CMHC goes from insuring 90% of new mortgages to only 50% — and that’s as low as it plans to go

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX:  Canada’s national housing agency says it’s now insuring a record low 50 per cent of new residential mortgages, and it doesn’t intend to let it drop any further.

Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. Chief Executive Officer Evan Siddall said that after years of cutting its share to reduce taxpayer risk to the $1.2 trillion mortgage market, the agency plans to hold firm. CMHC’s stake of the new mortgage-insurance business has dropped from about 90 per cent during the 2008 financial crisis, and a pre-crisis low of 57 per cent.

“We’re very comfortable with our market share around 50 per cent,” Siddall said at Bloomberg’s Toronto office May 22. “It’s important for us to have a substantial presence in the marketplace so that we can give access and information to Canadians, we can give good policy advice to government” and can act as a shock absorber in case of a financial crisis.

The agency insured 175,169 new home loans last year worth $41.7 billion, which comprised 54 per cent of the market and that’s dropped to about 50 per cent so far this year.

The vow to retain half the market may limit growth of private rivals such as Genworth MI Canada Inc. and Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Co. Shares of Genworth MI, part-owned by Richmond, Virginia-based Genworth Financial Inc., have risen 36 per cent in the past two years as its market-share rose, compared with a 19 per cent gain in the broader Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index.

Legal Cap

CMHC had $543 billion of mortgage insurance in-force, or total mortgages it insures, at the end of 2014, according to the agency’s annual report. That’s just below its legal cap of $600 billion and down 4.1 per cent from 2012.

Residential mortgage credit at banks and non-banks totalled $1.2 trillion as of March, according to figures from the Bank of Canada.

Genworth MI had $365 billion in insured loans as of March 31, according to financial documents. Canada Guarantee, co-owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, is closely held and doesn’t disclose insurance in-force.

Brian Hurley, executive chairman of Genworth MI, said last year he expected CMHC to command only a third of the market in the future.

CMHC is “still going to have a third of the market and two-thirds of the market can go to the private sector,” Hurley, then CEO of Genworth MI, said at a Sept. 4 financial summit. “How are they going to get there? That’s a good question. One easy path could be the limiting they’ve done over the last few years.”

Katia Dmitrieva, Bloomberg News  May 28, 2015 3:02 PM ET

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