Canada real estate: mortgage borrowing reaches record high of $108 billion in 2020

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      Canadians borrowed a lot of dough last year.

      They used the money to buy a home or to renew or refinance their mortgages.

      All in all, Canadian households added $108 billion in mortgage debt by November 2020.

      According to a new study, this is the highest level of borrowing in the last few years.

      In 2019, it was just two-thirds or around $72 billion.

      In 2018, it was $46 billion.

      The study by Statistics Canada noted that low interest rates and demand for housing drove borrowings last year.

      Michael Daoust, Matthew Hoffarth, and Thomas Haines authored ‘Trends in the Canadian mortgage market: Before and during COVID-19’, which was released Wednesday (February 17).

      The authors also noted a “strong growth in disposable income” last year.

      This was “fuelled by assistance from all levels of government to help diminish the economic impact of COVID-19”.

      Disposable incomes rose 12.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in the second quarter of 2020 from the fourth quarter of 2019.

      Meanwhile, government transfers rose 103.4 percent over the same period.

      “If mortgage borrowing remains robust and income decreases back to pre-pandemic levels, then households may find themselves with record levels of mortgage debt relative to their current disposable income in subsequent quarters,” the study noted.

      As a side note, the paper observed that while mortgage borrowing rose, other household debt fell in 2020.

      “Non-mortgage loans, which are funds used primarily for consumption, were impacted significantly by the various social-distancing measures that were implemented,” the paper stated.

      As “household consumption declined by a record amount”, families shed almost $8 billion from non-mortgage debt since December 2019.

      By and large, Canadians are good borrowers.

      The study noted that financial institutions estimate the proportion of their loan portfolios that may enter default.

      These are called expected credit losses or ECL.

      “Despite the increasing ECL through 2020, the risks in the mortgage market were seen as very minor, with total ECL on mortgage loans as a proportion of total household mortgage debt reaching only 0.1% in the third quarter of 2020,” the paper stated.