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Canada is roaming blind through a statistical desert

Benjamin Tal is dead right in his frank assessment that Canada’s measures of the state of its uncertain housing market are sorely lacking. But the thing is, the country’s economic data deficit goes far beyond housing – something that has become increasingly obvious over the past year.

Mr. Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, published a commentary Thursday in which he decried the deplorable lack of statistical detail that has left us with only a partial, hazy picture of the health (or lack thereof) of Canada’s housing sector. We don’t know how much of the booming condo market is made up of foreign investors. We don’t know the credit quality of the borrowers who are receiving mortgages, and how many are behind in their payments. We can’t tell the average size of a down payment. Without that, it’s awfully hard to conclude whether the big numbers – such as housing starts, sales, prices – reflect a strong market, a high-risk asset bubble, or anything in between.