Bitcoin futures trading indicates plenty of problems ahead

Last night saw a change in the Bitcoin world. This is because a Bitcoin futures contract started trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange or CBOE. It would appear that plenty were watching as this took all of 30 minutes.

Due to heavy traffic on our website, visitors to may find that it is performing slower than usual and may at times be temporarily unavailable. All trading systems are operating normally.

The system trouble was accompanied by yet another surge in the price. From Bloomberg.

Bitcoin futures expiring in January were priced at $17,780 as of 12:57 p.m. Hong Kong time, up from an opening level of $15,000. About 2,300 contracts changed hands.

So not an enormous amount of contracts but the interest and price swings did have an impact.

Futures on the world’s most popular cryptocurrency surged as much as 25 percent during their debut session on Cboe Global Markets Inc.’s exchange, triggering two temporary trading halts meant to cool volatility. Dealers said initial volumes exceeded expectations, while traffic on Cboe’s website was so strong that it caused delays and outages. The exchange said all its trading systems were normal.

Who could possibly have forecast that lots of people would be watching? Anyway as I type this the price for the January 2018 contract is US $17640 ( up 14%)  with the volume being 2695 and the high having been US $18850.

What is the point of a futures contract?

The purpose of a futures contract is to bring trading on a particular instrument into one place. Why? Well even what are considered to be active markets may have bursts of activity followed by quiet periods which are awkward to say the least if you wish to trade in them. The impact can be boosted by the contract covering a concept rather than a particular asset as for example in bond futures where a generic is traded rather than an individual bond. So the ultimate end product of a successful futures contract is liquidity or the ability to trade consistently which benefits investors and traders as well as the exchange itself which charges fees on the trades.

It also brings into play the ability to “short” an instrument as you can sell as your opening trade whereas with ordinary trading you have to buy something before you sell it. This is much simpler than what you have to do in equity markets which is borrowing the stock so you can sell it which you have to plan and work at rather than just contacting an exchange and selling.

Obviously the exchange is at risk as prices move so you have to put up cash or margin to cover your position. When people refer to gearing on a futures contract this is one way of measuring it as if you have to put up 10% margin then if you wished you could buy  ten times as much of the instrument concerned for the same outlay. Some care is needed though as there is also variable daily margin to cover losses ( as well as lower margin if profits arise)

Success or failure comes essentially from volume and liquidity and from that flows the other factors.

How does it work?

The basis is that you have a point in time when everything has to be settled hence the concept of a January contract in the case of Bitcoin ( there are also February and March).  At that point anything outstanding is delivered for example I had a colleague some years back who had 2 potato futures contracts delivered on him and was in danger of getting more spuds than he could handle even with his barn.

Also there is a clearing house who organises and guarantees settlement. In the UK the main clearing banks back the London clearing house which back in my main trading times was seen as a big strength. Well we all make mistakes don’t we? Also the exchange is regulated.

The point for Bitcoin

In a way futures trading is a sort of coming in from the cold for Bitcoin. It gives the potential for there being one price rather than the multitude of them we currently see. That would be a clear gain and if we add in the regulated and clearing issue another potential gain is that institutional investors join the party. This would have positive impacts on volume and liquidity which would be likely to settle the price down and make it more stable.

Problems

Something has troubled me from the beginning and it is this. From the CBOE.

XBT futures are cash-settled contracts based on the Gemini’s auction price for bitcoin, denominated in U.S. dollars.

This needs to turn out to be both stable and reliable as for example the market would be damaged if there were even suspicions that there were ways of manipulating the settlement price. I do not know Gemini but their price will have to be 100% reliable and what if the overall Bitcoin price is squeezed?

Next is that one of the benefits of futures trading may not actually apply and h/t to @chigrl for raising the issue. Remember I said that allowing short selling was one of the key points of a futures contract? Well here are the rules of Interactive Brokers and the emphasis is mine.

Due to the extreme volatility of cryptocurrencies, clients will be unable to assume a short position including as part of a spread. The only time a short order will be allowed will be in the case of a roll trade that results in a long position. In addition, market orders will not be accepted.

If this is in any way widespread the whole concept of a futures contract on Bitcoin may be holed below the waterline. As I pointed out earlier the ability to sell short is if not the modus operandi a big point of having a futures market. Added to that is that there are of course plenty of risks in being long Bitcoin at current levels. Are market prices supposed to bring a balance between the risk of buying and selling?

Comment

Actually although the media seems to have mostly overlooked it there was a clear signal of the inability for at least some to short Bitcoin futures.

No wonder sellers want a premium if it is difficult or even not possible to sell unless you have already bought.  On such a road then the price may well keep singing along with Jackie Wilson.

Higher (lifting me)
Higher and higher (higher)

As someone who has spent plenty of years in such markets the apparent inability to do spreads ( trading January versus March for example) is another issue. Say there is a large buyer for January futures and a seller in March, what used to be called locals would arbitrage that out adding to liquidity. You see these markets need someone to trade with otherwise they curl up and die. Another sign of trouble can be higher fees like this from the FT earlier.

