Back in 2008, Canada weathered the storm while the U.S. financial system got crushed underneath a collapsing housing market. Due to stronger banks, fewer subprime mortgages, and a healthier economy overall, the housing market in Canada stayed standing. Back then, talking of shorting Canada’s housing market made no sense.
Housing has continued to perform strongly. Canada’s New Housing Price Index—which takes 2007 as its baseline—increased from 108.4 in 2012 to 117.8 in 2016. Don’t expect that to continue, however.
Canada’s Housing Market is Going Down. Yell Timber.
July 2017 proved a point that analysts have been making for some time: Canada’s housing market is about to take a dive. Home sales fell by 2.1% from June to July. The average sale price also fell in July, by .3% year-on-year.
Take Greater Vancouver as an example. One of Canada’s most desirable metro areas, the average resale price was $1.04 million in January 2016. By January of this year, it had fallen by 19%. Vancouver’s bubble is already bursting.
In Toronto, the process is taking longer. This April, the average price of a detached home in downtown Toronto reached $1.2 million. That’s a year-on-year increase of 33%, not sustainable even in the best of times.
And this isn’t just about boom and bust cycles. Housing is generally a weaker investment than many people believe. Yes, a home is a physical store of value. But if it’s not maintained by the owner, it will wear out. Housing market expert Robert Shiller wrote about it back in 2013:
“Here is a harsh truth about homeownership: Over the long haul, it’s hard for homes to compete with the stock market in real appreciation. That’s because companies whose shares are traded on a stock exchange retain a good share of their earnings to plow back into the business.”
Most homeowners don’t invest in their homes in the same way, which is one reason housing bubbles eventually pop. The key is to position yourself so that when that bubble bursts, you can survive and, better yet, thrive.
How to Bet Against Canada’s Housing Market
There are two simple ways to make a buck by betting short. Firstly, by shorting bank stocks. You can identify the banks most exposed to housing and short their stocks. Here are some examples: Royal Bank of Canada (RY), The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), and the Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS).
Shorting stocks is risky, however. The Toronto-Dominion Bank’s value has held steady even as the housing market in Canada has cooled, increasing by about 10% over the last three months. Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia gained value over the same period, too.
What’s the deal? Investors might not be ready to write off Canada’s housing market just yet.
There’s another reason. Subprime mortgages are much less prevalent in Canada than they were in the U.S. during the run-up to the financial crisis. That means when house prices fall hard, banks will get hit, but we’re not in for a Lehman Brothers-like total collapse.
There might be a better way to short Canadian housing: The Canadian dollar. The “loonie” is currently trading at just under 80 American cents, having gained more than 5 cents in the last three months.
A housing market crash would likely cause the Canadian dollar to lose value, as the Reserve Bank of Canada would need to slash interest rates to stimulate the economy. Investors who bet on the Canadian dollar to lose could be set up for a big payday.
Betting against a currency means buying a forward currency contract—an agreement that you will sell one currency for another at a fixed exchange rate at some point in the future.
For example, you sign an agreement to sell 1 Canadian dollar for 80 American cents later this year. Between now and then, let’s say Canada’s housing market crashes and the Canadian dollar loses value. According to the contract, your partner still has to pay you 80 American cents, even though your loonie is now worth less than before.
That’s one simple way to make money shorting Canada’s housing market.