Good News on UK inflation but not on house prices or for those predicting Cauliflower inflation

This morning has opened with some bad news for the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority. They have placed what little credibility they have left on what is called the Rental Equivalence method where you use fantasy imputed rents as a way of measuring owner-occupied inflation. Apart from the obvious theoretical flaws there have been all sorts of issues with actually measuring rents in the first place which led to one of the worst things you can have in statistics which is a “discontinuity” leading to a new method being required. It tells us that rental inflation is of the order of 1% per annum. So let me hand you over to a new report from Zoopla released today.

Average rents increased by 2% to stand at £876 in the 12 months to the end of September……..But despite the overall improvement in affordability, the rate at which rents are rising has accelerated from 1.3% a year earlier to reach a three-year high of 2%, although it still remains below the 10-year average of annual growth of 2.3%

Regular readers will be aware that I have posted research from the Royal Statistical Society website which argued that the official measure of rental inflation is around 1% per annum too low. The reason for this is an incorrect balance between new and old rents. Zoopla with their measure suggests that a rise in rental inflation has been missed by the official data. There is a logic to this for those of us who think that rents are influenced by wages growth as we have seen a rise in wages growth over this period.

Affordability

Whilst the official measure of rental inflation is in yet more disarray we should tale time to welcome this.

Our director of research and insights, Richard Donnell, said: “Renting is more affordable today than the 10-year average. This follows weak rental growth over the last three years, and an acceleration in the growth of average earnings.”………..As a result, the typical renter now spends 31.8% of their earnings on rent, down from a peak of 33.3% in 2016, according to our inaugural Rental Market Report, which records trends in the often-neglected private rented sector.

Propaganda

In a rather ironic twist the establishment has been trying to bolster its case. Here is Mike Hardie of the ONS in Prospect Magazine from earlier this month.

A recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry highlighted that the strategy was not working, with RPI use remaining widespread. In March, David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to the then chancellor of the exchequer requesting his consent to bring the methods of RPI into line with CPIH.

Meanwhile back in reality here is the actual point the EAC made.

We disagree with the UK Statistics Authority that RPI does not have the potential to become a good measure of inflation.

The truth is that out official statisticians have deliberately not updated the RPI and then blamed it. Next from the EAC came something that was incredibly damning for the official approach.

We are not convinced by the use of rental equivalence in CPIH to impute owner-occupier housing costs.

Returning to the official view in Prospect Magazine there seems to have been an outbreak of amnesia on this subject.

Our headline consumer prices measures, which include the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) and CPI plus owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH), for the most part reflect the change in price of acquiring goods and services—in other words, we record the advertised price for an apple or a new car.

Also that explanation is exactly what they do not do with owner occupied housing costs! In a further twist you may note that even their example backfires. Because of the proliferation of rental and leasing deals in the car market it is one area where you probably should now use a rental model and even a small imputed bit.

Regular readers will know I have been a fan of the new Household Cost Indices suggested by John Astin and Jill Leyland. However I note from the Prospect Magazine article that the development process that is taking ages is neutering them.

we also capture mortgage interest costs, which are excluded from other measures of inflation, such as CPI and CPIH.

No mention of house prices which were in the original prospectus and were one of the strengths of the measure? Also take a guess as to which inflation measure right now does have mortgage costs? It is the officially villified RPI.

I am afraid this could not be much more transparent. I have contacted both Prospect Magazine and its editor on Twitter to request a right of reply but so far nether have responded.

Today’s Data

There was some good news as inflation did not rise.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.7%, unchanged from last month.

As it happens the CPIH measure comes to the same answer in spite of 17% representing a lot lower number that does not exist in CPI.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month…..Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to September 2019, unchanged since May 2019.

I will leave explaining that to the official number-crunchers but we have returned to my original point that as well as the theoretical problems in using fantasy imputed rents they do not seem able to measure rents properly. If they had the data they could delve into it but in another error they do not.

An especially welcome development was this.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.4%, down from 2.6% last month.

Especially as on the month prices actually fell.

The all items RPI is 291.0, down from 291.7 in August.

It might be best to keep that quiet or the deflationistas will be back spinning along with Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

The Trend Is Your Friend

If we look at the producer price output data the future is bright.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.2% on the year to September 2019, down from 1.7% in August 2019.

Even better news comes further up the chain.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.8% on the year to September 2019, down from negative 0.9% in August 2019.

Here is the main factor at play.

Crude oil provided the largest downward contribution to the annual rate of input inflation.

Comment

If we start with today’s figures we have received some welcome news as inflation was expected to rise. Indeed those who follow the RPI have just seen a fall which changes the real wages picture positively although of course we await the wages data for September. Should the UK Pound £ remain in a stronger phase ( it is over US $1.27 as I type this) then it and the lower oil price we looked at above will give UK inflation a welcome downwards push. Mind you as we observe those factors it is hard to avoid wondering how the economists surveyed thought inflation would be higher!

As we step back we are reminded of the utter shambles created by the use of rental equivalence and today it has come from an unusual source. If we look into the detail of the RPI we see this.

Mortgage interest payments, where average charges rose this year but fell a year ago; and  House depreciation, with the smoothed house price index used to calculate this
component rising this year by more than a year ago.