The Singapore Exchange is to increase fees as much as 10-fold for derivative trading members next year, following a recent large technology upgrade. As of January, annual fees for proprietary trading members such as big global banks with direct market access will jump from S$2,000 to as much as S$25,000 in some cases, SGX said on Monday.

Also there is the underlying issue of what is a Bitcoin and if it is suitable for a futures contract in the first place?

Some of the issues I have raised today could be fixed if not at a stroke quite easily. But they need to be done as you see once a contract gets a reputation for being illiquid then it tends to die a death. So far 2768 is not all that brilliant especially if we allow for this.

CFE is waiving all of its transaction fees for XBT futures in December 2017.>

All that is before the Merc ( CME) starts trading them too.

Oh and some are suggesting option contracts ( my old stomping ground). How would that work unless you had the ability to hedge via selling futures?

Advertisements

Car production for export is boosting the UK economy

This morning has brought us a barrage of news on the UK economy and no I do not mean the apparent progress on the negotiations with the European Union. Though even if we dodge the politics it is nice to see a better phase for the UK Pound £ with it rising to above US $1.34 and 1.14 to the Euro as well as above 153 Yen. The barrage came as it is one of the theme days at the Office for National Statistics giving us an outpouring of data on the UK economy.

Let us start with a nod to my subject of Wednesday which was the automotive or car sector.

In October 2017, car production grew by 4.6% compared with September 2017 to match the record index level reached in July 2017.

If we look into the detail we see this.

Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers provided a similar contribution and rose by 6.3%. An increase in export turnover of 20.7% was reported by this sub-industry compared with October 2016;

This further reinforces the view that UK car production is mostly for export as otherwise the rise in production of 4.6% in October would look very odd with the fall in registrations of 11.2% on a year on year basis. Here is the data in chart form.

A little care is needed as this is a value or turnover index and not volume so it is a little inflated but not I would suspect a lot. With the same caveat it is in fact a record.

 Within the MBS production industries dataset, the value of exports for the motor vehicle, trailers and semi-trailers were at a record level in October 2017, exceeding £4 billion for the first time.

Of course single monthly data can be misleading but the news remains good if we look further back for more perspective.

Within this sector, transport equipment provided the largest contribution, rising by 2.5%, due mainly to an increase of 3.2% in motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers following an increase of 4.2% in the three months to September 2017. The index level for motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers averaged 107.1 in the three months to October 2017 due to a strong increase in exports during October 2017, compared with 103.8 in the three months to July 2017, due mainly to a weak June 2017.

If we look further back we see that vehicle production was blitzed by the credit crunch falling from 95.1 in August 2007 where  2015 = 100 to a chilling 45.6 in February 2009. It is no coincidence that the Bank of England introduced QE then when you look at that icy cold plummet. We did not reach the levels of the summer of 2007 until the spring of 2014 which makes one think. Over that period there was scope for plenty of what might come under the category of “tractor production is increasing” but it is also true that there were nearly seven lost years. Since then we have done well with both exports and home sales rising but the latter has been a smaller influence which is fortunate as it is now over!

Over the years and decades I have followed the UK economy it is not that often one can say or type that the economy is being helped by strong car production and exports.

Manufacturing

This is also having a good phase.

The largest upward contribution came from manufacturing, which increased by 3.9%. There was broad-based strength throughout the sector, with 11 of the 13 sub-sectors increasing.

So there was a strong increase on a year ago and as well as the car sector we have already looked at we seem to have ambitions for what in the end will be the largest market of all.

Within this sub-sector, air and spacecraft and related machinery increased by 11.5%, continuing the prolonged month-on-same-month a year ago strength for this sub-industry since November 2014.

Not quite the “space aliens” that Paul Krugman once opined we needed but we seem to be doing well in the more mundane business of satellites and the like.

Just for clarity the pharmaceutical industry seems to be growing modestly as opposed to the yo-yo movements we did see and the overall picture still could do with some improvement.

manufacturing output has risen but remain below its level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 2.1% respectively in the three months to October 2017.

At least we are getting there.

Trade

Some might say that the better vehicle export data might take us from our desert of deficits in this area into an oasis. But maybe we will have to live forever to see that.

When erratic commodities are excluded, the value of the total UK trade deficit widened by £0.8 billion to £6.9 billion in the three months to October 2017.

 

We did export more but in a familiar pattern we imported at an even faster rate.

The widening excluding erratic commodities was due primarily to trade in goods imports increasing 2.9% (£3.3 billion) to £116.5 billion, which was offset slightly by a 0.5% (£0.2 billion) decrease in trade in services imports. Although trade in goods exports increased 1.7% (£1.4 billion) to £81.7 billion, the increase in imports was larger, therefore the total trade deficit excluding erratic commodities widened.

