These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.
Gross on U.S. fiscal policy
Pimco's Bill Gross has a humiliating warning for the United States: America will soon go the way of Greece if it keeps on this path.
"If we continue to close our eyes to existing 8-per-cent of GDP deficits, which when including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare liabilities compose an average estimated 11-per-cent annual 'fiscal gap,' then we will begin to resemble Greece before the turn of the next decade," the bond fund manager says in his October Investment Outlook.
"Unless we begin to close this gap, then the inevitable result will be that our debt/GDP ratio will continue to rise, the Fed would print money to pay for the deficiency, inflation would follow and the dollar would inevitably decline. Bonds would be burned to a crisp and stocks would certainly be singed."
Mr. Gross describes what he calls the "ring of fire" - from the Johnny Cash song - which includes the United States, Japan, Greece, Britain, Spain and France. That's "sort of a rogues' gallery of debtors" that excludes the likes of Canada, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, China and others whose budgets are "under relative control."
"Well, Armageddon is not around the corner," he said.
"I don’t believe in the imminent demise of the U.S. economy and its financial markets. But I’m afraid for them. Apparently so are many others, among them the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) and the BIS (Bank of International Settlements) ... What they’re saying is that when it comes to debt and to the prospects for future debt, the U.S. is no 'clean dirty shirt.' The U.S., in fact, is a serial offender, an addict whose habit extends beyond weed or cocaine and who frequently pleasures itself with budgetary crystal meth."
Studies, Mr. Gross said, indicate that the United States must cut spending or hike taxes by 11 per cent of gross domestic product within the next five to 10 years if it is to keep its debt-to-GDP ratio under the "metaphorical combustion point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit."
Vancouver homes sales plunge
That hiss you hear may be the sound of Vancouver's housing market.
Residential property sales in the city plunged 32.5 per cent in September from a year earlier, to 1,516 transactions, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said today.
Sales were down more than 8 per cent from August, the group said, and almost 42 per cent below the 10-year average of 2,597 for the month of September. Vancouver has been a major concern among economists.
New listings fell 6.3 per cent from a year earlier, while the number of listings stood about 14 per cent above year-earlier levels.
“There’s been a clear reduction in buyer demand in the three months since the federal government eliminated the availability of a 30-year amortization on government-insured mortgages,” the group’s president, Eugen Klein, said in a statement. “This makes homes less affordable for the people of the region.”
The benchmark price slipped 0.8 per cent from a year earlier. Prices are now down 2.3 per cent over three months.
“Prices in the region remain relatively stable overall, although we do see some reductions in the areas that have had some of the largest price increases over the last year or two,” Mr. Klein said.
Among the various types of homes sold, sales of detached houses plunged almost 38 per cent from a year earlier and the benchmark price fell 0.5 per cent to $935,600.
Apartment sales fell 26.7 per cent, while sales of attached homes slipped 33 per cent, with the benchmark price of the latter sinking 2.7 per cent.
“While Vancouver’s prices are down just 0.8 per cent in the past year, they can only head lower in the face of a dozen active listings for every sale, and as buyers seek revenge after a decade-long boom that took average prices up 140 per cent,” said Sal Guatieri of BMO Nesbitt Burns.
“Recent tighter mortgage rules haven’t helped, but Vancouver’s sales were sliding long before July. All balloons eventually float to earth, or burst.”
Sales in Calgary, by the way, climbed 14.4 per cent in September from a year earlier.
Projections for Canada’s housing market are all over the map, though most observers project a soft landing managed well by the federal government’s tightening of mortgage rules.
Toronto-Dominion Bank believes the Canadian market is overvalued to the tune of 10 per cent, and Capital Economics forecasts a plunge of up to 25 per cent.
TD projects that average resale prices in British Columbia will slump almost 9 per cent this year, pushed down by the Vancouver market.
Sébastien Galy of Société Générale believes Canada is seeing “localized bubbles” in some real estate markets.
Observers have cited in particular Vancouver’s previously high-flying market, and condo development in Toronto.
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High prices at the gas pump bringing you down? According to the latest study, parking’s not much better.
The average median rate for an unreserved spot climbed 2.7 per cent over the last year in Canada to $241.72 a month, according to the study released today by Colliers International.