As it happens not much difference to the rental measure but to get imputed rents into CPIH at a weight of 17% other things had to be reduced and RPI fell because it does not have this effect amongst other things.

Other differences including weights, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.28 percentage points between August and September 2019. The effect came mainly from air fares; sea fares; second-hand cars; games, toys and hobbies and equipment for sport and open-air recreation; food and non-alcoholic
beverages; and fuels and lubricants. This was partially offset by a widening effect from furniture and furnishings, carpets and household textiles.

You see another flaw in the CPI style methodology is that via the way better off people spend more it represents people about two-thirds of the way up the income stream as opposed to the median.

Cauliflower

Remember when the lack of UK Cauliflowers was going to make us have to pay much more for ropey ones? Below is the one I bought for 59 pence last week.

 

 

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UK wages growth, employment and unemployment all weaken in a worrying sign

Today merges several of our themes as a rather packed diary sees Bank of England Governor Mark Carney give evidence to Parliament just as the latest employment and wages data are released. There are various matters which make have him breaking out in a cold sweat. One is the rally in the UK Pound £ to US $1.266 which even he may be able to talk down. The next is the rise in annual wage growth above 4% which in the past has been regarded as something of a threshold for considering interest-rate increases. Of course that is likely to go the way that the 7% unemployment rate did! That of course raises the next issue of how the unemployment rate has fallen below 4% being chased by an equilibrium unemployment rate which is apparently now 4.25%.

It was only yesterday that I pointed out that Dave ( Sir David to his friends) Ramsden of the Bank of England was still churning out the failed Ivory Tower output gap methodology.

From my perspective, I also think spare capacity might not have opened up that much despite that weakness in underlying growth,

Also tucked away in a really dull speech about longer-term trends Sir Jon Cunliffe made the case for more policy activism.

But, taken together with other changes in the economy – such as changes in the labour market which appear to have led to some flattening of the wage Phillips curve and
changes in the pass-through of labour costs to consumer prices – the probability is that demand management will need to use more tools to stimulate demand in downturns and work harder to prevent macro-economic tail events.

My apologies for their Phillips Curve obsession, but you see he is trying to tell us lower interest-rates are really nothing to do with him and his colleagues and then ask for even more freedom to interfere in the economy! He continues on that path here and “can be overdone” is classic civil service speak where is he taking out a bit of an each-way bet for himself ( but not us).

There is a lively debate over the extent to which aggressive use of monetary policy tools to stimulate demand creates financial stability risks by inflating asset prices and encouraging risk taking and the build-up of debt. My own view is that this can be overdone. There are, as I have said, deep-seated underlying structural drivers of low for long.

Perhaps he learnt all this stuff during his time at HM Treasury ( 1990-2007) which seems to have undertaken a reverse takeover of the Bank of England.

Wages

Today has brought some news that the recent past was not quite as good as we thought it was . Last month we were told that average earnings growth in July was 4.2% but this morning that has been cut to 3.9% which ch-ch-changes the picture somewhat. So now let us peruse this month’s data.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain was 3.8% for both total pay (including bonuses) and regular pay (excluding bonuses).

This means that the Bank of England can let loose a sigh of relief as the 4% wages growth threshold was not in fact in play as we only made 3.9% and have now dipped back to 3.8%. In terms of a pattern we see that since October last week each month with only one exception has seen annual wages growth above 3% so we have moved to a new higher path. Of which August at 3.6% is consistent with that and the detail backs this up.

All sectors except manufacturing saw annual pay growth of at least 3.0%; construction saw the highest estimated growth of over 5.5% for both total pay and regular pay…..manufacturing saw the lowest growth, estimated at 2.7% for total pay and 2.5% for regular pay.

So the numbers are good but not as good as we were previously told and maybe this was a factor.

Public sector pay growth has fallen back below that for the private sector, following higher growth in March to May 2019, impacted by the effect of a different pattern of pay rises for some NHS staff in 2019 compared with 2018.

Real Wages

According to the official rhetoric the position is now rather good.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.9% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 2.0%.

As nominal pay growth is the same I am not sure how they get to that! Let us hope there is a difference at the second decimal place. But the fundamental issue is that it requires the use of the fantasy imputed rent driven CPIH inflation measure to get numbers that high. If we use RPI it drops back to more like 1%.

Also even using it we remain in a depression for real wage growth.

The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in August 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.4% difference.

Employment

The situation here has been good for seven years or so but this morning indicated the first signs of a wobble.

The UK employment rate was estimated at 75.9%; higher than a year earlier (75.6%) but 0.2 percentage points lower than last quarter……the estimated employment rate for women was 71.6%; this is 0.6 percentage points up on the year, but 0.3 percentage points down on the quarter

I added the detail on women because the change was them. Does anybody have any thoughts as to why this might be so?

We get some more detail from this.

Estimates for June to August 2019 show 32.69 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 282,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by women (up 202,000 on the year), those aged 50 years and over (up 287,000 on the year) and full-time workers (up 263,000 on the year). There was, however, a 56,000 decrease in employment on the quarter, which was the first quarterly decrease since August to October 2017.

Furthermore we seem to be switching towards self-employment again.