 

However if we switch to volumes maybe there is a little by little improvement.

Total goods export volumes increased 3.2% in the three months to October 2017, which was the fourth consecutive and largest increase since January 2017. Import volumes increased 0.5% over the same period.

 

Production

This was driven higher by the manufacturing data.

In the three months to October 2017, the Index of Production was estimated to have increased by 1.2% compared with the three months to July 2017…….Total production output for October 2017 compared with October 2016 increased by 3.6%

The other factor pushing it up was North Sea Oil and Gas where not only less maintenance but some new oilfields opened in the summer. Thus for once we seem to have higher output with higher prices ( Brent Crude is ~ US $63 as I type this).

We also got an example of why economics is called the dismal science as most people would be pleased to have better weather and not to have to turn the heating on!

 energy supply provided the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 3.3%, mainly because of unseasonably warm temperatures in October 2017,

Its effect was to subtract 0.39% from production in October meaning the monthly change was 0%.

The overall picture here lags the manufacturing one partly due to the decline of North Sea Oil.

production output has risen but remains below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 6.1% in the three months to October 2017.

Construction

These did fit with the view I expressed on Monday. The present seems recessionary.

Construction output contracted for the sixth consecutive period in the three-month on three-month time series, falling by 1.4% in October 2017.

The future looks brighter.

New orders saw record growth in Quarter 3 (July to September) 2017, growing by 37.4% compared with the previous quarter.The record growth was driven predominantly by growth in the infrastructure sector, caused by the awarding of several high-value new orders relating to High Speed 2 (HS2).

So a definitely maybe then especially as we note that it is for HS2 which seems so set in stone such that we will have to roll with it I guess.

Comment

In terms of official data and business surveys the UK is seeing a good period for manufacturing particularly in the vehicle sector which is pulling overall production higher. Whilst it is only 14% of our economy these days the improvement is welcome. The rise in vehicle exports has not yet been picked up by the trade figures as I note the use of the phrase “to be exported” in the production data so hopefully we will see this in the trade figures for November and December.

The trade figures have a problem as you see there is plenty of detail on the goods sector but virtually nothing on services! I have scanned it again and can only seem a mention of services imports. This is pretty woeful if you consider it is the largest sector of our economy and frankly no wonder these numbers are “not a national statistic”. It is frightening that they then go into the GDP numbers and even more frightening that we will get monthly GDP data soon.

The construction series is “not a national statistic” meaning that in this instance I have to disagree with Meatloaf about the three main series analysed today.

Now don’t be sad (Cause)
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad

 

 

 

 

The murky world of central banks and private-sector QE

The last 24 hours has seen something of a development in the world of central bank monetary easing which has highlighted an issue I have often warned about. Along the way it has provoked a few jokes along the lines of Poundland should now be 50 pence land or in old money ten shillings. Actually the new issue is related to one that the Bank of England experienced back in 2009 when it was operating what was called the SLS or Special Liquidity Scheme. If you have forgotten what it was I am sure the words “Special” and “Liquidity” have pointed you towards the banking sector and you would be right. The banks got liquidity/cash and in return had to provide collateral which is where the link as because on that road the Bank of England suddenly had to value lots of private-sector assets. Indeed it faced a choice between not giving the banks what they wanted or changing ( loosening) its collateral rules which of course was an easy decision for it. But valuing the new pieces of paper it got proved awkward. From FT Alphaville back then.

Accepting raw loans would also ensure that securities taken in the Bank’s operations have a genuine private sector demand rather than comprising ‘phantom’ securities created only for use in central bank operations.

In other words the Bank of England was concerned it was being done up like a kipper which is rather different from the way it tried to portray things.

Under the terms of the SLS, banks and building societies (hereafter ‘banks’) could, for a fee, swap high-quality mortgage-backed and other securities that had temporarily become illiquid for UK Treasury bills, for a period of up to three years.

Some how “high-quality” securities which to the logically minded was always problematic if you thought about the mortgage situation back then had morphed into a much more worrying “phantom” security.  Indeed as the June 2010 Quarterly Bulletin indicated there was rather a lot of them.

But a large proportion of the securities taken have been created specifically for use as collateral with the Bank by the originator of the underlying assets, and have therefore not been traded in the market. Such ‘own-name’ securities accounted for around 76% of the Bank’s extended collateral (around the peak of usage in January 2009), and form the overwhelming majority of collateral taken in the SLS.

Although you would not believe it from its pronouncements now the Bank of England was very worried about the consequences of this and in my opinion this is why it ended the SLS early. Which was a shame as the scheme had strengths and it ended up with other schemes ( FLS, TFS) as we mull the words “one-off” and “temporarily”. But the fundamental theme here is a central bank having trouble with private-sector assets which in the instance above was always likely to happen with instruments that have “not been traded in the market.”

