Fairfax's Watsa Warns Toronto Real Estate Bubble Will Burst

  • CEO comments at annual meeting on surge in property market
  • Warns most banks not prepared for 50% drop in housing prices

Prem Watsa, head of Canadian investment firm Fairfax Financial Holdings Inc., said the Toronto property market is in a bubble that will end with pain for banks that financed the growth.

"Most banks can’t survive a 50 percent drop in real estate values," Watsa said Thursday during Fairfax’s annual general meeting in Toronto. "It’s going to come down, and a lot of people are going to get hurt."

The Ontario government on Thursday announced a series of measures, including a tax on foreign buyers and expanded rent control, aimed at curbing the city’s soaring real estate prices. Home prices in the Toronto region rose 6.2 percent in March, the biggest one-month gain on record, according to a benchmark price index by the Canadian Real Estate Association, and jumped almost 30 percent in the past 12 months.

Watsa helped Fairfax prosper in the credit crisis by betting on the decline of over-leveraged financial companies. He has warned as far back as the 2012 annual meeting that Canada’s housing prices could be too high.

— With assistance by Kim Chipman

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