However, the latest estimate shows the weakest annual increase for employees since May to July 2012 (see Figure 3), making it smaller than the annual increase for the self-employed.

Unemployment

This has been in a long downtrend but again we saw a change today.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%; this is lower than a year earlier (4.0%) but 0.1 percentage points higher than last quarter…….the level of unemployment increasing by 22,000 to 1.31 million, in the three months to August 2019.

Yet rather oddly considering the pattern of the employment data above it was men that were made unemployed.

the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.0%, 0.1 percentage points lower than last year but 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter……..the estimated UK unemployment rate for women was 3.7%, down 0.3 percentage points on a year earlier but largely unchanged on the quarter.

Comment

This is the first real hint of a possible sea change in the UK labour market which has just seen something of a troika of news. Wage growth is slower than we thought combined with weaker employment and higher unemployment. We still have much better wage growth and the employment levels are very high but if we were the Star ship Enterprise the Captain would be considering pressing the yellow alert button.

The changes in the wages data remind us of the caution that is requited with even official data. Let me remind you that the self-employed and the armed forces are ignored and that companies below 20 people are mostly imputed.

Returning to the Bank of England then they will be thinking of another interest-rate cut whilst Governor Carney emits gens like this.

“The pound is either going to move up or down,” says Mark Carney ( @BruceReuters)

Also he has been contradicting past Bank of England research.

BANK OF ENGLAND’S CARNEY SAYS UK INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY FELL OVER THE PERIOD BOE QUANTITATIVE EASING WAS ACTIVE ( @RedboxGlobal )

 

 

 

 

What next in terms of interest-rates from the Bank of England?

There is much to engage the Bank of England at this time. There is the pretty much world wide manufacturing recession that affected the UK as shown below in the latest data.

The three-monthly fall in manufacturing of 1.1% is because of widespread weakness with 11 of the 13 subsectors decreasing; this was led by food, beverages and tobacco (2.0%) and computer, electronic and optical products (3.5%).

The recent declines have in fact reminded us that if all the monetary easing was for manufacturing it has not worked because it was at 105.1 at the previous peak in February 2018 ( 2015 = 100) as opposed to 101.4 this August if we look at a rolling three monthly measure. Or to put it another way we have seen a long-lasting depression just deepen again.

Also at the end of last week there was quite a bounce back by the value of the UK Pound £. Much of that has remained so far this morning as we are at 1.142 versus the Euro. Unfortunately the Bank of England has been somewhat tardy in updating its effective exchange rate index but using its old rule of thumb I estimate that the move was equivalent to a 0.75% rise in interest-rates. Actually there was another influence as the Gilt market fell at the same time with the ten-year yield rising to 0.7% on Friday.

Enter Dave Ramsden

I note that Sir David Ramsden CBE is now Dave but more important for me is the way that like all Deputy Governors these days he is a HM Treasury alumni.

Before joining the Bank, Dave was Chief Economic Adviser to the Treasury and Head of the Government Economic Service from 2007 – 2017.

On a conceptual level there seems little point in making the Bank of England independent from the Treasury and then filling it with Treasury insiders. So the word independent needs to be in my financial lexicon for these times.

However Dave is in the news because he has been interviewed by the Daily Telegraph. So let us examine what he has said.

The UK’s “speed limit” for growth has been so damaged by uncertainty over Brexit that it could hamper the Bank of England’s ability to help a weak economy with lower interest rates, deputy Governor Sir Dave Ramsden warned today.

There are several issues raised already. For example the “speed limit” follows quite a few failures for the Bank of England Ivory Tower, There was the output gap failure and the Phillips Curve but all pale into insignificance compared to the unemployment rate where 4.25% is the new 7%. As to the “speed limit” of 1.5% for GDP growth then as we were at 1.3% at the end of the second quarter in spite of the quarterly decline of 0.2% seen Dave seems to be whistling in the wind a bit.

Also the issue of the Bank of England helping the economy with lower interest-rates has two issues. The first is that interest-rates were slashed but we are where we are. Next the responsibility for Bank Rate being at 0.75% is of course with Dave and his colleagues. That is also inconsistent with the claims of Governor Mark Carney that the 0.25% interest-rate cut and Sledgehammer QE of August 2016 saved 250,000 jobs.

Productivity

Dave’s main concern was this.

He said he was more cautious over the economy’s growth potential thanks to consistent disappointments on productivity, which sank at its fastest pace for five years in the three months to June.

For those who have not seen the official data here it is.

Labour productivity, as measured on an output per hour basis, fell by 0.5% compared with Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2018. This follows two consecutive quarters of zero growth.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it ignores the switch to services which has been taking place for decades as they are areas where productivity is often hard to measure and sometimes you would not want at all. After my knee operation I had some 30 minute physio sessions and would not have been pleased if I was paying the same amount for twenty minutes!

Next comes the issue of the present contraction in manufacturing which will be making productivity worse. This is before we get to the issue that some of the claimed productivity gains pre credit crunch were an illusion as the banking sector inflated rather than grew.

Wages

Dave does not seem to be especially keen on the improvement in wage growth that has seen it rise to an annual rate of above 4%.

