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Gaining bupkis: Canadians grapple with stocks-housing double whammy

Briefing highlights

  • Canadians hit by stocks, housing
  • Markets at a glance
  • Scotiabank to buy Jarislowsky Fraser
  • Suncor boosts Syncrude stake
  • The trigger moments in markets this week
  • What to expect on home sales report
  • How U.S. inflation is shaping up
  • Key earnings reports to watch for
  • What else to watch for in next few days
  • LCBO chooses Shopify for online pot sales

Canada's economy may be solid, and unemployment below 6 per cent.

But many of us must be looking at the stock and housing markets, and trying to come to grips with what we've gained: Bupkis.

CIBC World Markets chief economist Avery Shenfeld summed it up well for Canadians, particularly in the Toronto area, who are juggling not only the hit to Toronto-listed stocks, but also the impact of combined measures meant to fix the mortgage and housing markets:

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"The recent TSX dive didn't just dent last year's gains, it wiped them out in their entirety. Moreover, single-family house prices also look to be cooling in the face of tighter mortgage regulations. So the Bank of Canada will at least have to look at whether the overall wealth effect is further reason to do what we already expected: Wait until summer before hiking again, by which time the asset price story will have greater clarity."

Many observers will, and should, welcome the taming of the housing market.

But if you own a home and a stock portfolio, you've got to be feeling it.

Here's how it all looks today:

The stocks swoon

The S&P/TSX composite lost 3.7 per cent last week as global markets plunged on speculation that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates up to four times this year.

Here's how it looks so far this year: Bupkis.

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Now, hold that thought because here's the tally over 10 years. Indeed, as The Globe and Mail's Tim Shufelt reports, Toronto stocks over about the past decade have given us little more than bupkis.

And how we stack up against other markets:

"The recent market shake-out isn't the end of the world, and we don't see a sustained bear market for equities, with the global economy remaining firm and no central banker in a rush to aggressively quash what are welcome signs of inflation," said economist Nick Exarhos, Mr. Shenfeld's colleague at CIBC.

"In fact, the hit to valuations taken stateside merely undoes some of the excessive optimism that prevailed in January," he added.

"The TSX has also taken it on the chin, but it's hard to argue that the same over-optimism was being reflected in the Toronto composite. With the discount placed on the TSX widening, we think bargain-hunting might be profitable this side of the border."

The housing conundrum

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If you've owned a home for some time in the Toronto or Vancouver areas, the regions at the heart of the real estate fears, you can't argue with what you've gained amid the fantastic run-up in prices.

Ah, but the shorter term.

As our real estate writer Janet McFarland reports, home sales in the Toronto area tumbled 22 per cent in January from a year earlier, with the average price down 4.1 per cent to $736,783.

Of course, that really doesn't tell the whole story, given the differences in the types of homes sold, and the specific areas of those sales.

The average price of a detached home eroded by 9.1 per cent, and that of a semi by 1.8 per cent. Townhomes lost 0.5 per cent, while condos, about the only thing many of us can actually afford, gained 14.6 per cent.

The MLS home price index, which is seen as the best overall measure, was still up, by 5.2 per cent, but that was the slowest pace in about five years.

This comes as Ontario's measures to cool the market have been running for several months. But it marks the beginning of new cross-country mortgage rules from the commercial bank regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

"The chilling of home resale activity and new listings in January after two months of heated gains is consistent with our view that the more stringent qualifying rules for uninsured mortgages that came into effect on Jan. 1 brought forward buying and selling decisions," said Royal Bank of Canada senior economist Robert Hogue.

"We expect the Toronto-area market to remain relatively quiet until spring as it continues to adjust to the new rules," he added.

"We also expect prices to stabilize later this year with the market sustaining balance between demand and supply. At this stage, prices are still under downward pressure, especially in the pricier single-detached segment."

We'll get the full national picture on Thursday, when the Canadian Real Estate Association releases its monthly report, which is expected to show a sales drop and slower rate of price gains.

