Mortgage 'payment shock' is why Canada's economy has fallen behind, says RBC's McKay

Article content

Canadians are grappling with “payment shock” and Americans are not, and that will put the two countries’ economies on diverging paths to start 2024, according to the chief executive of Canada’s largest bank.

“The U.S. economy struggled to slow the consumer, (while) the Canadian economy has slowed the consumer quite significantly,” Royal Bank of Canada CEO David McKay told Bloomberg TV in a Jan. 17 interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Article content

The main culprit, McKay said, are the differing payment terms for mortgages in the two countries.

Canada doesn’t have 30-year fixed mortgage contracts as they do in the U.S., with most homeowners instead having contracts that must be renewed at prevailing rates every five years, or even more frequently. Floating rate mortgages are also more prevalent in Canada.

That means heavily indebted Canadian households are being hit with higher mortgage payments, with 30 per cent or mortgage holders already facing 20 to 25 per cent hikes in their monthly outlays, he said.

“That’s been challenging for Canadians,” McKay said.

McKay said the impact on consumers is already visible in the bank’s credit card business, where spending is “off” for those who hold variable-rate mortgages.

The Canadian economy has thus slowed much more quickly to the point that it already has at least one quarter of negative GDP under its belt and possibly another, he said.

“We’ll technically be in a soft-landing recession early this year,” McKay said, adding that inflation in Canada remains “a little bit sticky” around just above three per cent.

Article content

Recommended from Editorial

McKay said RBC, which is already the sixth-largest wealth manager in the United States and the largest wealth and asset distribution manager in Canada, has significant opportunities to grow organically south of the border.

However, uncertainty surrounding the regulatory environment and rules about liquidity, capital and the “Basel III endgame” — especially for U.S. regional banks — has made things difficult for RBC’s California-based subsidiary, City National Bank, and would make more acquisitions unlikely.

“It’s been a challenging year for regional banks,” he said. “I think I would need more clarity on those outcomes before I could really value a U.S. franchise right now.”

• Email: [email protected]

Bookmark our website and support our journalism: Don’t miss the business news you need to know — add to your bookmarks and sign up for our newsletters here.

Share this article in your social network