Canada housing starts dip in April amid slowing Toronto sales

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian housing starts declined in April as builders responded to slowing sales in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation showed on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A Canadian flag hangs from the deck of a house for sale in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts fell to 214,379 units in April from March’s upwardly revised 225,459. Economists had forecast starts would decline to 220,000 homes.

Construction on detached urban houses dropped 9.3 percent last month, while starts on urban multiples - typically condos - declined by a milder 2.7 percent, the report showed.

“Recent readings on building permits have been indicative of the strong pace in homebuilding to open the year. Weather might have played a factor in slowing housing starts a touch in April,” Royce Mendes, an economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said in a note to clients.

“That said, activity is likely to cool over the remainder of the year, with homebuilders’ costs rising and the housing market no longer running at such a torrid pace,” Mendes added.

Canada’s once-hot housing market has cooled in recent months in response to rising interest rates and tighter mortgage rules that came into effect in January. While most economists expect a soft landing, some say there is a risk of a U.S.-style crash.

Still, condo demand has been strong in Toronto and Vancouver, the nation’s two largest cities, in part because it is the only affordable housing left after a long boom spurred double-digit price rises in detached housing.

The report showed Toronto’s housing starts trend was virtually unchanged in April.

“High house prices continued to deter buyers from purchasing single, semi-detached and townhome pre-construction units, and this lower demand has resulted in fewer starts for these types of units,” the CMHC said in the report.

“Conversely, condominium apartments’ relative affordability continues to fuel their demand. As a result, the first quarter of 2018 saw the most apartment starts recorded in a quarter in over 40 years.”

In Vancouver, year-to-date starts were up for both single and multi-family units, the report showed.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Bernadette Baum