UK GDP growth is as flat as a pancake

Today brings us the last major set of UK economic data before the General Election on Thursday at least for those who vote in person. It is quite a set as we get trade, production, manufacturing and construction data but the headliners will be monthly and quarterly GDP. As the latter seem set to be close to and maybe below zero no doubt politicians will be throwing them around later. Let’s face it they have thrown all sorts of numbers around already in the campaign.

The UK Pound

This has been the economic factor which has changed the most recently although it has not got the attention it deserves in my opinion. At the time of writing the UK Pound £ is above US $1.31, 1.18 to the Euro and nearing 143 Yen. This means that the effective or trade-weighted index calculated by the Bank of England is at 81.1 which is about as good as it has been since the post EU leave vote fall ( there were similar levels in April of last year). This particular rally started on the 9th of August from just below 74 so it has been strong or if you prefer for perspective we opened the year at 76.4.

Thus using the old Bank of England rule of thumb we have seen the equivalent of more than a 1% rise in official interest-rates or Bank Rate in 2019 so far. This has produced two economic developments or at least contributed to them. The first is that inflation prospects look good and I mean by my definition not the Bank of England one. The CPI versions could head below 1% in the months to come and RPI towards 1.5%. The other is that it may have put a small brake on the UK economy and contributed to our weak growth trajectory although many producers are probably used to swings in the UK Pound by now.

Some good news

The trade figures will be helped by this from UK wind.

GB National Grid: #Wind is currently generating 13.01GW (33.08%) out of a total of 39.34GW

The catch is that of course we are reliant on the wind blowing for a reliable supply. Also that it is expensive especially in its offshore guise, as it it both outright expensive to add to the costs of a back-up.

GDP

As to growth well our official statisticians could not find any.

UK GDP was flat in the three months to October 2019.

If we look at the different sectors we see what has become a familiar pattern.

The services sector was the only positive contributor to gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the three months to October 2019, growing by 0.2%. Output in both the production and construction sectors contracted, by 0.7% and 0.3%, respectively. The weakness seen in construction was predominantly driven by a fall of 2.3% in October.

So services grew and production shrank with construction erratic but also overall lower. If you wish to go to another decimal place you can find a small smidgeon of growth as services pushed GDP up by 0.17%, production cost 0.1% and construction cost 0.02% leaving a net 0.05%. But that is spurious accuracy as that puts the numbers under too much pressure.

Services

There was something of note in the monthly series ( October).

Services also grew by 0.2% in October, with widespread growth in several industries. The most notable of these were real estate activities and professional, scientific and technical activities, which both contributed 0.06 percentage points to gross domestic product (GDP) growth. The latter was driven by strength in both architectural and engineering activities, and research and development.

Two things stand out from this. Firstly the quarterly growth was essentially October  and next that much of it was from real estate and architecture. Is Nine Elms booming again? But more seriously something is perhaps going on here that has not been picked up elsewhere.

Production

Here the news has been pretty gloomy all round although the energy part is good news in terms of better weather and less expense for consumers.

Total production output decreased by 0.7% for the three months to October 2019, compared with the three months to July 2019; this was led by manufacturing output, which fell by 0.7%, followed by falls in mining and quarrying (2.6%) and electricity and gas (1.0%).

This reminds us that these areas have been seeing a depression in the credit crunch era.

Production output in the UK remained 6.2% lower for the three months to October 2019 than the pre-downturn peak for the three months to March 2008……..Manufacturing output in the UK remained 3.5% lower for the three months to October 2019 than the pre-downturn peak for the three months to March 2008.

It was not so long ago that it looked like manufacturing was about to escape this but then the trade war happened.

There was a flicker in October alone but the impact of the swings in the pharmaceutical industry are usually much stronger than that.

The growth of 0.1% in total manufacturing output in October 2019, compared with September 2019, was mainly because of widespread strength, with 8 of the 13 subsectors displaying upward contributions. The largest of these came from the volatile pharmaceutical products subsector, which rose by 2.1%, following two consecutive periods of significant monthly weakness during August and September 2019.

Trade

The issue here is the uncertainty of the data which today has illustrated,

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened £2.3 billion to £7.2 billion in the three months to October 2019, as imports grew faster than exports

That seems clear but then again maybe not.

Excluding unspecified goods (which includes non-monetary gold), the total trade deficit narrowed £4.3 billion to £2.9 billion in the three months to October 2019.

The oversea travel and tourism problems have still not be solved.

For earlier monthly releases of UK Trade
Statistics that have also been affected by this error, the versions on the website should be amended
to make clear to users that the errors led the Authority to suspend the National Statistics
designation on 14 November 2014.

Moving on there is also this.

In current prices, the trade in goods deficit widened £6.8 billion to £35.6 billion, largely driven by rising imports; the trade in services surplus widened £4.4 billion to £28.4 billion, largely driven by rising exports.

So there is hope for the UK services exports which seem to be doing well and I have long suspected have been under recorded. For example smaller businesses are likely to be missed out. The scale of this is simply unknown and as we have issues here this must feed into the wider GDP numbers which are so services driven.

So our trade problem is a case of definitely maybe.

Comment

We perhaps get the best perspective from the annual rate of GDP growth which is now 0.8% using the quarterly methodology. If we take out the spring blip that has been declining since the 2% of August 2018. There are some ying and yangs in the detail because of we start with the positive which is services growth ( 1.3%) it has been pulled higher by the information and communication category which is up by 5.4% and education which is up by 3%. But on the other side of the coin the depression in production and manufacturing has worsened as both have fallen by 1.5%. I have little faith in the construction numbers for reasons explained in the past but growth there has fallen to 0%.