Benjamin Reitzes, Bank of Montreal's Canadian rates and macro strategist, expects that report to show sales fell 0.5 per cent in January from a year earlier, average price increases eased to 4.5 per cent, and the gains in the MLS home price index slowed to a two-year low of 8 per cent.

"While activity did indeed slow, the market didn't appear to be too badly hit," Mr. Reitzes said of the national picture.

The hit to Toronto didn't surprise him because buyers would have scrambled late last year to beat the new OSFI rules.

"London and Windsor also saw hefty declines, but sales in much of the rest of the country are still above year-ago levels," he added.

"Sales were up double-digits in Fraser Valley, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal among others, with the latter continuing its solid run."

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Markets at a glance

Scotiabank to buy Jarislowsky Fraser

Bank of Nova Scotia is buying Canada's storied Jarislowsky Fraser in a largely stock deal it values at about $950-million.

Stephen Jarislowsky will "retain investment autonomy" in the investment firm that bears his name, the bank said, and virtually all the partners have agreed to invest half their proceeds.

Jarislowsky Fraser manages more than $40-billion in assets and, Scotiabank said, the marriage with its own asset management unit will create the third-largest active asset manager in the country.

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Suncor boosts Syncrude stake

Suncor Energy Inc. is buying a further 5-per-cent stake in the Syncrude project for about $920-million.

Its deal for the additional interest will bring its stake in Syncrude to 58.7 per cent, with Imperial Oil Resources holding 25 per cent, Sinopec Oil Sands Partnership holding 9 per cent, and Nexen Oil Sands Partnership 7.2 per cent.

"This transaction reflects our confidence in the long-term future of the oil sands," said chief executive officer Steve Williams, noting the deal will add 17,500 barrels a day of light sweet synthetic crude to its operations.

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What to watch for this week

The next few days hold some finger-on-the-trigger moments that could amp up the angst in global markets or, instead, help calm those frayed nerves.

Key is the hump-day report on U.S. inflation, the trigger for last week's wild swings that drove the S&P 500 down 5.2 per cent, the S&P/TSX composite down 3.7 per cent, and the volatility index known as the VIX, a.k.a. the fear gauge, up.

Remember that this all started with a U.S. jobs report, just over a week ago, that showed stronger wage gains among American workers, suggesting inflationary forces that could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark interest rate up to four times this year.

Among other things, treasury yields spiked, raising the spectre of a bond market that could be more appealing than stocks. Still, some observers see stocks gaining this year when it all calms down.

"What's important to note is that this selloff was not triggered by weak economic data either for the U.S. or global economy," noted Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Katherine Judge.

Thus, analysts believe that a hot inflation report could raise pressure, but a cool one ease the angst.

"In the U.S., core CPI inflation could see a bit firmer monthly gain, but the 12-month rate will still look tame," said CIBC World Markets chief economist Avery Shenfeld, referring to the consumer price index measure that strips out volatile items, so you get a better sense of what lies underneath.

"That might remind nervous Nellies that inflation is only warming up to room temperature, not running away from the Fed."

Economists expect Wednesday's report to show that prices at the gas pump helped push consumer prices up 0.3 or 0.4 per cent in January.

They also forecast an annual inflation rate of 1.9 or 2 per cent, down from December's 2.1 per cent.

Here's what to watch for over the next few days.

Monday: Can't trust that day

The Mamas & the Papas had it right when they sang "Monday, Monday, can't trust that day" in 1966.

The Tokyo market is closed, and there are some Chinese economic indicators on tap. But, obviously, what everyone wants to know is what happens across fragile and uncertain markets.

And here's why you can't trust that day.

Of the 25 ugliest days in the history of the S&P 500, 12 were Mondays, noted Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets.

"Monday is the only negative day of the week on average since 1928 and has the highest percentage of down days," said Mr. Belski, who, for the record, is among the analysts who believe the market will rebound and who urges calm throughout the turmoil.

There are also corporate results to watch for, including quarterly numbers from Loews Corp., Sherritt International Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc.

Oh, and Restaurant Brands International Inc., whose Tim Hortons unit has been the target of labour protests after some franchises cut perks so that, you know, their employees could help pay for higher minimum wages.