The ECB and Steinhoff

Central banks can also get into trouble with assets that have been traded in the market. After all if market prices were always correct they would move much less than they do. In particular minds have been focused in the last 24 hours on this development.

The news that Steinhoff’s long-serving CEO Markus Jooste had quit sent the company’s share price into freefall on Wednesday morning. Steinhoff opened more than 60% lower, falling from its overnight close of R45.65 to as low as R17.57.

Overall, Steinhoff’s share price has dropped more than 80% over the past 18 months. The stock peaked at over R90 in June last year.  ( Moneyweb).

According to Reuters today has seen the same drum beat.

By 0748 GMT, the stock had slid 37 percent to 11.05 rand in Johannesburg, adding to a more than 60 percent plunge in the previous session. It was down about 34 percent in Frankfurt where it had had its primary listing since 2015.

You may be wondering how a story which might ( in fact is…) a big deal and scandal arrives at the twin towers of the ECB or European Central Bank. The first is a geographical move as Steinhoff has operations in Europe and two years ago today listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange. I am not sure that Happy Birthday is quite appropriate for investors who have seen the 5 Euros of then fall to 0.77 Euros now.

Next enter a central bank looking to buy private-sector assets and in this instance corporate bonds.

Corporate bonds cumulatively purchased and settled as at 01/12/2017 €129,087 (24/11/2017: €127,690) million.

One of the ( over 1000) holdings is as you have probably already guessed a Steinhoff corporate bond and in particular one which theoretically matures in 2025. I say theoretically because the news flow is so grim that it may in practice be sooner. From FT Alphaville.

German prosecutors say they are investigating whether Steinhoff International inflated its revenue and book value, one day after the global home retailer announced that its longtime chief executive had quit…The investigators are probing whether Steinhoff flattered its numbers by selling intangible assets and partnership shares without disclosing that it had close connections to the buyers. The suspicious sales were in “three-digit million” euros territory each, according to the prosecutors.

In terms of scale then the losses will not be relatively large as the bond size is 800 million Euros which would mean that the ECB would not buy more than 560 million under its 70% limit but it does pose questions.

they have a minimum first-best credit assessment of at least credit quality step 3 (rating of BBB- or equivalent) obtained from an external credit assessment institution

This leaves us mulling what investment grade actually means these days with egg on the face of the ratings agencies yet again. As time has passed I notice that the “high-quality” of the Bank of England has become the investment grade of the ECB.

The next question is simply to wonder what the ECB is doing here? Its claim that buying these bonds helps it achieve its inflation target of 2% per annum is hard to substantiate. What it has created is a bull market in corporate bonds which may help economic activity as for example we have seen negative yields even in some cases at issue. But there are side-effects such as moral hazard where the ECB has driven the price higher helping what appears to be fraudulent activity.

How much?

For those of you wondering about the size of the losses there are some factors we do not know such as the size of the holding. We do know that the ECB bought at a price over 90 which compares to the 58.2 as I type this. Some amelioration comes from the yield but not much as the coupon is 1.875% and of course that assumes it gets paid.

My understanding of how this is split is that 20% is collective and the other 80% is at the risk of the national central bank. So there may well be some fun and games when the Bank of Finland ( h/t Robert Pearson) finally reports on this.

Comment

There is much to consider here. Whilst this is only one corporate bond it does highlight the moral hazard issue of a central bank buying private-sector assets. There is another one to my mind which is that overall the ECB will have a (paper) profit but that is pretty much driven by its own ongoing purchases. This begs the question of what happens when it stops? Should it then fear a sharp reversal of prices it is in the situation described by Coldplay.

Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle
So I turn to run
And thought of all the stupid things I’d done.

The same is true of the corporate bond buying of the Bank of England which was on a smaller scale but even so ended up buying bonds from companies with ever weaker links ( Maersk) to the UK economy. Even worse in some ways is the issue of how the Bank of Japan is ploughing into the private-sector via its ever-growing purchases of Japanese shares vis equity ETFs. At the same time we are seeing a rising tide of scandals in Japan mostly around data faking.

Me on Core Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/will-bond-yields-ever-go-higher/

 

 

What and indeed where next for bond markets?

The credit crunch era has brought bond markets towards the centre stage of economics and finance. Before then there were rare expressions of interest in either a crisis or if the media wanted to film a response to an economic data release. You see equities trade rarely but bonds a lot so they filmed us instead and claimed we were equities trades so sorry for my part in any deception! Where things changed was when central banks released that lowering short-term interest-rates ( Bank Rate in the UK) was not the only game in town and that it was not having the effect that they hoped and planned. Also the Ivory Towers style assumption that short-term interest-rates move long-term ones went the way of so many of their assumptions straight to the recycling bin.