There are lots of permutations for the General Election but yet another interest-rate cut by the Bank of England just got more likely. It meets next week. Also political spending plans are getting harder to afford in terms of economic growth,

 

 

 

Why is the US Repo crisis ongoing?

The US Repo crisis is something that seems to turn up every day, or if you prefer as often as we are told there is a solution to trade war between the US and China. On Friday the New York Federal Reserve or Fed provided another US $72.8 billion of overnight liquidity in return for Treasury Bonds ( US $56.1 billion) and Mortgage-Backed Securities ( US $16.7 billion). So something is still going on in spite of the fact that we have two monthly plus Repos ( 42 days) for US $25 billion each in play and 3 fortnightly ones totalling around US $59 billion. So quite a bit of liquidity continues to be deployed and this is before we get to the Treasury Bill purchases.

In accordance with this directive, the Desk plans to purchase Treasury bills at an initial pace of approximately $60 billion per month, starting with the period from mid-October to mid-November.

As an example Friday saw some US $7.525 billion of these bought. So the sums are getting larger.

How did this start?

The Bank for International Settlements or BIS which is the central bankers central bank puts it like this.

On 17 September, the secured overnight funding rate (SOFR) – the new, repo market-based, US dollar overnight reference rate – more than doubled, and the intraday range jumped to about 700 basis points. Intraday volatility in the federal funds rate was also unusually high. The reasons for this dislocation have been extensively debated; explanations include a due date for US corporate taxes and a large settlement of US Treasury securities. Yet none of these temporary factors can fully explain the exceptional jump in repo rates.

Indeed, as for a start the issue has proved to be anything but temporary.

Where the BIS view gets more interesting is via the role of the banks or rather a small group of them.

US repo markets currently rely heavily on four banks as marginal lenders. As the composition of their liquid assets became more skewed towards US Treasuries, their ability to supply funding at short notice in repo markets was diminished.

As the supply of reserves fell in the QT or Quantitative Tightening era they stepped up to the plate on a grand scale.

As repo rates started to increase above the IOER from mid-2018 owing to the large issuance of Treasuries, a remarkable shift took place: the US banking system as a whole, hitherto a net provider of collateral, became a net provider of funds to repo markets. The four largest US banks specifically turned into key players: their net lending position (reverse repo assets minus repo liabilities) increased quickly, reaching about $300 billion at end-June 2019 . At the same time, the next largest 25 banks reduced their demand for repo funding, turning the net repo position of the banking sector positive (centre panel, dashed line).

So things became more vulnerable as we note this.

At the same time, the four largest banks held only about 25% of reserves (ie funding that they could supply at short notice in repo markets).

Then demand for Repo funding was affected by the US Treasury.

After the debt ceiling was suspended in early August 2019, the US Treasury quickly set out to rebuild its dwindling cash balances, draining more than $120 billion of reserves in the 30 days between 14 August and 17 September alone, and half of this amount in the last week of that period. By comparison, while the Federal Reserve runoff removed about five times this amount, it did so over almost two years

As you can see the drain from QT was added to in spite of the fact that the market had become more vulnerable due to the lack of players. There was a clear lack of joined up thinking at play and perhaps a lack of any thinking at all. A factor here was something the BIS identifies for the banks.

For instance, the internal processes and knowledge that banks need to ensure prompt and smooth market operations may start to decay. This could take the form of staff inexperience and fewer market-makers, slowing internal processes

After a decade the experienced hands had in general moved on.

But it was not enough to collapse the house of cards. There were other nudges as well on the horizon.

Market commentary suggests that, in preceding quarters, leveraged players (eg hedge funds) were increasing their demand for Treasury repos to fund arbitrage trades between cash bonds and derivatives. Since 2017, MMFs have been lending to a broader range of repo counterparties, including hedge funds, potentially obtaining higher returns.

So hedge funds were playing in the market but as it happened were not an issue for a while as the US Money Market Funds (MMF) turned up. But then they didn’t.

 During September, however, quantities dropped and rates rose, suggesting a reluctance, also on the part of MMFs, to lend into these markets. Market intelligence suggests MMFs were concerned by potential large redemptions given strong prior inflows. Counterparty exposure limits may have contributed to the drop in quantities, as these repos now account for almost 20% of the total provided by MMFs.

So there is a hint that maybe a hedge fund or two became such large players that they hit counterparty limits. Also redemptions from MMFs would hardly be a surprise as we note the interest-rate cuts we have seen in 2019.

Why should we care?

There is this.

 Repo markets redistribute liquidity between financial institutions: not only banks (as is the case with the federal funds market), but also insurance companies, asset managers, money market funds and other institutional investors. In so doing, they help other financial markets to function smoothly.

So they oil the wheels of financial markets and when they don’t? Well that is one of the causes of the credit crunch.

The freezing-up of repo markets in late 2008 was one of the most damaging aspects of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC).

In case you did not know what they are.

A repo transaction is a short-term (usually overnight) collateralised loan, in which the borrower (of cash) sells a security (typically government bonds as collateral) to the lender, with a commitment to buy it back later at the same price plus interest.

