Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This And That

This Kind Of Reporting Stinks - Another fear mongering article. Talks about a couple who gave it all away to move to Alberta and wait... still have it. But what if they lost their jobs!!! Well it could happen but would they even have jobs in their own hometown? Cornwall wants them back but do they have the jobs to keep them? Continued next week.....

Vegas takes a gamble - Canadians are thinking of Vegas. Sure they are who isn't when it's still -30 outside and the wrong side of March. Sure some Canadians may be thinking of buying down south but it's a good way to get chauffeured around the city by a Realtor on your vacation. If Vegas if part of your long term goal and that property makes sense then buy it. But properties down there are a dime a dozen make sure none of those eggs are rotten.

Note to environmentalist read The Canadian Press - An environmentalist writes that the slowdown in the oil sands is a great time to re-evaluate greener policies before the oil sands get going again (and they will). I hate to tell you but if you just read this article you'll see that $140 million has been dedicated to carbon capture. If I got to tell you the news then you are seriously out of the loop.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Our 9th Anniversary

Nine years ago Todd and I decided to take a year off from our respective jobs and take off to live in Japan. We still haven't left. I often forget the exact date we came, I think it was the 23rd of March, but I am reminded every year by the coming of the cherry blossoms.

In my opinion the cherry blossoms are the best time of year solely because they herald the end of winter. Definitely May has better weather and the autumn has better food but something "tokubetsu" happens when the first blossoms appear.

For those with the time and inclination here is a forecast of blossom dates. It looks like the festivities will start this weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Work life balance - Is it possible?

Many of my corporate friends are bemoaning the fact that their overtime is now unpaid or "volunteer" in Japanese companies. By volunteer I mean they can stay if they want but if they leave it doesn't look good.

When I came to Japan 10 years ago people were working crazy hours. Generally from about 9 to 9 or longer. One man I know commuted from Yokohama to Utsunomiya 2 hours each way every day. The other alternative being to live in a separate house in Utsunomiya during the week only seeing his family on the weekends.

The extra income that overtime generated really helped fuel the economy but people really had no life. I wonder with all the free time entering people's lives if we will see some niche market opening. I've seen a lot of adult classes springing up perhaps to improve employ ability in this economy.

Here is a fantastically funny and relate-able audio file from the BBC

It's About Time - Comedian and writer Dave Cohen seeks help from experts in trying to achieve a 'work-life balance'. He hardly sees his family - during any 'downtime' he is actually looking for more work. Years of freelancing and the current economic climate make it hard to say no to any offer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Close Your Eyes and It will Pass

Alberta's oil sands projects are taking a break. For now.

When we think of this break we have to think long term the next two to three years will be slow.
Peoples views of short and long term cycles differ i.e 2-3 months, 10 to 20 years. A great way to get terrified is to think day to day and follow the media.

"On the horizon, and not too far out on the horizon, we do see that demand coming back, and we need to use this time to prepare for it. I think business and government are working in that direction, but it is early going; the financial crisis only hit a short time ago," Art Meyer, senior vice-president for oilsands projects Enbridge.

Basic fact is the need for oil won't go away, contrarily, it will increase dramatically, while the production of conventional oil is decreasing. That leaves the unconventional oil sands which the world is looking at to meet the estimated 45 billion barrels a day shortage that is looming in the future.

We need to make the oil-sands cleaner to be more appealing, the technology is there. Cleaning is crucial and in turn will slowly push up the amount of jobs in the area. This means more housing needs which means a return to positive increases in housing prices.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Victory By Default

Because of Canada's conservative nature we were able to make it through while American banks are collapsing. You'll hear about Canada's sub-prime crisis but our banking system is so different and because our loans are recourse loans we simply can't just walk away from our mortgages. Sure we were exposed but NOTHING like what happened down south.

So many U.S. banks have collapsed or shrunk that 4 Canadian banks are now among the continents largest banks. It reflects globally that Canada is a safe haven during times of economic uncertainty; which bolsters trading with Canada and of course positively influences our economy.

"Canadian banks have remained profitable, outperforming their peers, because of tighter government restrictions on lending and capital requirements," Bloomberg in a report on its website.

