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Bank of Montreal slashes 5-year mortgage rate to 2.99 per cent | Toronto Star
Federal finance minister Joe Oliver says he got a call from the head of the Bank of Montreal before it slashed its five-year fixed mortgage rate to 2.99 per cent.
This comes a year after Oliver’s predecessor, Jim Flaherty, publicly rebuked the bank for making the same cut amid rising concerns over household debt loads.
“Bill Downe, the BMO chief executive, called me to say what they were doing and why,” finance minister Joe Oliver told the Star Thursday.
Oliver, who succeeded Flaherty in the role a week ago, says he reminded the bank chief that Ottawa is focused on protecting taxpayers and reducing consumer indebtedness.
“I made the point that government is, over the longer term, reducing its involvement in the mortgage area, because we’ve focused on protecting taxpayers and reducing consumer indebtedness. Those are our overarching objectives,” Oliver said in a wide-ranging phone interview with Star personal finance columnist Ellen Roseman.
But when asked if he would intervene in BMO’s plans and ask it to raise its key mortgage rate, the finance minister said, “No.”
The government “will continue to monitor the market closely,” Oliver said in a separate statement issued by his office.
The bank declined to comment.
“Our conversations with any government are always confidential,” Paul Deegan, BMO vice-president government and public relations, said in a statement.
Ottawa has intervened in the mortgage market four times since the financial crisis of 2008, as record-low interest rates sent household debt load and real estate prices soaring.
What CMHC’s 15 per cent rate increase means for buyers
BMO, which made the cut late Wednesday, is the first big bank to lower the key rate below three per cent, a level that caused Flaherty to publicly address BMO in March 2013, saying he disapproved of the rate and discouraged other big banks from following its lead.
At the time, he said he believed in “responsible lending,” and said he was concerned such low rates would work against his attempts to slow the momentum in the housing market.
Read moreFlaherty’s mortgage efforts yield modest results: Olive
“This rate change is driven solely by the
fact that bond yields have fallen and we are in what has traditionally been the busiest season for buying a home,” BMO’s Deegan said in an emailed statement.
Early exit from closed mortgage can cost you dearly
BMO’s rate had been at 3.49 per cent before the move.
Other Canadian banks have also recently cut their rates — TD Bank reduced its four-year fixed-rate mortgage to 2.97 per cent earlier this month, while Scotiabank lowered its rates across the board while issuing a four-year special rate of 2.94 per cent.
Industry observers say BMO’s rate cut likely has more to do with falling bond yields and the bank’s efforts to gain more mortgage market share than it does with Flaherty’s departure.
“We’ve seen bond yields drop over the past six months so it’s a reflection of their cost of funds lowering,” said Kelvin Mangaroo, president of online comparison site Ratesupermarket.ca. “And, secondly, we have the big spring home buying season coming up, so it’s a push by them to gain some market share over the next few months.
“I don’t think Flaherty leaving is a factor,” Mangaroo said. “I think Flaherty was just a coincidence.”
The big banks are also facing increased competition from alternative mortgage suppliers, he added.
“We’ve had mortgage brokers offering 2.94 per cent for a few weeks now,” Mangaroo said.
The spread between BMO’s rate and a five-year bond is just 130 basis points, below the industry average of 150, another industry observer noted.
“It’s an aggressive move but it’s not surprising. Mortgage growth in general has been trending below the long-term average. The banks see the spring housing market as their best opportunity to pick up mortgage volume,” said Rob McLister, editor of online publication CanadianMortgageTrends.ca.
The special BMO rate comes with quite a few strings attached, McLister noted.
One economist warned the banks are playing a dangerous game, as are homebuyers who jump into the market with home prices at record levels.
“This is short-term thinking,” David Madani, chief economist at Capital Economics Canada, said. “But it doesn't change the long-term situation and that means the correction when it comes is going to be much more pronounced.”
The super-low borrowing rates are expected to be temporary, said Madani.
Bond yields have dropped in recent months, but with the U.S. economy improving and the Federal Reserve tapering its bond purchases, yields are projected to start rising again later this year, which should push up long-term rates.
with files from Star wire services
Category: Mortgage rates