Also it is one of those things which get little publicity ( mostly ironically because they usually work smoothly) but there is a lot of action.

 Thus, any sustained disruption in this market, with daily turnover in the US market of about $1 trillion, could quickly ripple through the financial system.

Comment

Some of the factors in the Repo crisis were unpredictable. But it is also true that the US Fed was at best rather flat-footed. There had been a long-running discussion over the use of Interest On Excess Reserves or IOER to banks on such a scale which was not resolved. Then there was the way that so few banks (4) were able to become such large players creating an obvious risk. Then the role of the MMFs as by their very nature they flow into and out of markets and are likely to flow out when interest-rates are declining.

The BIS analysis adds to what we know but changes in stocks give us broad trends rather than telling what flowed where or rather did not flow on September 17th or since. As David Bowie put it.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Number Crunching

The BIS has been looking into some other areas.

An analysis of the #TriennialSurvey finds that global notional for #OTCderivatives rose to $640 trn in 2019, dominated by #InterestRateDerivatives

Average daily turnover of OTC interest rate derivatives more than doubled over 2016-19 to $6.5 trillion, taking OTC markets’ share to almost half total trading

30 years, 53 countries, 1,300 reporting dealers, and $6.6 trillion daily FX trades,

Weekly Podcast

 

Is the Bundesbank still sure that Germany is not facing a recession?

The year so far has seen a development which has changed the economic debate especially in Europe.This is the malaise affecting the German economy which for so long has been lauded. This continued in 2017 which saw quarterly GDP growth of 1.2%, 0.6%, 0.9% and 0.7% giving the impression that it had returned to what had in the past been regarded as normal service. However before the trade war was a glint in President Trump’s eye and indeed before the ECB QE programme stopped things changed. As I have pointed out previously we did not know this at the time because it is only after more recent revisions that we knew 2018 opened with 0.1% and then 0.4% rather changing the theme and meaning that the subsequent -0.1% would have been less of a shock. We can put the whole situation in perspective by noting that German GDP was 106.04 at the end of 2017 and was 107.03 at the end of the third quarter this year. As Talking Heads would put it.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Taking that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

Industrial Production

This has been a troubled area for some time as regular readers will be aware. Throughout it we have seen many in social media claim that in the detail they can see reasons for an improvement, whereas in fact things have headed further south. This morning has produced another really bad number. .

WIESBADEN – In October 2019, production in industry was down by 1.7% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). In September 2019, the corrected figure shows a decrease of 0.6% from August 2019, thus confirming the provisional result published in the previous month.

If we look at the breakdown we see that the future is not bright according to those producing capital goods.

Within industry, the production of intermediate goods increased by 1.0% and the production of consumer goods by 0.3%. The production of capital goods showed a decrease by 4.4%. Outside industry, energy production was up by 2.3% in October 2019 and the production in construction decreased by 2.8%.

There is a flicker of hope from intermediate goods but consumer goods fell. There is an additional dampener from the construction data as well.

Moving to the index we see that the index set at 100 in 2015 is at 99.4 so we are seeing a decline especially compared to the peak of 107.8 in May last year. If we exclude construction from the data set the position is even worse as the index is at 97.6.

The annual comparison just compounds the gloom.

-5.3% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Looking Ahead

Yesterday also saw bad news on the orders front.

WIESBADEN – Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in October 2019 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 0.4% on the previous month.

This was a contrast to a hint of an uptick in the previous month.

For September 2019, revision of the preliminary outcome resulted in an increase of 1.5% compared with August 2019 (provisional: +1.3%).

If we peer into the October detail we see that this time around the problem was domestic rather than external.

Domestic orders decreased by 3.2% and foreign orders rose 1.5% in October 2019 on the previous month. New orders from the euro area were up 11.1%, new orders from other countries decreased 4.1% compared to September 2019.

The oddity here is the surge in orders from the rest of the Euro area when we are expecting economic growth there to be very flat. If we switch to Monday’s Markit PMI then there was no sign of anything like it.

At the aggregate eurozone level, ongoing declines in
output and new orders were again recorded.

Indeed ICIS reported this in October based on the Markit survey.

Sharp declines in order book volumes weighed on operating conditions during the month, concentrated on intermediate goods producers, while consumer goods makers saw significantly milder levels of deterioration.

If we look back we see that this series has turned out to be a very good leading indicator as the peak was in November 2017 at 108.9 where 2015 = 100. Also we see that in fact it is domestic orders which have slumped the most arguing a bit against the claim that all of this is trade war driven.

The annual picture is below.

-5.5% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Monetary Policy

This has remained extraordinarily easy but does not appear to have made any difference at all. The turn in production took place when ECB QE was still going full steam ahead for example. Indeed even those who voted for such measures seem to have lost the faith as this from yesterday’s twitter output from former Vice-president Vitor Constancio suggests.

In 2014 when the main policy rate reached zero, keeping a corridor implied a negative deposit rate. There was then a risk of deflation and it was supposed to be a temporary tool.Since last year I have been tweeting against going to deeper negative rates.

A welcome realisation but it is too late for him to change policy now.

The problem for monetary policy is that with the German ten-year yield being -0.3% and the official deposit rate being -0.5% what more can be done? It all has the feeling of the famous phrase from Newt in the film Aliens.

It wont make any difference

Fiscal Policy

The policy was explained by Reuters in late October.

