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Cannabis legalization voted Canadian Press’s business story of the year

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Canada’s trailblazing move to legalize cannabis for recreational use, which sparked an entirely new industry and had wide-ranging implications for nearly every facet of society, has been voted The Canadian Press business news story of the year.

The term “disruption” in business has become so overused that it has become an empty cliché, but it is warranted in the case of pot legalization, said Andrew Meeson, deputy business editor at the Toronto Star.

“It’s hard to think of an area in Canada that hasn’t been shaken up: not just commerce (from criminal act to booming startup to takeover target in the blink of an eye), but also policing, health care, justice, politics. Even culture (just ask Tommy Chong),” he said.

“If that doesn’t make it the business story of the year, I don’t know what would.”

NAFTA, pipeline woes the runners-up

In an annual poll of the country’s newsrooms conducted by The Canadian Press, business editors and reporters across the country chose cannabis legalization in a landslide, with 60 per cent of the votes cast.

The terse negotiations between Canada, U.S. and Mexico toward a new North American Free Trade Agreement was a distant second with 30 per cent of votes.

Canada’s pipeline conundrum, with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion now in limbo after a court overturned its regulatory approval in August and a U.S. court throwing out the Keystone XL pipeline’s presidential permit in November, came in third out of eight possible candidates with 10 per cent of the vote.

“Pipelines would have won, hands down, if it weren’t for the creation of an entirely new industry in Canada,” said David Blair, a business columnist with CBC Radio. “Rarely, if ever, do journalists get to cover the opening of a new market, especially one that is as controversial as cannabis.”

Canada’s ‘national experiment’

The world was watching when the country made history with the first legal sale of non-medicinal pot just after midnight on Oct. 17 in Newfoundland and Labrador, due to its time zone being 30 minutes ahead of the rest of Canada.

It marked the beginning of what the New York Times dubbed Canada’s “national experiment,” and the culmination of months, if not years, of preparation by legislators and law enforcement officials at all levels and in each province, territory, and municipality.

Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton, left, passes a bag with the first legal cannabis for recreational use sold in Canada to Nikki Rose and Ian Power at the Tweed shop on Water Street in St. John’s. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

While Oct. 17 represented an extension from the initial target set for July, and licensed producers ramped up production in the lead-up, long lines of customers were met with widespread product shortages online and in the relatively few bricks-and-mortar stores that were ready on Day 1.

Still, many Canadians were simply elated to be able to buy government-sanctioned pot after nearly 100 years of prohibition.

‘My new dealer is the prime minister!’

“My new dealer is the prime minister!” said Canadian fiddler and pop star Ashley MacIsaac, who in 2001 had been arrested for possession in Saskatchewan.

But cannabis mania had been bubbling for months before legalization, with retail investors rushing to put money in the latest pot company to list its stock. Cannabis company valuations in the lead-up to Oct. 17 soared and some of the banks’ online direct investment platforms were bombarded with unprecedented trading volumes.

Torontonians gather at a local concert venue to watch the ‘bud drop’ at the stroke of midnight on Oct. 17, in celebration of the legalization of recreational cannabis. (Ian Willms/Getty Images)

At one point in September, producer Tilray Inc.’s stock on the Nasdaq exchange hit a peak of $300 US, giving the Nanaimo, B.C., company a market value higher than established Canadian conglomerates such as Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Rogers Communications Inc.

Pot will be cited for years to come as many Canadians’ first experiences with investing, said Pete Evans, senior business writer for CBC News.

Flurry of activity

“Cannabis mania deserves some credit — and maybe blame — for ushering an entire new generation of primarily young people into making their first stock market investments ever,” he said.

A flurry of merger and acquisition activity in the sector, even before legalization, fuelled investor interest as well.

Bill MacDonald, program co-ordinator of the new Commercial Cannabis Production Program at Niagara College, instructs his students inside the marijuana lab in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont. (Carlos Osario/Reuters)

Aurora Cannabis Inc. was on an acquisition spree this year, buying rival CanniMed Therapeutics for $1.1 billion after a terse takeover battle and later MedReleaf for $3.2 billion.

Alcohol giant Constellation Brands in August announced it was upping its investment in pot producer Canopy Growth Corp. — in the largest strategic investment in the pot space to date — to increase its ownership stake to 38 per cent. The Corona beer-producer also received warrants that, if exercised, would up its stake to more than 50 per cent.

Big Tobacco comes calling

And earlier this month, Big Tobacco came calling, as the number of countries that legalized cannabis for medical use continued to grow.

Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. said it planned to invest $2.4 billion in pot producer Cronos Group Inc. for 45-per-cent ownership, with an option to increase that stake in the future.

A customer holding a cannabis product while leaving the Natural Vibe store in St. John’s. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The Altria-Cronos deal gave the overall sector a slight lift, but pot stocks have largely come off their highs after legalization, as reality set in and concerns mounted about lofty valuations.

Canadian marijuana companies have found themselves in the crosshairs of short-sellers, as well.

Supply shortages linger

Aphria Inc. earlier this month saw its stock value more than cut in half over three days after two short-sellers targeted the Leamington, Ont.-based cannabis producer with a raft of allegations, including that its recent international acquisitions were “largely worthless.” Aphria has called the allegations “inaccurate and misleading” and is confident in the deal in question, but has appointed an independent committee to review their claims.

Meanwhile, recreational pot supply shortages continue to linger. Several cannabis producers blamed supply chain issues for contributing to the shortage and have said they are aiming to increase their production, but it will likely take more time for fresh product to hit the market.

Rodrigo Acevedo Casino looks on as Anna Bolechowska smokes marijuana with a bong at the New Amsterdam café in Vancouver. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Quebec’s cannabis corporation stores continue to be closed from Monday to Wednesday as a result. And in Ontario, where the only legal way for residents to buy adult-use pot is through the government-run online portal, the provincial government said it will limit the number of retail licences it grants next April due to the shortages.

The Ontario government initially said it would not cap the number of licences, but now says it will only be able to issue 25 licences by April via a lottery system. This deals a blow to a slew of companies who have been putting down deposits to secure prime real estate locations in the country’s most populous province in anticipation of obtaining a licence.

“Seemingly overnight, activity that always existed on the margins of society has come into the centre,” said Evans.

“It’s been fascinating to watch the growing pains that have ensued…. It will be interesting to see in the coming months and years how and if the reality lives up to expectations for the industry.”

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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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