Photo: Kurt Bauschardt

Not since the days of the financial crisis have Canadians’ sentiments towards investment been this gloomy while attitudes towards real estate prospects are worsening, a Manulife Financial national survey published this week suggests.

The countrywide poll forms the basis of the Canadian insurance company’s latest investor sentiment index, which has fallen to 16, down three points from the last reading in May 2015. The index now sits at its lowest level since March 2009, when it was 11.

The index includes six indices that cover investments as varied as stocks and property. Manulife pointed to investors’ shifting attitudes towards the real estate market in particular.

“Canadians are increasingly viewing housing as a less attractive investment having dropped three points in the last year,” reads a statement from the firm.

Since November 2014, the greatest declines in investment sentiment towards housing have been in British Columbia and Ontario, according to the firm. In BC, the real estate subindex dropped 13 points to 43 and in Ontario it fell six points to 53.

However, nationally, both still are far from bottoming out. Ontario’s housing subindex puts it in second behind Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which both had index levels of 56. Meanwhile, the market with the worst sentiment for real estate investment was Quebec, where the index level was 37.

Manulife’s bi-annual index draws on answers from 1,001 respondents across the country whose households take home a minimum of $75,000 annually and have investable assets to the tune of at least $100,000.

One way Manulife gauges respondents’ sentiments by asking them whether or not they think it is a “good time” or “bad time” to put money into specific investments the indices are based on.

For the housing subindex, investors’ opinions on putting money into one’s existing home via extra mortgage payments or buying an investment property would be considered.

An index reading of zero would mean the same number of respondents felt now was a good time to invest in specific asset classes as did not.

Upon observing the housing subindex results, CIBC Economist Nick Exarhos noted high home prices in British Columbia and Ontario could be influencing sentiments.

“If anything, I think people are looking at the fact that homes in those two markets have appreciated quite substantially,” he says.

Vancouver and Toronto are the most expensive markets in the country, as the latest numbers from the Canadian Real Estate Association show.

“As we noted in our own research, the more expensive the home was, the more the price has appreciated, so the prospects for the move-up market have diminished somewhat.”

Although 48 per cent of survey respondents don’t expect interest rates to climb this year, 38 per cent say they will rise. Exarhos says the likelihood of climbing interest rates also weighs on investors. (Only 14 per cent thought a rate cut was coming this year.)

“I think people understand that more likely than not we’re at the trough of the interest-rate cycle, and over the next several years interest rates are likely to be higher — not lower,” he continues.

A trough is a term used to denote the low-point of a business cycle.

“Housing being a very interest-rate-sensitive investment, they rightly recognize that it’ll be hard to see a lot of price appreciation in what should be a generally rising interest rate environment going forward,” says Exarhos.

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