Eurostat said Germany’s revenues last year exceeded expenses by more than previously estimated, allowing Berlin to post a budget surplus of 1.9% of its output, above the 1.7% that Eurostat had calculated in April.

That has been the state of play for several years now and the spending increases for next year may not change that much.

The total German state budget for next year is to be €362 billion ($399 billion), €5.6 billion more than is being spent this year. ( DW )

Although further down in the article it seems that the change may be somewhat limited.

As in previous years, and following the example of his conservative predecessor, the Social Democrat Finance Minister Scholz has pledged not to take on any more debt – maintaining Germany’s commitment to the so-called “black zero”: a balanced budget.

Some more spending may have an implicit effect on the industrial production numbers. Indeed defence spending can have a direct impact should orders by forthcoming for new frigates or tanks.

Yesterday FAZ reported that this fiscal year was more or less the same as the last.

German state is facing a significant surplus this year. All in all, revenues will exceed spending by around 50 billion euros. This is apparent from an internal template for the Stability Council meeting on 13 December. It contains the information on the state’s net lending of between € 49.5 and 56.5 billion.

Comment

There is a case here of living by the sword and perhaps then dying by it as it is what has been considered a great success for Germany which has hit the buffers last year then this. The manufacturing sector is around 23% of the economy and so the production figures have a large impact. October is only the first month of three but such weak numbers for an important area pose a question for GDP in the quarter as a whole? Rather awkwardly pay rates seem to have risen into the decline.

The third quarter saw an exceptionally strong
increase in negotiated pay rates. Including additional benefits, these rates rose year-on-year
by 4.2% in the third quarter of 2019, compared
with 2.1% in 2018. This temporary, considerably higher growth rate was mainly due to new
special payments in the metal-working and
electrical engineering industries, which had
been agreed last year and were first due in July
2019.

Before we knew the more recent data the Bundesbank was telling us this.

The slowdown of the German economy will
probably continue in the fourth quarter of
2019. However, it is not likely to intensify markedly. As things currently stand, overall economic output could more or less stagnate.
Thus, the economy would largely tread water
again in the second half of this year as a whole.

Then they left what is now looking like a hostage to fortune.

However, from today’s vantage point, there is
no reason to fear that Germany will slide into recession.

 

 

Greece GDP growth is a tactical success but a strategic disaster

Yesterday the Eurogroup made a statement lauding the economic progress made by Greece.

We welcome the confirmation by the institutions that Greece is projected to comfortably meet the primary surplus target of 3,5% of GDP for 2019. We also welcome the adoption of a budget for 2020, which is projected to ensure the achievement of the primary surplus target and which includes a package of growth-friendly measures aimed at reducing the tax burden on capital and labour. Greece has also made significant progress with broader structural reforms, notably in the area of the labour market, digital governance, investment licensing and the business environment.

Actually of course this is another form of punishment beating as we note that the depression ravaged Greek economy will find 3.5% of GDP subtracted from it each year. It is hard not to then laugh at the mention of “growth-friendly” measures. Moving to reform well this all started in the spring of 2010 so why is reform still needed? Indeed the next bit seems to suggest not much has been done at all.

 It will be crucial for Greece to maintain, and where necessary accelerate, reform momentum going forward, including through determined implementation of reforms on all levels. Against this background, we welcome that the Greek authorities reiterated their general commitment to continue the implementation of all key reforms adopted under the ESM programme, especially as regards the reduction of arrears to zero, recruitments in the public sector and privatisations.

Anyway they are going to give Greece some of the interest and profits they have taken off it back.

Subject to the completion of national procedures, the EWG and the EFSF Board of Directors are expected to approve the transfer of SMP-ANFA income equivalent amounts and the reduction to zero of the step-up interest margin on certain EFSF loans worth EUR 767 million in total.

What about the economy?

We have reached the stage I have long feared where any improvement is presented as a triumph. This ignores two things which is how bad matters got and how long it has taken to get here. Or to put it another way Christine Lagarde was right to describe it as “shock and awe” when she was French finance minister but in the opposite way to what she intended.

Manufacturing

This week’s PMI survey from Markit was quite upbeat.

November PMI® survey data signalled a quicker improvement in operating conditions across the Greek manufacturing sector. Overall growth was supported by sharper expansions in output and new orders. Stronger domestic and foreign client demand led to a faster rise in workforce numbers and a greater degree of business confidence.

The reading of 54.1 is really rather good at a time when many other countries are reporting declines although of course the bit below compares to a simply dreadful period.

The rate of overall growth was solid and among the sharpest seen over the last decade.

However there was some good news in a welcome area too.

In response to greater new order volumes, Greek
manufacturers expanded their workforce numbers at a steep pace that was the quickest for seven months.

Also there was some optimism for next year.

Our current forecasts point towards a faster expansion in industrial production in 2020, with the rate of growth expected to pick-up to 1.1% year-on-year.

Sadly though if we look at the previous declines even at such a rate before Maxine Nightingale would be happy.

We gotta get right back to where we started from

Retail Trade

If we switch to the official data we see that the recent news looks good.

The Overall Volume Index in retail trade (i.e. turnover in retail trade at constant prices) in September 2019, increased by 5.1%, compared with the corresponding index of September 2018, while, compared with the corresponding index of August 2019, decreased by 3.9%

So in annual terms strong growth which should be welcomed. But having followed the situation in Greece for some time I know that the retail sector collapsed in the crisis. So we need to look back and if we stay with September we see that the index ( 2015=100) was 144.5 in 2009 and 129.3 in 2010 whereas this year it was 107.3. In fact looking back the peak in September was in 2006 at 167.1 so as you can see here is an extraordinary depression which brings the recent growth into perspective.