QE

It is easy to forget now what a big deal this was as the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England joined the Bank of Japan in buying government bonds or Quantitative Easing ( QE). There is a familiar factor in that what was supposed to be a temporary measure has now become a permanent feature of the economic landscape. As for example the holdings of the Bank of England stretch to 2068 with no current plan to reverse any of it and instead keeping the total at £435 billion by reinvesting maturities. Indeed on Friday it released this on social media.

Should quantitative easing become part of the conventional monetary policy toolkit?

The Author Richard Harrison may be in line for promotion after this.

Though the model does not support the idea that central banks should maintain permanently large balance sheets, it does suggest that we may see more quantitative easing in the future.

So here is a change for bond markets which is that QE will be permanent as so far there has been little or no interest in unwinding it. Even the US Federal Reserve which to be fair is doing some unwinding is doing so with baby steps or the complete opposite of the way it charged in to increase QE.

Along the way other central banks joined in most noticeably the European Central Bank. It had previously indulged in some QE via its purchases of Southern European bonds and covered ( bank mortgage) bonds but of course it then went into the major game. In spite of the fact that the Euro area economy is having a rather good 2017 it is still at it to the order of 60 billion Euros a month albeit that halves next year. So we are a long way away from it stopping let alone reversing. If we look at one of the countries dragged along by the Euro into the QE adventure we see that even annual economic growth of 3.1% does not seem to be enough for a change of course. From Reuters.

Riksbank’s Ohlsson: Too Early To Make MonPol Less Expansionary

If 3.1% economic growth is “too early” then the clear and present danger is that Sweden goes into the next downturn with QE ongoing ( and maybe negative interest-rates too). One consequence that seems likely is that they will run out of bonds to buy as not everyone wants to sell to the central bank.

Whilst we may think that QE is in modern parlance “like so over” in fact on a net basis it is still growing and only last month a new player came with its glass to the punch bowl.

In addition, the Magyar Nemzeti Bank will launch a targeted programme aimed at purchasing mortgage bonds with maturities of three years or more. Both programmes will also contribute to an increase in the share of loans with long periods of interest rate fixation.

Okay so Hungary is in the club albeit via mortgage bond purchases which can be a sort of win double for central banks as it boosts “the precious” ( banks) and via yield substitution implicitly boosts the government bond market too. But we learn something by looking at the economic situation according to the MNB.

The Hungarian economy grew by 3.6 percent in the third quarter of 2017…….The Monetary Council expects annual economic growth of 3.6 percent in 2017 and stable growth of between 3-4 percent over the coming years. The Bank’s and the Government’s stimulating measures contribute substantially to economic growth.

We are now seeing procyclical policy where economies are stimulated by monetary policy in a boom. In particular central banks continue with very large balance sheets full of government and other bonds and in net terms they are still buyers.

The bond vigilantes

They have been beaten back and as we observe the situation above we see why. Many of the scenarios where they are in play and bond yields rise substantially have been taken away for now at least by the central banks. There can be rises in bond yields in individual countries as we see for example in the Turkish crisis or Venezuela but the scale of the crisis needs to be larger and these days countries are picked off individually rather than collectively.

At the moment there are grounds for the bond yield rises to be in play in the Euro area with growth solid but of course the ECB is in play and in fact yesterday brought news of exactly the reverse.

 

A flat yield curve?

The consequence of central banks continuing with what the Bank of Japan calls “yield curve control” has led to comments like this. From the Financial Times yesterday.

Selling of shorter-dated Treasuries pushed the US yield curve to its flattest level since 2007 on Tuesday. The difference between the yields on two-year Treasury notes and 10-year Treasury bonds dropped below 55 basis points in afternoon trading in New York. While the 10-year Treasury was little changed, prices of two-year notes fell for the second consecutive day. The two-year Treasury yield, which moves inversely to the note’s price, has climbed 64 basis points this year to 1.83 per cent.

If we look long the yield curve the numbers are getting more and more similar ironically taking us back to the “one interest-rate” idea the central banks and Ivory Towers came into the credit crunch with. With the US 2 year yield at 1.8% and the 30 year at 2.71% there is not much of a gap.

Why does something which may seem arcane matter? Well the FT explains and the emphasis is mine.

It marks a pronounced “flattening” of the yield curve, with investors receiving decreasing returns for holding longer-dated bonds compared to shorter-dated notes — typically a harbinger of economic recession.

Comment

We have seen phases of falls in bond prices and rises in yield. For example the election of President Trump was one. But once they pass we are left wondering if the around thirty year trend for lower bond yields is still in play and we are heading for 0% ( ZIRP) or the icy cold waters of negativity ( NIRP)? On that road the idea that the current yield curve shape points to a recession gets kicked into touch as Goodhart’s Law or if you prefer the Lucas Critique comes into play. But things are now so mixed up that a recession might actually be on its way after all we are due one.

