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Building permits show more signs of weakness

By Heather Scoffield – Globe and Mail

Housing activity in Canada is showing further signs of weakening, with building permits plunging 13.5% in August from a month earlier.

The drop was nowhere near analysts’ expectations of a 0.6% decline on the month.

“Canadian building permits absolutely cratered in August,” said economists at TD Securities.

The value of residential building permits dropped 9.3% on the month, due mainly to a 17.5% slide in multi-family dwellings, Statistics Canada said Monday.

The value of permits for single-family dwellings dropped 3.8%. And the only provinces to register increases in the residential sector in August were New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.

Most of the residential declines were concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, Statscan said. Together, the two provinces accounted for about two-thirds of the decline in the residential sector.

On the non-residential side of building activity, permits dropped a huge 19.3% in August, with permits for institutional building leading the decline.

“While residential building remains under pressure, as expected, given the slowing appetite for housing, it is non-residential building that continues to disappoint and led the deterioration,” said Charmaine Buskas, senior economics strategist at TD Securities.

“The takeaway from this report is that overall economic activity is cooling. It is now not only a slowdown in the housing market, but also a slowdown in the non-residential sector,” she said in a note to clients. “As fewer factories and warehouses are built, it suggests that underlying demand on the business side of the economy is weakening.”

The August decline comes after a few robust months, and takes the value of building permits back to $5.6-billion. For the year to date, permits are down 0.7% compared to the same period last year.

“The volume of permits still remains elevated at reasonably healthy levels, but the speed by which momentum was lost even before credit problems built to a crescendo in September and October is disturbing,” said economists at Scotia Capital Inc.

Mortgage rates have risen in Canada since then, and credit is increasingly tight as banks hoard their cash for fear borrowers won’t pay them back.

By city, the lartest declines in the value of building permits were in Toronto and Calgary, where construction of both multi-family dwellings and non-residential buildings took a breather.

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