Indeed the retail sector was one of the worst affected areas.

Trade

This is one way of measuring the competitiveness of an economy and of course is the area the International Monetary Fund used to prioritise before various French leaders thought they knew better. After such a long depression you might think the situation would be fixed but no.

The deficit of the Trade Balance, for the 9-month period from January to September 2019 amounted to 16,500.5 million euros (18,313.6 million dollars) in comparison with 15,390.6 million euros (18,139.7 million dollars) for the corresponding period of the year 2018, recording an increase, in euros, of 7.2%.

However there is a bright spot which we find by switching to the Bank of Greece.

A rise in the surplus of the services balance is due to an improvement primarily in the travel balance and secondarily in the transport and other services balance. Travel receipts and non-residents’ arrivals increased by 14% and 3.8% year-on-year respectively. In addition, transport (mainly sea transport) receipts rose by 5.5%.

Shipping and tourism are traditional Greek businesses and the impact of the services sector improves the situation quite a bit.

In the January-September 2019 period, the current account was almost balanced, while a €1.4 billion deficit was recorded in the same period of 2018. This development reflects mainly a rise in the services surplus and also an improvement in the primary and the secondary income accounts, which more than offset an increase in the deficit of the balance of goods.

In fact tourism has played an absolute blinder for both the trade position and the economy.

In January-September 2019, the balance of travel services showed a surplus of €14,032 million, up from a surplus of €12,507 million in the same period of 2018. This development is attributed to an increase, by 14.0% or €1,976 million, in travel receipts, which were only partly offset by travel payments, up by 28.0% or €450 million.

GDP

Today has brought the latest GDP data from Greek statistics.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 3rd quarter of 2019 the Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 0.6% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2019, while
in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2018, it increased by 2.3%.

The story here is of export driven growth which provides some hope. The domestic economy shrank with consumption 0.4% lower and investment 5% lower on a quarterly basis whereas there was this on the external side.

Exports of goods and services increased by 4.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2019……….Imports of goods and services increased by 0.6% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2019.

Comment

At first it looks extraordinary that the Greek domestic economy could shrink on a quarterly basis but then of course we need to remind ourselves that the fiscal policy described at the beginning of this article is extraordinarily contractionary. So in essence the recovery seems to be depending rather a lot on the tourism industry. I also note that if we look at the Euro area data there is an unwelcome mention in the employment section.

The largest decreases were observed in Lithuania (-1.2%), Romania (-1.1%), Finland (-0.5%) and Greece (-0.3%).

Not what you would hope for in a recovery period.

Switching to an idea of the scale of the depression we see that in the latest quarter GDP was 49 billion Euros, compared to the previous peak in the spring of 2007 of 63.3 billion Euros ( 2010 prices). So more than 12 years later still nearly 23% lower. That is what you call a great depression and at the current rate of growth it will be quite some time before we get right back where Greece started from.

 

Italy faces yet more economic hard times

This morning has brought more signs of the economic malaise that is affecting Italy, a subject which just goes on and on and on. Here is the statistics office.

In 2019, GDP is expected to increase by 0.2 percent in real terms. The domestic demand will provide a contribution of 0.8 percentage points while foreign demand will account for a positive 0.2 percentage point and inventories will provide a negative contribution (-0.8 percentage points).

That is a reduction of 0.1% on the previous forecast. In one way I doubt their forecasts are accurate to 0.1% but then in another way counting 0.1% growth is their job in Italy. The breakdown is odd though. As the net foreign demand may be small but any growth is welcome at a time of a time war but with domestic demand growing why are inventories being chopped?

So annual economic growth has gone 1.7% in 2017 and 0.8% last year and will now be 0.2% if they are correct. They do manage a little optimism for next year.

In 2020, GDP is estimated to increase by 0.6 percent in real terms driven by the contribution of domestic demand (+0.7
percentage points) associated to a positive contribution of the foreign demand (+0.1 p.p.) and a negative contribution of inventories (-0.2 p.p.).

So the main change here is that the decline in inventories slows. If we switch to a positive we are reminded that Italy’s trade position looks pretty good for these times.

In 2019, exports will increase by 1.7 percent and imports will grow by 1.3 percent, both are expected
to slighty accelerate in 2020 (+1.8% and +1.7% respectively)

Looking at domestic demand it will be supported by wages growth and by this.

Labour market conditions will improve over the forecasting period but at moderate pace. Employment
growth is expected to stabilise at 0,7 percent in 2019 and in 2020. At the same time, the rate of
unemployment will decrease at 10.0 percent in the current year and at 9.9 percent in 2020.

They mean 10% this year and 9.9% next although there is a catch with that.

The number of unemployed persons declined (-1.7%, -44 thousand in the last month); the decrease was the result of a remarkable drop among men and a light increase for women, and involved all age groups, with the exception of over 50 aged people. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.7% (-0.2 percentage points), the youth rate decreased to 27.8% (-0.7 percentage points).

As you can see the unemployment rate was already below what it is supposed to be next year so I struggle to see how that is going to boost domestic demand. Perhaps they are hoping that employment will continue to rise.

In October 2019 the estimate of employed people increased (+0.2%, +46 thousand); the employment rate rose at 59.2% (+0.1 percentage points).