The critical economic ingredient has lagged since the crisis as businesses cut back investment spending, dampening the UK’s ability to produce more, fund sustainable pay rises and be internationally competitive. Company wage costs “are picking up quite significantly, which will drive domestic inflationary pressure”, he added.

Not much fun there for those whose real wages are still below the previous peak.We get dome further thoughts via the usual buzz phrase bingo central bankers so love.

From my perspective, I also think spare capacity might not have opened up that much despite that weakness in underlying growth, because I think supply potential, the speed limit of the economy, is also slowing through this period. That comes through for me pretty clearly in the latest productivity numbers.

News of the Ivory Tower theoretical conceptual failure does not seem to have arrived at Dave’s door.

Policy Prescription

In a world of “entrenched uncertainty” – a likely temporary extension to the UK’s membership if the Prime Minister complies with the Benn Act – “I see less of a case for a more accommodative monetary position,” Sir Dave said.

Also taking him away from an interest-rate cut was this.

Sir Dave – who refused to comment on whether he had applied to replace outgoing Governor Mark Carney – said the MPC would also have to take account of the recent £13.4bn surge in public spending unveiled by Chancellor Sajid Javid in last month’s spending review. The Bank estimates that will add 0.4 percentage point to growth.

Comment

In the past Dave has tried to make it look as though he is an expert in financial markets perhaps in an attempt to justify his role as Deputy Governor for that area. Unfortunately for him that has gone rather awry. If he looked at the rise in the UK ten-year Gilt yield form 0.45% to 0.71% at the end of last week or the three point fall in the Gilt future Fave may have thought that his speech would be well timed. Sadly for him that has gone all wrong this morning as the Gilt market has U-Turned and as the Gilt future has rallied a point the ten-year yield has fallen to 0.62%

So it would appear he may even have negative credibility in the markets. Perhaps they have picked up on the tendency of Bank of England policymakers to vote in a “I agree with Mark ( Carney)” fashion. His credibility took quite a knock back in May 2016 when he described consumer credit growth of 8.6% like this.

Bank Of England’s Ramsden Says Weak Consumer Credit Data Was Another Factor That Made Me Fear UK Consumption Growth Could Slow Further, Need To Wait And See ( @LiveSquawk )

In terms of PR though should Sir Dave vote for an interest-rate cut he can present it as something he did not want to do. After all so much central banking policy making comes down to PR these days.

Podcast

 

 

 

Why inflation is bad for so many people

Today I wish to address what is one of the major economic swizzles of our time. That is the drip drip feed by the establishment and a largely supine media that inflation is good for us, and in particular an inflation rate of 2% per annum is a type of nirvana. This ignores the fact that that particular number was chosen by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand because it “seemed right” back in the day. There was no analysis of the benefits and costs.

On the other side of the coin there has been a major campaign against low or no inflation claiming it is the road to deflation which is presented as a bogey(wo)man. There are several major problems with this. The first is that many periods of human economic advancement are exhibited this such as the Industrial Revolution in the UK. Or more recently the enormous advances in technology, computing and the link in more modern times. On the other side of the coin we see inflation involved in economies suffering deflation. For example Greece saw consumer inflation rising at an annual rate of over 5% in the early stages of its economic depression. That was partly due to the rise in consumer taxes or VAT but the ordinary Greek will simply feel it as paying more. Right now we see extraordinary economic dislocation in Argentina where a monthly inflation rate of 4% in August comes with this from Reuters.

The country’s economy shrank 2.5% last year and 5.8% in the first quarter of 2019. The government expects a 2.6% contraction this year.

Argentina’s unemployment rate also rose to 10.6% in the second quarter from 9.6% in the same period last year, the official INDEC statistics agency said on Thursday.

The Euro Area

The situation here is highlighted by this release from the German statistics office this morning.

Harmonised index of consumer prices, September 2019
+0.9% on the same month a year earlier (provisional result confirmed)
-0.1% on the previous month (provisional result confirmed)

This is around half of the European Central Bank or ECB inflation target so let us switch to its view on the subject.

Today’s decisions were taken in response to the continued shortfall of inflation with respect to our aim. In fact, incoming information since the last Governing Council meeting indicates a more protracted weakness of the euro area economy, the persistence of prominent downside risks and muted inflationary pressures. This is reflected in the new staff projections, which show a further downgrade of the inflation outlook.

That is from the introductory statement to the September press conference. As you can see it is a type of central banking standard. But later Mario Draghi went further and to the more intelligent listener gave the game away.

The reference to levels sufficiently close to but below 2% signals that we want to see projected inflation to significantly increase from the current realised and projected inflation figures which are well below the levels that we consider to be in line with our aim.

My contention is that this objective makes the ordinary worker and consumer worse off.

Real Wages

The behaviour of real wages has changed a lot in the credit crunch era. If we look at my home country the UK we see that nominal wage growth has only recently pushed above an annual rate of 4%. But if we look at the Ivory Tower style projections of the OBR it should have pushed above 5% years ago based on Phillips Curve style analysis like this from their report on the 2010 Budget.

Wages and salaries growth rises gradually throughout the forecast, reaching 5½ percent in 2014…………Thereafter, the more rapid increase in employment is sufficient to lower unemployment, so that the ILO unemployment rate falls to
6 per cent in 2015.

