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Economists are still expecting five-year fixed mortgage rates to creep up, they just don’t know exactly when. (Christopher O Driscoll/iStockphoto)
Economists are still expecting five-year fixed mortgage rates to creep up, they just don’t know exactly when. (Christopher O Driscoll/iStockphoto)

Five-year mortgages holding firm, but just wait Add to ...

The Globe’s Real Estate Beat offers news and analysis on the Canadian housing market from real estate reporter Tara Perkins. Read more on The Globe’s housing page and follow Tara on Twitter @TaraPerkins.

Rewind seven months and economists were predicting that five-year fixed mortgage rates would creep up a bit this year. But they've done nothing but fall so far. So what happened?

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Five-year fixed mortgage rates tend to roughly track the yields on five-year government of Canada bonds, because those influence the cost of the funds that the banks obtain to lend out. Yields on five-year government of Canada bonds have fallen. They ended last year at 1.95 per cent, and this week were below 1.50 per cent.

“If you went back to the start of the year, there was an absolute consensus that bond yields were going to head higher,” explains Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist Craig Alexander. “Not dramatically, but there was an absolute consensus that bond yields would be increasing through the course of 2014. So, one of the big surprises this year has been the drop in bond yields.”

Canadian bond yields tend to mirror those in the U.S. because the market views the securities as alternatives to one another.

“One of the things that happened at the start of this year was, initially, there were some concerns about emerging markets and the angst over the slowdown in China,” Mr. Alexander adds. “But then we started to get very weak economic data out of the United States, and there was news that the U.S. economy outright contracted, and you saw broad-based scaling back of expectations about global growth. So, while some of the fears about emerging markets diminished, it happened at the same time that people found something new to worry about.”

So, a more negative outlook for economic growth in the U.S. and elsewhere turned into good news for Canadian home buyers.

But Mr. Alexander thinks the U.S. economy is on pace to grow faster than most other advanced countries in the second half of this year. “As a consequence, I think that the rally in bonds that we’ve had since the start of the year is likely to be reversed, from an economic fundamentals point of view it’s only a matter of time. The thing that economists are notoriously bad at is timing.”

In other words, economists are still expecting five-year fixed mortgage rates to creep up, they just don’t know exactly when. Mr. Alexander now expects five-year bond yields to creep back up to about 1.95 – where they were at the end of 2013 – by the end of this year. He then sees them rising by about 90 basis points next year, largely during the second half of the year.

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