For yields to rise again on any meaningful scale there will have to be some form of calamity for the central banks. This is because QE is like a drug for so many areas. One clear one is the automotive sector I looked at yesterday but governments are addicted to paying low yields as are those with mortgages. On that road they cannot let go until they are forced to. Thus the low bond yields we see right now are a short-term success which central banks can claim but set us on the road to a type of junkie culture long-term failure. Or in my country this being proclaimed as success.

“Since 1995 the value of land has increased more than fivefold, making it our most valuable asset. At £5 trillion, it accounts for just over half of the total net worth of the UK at end-2016. At over £800 billion, the rise in the nation’s total net worth is the largest annual increase on record.”

Of course this is merely triumphalism for higher house prices in another form. As ever those without are excluded from the party.

 

 

Ironically falling UK car registrations are impacting on French manufacturers

Yesterday afternoon saw some good news for my topic of the day. It came from a sector of the UK economy which over the past decade has seen an extraordinary boom which is premiership football. From the BBC.

Crystal Palace’s chairman has unveiled plans to increase Selhurst Park’s capacity to more than 34,000.

Steve Parish said the expansion, expected to cost between £75m-£100m, would be an “icon” for south London.

The full revamp is expected to take three years to complete, and work could begin “within 12 months”.

KSS, the architects behind the project, have previously redeveloped sporting venues including Anfield, Twickenham and Wimbledon.

If you travel past the ground then without wishing to upset Eagles fans it is to put it politely in sore need of redevelopment. But as well as a boost and if you make the usually safe assumption that it ends up costing the higher end of the estimate we see that each extra seat costs something of the order of £12,500. Is that another sign of inflation in the UK or good value.?

If we continue on the inflation beat then this morning has bought grim news for railway commuters as the BBC points out.

Train fares in Britain will go up by an average of 3.4% from 2 January.

The increase, the biggest since 2013, covers regulated fares, which includes season tickets, and unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets.

The Rail Delivery Group admitted it was a “significant” rise, but said that more than 97% of fare income went back into improving and running the railway.

A passenger group said the rise was “a chill wind” and the RMT union called it a “kick in the teeth” for travellers.

The rise in regulated fares had already been capped at July’s Retail Prices Index inflation rate of 3.6%.

We see a clear example of my theme that the UK is prone to institutionalised inflation in the way that the rises are capped at the highest inflation measure they could find. Suddenly the “not a national statistic” Retail Prices Index or RPI is useful when it can be used for something the ordinary person is paying in the same way it applies to student loans. Whereas when it is something that we receive or the government pays then the lower ( ~1% per annum) Consumer Prices Index or CPI is used.

The rail industry is an unusual one where booming business is a problem.

Here’s some examples. Passenger numbers on routes into King’s Cross have rocketed by 70% in the past 14 years. On Southern trains, passenger numbers coming into London have doubled in 12 years…….There is a push to bring in new trains, stations and better lines, but it’s difficult to upgrade things while keeping them open and it’s seriously expensive.

Ah inflation again! Of course railways suffer from fixed costs due to their nature but we never seem to get to the stage where maximising use reduces costs do we?

The economic outlook

If we look at the business surveys from Markit ( PMIs) we see that the UK economy continues to grow at a steady pace with according to the surveys construction and particularly manufacturing doing well.

On its current course, manufacturing production is rising at a quarterly rate approaching 2%, providing a real boost to the pace of broader economic expansion…….

This morning has brought the services data which you might think would be good following them but of course things are often contrary.

November data pointed to a setback for the UK
service sector, with business activity growth easing
from the six-month peak seen in October. Volumes
of new work also increased at a slower pace, while
the rate of staff hiring was the joint-slowest since
March.

So growth continued but at a slower rate as the reading fell to 53.8 in November from 55.6 in October. Also there were inflation concerns being reported.

Sharp and accelerated rise in prices charged by
service providers.

This is very different to the official data although it only covers the period to September.

The annual inflation rate in the latest quarter was above the average for the period, at 1.3%.

The average is for the credit crunch era.

This means that according to the business surveys the UK economy is doing this.

The survey data are so far consistent with the economy growing at a quarterly rate of 0.45% in the closing months of 2017.

I did challenge the spurious accuracy here and got this in response from their chief economist Chris Williamson.

Hi Shaun – October UK PMI was consistent with +0.5% GDP while November signalled +0.4%. Seemed sensible to split the difference!

Car Trouble

Regular readers will be aware that the boom in this sector has faded and perhaps turned to dust in 2017. This morning the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported this.

The UK new car market declined for an eighth consecutive month in November, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). 163,541 vehicles were registered, down -11.2% year-on-year, driven by a significant fall in diesel demand.

The fall was led by businesses.

Business, fleet and private registrations all fell in the month, down -33.6%, -14.4% and -5.1% respectively. Registrations fell across all body types except specialist sports, which grew 6.7%. The biggest declines were seen in the executive and mini segments, which decreased -22.2% and -19.8% respectively, while demand in the supermini segment contracted by -15.4%.

This means that the state of play for the year so far is this.