As you can see wages growth was supposed to be far higher than now when unemployment was far higher. If they knew the number below was associated with a UK unemployment rate of below 4% their computers would have had a moment like HAL-9000 in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in July 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.3% difference.

Real pay still has some distance to go to reach the previous peak even using a measure of inflation ( CPIH) that is systematically too low via its use of Imputed Rents to measure owner-occupied housing inflation.

It is the change here which means that old fashioned theories about inflation rates are now broken but the Ivory Tower establishment has turned a Nelsonian style blind eye to it. Let me illustrate by returning to the ECB press conference.

While labour cost pressures strengthened and broadened amid high levels of capacity utilisation and tightening labour markets, their pass-through to inflation is taking longer than previously anticipated. Over the medium term underlying inflation is expected to increase, supported by our monetary policy measures, the ongoing economic expansion and robust wage growth.

This is the old assumption that higher inflation means higher wage growth and comes with an implicit assumption that there will be real wage growth. But we have learnt in the credit crunch era that not only are things more complex than that at times things move in the opposite direction. There is no former rejection of Phillips Curve style thinking than the credit crunch history of my country the UK. Indeed this from the Czech National Bank last year is pretty damning of the whole concept.

Wage dynamics in the euro area remain subdued even ten years after the financial crisis. Nominal wage growth1 has seldom exceeded 2% since 2013 (see Chart 1). Wages have not accelerated significantly even since 2014, when the euro area began to enjoy rising economic growth and falling unemployment. Following tentative signs of increasing wage growth in the first half of 2017, wages slowed in the second half of the year.

Comment

It is the breakdown of the relationship between wages and inflation that mean that the 2% inflation target is now bad for us. The central bankers pursue it because one part of the theory works in that gentle consumer inflation helps with the burden of debt. The catch is that as we switch to the ordinary worker and consumer they are not seeing the wage increases that would come with that in the Ivory Tower theory. In the UK it used to be assumed that real wage growth would be towards 2% per annum whereas in net terms the credit crunch era has shown a contraction.

If we look at the United States then last week’s unemployment report gave us another signal as we saw these two factors combine.

The unemployment rate declined to 3.5 percent in September, and total nonfarm
payroll employment rose by 136,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported
today………In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls,
at $28.09, were little changed (-1 cent), after rising by 11 cents in August. Over the
past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.9 percent.

It is only one example but an extraordinary unemployment performance saw wage growth fall. There have been hundreds of these butt any individual example the other way is presented as a triumph for the Phillips Curve. Yet the US performance has been better than elsewhere.

Oh did I say the US has done better, Here is the Pew Research Center from last year.

After adjusting for inflation, however, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

All of this is added to by the way that rises in the cost of housing are kept out of the consumer inflation numbers so they can be presented as beneficial wealth effects instead.

The UK Services sector is the shining star of the economy and GDP

Today brings us a whole raft of data on the UK economy or what out official statisticians call a theme day. Actually we get too much in one burst with the trade data usually being ignored which may well be a Sir Humphrey Appleby style plan. But before we get to that we can look at the economy from the viewpoint of the Bank of England.

Turning to prices, the headline price balance sees a flat trend in house price inflation. However, there is once again a mixed picture across the UK with negative momentum in London and the South East, and solid gains in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North West.

Looking ahead, price expectations for the coming three months stand at -16% pointing to a modest decline on a UK-wide basis. However, the twelve-month outlook points to a turnaround, with +18% more respondents expecting prices to rise (rather than fall) over the coming year.

That is from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or RICS. As you can see there are no “wealth effects” to be found presently unless they can somehow only draw Governor Carney’s attention to the North or Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A little innovation will be required to present this as good news.

 In keeping with this, newly agreed sales fell, with a net balance of -27% (from -11% previously), with activity reportedly slipping in virtually all parts of the UK. As far as the near-term outlook is concerned, sales expectations stand at -9%, suggesting sales will remain subdued in the coming three months………This will not only be a direct hit on the housing market itself but could have ramifications for the wider economy as the normal spend on furniture, fittings and appliances that typically accompanies a house move is also put on hold.

One possibility for the morning staffer presenting such information to an irascible Governor is to appeal to his plan to be a fearless climate change champion and say it is in line with this.

The TCFD provides the necessary foundation for the financial sector’s role in the transition to net zero that
our planet needs and our citizens demand.

He is indeed so enthusiastic about this that he has flown to Tokyo to point this out. This contrasts the highly important nature of his flights as to the extremely unimportant climate change causing flights of plebs like us.

This backs up what the Halifax told us on Monday and the emphasis is mine because the date is pretty much when the effect of the Funding for Lending Scheme arrived,

“Annual house price growth slowed somewhat in September, rising by just 1.1% over the last year. Whilst
this is lowest level of growth since April 2013, it remains in keeping with the predominantly flat trend we’ve
seen in recent months.”

UK GDP

This brought some welcome news.

UK GDP grew by 0.3% in the three months to August 2019.  Rolling three-month GDP growth increased for the second consecutive month after falling in Quarter 2 2019.

It is put in neutral terms but the UK moved away from recession in this period although in monthly terms it did so in a slightly odd fashion.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was negative 0.1% in August 2019, following growth in both June and July 2019…….Overall, revisions to monthly GDP growth were small. However, both June and July 2019 have been revised up by 0.1 percentage points, giving extra strength to the most recent rolling three-month estimate.