The Markit PMIs

There was very little cheer to be found in the latest private-sector business survey published earlier.

The Composite Output Index* posted at 49.6 in November,
down from 50.8 in October and signalling the first decline in Italian private sector output since May. Despite this, the rate of contraction was marginal.
Underpinning the latest downturn was a marked slowdown
in service sector activity growth during November, whilst
manufacturing output recorded its sixteenth consecutive
month of contraction. The latest decrease was sharp but
eased slightly from October.

I doubt anyone is surprised by the state of play in Italian manufacturing so the issue here is the apparent downturn in the service sector. This leads to fears about December and for the current quarter as a whole. Also the official trade optimism is not found here.

Meanwhile, export sales continue to fall.

Sadly there is little solace to be found if we look at the wider Euro area.

The final eurozone PMI for November came in
slightly ahead of the earlier flash estimate but still
indicates a near-stagnant economy. The survey
data are indicating GDP growth of just 0.1% in the
fourth quarter, with manufacturing continuing to act
as a major drag. Worryingly, the service sector is
also on course for its weakest quarterly expansion
for five years, hinting strongly that the slowdown
continues to spread.

Unicredit

We have looked regularly at the Italian banking sector and its tale of woe. But this is from what is often considered its strongest bank.

After cutting a fifth of its staff and shutting a quarter of its branches in mature markets in recent years, UniCredit said it would make a further 8,000 job cuts and close 500 branches under a new plan to 2023………UniCredit’s announcement triggered anger among unions in Italy, where 5,500 layoffs and up to 450 branch closures are expected given the relative size of the network compared with franchises in Germany, Austria and central and eastern Europe.

Back in January 2012 I described Unicredit as a zombie bank on the business programme on Sky News. It has spent much if not all of the intervening period proving me right. That is in spite of the fact that ECB QE has given it large profits on its holdings of Italian government bonds. Yet someone will apparently gain.

UniCredit promised 8 billion euros ($9 billion) in dividends and share buybacks on Tuesday in a bid to revive its sickly share price, although profit at Italy’s top bank will barely grow despite plans to shed 9% of its staff.

This is quite a mess as there are all sorts of issues with the share buyback era in my opinion.  In the unlikely event of me coming to power I might rule them ultra vires as I think the ordinary shareholder is being manipulated. Beneath this is a deeper point about lack of reform in the Italian banking sector and hence its inability to support the economy. This is of course a chicken and egg situation where a weak economy faces off with a weak banking sector.

Mind you this morning Moodys have taken the opposite view.

The outlook for Italy’s banking system has changed to stable from negative as problem loans will continue to fall, while banks’ funding conditions improve and their capital holds steady, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report published today.

“We expect Italian banks’ problem loans to fall in 2020 for a fifth consecutive year,” said Fabio Iannò, VP-Senior Credit Officer at Moody’s. “However, their problem loan ratio of around 8% remains more than double the European Union average of 3%, according to European Banking Authority data. We also take into account our forecast for weak yet positive Italian GDP growth, and our stable outlook on Italy’s sovereign rating.”

What could go wrong?

Comment

There is a familiar drumbeat and indeed bass line to all of this. In the midst of it I find it really rather amazing that Moodys can take UK banks from stable to negative whilst doing the reverse for Italian ones! As we look for perspective we see that the “Euro boom” and monetary easing by the ECB saw annual economic growth of a mere 1.7% in 2017 which has faded to more or less zero now. We are back once again to the “girlfriend in a coma” theme.

Italy has strengths in that it has a solid trade position and is a net saver yet somehow this never seems to reach the GDP data. Maybe the grey economy provides an answer but year after year it fails to be measured. Of course if politico are correct there is always plenty of trade and turnover here.

Italy’s new coalition government might not last the winter, with tensions reaching a peak this week over EU bailout reform……The 5Stars oppose the planned ESM reform because they say it would make it harder for highly indebted countries, like Italy, to access bailout funds without painful public-debt restructuring.

That reminds me about fiscal policy which is the new go to in the Euro area according to ECB President Christine Lagarde, well except for Italy and Greece.

 

 

 

Negative interest-rates are on the march yet again

A feature of the modern era is that things which are permanent are described as “temporary”. This has been particularly true in the era of interest-rates as it is easy to forget now that the low interest-rates of 2009/10 were supposed to be so. The reality is that they went even lower and in more than a few places went negative which again was supposed to be temporary. But the list got longer along the lines of the famous Elvis Presley song.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

I have written before that I think that there are two factors in this being passed onto the ordinary depositor. Firstly how negative interest-rates become and secondly how long they are negative for. The reason why there is any delay in the pass on to depositors and savers is that the banks are afraid they will withdraw their cash and hence break their business model apart.

Germany

On the 19th of last month we noted that some German banks were looking to spread the negativity net wider and according to Bloomberg some smaller ones have broken ranks.

After five years of negative rates imposed by the European Central Bank, German lenders are breaking the last taboo: Charging retail clients for their savings starting with very first euro in the their accounts.

While many banks have been passing on negative rates to retail clients for some time, they have typically only done so for deposits of 100,000 euros ($111,000) or more. That is changing, with one small lender close to Munich planning to impose a rate of minus 0.5% to all savings in certain new accounts. Another bank in the east of the country has introduced a similar policy and a third is considering an even higher charge.

