next increase, he will say stuff like, “higher interest rates will be warranted to achieve the inflation target”, and refer to the bullish sentiment CEOs expressed in the bank’s latest Business Outlook Survey. Also expect happy words about the USMCA, the son of NAFTA, since trade worries kept rates lower than in the States.

The quarter point will cause the Big Six to raise prime to 3.95%, instantly increasing the cost of all lines of credit and HELOCs. The B-20 stress test rate, currently at 5.34%, will shortly thereafter jump to about the 6% mark, marking an almost 300% increase in the qualifying rate for a mortgage over just 18 months. Wow.

But it’s working, of course. Transactions in most markets have withered. The autumn selling season turned non-existent. At least eight in ten realtors in major markets have had two, one or zero deals this year. Credit is being restricted and a fifth of buyers can’t act as a result. Meanwhile the stress test is trapping renewers. In order to move to another lender for a lower rate they must pass the stress test. According to veteran broker Rob McLister, about one in ten cannot.

Meanwhile the bond market has hung onto most of that yield gorge. The GoC 5-year debt, which is a benchmark indicator of fixed mortgage rates, still sits near the 2.5% mark, which is 25% more than it was in July. Interest rates – long-term (bonds) and short-term (central bank rate) – are moving up and expected to stay elevated. Like, forever. Or until a recession hits after Trump is defeated in 2020 and The Troubles begin. But we’ll deal with that in a subsequent post…


Now, we have a bigger problem. Politics. Tomorrow the GTA elects a new mayor. This weekend Vancouver did the same. And he’s a doozy.

Kennedy Stewart squeaked in as the boss of YVR, coming up through a crowded field in an election that was all about one thing. You know what it is. He’s a former university prof, Dipper MP, buddies with Comrade Premier Hogan, and continues the serious tilt left in BC politics. The big planks of his housing platform are (a) triple the tax on people with second houses (called Vancouver’s ‘empty home tax’), (b) double the density in all those leafy Van hoods where people paid a premium to have single-family homes, (c) build a whack of ‘affordable’ housing units with financing yet to be determined and (d) establish the office of a rent czar to stand up to the ‘rentier class’ (landlords) that lefty Mills so hate.

So, yes, it’s an anti-wealth agenda. More political intervention into the marketplace. Instead of allowing tighter mortgage regs, buyer fatigue, rising interest rates, unsustainable pricing and fatal levels of family debt to correct the market, this guy will join Horgan in trying to crush it. Combined with the new BC speculation tax, which is another assault on the wealthy using real estate as the weapon, the future seems entrenched. Buy in this market at your peril.

And in Toronto, it’s boring but stable John Tory against another interventionist, Jennifer Keesmaat. She’s a former city planner trying to ride a wave of renter support by promising to build 100,000 affordable units over the next decade – which is 100 times more than Tory has done annually over the last four. Unrealistic does not begin to describe it. Keesmaat would finance all this with a special uber-tax on high-end homeowners, Hoovering $80 million a year from about 3,000 families. Yes, that’s a new $26,000 annual tax, on top of property tax and income tax.

The latest poll has Tory at 62% support and Keesmaat at 27% – but that comes from the Toronto Sun, so be careful.

In any case, the animal spirits have been cut loose. The same people whose speculation and house lust created a debt-fueled gasbag of excess now want socialists to fix it. We’re a strange bunch.

Fake-ish news

DOUG By Guest Blogger Doug Rowat

Unlike Donald Trump, I would never accuse the mainstream media of lying. They’re basically an honest bunch. However, they’re certainly selective regarding which stories they highlight. So, let’s call them honest but misleading.

The main reason for this, of course, is because fear sells. A story with modest journalistic merit but lots of anxiety-generation potential will always feature prominently. If you can frighten someone, you’ve likely picked up a reader or viewer of your content. But fear, though provocative, is not useful for investors. Fear misleads.

With this in mind, let’s also look at Bayes’s Theorem. Thomas Bayes was an 18th century English statistician, philosopher and minister most famous for his examination of the probability of certain events, specifically changes in probability when new information is introduced. Farnam Street sums up Bayes’s Theorem this way:

Knowing the exact math of probability calculations is not the key to understanding Bayesian thinking. More critical is your ability and desire to assign probabilities of truth and accuracy to anything you think you know, and then being willing to update those probabilities when new information comes in.

As a simple example, if the outcome of a dice roll is unknown, your odds of correctly guessing the right number are about 17%. However, if your friend takes a peek first and tells you that it’s an even number then your odds of correctly guessing shoot up to about 33%. However, you happen to be playing this dice game at a Yale kegger and your friend is Brett, a heavy beer drinker and all-round unreliable guy. This information should now be factored into your guess. It might be best to assume that your odds have dropped back to 17%.

News stories are like dice rolls. You might feel certain that you can guess their accuracy, but if you don’t account for the ‘fear factor’, you’ll make incorrect conclusions. Staying unemotional and assigning probabilities to the predictions made in such stories is critical. The media are like your drunken buddy Brett—loud and attention grabbing, but, in the end, probably leading you astray.

A good example of this can be illustrated by plotting news-story keywords against market direction. Looking at instances of the word ‘recession’, for instance, is revealing. Mentions of the word peaked at almost the exact financial-crisis bottom. Now, obviously, we don’t know the exact context of each of these news stories, but it’s a safe bet that in 2009, with a primed and shell-shocked investor audience, the media wasn’t publishing stories with rosy economic forecasts. More likely the content had a doom-and-gloom slant. Remember, fear sells. So, as it probably turned out, when the media was pumping out the highest volume of frightening stories about the economy, the best buying opportunity in a generation was indicated.

Bloomberg news stories mentioning ‘recession’ (white line) vs the S&P 500 (orange line)

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Source: Bloomberg

And here’s another illustrative chart indicating the overall uselessness of scary predictions:

Keep this chart in mind when the negative forecasts start appearing following last week’s sell-off… (click to enlarge)

Source: Tradenavigator.com

So, employ Bayes’ Theorem when you hear terrifying market predictions or read alarming financial news stories. Don’t allow them to result in emotional investment decisions. Consider, for instance, if the experts quoted are always bearish. In other words, apply a probability of truth.

It’s best to keep a sober outlook with your hard-earned investments. Let Brett chug the beer.

Doug Rowat, FCSI® is Portfolio Manager with Turner Investments and Senior Vice President, Private Client Group, Raymond James Ltd.