As you can see we had a dip in August ( assuming that is not revised higher over time) but that was more than offset by upwards revisions in both June and July. For those of you wondering if the June figure affects the second quarter contraction of -0.2% the answer is not so far although it must have an impact if we move another decimal place.

The shift to Services

I have long argued that the services sector must now be over four-fifths of the UK economy and it seems the Office for National Statistics is picking this up.

The main contributor to gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the three months to August 2019 was the services sector, which grew by 0.4%. This was driven by widespread strength across the services industries in June and July, following a period of largely flat growth in the previous three months. Meanwhile, the production sector fell by 0.4% in the same period, while construction output grew by 0.1%.

For newer readers this has been the trend for years and indeed decades or as Talking Heads put it.

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

This means somewhat ironically that the UK may well do relatively well in the manufacturing recession that we are seeing in much of the world. The irony is that we have often wanted to be more like Germany with its success in this area but for now out more services based model works better. This does not mean that the manufacturing sector we have is avoiding the chill winds blowing.

Rolling three-month growth in the production sector was negative 0.4% in August 2019, with growth in manufacturing at negative 1.1%.

There were widespread falls across manufacturing, offset partially by the manufacture of transport equipment, which is still seeing a bounce back from the weakness in April 2019 as a result of car production plants bringing forward their summer shutdowns.

There is another example of same as it ever was if we look at the detail of the services growth.

However, the sub-industry that had the largest contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) growth was motion pictures (including TV and music), which has been one of the best performing sectors over the last year, growing at a notably faster rate than services as a whole.

So if you pass a Luvvie today please be nice to them as they are doing a sterling job.

August

It looks as though there was something we have been noting for several years was behind the 0.1% GDP fall in August.

Within production, manufacturing fell by 0.7%. This was driven largely by a fall-back in the often volatile manufacture of pharmaceuticals, following strong growth in July.

It would seem that the production pattern is not monthly and thus is over recorded and  then under recorded. So that the  truth seems likely to be that we should take a bit off July and add it to August. More fundamentally it exposes one of the problems of producing a monthly GDP series.

Comment

As I look at the numbers I note that yet again we see to be reverting to the mean growth level of around ~0.3% per quarter that I suggested a couple of years ago. In the current circumstances that is pretty good although I note Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation calls it “Growth is really rubbish”. Mind you I note that he is retweeting something which describes the 0.3% rise in the quarterly or 3 monthly growth rate as a “small rebound” which speaks for itself.

The situation is that we should be grateful for our services sector which is keeping the UK out of a recession for now. So instead of the “march of the makers” promised by former Chancellor George Osborne we are seeing a “surge of the services”. This brings its own issues but at a time like this we should welcome any growth we can find. A particular success is the film and music industry and some of this is near to me as Battersea Park is regularly used these days. In a away this represents cycles as what has suited Germany (manufacturing) fades and we see something where the UK is strong (services) replacing it. How long that will last I do not know.

Meanwhile some of you may have followed my debate with former Bank of England policymaker Danny Blanchflower on social media. When I pointed out to him that today saw 2 more upwards revisions to UK GDP ( as opposed to his continual promises of downwards ones) he replied thus.

So what? Go and look at the supporting data

 

The Investing Channel

A new era of US QE starts with it being renamed Reserve Management

Last night saw something of an epoch making event as all eyes turned to Denver Colorado. This time it was not for the famous “hurry up offence” of John Elway in the NFL but instead there was a speech by Jerome Powell the Chair of the US Federal Reserve. In it he confirmed something I have been writing about on here for some time and the emphasis is mine.

Reserve balances are one among several items on the liability side of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, and demand for these liabilities—notably, currency in circulation—grows over time. Hence, increasing the supply of reserves or even maintaining a given level over time requires us to increase the size of our balance sheet. As we indicated in our March statement on balance sheet normalization, at some point, we will begin increasing our securities holdings to maintain an appropriate level of reserves. That time is now upon us.

This of course raises my QE ( Quantitative Easing) to infinity theme. I also note Chair Powell raises the issue of the balance sheet so let us look at that. It peaked at around US $4.5 trillion as we moved into 2015 and stayed there until October 2017 when the era of QT ( Quantitative Tightening) or reverse QE began and it began to shrink. Over the last year it shrank from US $4.17 trillion to US $3.76 trillion before the repo crisis struck.

In mid-September, an important channel in the transmission process—wholesale funding markets—exhibited unexpectedly intense volatility. Payments to meet corporate tax obligations and to purchase Treasury securities triggered notable liquidity pressures in money markets. Overnight interest rates spiked, and the effective federal funds rate briefly moved above the FOMC’s target range. To counter these pressures, we began conducting temporary open market operations. These operations have kept the federal funds rate in the target range and alleviated money market strains more generally.

What this misses out is that US Dollar liquidity has been singing along with Queen for some time.

Pressure: pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man ask for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two,
Puts people on streets.

Here I am from the 25th of September last year.

The question to my mind going forwards is will we see a reversal in the QT or Quantitative Tightening era? The supply of US Dollars is now being reduced by it and we wait to see what the consequences are.

