NEW YORK (Reuters) - Canada's heated housing market appears to be cooling as desired, a senior Bank of Canada official said on Tuesday, although he noted that housing starts remain unusually high.
Housing prices and construction in Canada roared higher in 2011 amid low interest rates, sparking fears of a U.S.-style bubble. The market started to slow after the government tightened rules on mortgage lending in July, and policy makers hope to see a gradual softening rather than a crash.
"It's still early days. But we're certainly seeing evidence of movement and acceleration in the right direction," Murray told a business audience after giving a speech in New York.
"Some sort of smooth transition, at least on the housing side, is what we're looking for," he said.
He said the evidence on housing expenditures was "to a degree encouraging" but cautioned that housing starts were still higher than would be warranted by demographic trends.
Canadian home prices dipped in October from September and year-over-year price gains slowed for the 11th straight month, according to the latest in a string of data showing the market is losing momentum.
But the central bank is mostly concerned about the record-high levels of personal debt that accompanied the housing boom and will likely take longer to subside.
The bank, which has kept its key interest rate frozen at 1 percent for the past two years, has signaled in recent weeks that it could resort to increasing interest rates to bring down household debt if other measures failed, straying temporarily from its traditional inflation target if necessary.
Murray reiterated on Tuesday that the economy is running at close to its full capacity, the other reason given by the bank for the hawkish tone it has adopted since April.
"The Canadian economy ... is actually operating fairly close to its capacity level," he said. "The best judgment of the governing council ... is that the output gap is less than 1 percent - I think we gave an estimate of two-thirds of a percent."
Canada's primary securities dealers surveyed by Reuters expect the bank to raise its rate in the fourth quarter of 2013.
In his speech, Murray outlined the failings of the world's major economies in implementing promises made three years ago to restore global growth and urged them to agree on a modified plan to get back on track, including gradual U.S. fiscal tightening.
"The deflationary forces in many countries appear to be winning. While global growth has not stalled completely, neither is it as strong or as widely distributed as many had hoped," he said.
The Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies in 2009 pledged a series of measures designed to balance their budgets, reform banks and rebalance growth by boosting domestic demand in China and reducing it in the United States.
Progress has been partial, Murray said, and new shocks since then call for a revamped plan.
A new priority of that plan should be to avoid going overboard with austerity measures, he said.
"In other words, don't overdo it in the short run, since the fiscal multipliers are believed to be much larger than previously estimated. That said, there is a need for some countries, most notably Japan and the United States, to set out credible longer-term paths to restore their fiscal health," he added.
Second, Europe needs to finish the work to contain its crisis. Finally, surplus countries - namely China - should speed up their move toward market-determined exchange rates to boost domestic consumption, he said.
Writing by Louise Egan; Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Neil Stempleman and Steve Orlofsky