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A looming price decline could undo at least some of homeowners’ recent net worth gains. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
A looming price decline could undo at least some of homeowners’ recent net worth gains. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Morning Business Briefing

In a hot housing market, statues of St. Joseph are hot sellers Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

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St. Joseph and real estate
What do sales of statues of St. Joseph tell us about the housing market?

I read a fascinating piece in The Wall Street Journal last week, and decided to try to put it to the Canadian test.

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First, the Journal report looked at how sales of statues of St. Joseph, a carpenter renowned for his patience, tracked the U.S. housing market.

Many people bury such statues in their yards in hopes it will help them sell their homes, a phenomenon in both the U.S. and Canada.

The Journal asked a Catholic supply company to provide a deeper, five-year look at sales, which the news organization then compared to house prices, finding that, in general, sales of the statues climb when the residential real estate market turn down.

I couldn’t get similar numbers for Canada, where the market is, of course, much different than that in the United States, but Broughton’s Church Supplies, Religious Books and Gifts told me that specially made home kits are big sellers, particularly among real estate agents.

“I know when real estate is hot, these fly off the shelves,” said Brian Broughton Jr., a sales representative at the Toronto outlet, and the son of the owner.

Broughton’s is the Canadian source for a St. Joseph Home Kit that sells for $10.95. It includes a resin statue of St. Joseph, a prayer card and a pamphlet on selling your house.

Other religious supply shops in Canada also sell such kits. One outlet in Vancouver, for example, lists a similar kit for $26.

According to Mr. Broughton, real estate agents buy them in bulk. Individual home sellers purchase them, as well, notably when they’re having trouble selling their homes. But Mr. Broughton didn’t necessarily see a patern.

“When the market crashes, people tend to go back to faith,” he said.

Broughton’s keeps between 200 and 250 kits in stock, and, in its last fiscal year, sold about 1,500.

Catholic Supply of St. Louis sells several kits, the best seller at $6.95 (U.S.), a plastic statue at $1.25 and a deluxe package for $11.95, among others.

“The statue is buried upside down in the front yard with the feet pointing to heaven,” its website says.

“It may face towards the home (or towards the street if you want your neighbour’s home to sell!”). The location of the statue can vary: by the ‘For Sale’ sign, in a flower pot (popular for condo owners), etc.”

(I find the bit about the neighbours interesting, though I’m sure it’s not meant for getting rid of the ones you don’t like.)

Group warns on Russian growth
The World Bank is warning Russia that it risks damaging its economy amid the Ukraine crisis.

In a fresh look at the Russian economy today, the organization presented two scenarios, one based on a “limited and short-lived impact of the Crimean crisis,” and the other on a “more severe shock.”

The first scenario would see economic growth slow this year to 1.1 per cent, picking up marginally in 2015 to 1.3 per cent.

The latter scenario suggests Russia’s economy would contract by 1.8 per cent this year.

Over all, according to the report, Russia is “navigating” a downturn. Economic expansion is believed to have slowed to 1.3 per cent last year, from 2012’s 3.4 per cent.

“To emerge from the downturn with improved long-term prospects Russia will need a combination of cyclical and structural policy measures,” the World Bank said.

“As the relative weight of the reasons for Russia’s downturn is tilted toward structural factors, structural measures will need to lead the rebound. The lack of more comprehensive structural reforms in the past has led to a gradual erosion of investor confidence.”

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