As you can see the phrase “unexpectedly intense volatility” is not true of anyone who is a follower of my work. One way of looking at this is that forwards pricing of the US Dollar has been in the wrong place for theory. This is one of the reasons why German bond yields have gone so negative ( as I type this the benchmark ten-year yield is -0.58%) because if you try to switch to US Treasury Bonds to gain the 1.54% or 2% higher yield you find that exchange rates take away the gain. To get a higher yield you have to take an exchange rate risk. Returning to the Chair Powell statement we see that it is more realistic to say we were hovering near an edge and then slipped over it.

If we return to the balance sheet we see that it has risen to US $3.95 trillion for a rise of the order of 190 billion in response to the repo crisis. The exact amount varies daily with the individual repo operations and also fortnightly as we now have those too. Just as an example the difference between the operations on Monday and yesterday was some US $9.55 billion lower. I point this out as some places have been claiming you add the repo operations up which is really rather odd when most so far only have the lifespan of a Mayfly.

Those who analyse events via the prism of bank reserves should be happy with this bit.

Indeed, my colleagues and I will soon announce measures to add to the supply of reserves over time. Consistent with a decision we made in January, our goal is to provide an ample supply of reserves to ensure that control of the federal funds rate and other short-term interest rates is exercised primarily by setting our administered rates and not through frequent market interventions.

An official denial

By now you should all know how to treat this.

I want to emphasize that growth of our balance sheet for reserve management purposes should in no way be confused with the large-scale asset purchase programs that we deployed after the financial crisis.

Indeed the next part is simply untrue or if you are less kind a lie.

Neither the recent technical issues nor the purchases of Treasury bills we are contemplating to resolve them should materially affect the stance of monetary policy, to which I now turn.

One of the roles of a central bank is setting interest-rates as part of monetary policy. Those who follow my podcasts will know I defined it as there second role after the existence and provision of a currency, in this case the US Dollar. Briefly monetary policy was affected as overnight interest-rates went outside the official range as described below by the Financial Times.

the pressures that bubbled up in September and sent the cost of borrowing cash overnight via repurchase, or repo, agreements as high as 10 per cent.

That is not as large as you might think as the impact is only for each day but it was way outside the official range. Also there were times when the role of a central bank was in setting the interest-rate for overnight money in terms of its monetary policy. The credit crunch moved events along as that did not have the hoped for impact on the real economy ( and hence we got QE) but the underlying principle remains.

Comment

So we find that the new version of Quantitative Easing or what will no doubt be called QE4 had the champagne bottle smashed on it last night by Jerome Powell as it got ready to go down to the slipway. It remains for it to be fully fitted out as I do not believe it will stop here.

making the case instead for the Fed to buy anywhere from $200bn to more than $300bn of shorter-dated Treasury bills over the next six months. ( Financial Times)

As you can see the lower estimate pretty much coincides with the change in the balance sheet do far with the repo operations. The larger amount perhaps aims for some sort of margin.

The difference between this and the QE we have seen so far is the term of the assets purchased. Treasury Bills last for up to a year whereas Treasury Bonds are for longer periods of time with what is called the long bond being for thirty-years. Also bills do not pay interest as you pay less for them to allow for that.

So there are minor differences with past QE efforts but the direction of travel is the same. Let me put it another way with this from the US Federal Reserve,

Total assets of the Federal Reserve have increased significantly from $870 billion on August 8th, 2007

They have indeed as we wonder how long it will be before we get back to the previous peak of US $4.5 trillion and presumably beyond.

If QE really worked it would not need so many new names would it? Japan now calls it QQE and now the US calls it reserve management. Perhaps Governor Carney will call it climate-related QE.

 

 

 

My thoughts on the IFS Green Budget for the UK

Today we find that the news flow has crossed one of the major themes that I have established on here. It is something we looked at yesterday as we mulled the debt and deficit issues in Japan where the new “consensus” on public finances has been met by Japan doing the reverse. So let me take you to the headlines from the Institute for Fiscal Studies for the UK.

A decade after the financial crisis, the deficit has been returned to normal levels, but debt is at a historical high. The latest estimate for borrowing in 2018–19, at 1.9%
of national income, is at its long-run historical average. However, higher borrowing during the crisis and since has left a mark on debt, which stood at 82% of national
income, more than twice its pre-crisis level.

There are several issues already of which the first is the use of “national income” as they switch to GDP later. Next concepts such as the one below are frankly quite meaningless in the credit crunch era as so much has changed.

at its long-run historical average

This issue gets worse if we switch from the numbers above which are a very UK style way oh looking at things and use more of an international standard.

general government deficit (or net borrowing) was £41.5 billion in the FYE March 2019, equivalent to 1.9% of GDP

general government gross debt was £1,821.9 billion at the end of the FYE March 2019, equivalent to 85.3% of GDP…  ( UK ONS)

As you can see the deficit is the same but the national debt is higher. In terms of the Maastricht Stability and Growth Pact we are within the fiscal deficit limit by 1.1% but 25.3% over the national debt to GDP target.

What will happen next?

The IFS thinks this.