Tuesday: Well, that depends on how Monday went

There aren't any major economic indicators to get exercised about, so we'll take our cue from whatever happened Monday.

There are, though, several corporate earnings reports: Barrick Gold Corp., Goldcorp Inc., Hydro One Ltd., Kinross Gold Corp., MetLife Inc., Occidental Petroleum Corp., PepsiCo Inc., RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust, TMX Group Ltd. and Under Armour Inc.

Wednesday: The VIXth Sense

As someone pointed out in a tweet, even the calendar refers to the next three days as WTF.

This is U.S. inflation day, as noted, but it may be worth looking a little further out.

"A little wage growth alone will not topple equities," said Andrew Hollenhorst of Citigroup, who referred to last week's swings in a report titled "The VIXth Sense," but "strong price inflation in the next couple months may push the treasury and equity selloff further."

Royal Bank of Canada economists agreed, suggesting annual inflation could push toward 3 per cent in the third quarter.

"This should prove transitory and headline prices will likely be back on either side of 2 per cent by year-end," RBC said. "But the potential for the market to overreact to an inflation scare is non-trivial."

Markets will, at the same time, get the latest report on U.S. retail sales, which economists expect to show an increase of 0.2 per or 0.3 cent in January from December.

Also on tap is the latest look at fourth-quarter economic growth in Japan, which Capital Economics expects will come in at a slower pace of 0.4 per cent.

There's also the second estimate of fourth-quarter growth in the euro zone, and a fresh look at the economies of the countries that make up the monetary union.

No change is expected from the initial estimate of 0.6 per cent, but markets will be looking for the first sense of "how well the German economy and ergo the EU economy performed at the end of last year," said Michael Hewson, chief analyst at CMC markets.

"The prognosis looks positive and moreover it appears that the positive momentum from 2017 has carried over into 2018 if recent economic surveys have been any guide," he added.

"Expectations are for a strong end to the year, and, as such, an annualized number of 2.7 per cent is expected, as the negative rate environment continues to act as a tailwind to the economic uplift."

And a whack of earnings reports: Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., Canopy Growth Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Equifax Inc., Home Capital Group Inc., Marathon Oil Corp., Sun Life Financial Inc., Teck Resources Ltd. and West Fraser Timber Co.

A truck passes a sign advertising Molson beer in Halifax.

Um, and Molson Coors Brewing Co. And depending on how the day goes, you may want to hoist one or wallow in it.

Thursday: Second verse, same as the first

There's another inflation reading for markets, the U.S. producer price index, which economists expect to show a monthly increase of 0.4 per cent in January, and an annual jump of 2.4 per cent, actually down from 2.7 per cent in December.

There's also the fact that it's Thursday, and, as BMO's Mr. Belski also calculated, history tells us it's the worst day next to Monday.

"Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, was the fastest 10-per-cent-plus correction from a price peak in the S&P 500 Index since 1950," he added.

Today also brings the aforementioned CREA report, and some major quarterly results: Bombardier Inc., Brookfield Asset Management In., CI Financial Corp., Canadian Tire Corp., Cenovus Energy Inc., Deere & Co., Encana Corp., Fairfax Financial Holdings Inc., Fortis Inc., Precision Drilling Corp., Shopify Inc. and TransCanada Corp.

Friday: Obviously, you need a breather by now

Not so fast.

First up is the monthly Statistics Canada report on manufacturing sales. TD expects to see a rise of 0.7 per cent for December, while CIBC projects a decline of 1 per cent.

Either way, it's a big comedown from a 3.4-per-cent gain in November.

"Capacity use is high in the manufacturing sector, and worries on the trade front will likely delay needed investment," said CIBC's Nick Exarhos. "As a result, we see only modest manufacturing growth in the months and quarters ahead."

There are also readings on the U.S. housing market and import prices, and earnings reports from Air Canada, Coca-Cola Co., Enbridge Inc. and Kraft Heinz Co.

Okay, go home, have a great weekend, and rest up. The following Monday already looms large.

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