April 28, 2008

An article in VoxEU draws attention to Chapter 3 of the IMF April 2008 World Economic Outlook, specifically Chapter 3, The Changing Housing Cycle and the Implications for Monetary Policy:

The main conclusion of this analysis is that changes in housing finance systems have affected the role played by the housing sector in the business cycle in two different ways. First, the increased use of homes as collateral has amplified the impact of housing sector activity on the rest of the economy by strengthening the positive effect of rising house prices on consumption via increased household borrowing—the “financial accelerator” effect. Second, monetary policy is now transmitted more through the price of homes than through residential investment. In particular, the evidence suggests that more flexible and competitive mortgage markets have amplified the impact of monetary policy on house prices and thus, ultimately, on consumer spending and output. Furthermore, easy monetary policy seems to have contributed to the recent run-up in house prices and residential investment in the United States, although its effect was probably magnified by the loosening of lending standards and by excessive risk-taking by lenders.

In other words, a well developed mortgage market has had the effect of increasing the liquidity of real-estate, and this effect must be explicitly considered when setting monetary policy.

I have to quibble with their table 3.1, which states that the average term of a Canadian mortgage is 25 years; it may be the average amortization, but the average term will be a lot closer to 5 years … perhaps much less, depending on the call provisions embedded in floating rate mortgages. Those who have endured my grumbling over the financing of long-term assets with short-term debt will note that financing houses with 5-year mortgages is a good example!

Box 3.1 is interesting, indicating (from IMF analysis) that while the US housing market appeared to get about 15% ahead of its fundamentals in the period 1997-2007, the crown is held by Ireland, with a 30+% pricing gap! Canada was negative – so those of us who are “property rich” can breathe a sigh of relief directly proportional to our trust in IMF analysis.

And, skipping along to the practical conclusions:

This chapter also examines the implications for monetary policy of changes in mortgage markets. First, it suggests that monetary policymakers may need to respond more aggressively to housing demand shocks in economies with more developed mortgage markets—that is, with higher LTV ratios and thus, presumably, higher stocks of mortgage debt. They may also need to respond more aggressively to financial shocks that affect the amount of credit available for any given level of house prices. Hence, the model would “predict” a more aggressive reduction of interest rates in the United States compared with the euro area in the face of recent turmoil in the credit markets—and this is in line with what has occurred so far.

Today’s fascinating fact is brought to you by Professors Kish & Robak in a paper published in September 2000:

Attaching a call feature to new debt for any reason was the norm for most of the twentieth century. For example, the majority of new bonds issued prior to 1986 contain a call provision. But over the past ten years, we observe that the number of call options on new debt is now a minority component. The intent of this study is to reproduce the work of Kish and Livingston (1992) for the period 1987-1996. The major structural change that occurred in the debt market warrants the reproduction of this study for the recent decade. For the 1977-1986 period, the ratio of callable to non-callable bonds is approximately 4:1, whereas the ratio during the 1987-1996 period approximates 0.5:1.

Thirty-year treasuries used to be callable after 25-years. One possibility that the authors did not examine was the possibility that embedded options may have simply been unbundled and are sold to the corporation as part of the underwriting package – which would certainly achieve the same sort of interest-rate protection to the company (albeit without the capital-structure flexibility) while giving the dealers some more chance to turn over their inventory. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.

Main Man Flaherty was self-promoting again today:

Flaherty said the Canadian banks will establish and adopt leading practices for disclosure within 100 days, and expects the Bank of Canada to play a leadership role in some areas.

The minister said he plans to meet with the banks again “before the summer” to review the progress.

Sadly, there was no word regarding whether the seniority of Bankers’ Acceptances would ever be properly disclosed.

In what may well be related news, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn said:

said he’s “pessimistic” on the outlook for financial markets and predicted losses from the global credit turmoil may climb to $1 trillion.

“It does seem to be a major adjustment on any level,” Wolfensohn said, after addressing the European Pensions and Savings Summit 2008. “There may be a $1,000 billion worth of losses in it somewhere.” He said he “cannot recall anything similar, certainly in the last 30 to 40 years that I’ve worked.”