Given welcome changes to student loan accounting, the spending increases announced at the September Spending Round, and a likely growth downgrade (even assuming a smooth Brexit), borrowing in 2019–20 could be around
£55 billion, and still at £52 billion next year. Those figures are respectively £26 billion and £31 billion more than the OBR’s March 2019 forecast. Both exceed 2% of national
income.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the way my first rule of OBR ( Office for Budget Responsibility) Club which is that it is always wrong! You will not get that from the IFS which lives in an illusion where the forecasts are not unlike a Holy Grail. Next comes the way that the changes to student loans are used to raise the number. If we step back we are in fact acknowledging reality as there was an issue here all along it is just that we are measuring it now. So it is something we should welcome and not worry too much about. This year has seen growth downgrades in lots of countries and locales as we have seen this morning from the Bank of Italy but of course the IFS are entitled to their view on the consequences of any Brexit.

Next the IFS which has in general given the impression of being in favour of more government spending seems maybe not so sure.

A fiscal giveaway beyond the one announced in the September Spending Round could increase borrowing above its historical average over the next five years.
With a permanent fiscal giveaway of 1% of national income (£22 billion in today’s terms), borrowing would reach a peak of 2.8% of GDP in 2022–23 under a smooth-Brexit
scenario, and headline debt would no longer be falling.

Actually assuming they are correct which on the track record of such forecasts is unlikely then we would for example still be within the Maastricht rules albeit only just. You may note that a swerve has been slipped in which is this.

headline debt would no longer be falling

As an absolute amount it is not falling but relatively it has been as this from the latest official Public Finances bulletin tells us.

Debt (public sector net debt excluding public sector banks, PSND ex) at the end of August 2019 was £1,779.9 billion (or 80.9% of gross domestic product, GDP), an increase of £24.5 billion (or a decrease of 1.5 percentage points of GDP) on August 2018.

Next if we use the IFS view on Brexit then this is the view and I note we have switched away from GDP to national income as it continues a type of hokey-cokey in this area.

Even under a relatively orderly no-deal scenario, and with a permanent fiscal loosening of 1% of national income, the deficit would likely rise to over 4% of national income in 2021–22 and debt would climb to almost 90% of national income for the first time since the mid 1960s. Some fiscal tightening – that is, more austerity – would likely be required in subsequent years in order to keep debt on a sustainable path.

The keep debt on a sustainable path is at best a dubious statement so let me explain why.

It is so cheap to borrow

As we stand the UK fifty-year Gilt yield is 0.85% and the ten-year is 0.44% and in this “new world” the analysis above simply does not stand up. Actually if we go to page six of the report it does cover it.

Despite this doubling of net debt, the government’s debt interest bill has remained flat in real terms as the recorded cost of government borrowing has fallen. As shown in Figure 4.3, in 2018–19, when public sector net debt exceeded 80% of national income, spending on debt interest was 1.8% of national income, or £37.5 billion in nominal terms. Compare this with 2007–08, when public sector net debt was below 40% of national income but spending on debt interest was actually higher as a share of national income, at 2.0%.

As you can see we are in fact paying less as in spite of the higher volume of debt it is so cheap to run. Assuming Gilt yields stay at these sort of levels that trend will continue because as each Gilt matures it will be refinanced more cheaply. Let me give you an example of this as on the 7th of last month a UK Gilt worth just under £29 billion matured and it had a coupon or interest-rate of 3.5%. That will likely be replaced by something yielding more like 0.5% so in round numbers we save £870 million a year. A back of an envelope calculation but you get the idea of a process that has been happening for some years. It takes place in chunks as there was one in July but the next is not due until March.

The role of the Bank of England

Next comes the role of the Bank of England which has bought some £435 billion of UK debt which means as we stand it is effectively interest-free. To be more specific it gets paid the debt interest and later refunds it to HM Treasury. As the amount looks ever more permanent I think we need to look at an analysis of what difference that makes. Because as I look at the world the amount of QE bond buying only seems to increase as the one country that tried to reverse course the United States seems set to rub that out and the Euro area has announced a restart of it.

Indeed there are roads forwards where the Bank of England will engage in more QE and make that debt effectively free as well.

There are two nuances to this. If we start with the “QE to infinity” theme I do nor agree with it but it does look the most likely reality. Also the way this is expressed in the public finances is a shambles as only what is called “entrepreneurial income” is counted and those of you who recall my £2 billion challenge to the July numbers may like to know that our official statisticians have failed to come up with any answer to my enquiry.

Comment

I have covered a fair bit of ground today. But a fundamental point is that the way we look at the national debt needs to change with reality and not stay plugged in 2010. Do I think we can borrow for ever? No. But it is also true that with yields at such levels we can borrow very cheaply and if we look around the world seem set to do so. I have written before that we should be taking as much advantage of this as we can.

https://notayesmanseconomics.wordpress.com/2019/06/27/the-uk-should-issue-a-100-year-bond-gilt/

Gilt yields may get even lower and head to zero but I have seen them at 15% and compared to that we are far from the literal middle of the road but in line with their biggest hit.

Ooh wee, chirpy chirpy cheep cheep
Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp

The caveat here is that I have ignored our index-linked borrowing but let me offer some advice on this too. At these levels for conventional yields I see little or no point in running the risk of issuing index-linked Gilts.