Even Barack Obama has praise for our banking system.

"In the midst of the enormous economic crisis, I think Canada has shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system and the economy in ways that we haven't always been," Barack Obama

We are more than pretty good. We are great.

Where is the price of oil going?

Listen to the whole audio file if you are interested but it is the last 10 minutes of where the price of oil is going that interest me.

CKUA March 22nd Radio Program

This week's Political Panel includes former Conservative cabinet minister Rick Orman, former Liberal Edmonton MLA Mo Elsalhy, and the Treasurer of the Alberta New Democrats Erica Bullwinkle.

Bonus Bad! In the wake of the AIG uproar in the U.S., Alberta's opposition parties engineer the elimination of bonus pay for civil service managers. But it raises the possibility that there could be more on the chopping block in the near future.

Bye Bye Rebate! Citing both financial and environmental reasons, the province puts an end to its six year old natural gas rebate for consumers.

Housing the Homeless! The government rolls out its plan to end homelessness in Alberta by 2019. All it needs is money.

In his business commentary, Gary Lamphier sees reasons for optimism in the recent rise of oil prices.

Listen to the March 22nd show

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tinker, Tailor, Seamstress, Beekeeper?

Headlines scream Alberta is shedding jobs.

With an unemployment rate of 5.4% Alberta is doing better than many countries in the world including Canada which hit a 7.7% unemployment rate in February. While Alberta gained 3,300 jobs in January 129,000 were lost across the country. Numbers look scary till you get the full story.

Unemployment numbers increased in resource based jobs partially due to seasonality and to some projects being put on hold. Not all categories are being hit. In fact there are and will be shortages in many industries looming in the future. Tailors, dietitians, nutritionists, architects and beekeepers (yes beekeepers) are looking at labour shortages in the near future.

Alberta is coming from a place where teenagers were dropping out of school to go work in the oilfields and make more than their parents. Billboards everywhere had staff needed signs and the province showcased itself across the world as the place to move to for work, low taxes and great quality of life.

Which it still is.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Edmonton 2009 House Prices

Want to see how house prices across major Canadian cities have fared over the the last 2 years?
Take a look at this interactive map of real estate statistics from across the country, including home sales, average prices, apartment rents and vacancy rates.

Edmonton's stats are as follows in October 2008:
Vacancy rate - 2.4%
Average monthly rent for 2 bedroom apartment - $1035
Average resale home price (Dec 2008) - $310,000

Home prices dropped 1% in 2008 and are expected to drop another 10% until 2010 when they will start to pick up again.

As an investor house values are only important when you sell. Therefore timing when to sell is crucial. The best thing to do is not sell now unless you absolutely have to. Take steps to reduce your costs and make your properties positively cash-flowing.

How do you do that?
Keep your property manager productive
Keep your property a rock solid money making fortress
Avoid fear and keep your head about your investment goals

Best of all now the buying signals are phenomenal! It's a buyer's market with incredibly low mortgage rates.

Anyone who has made a lot of money in real estate will tell you that buying when markets are low, during times of crisis is the smart man's game.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why Canada's Economy Is Rock Solid

My aunt forwarded this to me. I know it is quite late; now news a month old is ancient history. However, it is a good read and pretty bang on.

An American Perspective

Newsweek: Oh those Boring Canadians
by : Fareed Zakaria
Feb 16, 2009

The legendary editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, once held a
"Boring Headline Contest" and decided that the winner was "Worthwhile
Canadian Initiative." Twenty-two years later, the magazine was rescued from
its economic troubles by a Canadian media company, which should have taught
us Americans to be a bit more humble. Now there is even more striking
evidence of Canada's virtues. Guess which country, alone in the
industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for
bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors.
Yup, it's Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking
system the healthiest in the world. America's ranked 40th, Britain's 44th.

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is
positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to
take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot
seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in
North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn't grown in
size; the others have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the
past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their
financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old
rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at
18 to 1-compared with US. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a
frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada's more risk-averse business
culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking.