This is the system we have some to expect where a small bank or two is used as a pathfinder to test the water. I wonder if there is some sort of arrangement here although this from Bloomberg is also true.

 While there are some exemptions under the policy, years of sub-par profitability have left especially smaller lenders with few options to offset the cost of the ECB’s charges.

The irony is not lost on me that policies brought in to protect “The Precious” are now damaging it and may yet destroy it. I also find it fascinating to whom Bloomberg went for an opinion as it is straight out of the European equivalent of Yes Prime Minister.

“For now, negative rates are probably a signal to new clients that a bank doesn’t need any additional deposits,” said Isabel Schnabel, a professor at the University of Bonn who was nominated by Germany to join the ECB’s Executive Board. “I would assume that banks are a lot more cautious with existing customers.”

Kylie Minogues “Spinning Around” should be playing in the background to that. Still Isabel should fit in well with the ECB Executive Board as we get some strong hints as to why she was nominated.

Who is it?

The banks are shown below.

Now Volksbank Raiffeisenbank Fuerstenfeldbruck, a regional bank close to Munich, is among the first brushing off such concerns. The bank says it will impose a negative rate of 0.5% on new clients who open a popular form of saving account……….Kreissparkasse Stendal, in the east of the country, has a similar policy for clients who have no other relationship with the bank. Both lenders levy the charges on new customers who open a type of savings account that allows for daily, unlimited withdrawals, a popular instrument among German savers. Existing customers are mostly exempt for now.

The way that this has been such a slow process shows that the banks are afraid of deposit flight or a type of run on the bank. So far we do not know when that would occur although we do know now that some versions of negative interest-rates do not cause it. As the plan below is for an extra -0.05% it seems unlikely to be the trigger.

Frankfurter Volksbank, one of the country’s largest cooperative lenders, is considering going even further and charging some new customers 0.55% for all their deposits, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported, without saying where it got the information. The lender said in a statement it has not made any decisions yet.

Denmark

The Straits Times has picked up on an interview by the Governor of the central bank Lars Rhode and it is rather revealing.

In Denmark, where banks have lived with negative rates since 2012, it’s now clear that life below zero isn’t about to end any time soon. People need to understand that it’s “lower for longer”, Rohde said. And that will “definitely” have negative consequences for lenders, he said.

He also gave a speech yesterday and in it there was this.

Digitalisation and new legislation give more players access to the market for bank products. From the payments market we know that digital solutions have a tendency to create natural monopolies because it costs less to perform one extra transaction once the digital infrastructure is in
place.

That was ominous as banks already have problems with their business model and it got worse as he told them who he had in mind.

In recent years, we have seen tech giants, such as Apple and Amazon, enter the financial market. Experience from both the USA and China shows that these firms are extending their original core business to include payments and subsequently also financial services such as
lending.

Is he telling them they are obsolete and dinosaurs. Still he did manage some humour.

Well-functioning IT systems and a tight rein on costs will be key competitive parameters for banks in the coming years.

As the Straits Times puts it.

But years of negative rates, tougher regulatory requirements and, in some cases, out of date technology, have put some banks on the back foot.

Indeed this may put a chill down bankers spines.

According to a report in Borsen on Tuesday, Apple Pay has now established itself as a considerably more popular app among Danish shop owners than a local mobile payment solution offered by Nets A/S, which has so far dominated digital payments within the Nordic region.

So far Danish banks are resisting the trend towards negative interest-rates for all.

For now, lenders have drawn the line at 750,000 kroner (S$152,000), which is the threshold below which deposits are covered by guarantees.

Comment

There is a steady drip drip here and there is some other news which suggests to me that the ECB may be genuinely afraid. In its latest round of monetary easing there was also tiering of deposits for banks at the ECB itself which may reduce the costs there by a third. But in the last week or two there are signs of something more subtle regarding bank capital.

Enter Mr Enria new head of the SSM… And Unicredit’ s new business plan presented this morning. In which they make clear that Pillar 2 would be CET1 AT1 and T2. This means in practice :

A) a big CET1 relief for banks (80bps for Unicredit)

B) a massive need of new AT1/T2

( @jeuasommenulle )

He thinks that today’s announcement from Unicredit of Italy hints that the capital requirements for risk-weighted assets are being trimmed. There has been a change in who is in charge and more flexibility seems to be in the offing. This adds to the hint provided last week in the proposed banking merger between Unicaja and Liberbank as in the past it might have been stymied by a demand for more capital. Oh and SSM is Single Supervisory Mechanism.

This echoes partly because of this if we return to the Governor of the Danish central bank.

This creates an underlying need for consolidation, also within the financial sector.

So it is a complex picture and remember some policymakers at the ECB wanted to turn the screw even harder with a Deposit Rate of -0.6%.

 

 

India has an economic growth problem

As 2019 has developed we have been noting the changes in the economic trajectory of India. Back on October 4th we noted this from the Reserve Bank of India as it made its 5th interest-rate cut in 2019.

The MPC also decided to continue with an accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target.

This was in response to this.

On the domestic front, growth in gross domestic product (GDP) slumped to 5.0 per cent in Q1:2019-20, extending a sequential deceleration to the fifth consecutive quarter.

For India that was a slow growth rate for what we would call the second quarter as they work in fiscal years.

What about now?

Friday brought more bad news for the Indian economy as this from its statistics office highlights.

