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Scotia sees lackluster housing market in 2011

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Canada's housing market may have a lackluster year ahead as demand will be spurred by low interest rates but could be capped by moderate job and wage growth, Scotia Economics said today.

The economics unit of Canada's third-largest bank said in its year-end Global Real Estate Trends report that Canada's housing market has been one of the better performing, yet volatile, markets among advanced nations this year.

"We are neither overtly optimistic nor pessimistic regarding the outlook for 2011," said senior economist Adrienne Warren.

"The bigger risk likely awaits 2012 when more significant interest rate increases, combined with record high home prices, will notably strain affordability."

Sales of existing homes in Canada rose for a fourth straight month in November. That reinforced market sentiment that stability is returning to the sector after it cooled earlier this year from the red-hot levels of 2009.

The housing sector has avoided two extreme bubble-and-crash scenarios over the past three years when resale prices dropped sharply in 2008, then quickly rebounded as low mortgage rates and lower prices supported the turnaround.

Warren expects the Bank of Canada will maintain interest rates at historically low levels, currently at 1 percent, well into next year, given global economic uncertainty and subdued inflation.

Low interest rates may be an "extremely powerful inducement" that could attract both first-time buyers and those looking to upgrade their dwellings, resulting in a "decent" level of sales, said Warren.

But demand may be tempered by more moderate employment and income growth next year. Public-sector hiring in 2011 is not expected to repeat its job creation from the past year as government restraint efforts take hold.

Globally, Scotiabank expects prospective buyers may move to the sidelines next year despite attractive borrowing costs, as purchase incentives expire in many markets and slow job growth may weigh on confidence.

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