Like last year, Calgary still holds the “dubious title” as the most expensive in Canada, Colliers said.
The real estate firm compared the centre of the oil patch to other major cities on the continent, and found the monthly median at $439.93 (U.S.), second only to New York and well ahead of Boston and San Francisco.
While Calgary may be the most expensive in the country, costs rose just 2 per cent, compared to almost 12 per cent in Montreal, 8.3 per cent in Regina and 7.3 per cent in Edmonton.
According to Colliers, I got a break in Toronto, where prices fell almost 5 per cent. Vancouver prices also fell, by 3.5 per cent.
“The limited availability of new parking spots in major city centres across Canada is also reflected in parking lot waiting lists,” the company said.
“The average waiting time for a parking spot in Canada is currently just under eight months, with motorists in Victoria, Halifax and Regina expecting a waiting period of between 12 to 24 months.”
Spain dashes bailout talks
Spain's prime minister today rejected speculation that the embattled country would seek a bailout within the next few days.
“If a news agency reports that we’ll ask for aid this weekend, there can only be two explanations; that the agency is right, and knows more than I do, which is possible, or that they are not right,” Mariano Rajoy said, according to Reuters.
“But, if it helps, and you accept that what I say is more important than this leak, I say no.”
Word of a bailout request had buoyed the hopes of investors, but Mr. Rajoy dashed that.
"This uncertainty and confusion is undoubtedly behind ratings agency Moody’s decision to delay an announcement on their ratings decision until later this month, though if they are waiting for a Rajoy decision in the coming days they might want to take a seat and sit down," said senior analyst Michael Hewson of CMC Markets.
Australia cuts key rate
Australia’s central bank trimmed its benchmark rate today amid the uncertain outlook for the global economy, notably in China and Europe.
The Reserve Bank of Australia cut the key cash rate by one-quarter of a percentage point to 3.25 per cent. It’s the third time this year it has done so.
“Economic activity in Europe is contracting, while growth in the United States remains modest,” said central bank Governor Glenn Stevens.
“Growth in China has also slowed, and uncertainty about near-term prospects is greater than it was some months ago,” he said in a statement.
“Around Asia generally, growth is being dampened by the more moderate Chinese expansion and the weakness in Europe. Key commodity prices for Australia remain significantly lower than earlier in the year, even though some have regained some ground in recent weeks.”
It’s always worth watching developments in Australia given the similarities between the Australian and Canadian resource-based economies.
Both countries are impacted by fluctuations in commodities prices, and both have strong currencies.
Many of the issues for the Australian and Canadian central banks are the same, said senior currency strategist Camilla Sutton of Bank of Nova Scotia, though the pressures aren’t as strong for the Bank of Canada.
“Once again, the RBA observed that the exchange rate has remained higher than might have been expected given the decline in export prices and weaker global activity growth,” added Adam Cole of RBC in Europe.
“The key to the longer-term impact of today’s cut will be whether the market interprets it as merely bringing forward to the rate cuts that were expected later in the year, other whether today’s cut marks an acceleration in the pace of easing that will ultimately see rates fall further than previously thought.”
Iran's currency sinks
It’s difficult to get hard information on Iran’s economy, so I’ve cobbled together bits from various news reports and analysts. The bottom line: Iran’s economy is in trouble and its currency is plunging amid sanctions by Western nations.
According to Reuters today, Iran’s currency, the rial, is now worth just two-thirds of where it stood a week ago. The sanctions over the country’s nuclear program mean Iran can’t bring in as many U.S. dollars, or other currencies such as the euro, as its oil exports suffer.
Quoting the Fars news agency, Reuters reported that Iranian authorities are now blaming, and threatening, currency speculators, though, of course, many say the government is at fault.
Yesterday, The Associated Press reported that thousands of Iranians are displaying their anger of the state of the economy amid surging inflation, high unemployment and lagging wages. Officially, inflation is running at 23 per cent and unemployment at 12 per cent, though AP reports that economists believe both are much higher.
“We have greater expectations that the security services will control the branches and sources of disruption in the exchange market,” Iran’s industry minister, Mehdi Ghazanfari, warned, according to the news agency.
“Uncertainty in Iran is generally never good for oil prices, while continued sanctions by Western countries look set to undermine the rial further,” said CMC's Mr. Hewson.
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