Canada has also been shielded from the worst aspects of this crisis because
its housing prices have not fluctuated as wildly as those in the United
States. Home prices are down 25 percent in the United States, but only half
as much in Canada. Why? Well, the Canadian tax code does not provide the
massive incentive for overconsumption that the U.S. code does: interest on
your mortgage isn't deductible up north. In addition, home loans in the
United States are "non-recourse," which basically means that if you go belly
up on a bad mortgage, it's mostly the bank's problem. In Canada, it's yours.
Ah, but you've heard American politicians wax eloquent on the need for these
expensive programs-interest deductibility alone costs the federal government
$100 billion a year-because they allow the average Joe to fulfill the
American Dream of owning a home. Sixty-eight percent of Americans own their
own homes. And the rate of Canadian homeownership? It's 68.4 percent.

Canada has been remarkably responsible over the past decade or so. It has
had 12 years of budget surpluses, and can now spend money to fuel a recovery
from a strong position. The government has restructured the national pension
system, placing it on a firm fiscal footing, unlike our own insolvent Social
Security. Its health-care system is cheaper than America's by far
(accounting for 9.7 percent of GDP, versus 15.2 percent here), and yet does
better on all major indexes. Life expectancy in Canada is 81 years, versus
78 in the United States; "healthy life expectancy" is 72 years, versus 69.
American car companies have moved so many jobs to Canada to take advantage
of lower health-care costs that since 2004,Ontario and not Michigan has been
North America's largest car-producing region.

I could go on. The U.S. currently has a brain-dead immigration system. We
issue a small number of work visas and green cards, turning away from our
shores thousands of talented students who want to stay and work here.
Canada, by contrast, has no limit on the number of skilled migrants who can
move to the country. They can apply on their own for a Canadian Skilled
Worker Visa, which allows them to become perfectly legal "permanent
residents" in Canada-no need for a sponsoring employer, or even a job. Visas
are awarded based on education level, work experience, age and language
abilities. If a prospective immigrant earns 67 points out of 100 total
(holding a Ph.D. is worth 25 points, for instance), he or she can become a
full-time, legal resident of Canada.

Companies are noticing. In 2007 Microsoft, frustrated by its inability to
hire foreign graduate students in the United States, decided to open a
research center in Vancouver. The company's announcement noted that it would
staff the center with "highly skilled people affected by immigration issues
in the U.S." So the brightest Chinese and Indian software engineers are
attracted to the United States, trained by American universities, then
thrown out of the country and picked up by Canada-where most of them will
work, innovate and pay taxes for the rest of their lives.

If President Obama is looking for smart government, there is much he, and
all of us, could learn from our quiet-OK, sometimes boring-neighbour to the
north. Meanwhile, in the councils of the financial world, Canada is pushing
for new rules for financial institutions that would reflect its approach.
This strikes me as, well, a worthwhile Canadian initiative.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Crisis of the Mind

Interesting times. This year and into next will be the good news, bad news routine. Until we (Canadians, Americans, consumers...) can make up our collective minds as to whether the economy is crashing or recovering we'll fluctuate from elation to despair.

I read an interesting article about the psychology of the Japanese economy called 'Crisis of the Mind'. In a nutshell it is a change of thinking and implementation of new ideas that will decide how long or short, deep or shallow the current 'correction' will last.

Here is an article titled 'Alberta To Shed Thousands of Jobs' - pretty scary title, but if you read the article you'll see that the Alberta unemployment rate is actually below 5%, which is incredibly low! Compare that with many European countries to get a sense of what is truly real. 5% unemployment rate is hardly indicative of a 'severe' recession.

And - look at the mortgage rates - lowest mortgage rates in Canadian history. These are fantastically strong buying signals; time to take advantage of whether it be an investment property or residence in a Top 10 City.

"It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in the Autumn." -BC Forbes

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alberta A Safe Haven In Canada

Other countries around the world are in serious economic turmoil but Canada is blessed to have the most stable economy. Among Canada's provinces Alberta is the most balanced with the healthiest economy and growing infrastructure to support population/investment growth.

