Stephen Harper is playing a dangerous game by declaring war on the Vancouver housing sector
The latestnumbers from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver could have far-reaching political implications.
The REGVB has reported that July sales were the lowest in this month since 2000.
May and June sales volumes were also at decade lows. And if this continues, it will create a great deal of pain for real-estate agents and developers, who make their living by closing deals.
Lenders also expect to be repaid for financing projects, but it's hard to collect if the borrowers aren't generating sufficient revenue.
And that's where the politics comes into play.
The Conservative government has repeatedly reduced the mortgage-amortization period, dropping it from 40 years to 35 years to 30 years, and finally, to 25 years.
Many potential first-time buyers, in particular, have trouble affording a home in Greater Vancouver when they have to repay their loans within 25 years.
Senior bankers have been cheering on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, supposedly because they are worried about a housing bubble.
The reality is that because banks also own investment dealers, their CEOs would prefer to see more Canadian money flowing into the equity markets rather than into real estate.
That's because the investment side of the financial-services business generates fatter profits—most of the time—than boring retail banking and those unglamourous mortgages.
In addition, chartered banks are not competing with credit unions to nearly the same degree on the investment side in comparison to the mortgage market.
So by shortening the amortization period to 25 years, Flaherty is, in effect, shifting financial resources away from real estate and into paper assets.
If the housing slowdown continues, don't be surprised if we start hearing about financial troubles in the credit-union sector.
That's not Flaherty's concern because credit unions are regulated by the provinces.
So any bailouts would come from provincial taxpayers and provincial credit union deposit insurance corporations.
Is a Zambian-born economist the cause?
I wouldn't be surprised if Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a trained economist, has been influenced by a Zambian-born economist in crafting mortgage-amortization policies that may kill the Vancouver housing market and create significant hardship.
In 2011, former Goldman Sachs investment banker Dambisa Moyo wrote a book called How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly—and the Stark Choices Ahead.
In this book, Moyo zeroed in on how too much investment capital in the western industrialized world has been allocated to real estate, undermining economic competitiveness and enabling China to race forward.
"If you're going to have a bubble, the 'best' type of bubble is a productive asset bubble financed by capital markets," she wrote. "The technology boom of 1995 to 2000 is an example of that."
She claimed that the worst kind of bubble are in unproductive assets that are financed by banks.
"Japan's real estate bubble between 1986 and 1990 is one such example," Moyo noted.
Her previous book, Dead Aid, called for an end to foreign aid in Africa. Since it was published, the Harper government has sharply reduced assistance to the continent.
Similarly, Moyo's analysis of housing markets in the west could easily have influenced Harper to put the brakes on mortgage lending in Canada.
There's a disproportionately negative effect in Vancouver because this city has had the highest housing prices in the country.
Moyo has received a fair amount of attention in Canada, appearing on CBC and speaking in different venues. She was even invited to the Bon Mot Book Club in Vancouver, which was created by Leah Costello, a former director of events at the Fraser Institute.
Fans of the Fraser Institute tend to love Moyo's free-market view of the world. She has even claimed that the U.S. is on the verge of socialism.
The political implications of Harper embracing her ideas are pretty clear. People who work in the real-estate sector are some of the Conservative party's strongest supporters.
At the same time, the Conservatives appear to be implementing the ideas of an economist who opposes investments in the housing market.
If the federal Liberals are paying attention, they'll wake up to this and try to peel away some of the Conservative base. What that will mean to Harper's political future is anyone's guess—but it's probably not good if the next election comes after housing markets have crashed in cities across the country.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.