Former Goldman Banker To Head CMHC: "Canada's Mortgage Monster"

Back in 2011 and 2012 we profiled the one organization that was among the key support pillars not only under Canada's housing market (and according to many, bubble), but also the entity that by providing tens of billions in cash and loan support to Canada's banks, served to rescue the financial sector from rather unpleasant consequences: the Canadian mortgage insurer Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC) also known as "Canada's Mortgage Monster."

Recall from a 2012 report by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives:

The official story of the 2008 financial crisis goes like this: American and international banks got caught placing bad bets on U.S. mortgages and had to be bailed out. But not in Canada. Through the financial crisis, Canadian banks were touted by the federal government and the banks themselves as being much more stable than other countries’ big banks. Canadian banks, we were assured, needed no such bailout.


However, in contrast to the official story Canada’s banks received $114 billion in cash and loan support between September 2008 and August 2010. They were double-dipping in not only two but three separate support programs, one of them American. They continued receiving this support for a protracted period while at the same time reaping considerable profits and providing raises to their CEOs, who were already among Canada’s highest paid. In fact, several banks drew government support whose value exceeded the bank’s actual value. Canadian banks were in hot water during the crisis and the Canadian government has remained resolutely secretive about the details.


It should be noted that the “Extraordinary Financing Framework” was prepared to spend up to $200 billion to aid the banks and other industries. In other words, while the sums reported in this report  are enormous, there were even more funds to be disbursed if the banks needed them.


It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers that started the massive support for Canadian banks from both American and Canadian governments, as shown in Figure 1. Massive loans from the liquidity programs of the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada provided the bulk of the initial support for the big Canadian banks.


However, it was the third support from CMHC’s Insured Mortgage Purchase Program (IMPP) that did the heaviest lifting. In contrast to the loans of the first two programs, CMHC was providing direct cash infusions to Canada’s banks, although it took longer to ramp up. The program provided its first cash to the banks in October 2008.


Within four  months’ time, Canada’s big banks requested and received a whopping $50 billion in cash in exchange for mortgage-backed securities. By March 2009, government supports to Canada’s banks peaked at $114 billion. At this point, support for Canadian banks was equivalent to 7% of Canada’s 2009 GDP. That support represents a subsidy worth about $3,400 for every man, woman and child in Canada.


But while the full impact of CMHC on the Canadian housing and banking sector remains debatable, one thing can be said: next to the Bank of Canada, it is perhaps the most critical entity in preserving the nation's financial stability.

And with a key player responsible for the perpetuation of the status quo having departed Canada recently, namely Goldman's Mark Carney leaving the BOC and heading to the Bank of England, some were wondering just who would supervise thing up north if and when things turned sour.

Those questions were answered on Friday, when Canada named the next chief executive officer of the government-owned housing agency. His name is Evan Siddall, and, what we assume will came as a surprise to nobody, he was formerly a banker at, drumroll, Goldman Sachs.

From the WSJ:

Canada has tapped a veteran investment banker and special adviser to Canada's central bank as the new chief executive of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., the government-owned mortgage insurer that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently said has become something "more grand" than originally intended.


Evan Siddall was named head of the agency for a five-year term. CMHC has been without a corporate leader since May. His arrival comes at the Conservative government has introduced a number of measures to bring more onerous oversight over the mortgage insurer, amid mounting concerns about overheating in segments of Canada's housing market.


"Mr. Siddall brings to the position extensive leadership and senior management experience," Canadian Employment Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement. "His proven financial and capital markets expertise will be of tremendous value to CMHC."


In the same statement, Mr. Siddall said he looked forward to ensure Canadians "continue to benefit from CMHC's key role in providing affordable and accessible housing, as well as in promoting a strong financial system."


* * *


Mr. Siddall was most recently a special adviser to the Bank of Canada Governor, appointed in December 2011, by Mark Carney, who has since left to run the Bank of England. Both Mr. Carney and Mr. Siddall once worked at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.


"Evan is a calm, understated professional hand and has a terrific understanding of financial markets, and where risks wherein them lay. It is an inspired appointment," said Finn Poschmann, vice-president of research at the C.D. Howe Institute think-tank, which has written extensively about CMHC and its role in the financial system.

Why the CMHC?

CMHC is the dominant mortgage insurer in a market that differs from its peers. Mortgage insurance is required of anyone buying a home with less than a 20% down payment. That insurance comes with 100% backing from the Canadian government, which means taxpayers, not lenders, are on the hook in the case of defaults.

Goldman will make sure of just that. And just like that, the tentacular status quo protection team has been reassembled in Canada, and no matter how bad things get for everyone else, the global banking syndicate will be sure to profit even more at the expense of taxpayers in one more country. After all, that is what Goldman's true function in the world: to take financial crises and make them into opportunities... for some.