Overall, registrations have declined -5.0% in the eleven months in 2017, with 2,388,144 cars hitting British roads so far this year.

Hitting the roads? Well hopefully not but the economic consequences are ironically being felt abroad as much as in the UK. From the UK point of view there is a fall in consumption and to the extent of some business use a fall in investment. But we mostly import our cars so in terms of a production impact it will mostly be felt abroad. As it turns out the major impact will be felt in France as so far this year we see registrations have fallen by 18% for Citroen, 16% for Peugeot and 17% for Renault totalling around 38,000 cars for the sector. Individually the worst hit of the main manufacturers seems to be Vauxhall which is down 22% this year.

As to the type of car that has been worst hit then I am sure you have already guessed it.

heavy losses for diesel, falling -30.6%.

On that subject the SMMT seems lost in its own land of confusion.

Diesel remains the right choice for many drivers, not least because of its fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.

That ( and the tax advantages) persuaded me to get what I thought was a new green and clean diesel only to discover that instead I have been poisoning the air for myself and other Londoners. So I guess more than a few are singing along to the Who these days.

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

We await to see how this impacts on all the car loans and note that the UK is not alone in this if the Irish Motor Industry is any guide.

New car sales year to date (2017)131,200 (2016) 146,215 -10%

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider so let us start with the car market. Whilst there is an impact on consumption and perhaps a small impact on production ironically the impact on our trade and current account position will be beneficial as explained by this from HM Parliament.

The value of exports totalled £31.5 billion in 2016, but imports totalled £40.3 billion, so a trade deficit of £8.8 billion was recorded.

So the impact on UK GDP is not as clear as you might think especially if we continue to export well.

UK car manufacturing rises 3.5% in October with 157,056 cars rolling off production lines.Exports up 5.0% – but domestic demand falls -2.9% as lower consumer confidence continues to impact market.

The main problem for the UK would be if the current inflation surge continues so let us cross our fingers that it is fading. Otherwise 2017 has been remarkably stable in terms of economic growth driven by two factors which are the lower Pound £ and the fact that the world economy is having a better year.

Meanwhile I will leave the central bankers and their acolytes to explain why a development like this is bad news. From Bloomberg.

Among the coconut plantations and beaches of South India, a factory the size of 35 football fields is preparing to churn out billions of generic pills for HIV patients and flood the U.S. market with the low-cost copycat medicines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the UK construction sector in a recession?

So far 2017 has been a year of steady but unspectacular growth for the UK economy. However one sector has stood out on the downside and that is construction. Of course this is the opposite of what the unwary might think as we are regularly assailed with official claims that house building in particular is a triumph. But the pattern of the official data series is certainly not a triumph.

Construction output contracted by 0.9% in the three-month on three-month series in September 2017…….This fall of 0.9% for Quarter 3 (July to September) follows a decline of 0.5% in Quarter 2 (April to June), representing the first consecutive quarter-on-quarter decline in current estimates of construction output since Quarter 3 2012.

Whilst our official statisticians avoid saying it this is the criteria for a recession with two quarterly falls in a row and in fact they had revised it a bit deeper.

The estimate for construction growth in Quarter 3 2017 has been revised down 0.2 percentage points from negative 0.7% in the preliminary estimate of gross domestic product (GDP), which has no impact on quarterly GDP growth to one decimal place.

The last month in that sequence which was September showed little or no sign of any improvement.

Construction output fell 1.6% month-on-month in September 2017, stemming from falls of 2.1% in repair and maintenance and 1.3% in all new work.

September detail

Here is an idea of the scale of output.

Total all work decreased to £12,628 million in September 2017. This fall stems from decreases in both all new work, which fell to £8,209 million, and total repair and maintenance, which fell to £4,419 million.

And here are the declines.

Construction output fell by £361 million in September 2017. This fall stems predominantly from a £236 million decrease in private commercial new work, as well as a fall of £165 million from total housing repair and maintenance.

There may be some logic in new commercial work being slow but the fall in repair and maintenance seems odd to say the least. The issues for the former might be that there has been so much building in parts of London combined with uncertainty looking ahead in terms of slower economic growth and what the Brexit deal may look like.

Maybe we are seeing some growth in new house building if we look at the longer trend.

Elsewhere, the strongest positive contributions to three-month on three-month output came from housing new work, with private housing growing £138 million and public housing expanding by £65 million.

Boom Boom

This weaker episode followed what had been a very strong phase for the UK construction industry. The nadir for it if we use 2015 as 100 was 85.3 in October 2012 as opposed to the 105.9 of September this year.  Over this period it has been even stronger than the services sector which has risen from 93.7 to 104.4 over the same period. Of course at 6.1% of the UK economy as opposed to 79.3% the total impact is far smaller but relatively it has been the fastest growing of the main UK economic categories in recent times.