GDP at Constant (2011-12) Prices in Q2 of 2019-20 is estimated at `35.99 lakh crore, as against `34.43 lakh crore in Q2 of 2018-19, showing a growth rate of 4.5 percent. Quarterly GVA (Basic Price) at Constant (2011-2012) Prices for Q2 of 2019-20 is estimated at `33.16 lakh crore,
as against `31.79 lakh crore in Q2 of 2018-19, showing a growth rate of 4.3 percent over the corresponding quarter of previous year.

The areas which did better than the average are shown below.

‘Trade, Hotels, Transport, Communication and Services related to Broadcasting’ ‘Financial, Real Estate and Professional Services’ and ‘Public Administration,
Defence and Other Services’.

The first two however slowed in the year before leaving us noting that the state supported the economy as you can see below.

Quarterly GVA at Basic Prices for Q2 2019-20 from this sector grew by 11.6 percent as compared to growth of 8.6 percent in Q2 2018-19. The key indicator of this sector namely, Union Government Revenue Expenditure net of Interest Payments excluding Subsidies, grew by 33.9
percent during Q2 of 2019-20 as compared to 22.2 percent in Q2 of 2018-19.

Regular readers will not be surprised what the weakest category was.

Quarterly GVA at Basic Prices for Q2 2019-20 from ‘Manufacturing’ sector grew by (-)1.0
percent as compared to growth of 6.9 percent in Q2 2018-19.

Also those who use electricity use as a signal will be troubled.

The key indicator of this sector, namely, IIP of Electricity registered growth rate of 0.4 percent during Q2 of 2019-20 as compared to 7.5 percent in Q2 of 2018-19.

In terms of structure the economy is 31.3% investment and 56.3% consumption. The investment element is no great surprise in a fast growing economy but it has been dipping in relative terms. The main replacement has been government consumption which was 11.9% a year ago and is 13.1% now as we get another hint of a fiscal boost.

Switching to a perennial problem for India which is its trade deficit we see that it was 3.8% of GDP in the third quarter of this year. That is a little better but there is a catch which is that it has happened via falling imports which were 26.9% of GDP a year ago as opposed to 24% now. So another potential sign of an internal economic slowing.

We can move on by noting that this time last year the GDP growth rate was 7% and that The Hindu reported it like this.

Growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) in the July-September quarter hit a 25-quarter low of 4.5%, the government announced on Friday.

The lowest GDP growth in six years and three months comes as Parliament has been holding day-long discussions on the economic slowdown, with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman assuring the Rajya Sabha that the country is not in a recession and may not ever be in one.

4.5% growth is a recession?

Unemployment

The numbers are rather delayed am I afraid leaving us wondering what has happened since.

Unemployment Rate (UR) in current weekly status in urban areas for all ages has been estimated as 9.3% during January-March 2019 as compared to 9.8% during April- June 2018.

Inflation

This has been picking up as the Economic Times reports below.

Inflation touched 4.62%, according to the data released by the statistics office on Wednesday, compared to 3.99% in the month of September. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), was 3.38% in October last year.

Sadly for India’s consumers and especially the poor much of the inflation is in food  prices as inflation here was 7.9%. Vegetables were 26.1% more expensive than a year before and it would seem the humble onion which is a big deal in India is at the heart of it. From India Today.

Households and restaurants in India are reeling under pressure as onion prices have surged exponentially  across the country. A kilo of onion is retailing at Rs 90-100 in most Indian states, peaking at Rs 120-130 per kilo in major cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Odisha, and Pune.

For those wondering about any inflation in pork prices then the answer is maybe.The meat and fish category rose at an annual rate of 9.75%.

Manufacturing

We noted in the GDP numbers that there was a fall but this seems to have sped up at the end of the quarter as it fell by 3.9% in September on a year before driven by this.

The industry group ‘Manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semitrailers’ has shown the highest negative growth of (-) 24.8 percent followed by (-) 23.6 percent in ‘Manufacture of furniture’ and (-) 22.0 percent in ‘Manufacture of fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment’ ( India Statistics)

Fiscal Policy

From Reuters last month.

After the corporate tax cuts and lower nominal GDP growth, Moody’s now expects a government deficit of 3.7 per cent of GDP in the fiscal year ending in March 2020, compared with a government target of 3.3 per cent of GDP.

Also there is this from the Economic Times.

In India, private debt in 2017 was 54.5 per cent of the GDP and the general government debt was 70.4 per cent of the GDP, a total debt of about 125 of the GDP, according to the latest IMF figures.

The ten-year bond yield is 6.5% showing us that India does face substantial costs in issuing debt.

Comment

We get another hint of the changes at play as we note this from the Reserve Bank of India in November and note that the result was 5%.

For Q1:2019-20, growth forecast was revised
down from 7.2 per cent in the November 2018 round
to 6.1 per cent in the July 2019 round.

As we look forwards it is hard to see what will shake India out of its present malaise.Of course if the daily news flow that the trade war is fixed ever turns out to be true that would help. But otherwise India may well still be suffering from the demonetarisation effort of a couple of years or so ago.

After the falls of last year the Rupee has been relatively stable and is now at 71.6 versus the US Dollar. A lower Rupee is something which gives with one hand ( competitiveness) and takes away with another ( cost of imports especially oil). But as it starts its policy meeting tomorrow the RBI will feel the need to do something in addition to changing its fan chart for economic growth ( lower) and inflation ( higher) giving us what is for India something of a stagflationary influence.

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