Calgary

Mortgages in arrears in Alberta hit highest rate since 2013

More and more Albertans are falling behind on their mortgage payments, according to new numbers from the Canadian Bankers Association.

Rate seen as a 'lagging indicator' of the economy, driven largely by unemployment

A sign indicating a foreclosure sale is seen in this file photo. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

More and more Albertans are falling behind on their mortgage payments, according to new numbers from the Canadian Bankers Association.

The rate of mortgages in arrears has been creeping upwards for the past 10 months on record and reached 0.49 per cent in February, according to the association's latest data.

That's the highest it's been since early 2013.

Meanwhile, in the rest of Canada, the rate of mortgages in arrears has been going down, hitting 0.24 per cent nationwide at last count.

Freida Richer, a licensed insolvency trustee with Grant Thornton in Edmonton, says the data matches what she's been seeing with her clients.

"Although we've been on this road of economic recovery now for almost two years, I can tell you that from my discussions with a lot of hardworking Albertans, there was a continued sentiment that their households are still struggling and they're simply not able to recover as quickly as they had thought or hoped," she said.

She said some of the primary reasons people fall behind on their mortgages are job loss, poor money management and family breakups.

Divorces can be especially devastating during a downturn in real estate, she noted, as many Alberta markets have seen in recent years.

"If the person left with a property has to sell it, it's a matter of time," she said.

"Are they able to continue to pay the mortgage payments, in the meantime, while they try to sell the property? And what would they be selling the property for? Usually at a discounted value than what they had anticipated."

Rate seen as a 'lagging indicator'

The Canadian Bankers Association considers a mortgage to be "in arrears" when payments are overdue for three or more months.

"The continued slowdown in Alberta's oil and gas sector and its associated impact on employment is one of the main drivers behind the uptick in arrears," the association said in an email.

The rate of mortgages in arrears is widely seen in economic terms as a "lagging indicator," the association added, meaning it trails behind other indicators, particularly the rate of unemployment.

"Given that our latest stats are as of February 2019, that would mean it would be reflective of what was happening in the Albertan economy in the second half of 2018," the CBA said.

"Recall that in Alberta, the unemployment rate increased from 6.3 per cent in May 2018, to 7.2 per cent in October 2018, which explains the uptick in mortgages in arrears in the latter half of 2018."

The mortgage-arrears data includes residential loans from BMO, CIBC, HSBC Bank Canada, National Bank of Canada, RBC Royal Bank, Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust, Canadian Western Bank, Manulife Bank (as of April 2004) and Laurentian Bank (as of October 2010).

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