The International Monetary Fund predicts that losses from the crisis, including those tied to commercial real-estate, may total $945 billion and says global economic expansion may be the slowest since 2003 this year. Wolfensohn said the fund’s loss forecast of about $1 trillion is now a “consensus estimate.”

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m taking serious issue with any scary kind of number anybody wants to throw around. I don’t have easy access to the source data and I wouldn’t have time to look at them carefully even if I did. But we’re seeing in Canada that Flaherty is using the credit crisis in general and ABCP in particular to promote a federal securities regulator. And there are problems with the consistency of calculations in the IMF report. It seems to me that if I was a typical bureaucrat and I thought that scaring people to death would advance my own regulatory agenda, I’d ensure that my estimates erred on the generous side … that’s an old trick.

You can’t trust anybody.

Volume was lightish today, but enlivened by some activity in SplitShares … some managers, perhaps, adjusting positions after Friday’s downgrades? Market direction was mixed with a downward bias … we’re not far off the trough, you know! Total return on CPD (as an indicator) hasn’t been much more than zero since the mark was set in November – so things could prove interesting.

Note that these indices are experimental; the absolute and relative daily values are expected to change in the final version. In this version, index values are based at 1,000.0 on 2006-6-30
Index Mean Current Yield (at bid) Mean YTW Mean Average Trading Value Mean Mod Dur (YTW) Issues Day’s Perf. Index Value
Ratchet 5.01% 5.04% 32,971 15.5 2 +0.1587% 1,094.1
Fixed-Floater 4.75% 5.05% 61,875 15.38 8 +0.1000% 1,052.3
Floater 4.47% 4.51% 61,378 16.40 2 -0.0518% 844.3
Op. Retract 4.85% 3.70% 87,730 3.43 15 -0.0774% 1,049.1
Split-Share 5.33% 5.79% 87,373 4.07 14 +0.0934% 1,040.9
Interest Bearing 6.16% 6.13% 61,313 3.85 3 -0.0669% 1,100.0
Perpetual-Premium 5.89% 5.55% 176,463 5.83 7 +0.1351% 1,022.0
Perpetual-Discount 5.71% 5.75% 300,651 14.07 64 -0.1154% 914.7
Major Price Changes
Issue Index Change Notes
SLF.PR.C PerpetualDiscount -1.5500% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.72% based on a bid of 19.69 and a limitMaturity.
SLF.PR.A PerpetualDiscount -1.2675% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.49% based on a bid of 21.81 and a limitMaturity.
MFC.PR.B PerpetualDiscount -1.0014% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.40% based on a bid of 21.75 and a limitMaturity.
FTU.PR.A SplitShares (for now!) +1.1401% Asset coverage of 1.4+:1 as of April 14, according to the company. Recenty downgraded to Pfd-3 by DBRS and will be removed from the index at the April month-end rebalancing. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 7.48% based on a bid of 9.16 and a hardMaturity 2012-12-1 at 10.00.
Volume Highlights
Issue Index Volume Notes
BNA.PR.C SplitShare 67,565 Asset coverage of just under 2.7:1 as of March 31, according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.84% based on a bid of 20.56 and a hardMaturity 2019-1-10. Compare with BNA.PR.A (6.51% TO 2010-9-30) and BNA.PR.B (8.22% to 2016-3-25).
PIC.PR.A SplitShare (for now!) 106,702 Asset coverage of 1.4+:1 as of April 17 according to the company. Recently downgraded to Pfd-3(high) by DBRS, will be removed from the SplitShare index at the April rebalancing. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.04% based on a bid of 14.91 and a hardMaturity 2010-11-1 at 15.00.
BMO.PR.J PerpetualDiscount 60,005 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.69% based on a bid of 20.15 and a limitMaturity.
SLF.PR.B PerpetualDiscount 51,763 CIBC crossed 50,000 at 22.10. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.50% based on a bid of 22.05 and a limitMaturity.
NA.PR.K PerpetualDiscount 28,100 CIBC crossed 25,000 at 24.80. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.93% based on a bid of 24.72 and a limitMaturity.

There were eleven other index-included $25-pv-equivalent issues trading over 10,000 shares today.

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