You may read the the oil sands are bust and all the projects have stopped but this is not accurate. There are still over $170 billion projects underway only $90 billion have been delayed. Don't kid yourself, the need for oil is increasing while the production of oil is decreasing. Until the world finds a way to make a solar car (or any product) without using any fossil fuels, that need will become more and more prevalent.

"When I look down the road, it’s going to be grimmer than I thought it would be for the next year, year-and-a-half. This is going to be an intense downturn," "there’s no better jurisdiction to be located in than Alberta," "At the end of the day, so many fundamentals are positive in the case of Alberta, the best strategy is to treat this as short-term." Michael Percy, dean of business at University of Alberta.

The Alberta economy will be back on track leading the nation as oil prices improve and companies start pumping money back into the oil sands.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Property Managment Keep It Under Control

We've been investing in real estate for almost 10 years now and across 4 provinces. I can tell you from experience the most important thing you can do once you've picked your area and property is to find a good, no make that great, property manager. It's a lot harder than you think.

We've had some outstanding property managers and some unbelievable ones (forging the tenants welfare cheques ranks among the worst).

Todd took the time to write a "How To" article specifically for those who have income property and want to make sure their asset can still produce cash-flow in any economic environment.

"When vacancy rates increase you want to make sure that your units aren’t the ones that are empty. There are two ways to do that; one is to rent high quality units at excellent rates to long term tenants and the other is to keep your property manager on their toes.

How do you do that? Here are 5 crucial tips to make sure your property is managed to its best potential." Read Article

Monday, March 09, 2009

World Top 5 Realtor Gives Edmonton a Thumbs Up

"This is an incredible time to be buying a house as prices have dropped to their lowest level in years, and buyers have great choices. I have not seen such opportunities for home buyers in the last 12 years, and based on my activities so far in this year, it is looking extremely positive." Terry Paranych

We have investments with a low entry point and positive cashflow. There really are a lot of great properties in which to shelter your capital.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

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Date: Saturday, March 7, 2009
Time: 8:30 AM - 7:00 PM
Location: Red Robinson Theatre - 2080 United Boulevard
City: Coquitlam

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

This And That

Employers not appealing to Gen X and Yers - "The labour market in Edmonton and Alberta is tight as I've ever seen it in 10 years in this industry, and if you can't attract this next generation of upcoming leaders, the Gen X and Gen Y, then you as an organization are going to have significant challenges moving forward." Mike Corbett, vice-president, Edmonton, at David Aplin Recruiting.

Poll results buoy Alberta minister - "Fifty-seven per cent of respondents in The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey said there are more benefits than drawbacks to the oil sands, while 35 per cent reported the reverse.

A majority of those surveyed in every province except Quebec supported the benefits, with Alberta leading at 70 per cent.
"This data tells us a lot of Canadians do see there is benefit to the oil sands that goes beyond Alberta," Jeff Walker, senior vice-president with Harris-Decima, said yesterday.

Energy boost welcomed - Mel Knight announced yesterday that the government will offer a maximum 5% royalty rate for new oil and gas wells that begin production between April 1, 2009, and March 31 next year.

The province will also offer a drilling royalty credit of $200 per metre drilled for new conventional oil and gas wells, on a sliding scale based on their production levels from 2008.

Albertan consumers still confident - "If you look at Alberta relative to itself from a year ago, then we're probably seeing some of the largest slowdowns in Canada," said ATB Financial economist Dan Sumner. "But if you look at Alberta now compared to everyone else right now, we're still doing OK. Retail sales per capita are still by far the highest in Canada."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

We Can't See It.....But Others Can

People in other countries are lining up to get into Canada. While their economies are suffering and unemployment is rising, Canada is begging for workers at immigration trade shows in the UK.

Sure the Canadian economy is feeling the effects of the global economic crisis but when compared to countries like Iceland, America and Scotland we are a beacon in the darkness.

Alberta especially is attractive due to its low taxes and high than average salaries.

"Canada welcomed 8,128 British immigrants last year, up 25 per cent over the previous year and making Britain the sixth-biggest source of immigrants to Canada." Read More

This is a win-win situation for real estate investors because when the long-term migrants first come they rent properties and when they decide they love Canada/Alberta they buy real estate.