As 2023 gets underway, I want to express my appreciation to you for supporting First National over the past year – a period of tremendous growth.
We won’t announce our audited annual results until late February, but I am confident First National finished 2022 with a commercial mortgage book north of $40 billion, a new record. New construction financing commitments alone totalled $1.5 billion. We’re satisfied with this performance because it means our company did its job of lending to great customers. It also proves that contrary to popular narratives, apartment construction is alive and well.
Looking forward: CMHC takes centre stage
We see 2023 as a CMHC year. With First National’s assistance, the national housing agency will play an outsized role in the market as a reliable source of insured financings. Whether it’s the CMHC Standard Rental program, its Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI) or MLI Select, we have the experience and expertise to investigate, initiate, originate and – most importantly in 2023 – reliably fund insured loans on your behalf.
As an approved lender, our CMHC market leadership now extends to the MLI Select program, which offers incredibly valuable incentives for building and preserving multi-unit residential properties. In a higher interest rate environment, this program provides offsetting cost and risk-management advantages that are too compelling to ignore. Since it came to market three quarters ago, First National has arranged more than 180 MLI Select financings. Those experiences position our team to get more done in 2023.
Of particular note, CMHC programs have and will continue to make a difference to the flow of funds for much-needed rental property construction. We are leveraging those programs and access to preferred interest rates as we speak to make it possible for eligible borrowers to offset risks during the most challenging phases of development: construction through to stabilized operations.
Looking ahead: Interest rates
From an economic perspective, this year is likely to shape up a little differently because the Bank of Canada’s interest rate policy is not nearly as accommodative as it was in the early months of 2022. All eyes will be on the Bank’s first policy decision of 2023 next week for clues on the potential for additional rate hikes. As always, the Resources and Insight section of our website will contain a summary report. Also remember to ask about our industry-leading interest rate hedging programs.
For the market, our current thinking is the first half of 2023 will be quieter from a sale transaction perspective than the same period of 2022 before giving way to stability and, we hope, a recovery in the second half.
Looking deeper: Advice for a challenging market
As you confront macro issues including rising interest rates, stubbornly high inflation and shifting government policies on property development at the municipal and provincial levels, it is important to have all the facts but also advice that is relevant and specific to your goals and your property plans. First National is uniquely capable of providing that advice on a market-by-market basis. Our national coverage and boots-on-the ground presence regionally provide us perspective and insight that we want you to leverage this year. We invite you to connect with our empowered advisors early and throughout your strategic planning process. You can do so in whatever format you choose – in person or online – and however often you like. It’s part of our pledge to provide tangible value at all points in your development lifecycle.
Looking within: An update on our empowered team
Lending at First National is all about people: always having the best – which I think we do – operating within a culture that unleashes the creativity and problem-solving skills of all team members. We’ve worked very hard to create this environment at First National through what we call Empowered 360. Empowerment comes from attitude more than anything and the effort underway to entrench the right mindset is unlocking many new ideas that we are excited to employ. Moreover, our empowered culture gave rise to internal promotions in 2022 and acted as a magnet in recruiting great people. Our commercial team now numbers 200+.
Looking beyond: Core Conventional stands ready
As these Covid years have proven, economic and market change can happen quickly and not always in the ways one might imagine. While we expect conventional financing volumes will be lower to start the year, there is certainly a scenario in which bond yields stabilize and spreads normalize, which will lead to more conventional activity. We are certainly ready for that to happen with our highly competitive Core Conventional program.
Looking good: Our sources of funding and servicing remain strong
We understand that 2023 will bring its share of opportunities as well as challenges. A risk-off environment often sends some lenders to the sidelines. That will not be First National. We remain optimistic about the property sectors where we focus, most especially apartments, and bullish for the long run.
It’s why we continue to reinvest including in our Servicing team. Servicing and administration are critically important to your experience, and over the past year, we took significant steps forward to improve efficiency and effectiveness in both. You will see the signs in the form of proactive outreach by our Servicing group this month, which we hope will make it easier for you to plan your annual review submissions.
A final note. Starting in February, our team will be in the office three days per week. We are also taking good advantage of the ability to be together. Earlier this month, we gathered in Banff for our annual conference with the theme “Elevate, adding accountability to empowerment.” Elevating our place in your business is definitely what we want to do and we will be accountable – once again – for the value we hope to bring.
Please be sure to get the full benefit of the products, services, and positive, can-do attitude that define the First National experience by speaking to your advisor.
I wish you a healthy and prosperous 2023.