If we look back to possible factors at play in the turnaround it is hard not to think yet again of the Funding for Lending Scheme of the Bank of England which was launched in the summer of 2012. There is a clear link in terms of private housing in terms of the way it lowered mortgage rates by more than 1% and the data here makes me wonder if some of the funding flowed into the commercial building sector as well. At this point we do see something of an irony as of course the FLS was supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses but sadly many of those in the construction sector were wiped out by the onset of the credit crunch.However this from the TSB suggests an impact.

As part of our participation in the Funding for Lending Scheme*, we have reduced the interest rate by 1% on all approved business loan and commercial mortgage applications.

Indeed some loans were made although as Co Star reported in January 2013 maybe not that many.

The Lloyds FLS-funded senior loan funded last Friday. Kier said the “competitively-priced” £30m loan will be used in connection with its infrastructure and related projects.

This is understood to be only the second commercial real estate loan drawn by Lloyds’ Commercial Banking division under the FLS scheme, after the bank drew down a further £2bn under the scheme before Christmas, taking its total capacity to £3bn.

The issue is complex as the Bank of England itself was worried about the state of play in 2014.

 The majority of the aggregate fall in net lending in 2014 Q1 was accounted for by a continued decline in lending to businesses in the real estate sector (Chart 2).

One area that I think clearly did see growth but is pretty much impossible to pick out of the data is lending to what are effectively buy-to let businesses.

Looking ahead

There has been a flicker of winter sunshine this morning from the Markit PMI business survey.

November data pointed to a moderate rebound in
UK construction output, with business activity rising
at the strongest rate since June. New orders and
employment numbers also increased to the greatest
extent in five months.

Indeed in an example of the phrase “there is a first time for everything” the government may this time be telling the truth about house building.

House building projects were again the primary
growth engine for construction activity. Survey
respondents suggested that resilient demand and a
supportive policy backdrop had driven the robust and
accelerated upturn in residential work.

Whilst the overall growth was not rapid at 53.1 ( where 50 in unchanged) at least we seem to have some and it was reassuring to have another confirmation of my theme that the 2016 fall in the UK Pound £ is wearing off.

However, cost inflation eased to its least marked for 14 months, with some firms reporting signs that exchange-rate driven price rises had started to lose intensity.

Comment

So the overall picture is of a boom which then saw a recession and hopefully of the latest surveys are correct a short shallow one. However not everyone is entirely on board with the recession story as this from Construction News last month points out.

Industry activity continued to grow between July and September, according to a new survey by the Construction Products Association.

The official data series in the UK for construction has been troubled to put it politely. The official version is this.

The Office for Statistics Regulation has put out a request for feedback and comments from users of these statistics, as part of the process for re-assessing the National Statistic status for Construction statistics: output, new orders and price indices.

In essence you cannot say what real output is until you have some sort of grip on the price level. Also  the excellent Brickonomics pointed out several years ago that some of the improvement in the data was via simply transferring a large business from services to construction. Solved at the stroke of a pen? Also this year there were large revisions to last year which is not entirely reassuring.

The annual growth rate for 2016 has been revised from 2.4% to 3.8%.

If that error was systemic then this years recession could easily be revised away. The truth is that there is way too much uncertainty about this which is surprising in the sense that the industry relies on physical products many of which are large. A few weeks back I counted the number of cranes along Nine Elms ( 24) for example in response to a question asked in the comments.

So we had a boom ( maybe) followed by a recession (maybe) and are now recovering (maybe). Hardly a triumph for the information era…..

Some Music

Here is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear Donald Trump as a Talking Head.

 

 

Can the economy of Italy awake from its coma?

A pleasant feature of 2017 has been the way that the economy of Italy has at least seen a decent patch.  Although sadly the number this morning has been revised lower.

In the third quarter of 2017 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.4 per cent with respect to the second quarter of 2017 and by 1.7 per cent in comparison with the third quarter of 2016

The improved economic outlook for the Euro area has pulled Italy with it although you may note that even with it the numbers are only a little better than the UK so far in annual terms and we of course are in a weaker patch or an economic disaster depending what you read. In fact if you look at annual growth Italy has been improving since the beginning of 2014 but for quite some time it was oh so slow such that the annual rate of growth did not reach 1% until the latter part of 2015 and it is only this year that it has pushed ahead a bit more. Back in 2014 there was a lot of proclaiming an Italian economic recovery whereas in fact the economy simply stopped shrinking.

Girlfriend in a coma

This means that in spite of the better news Italy looks set in 2017 to reach where it was in terms of economic output between 2003 and 2004. This girlfriend in a coma style result has been driven by two factors. First is the fact that the initial impact of the credit crunch was added to by the Euro area crisis such that annual economic output as measured by GDP fell by 8.5% between 2007 and 2014. The second is the weak recovery phase since then which has not boosted it much although of course it is now doing a little better.

If we look ahead a not dissimilar problem seems to emerge. From the Monthly Economic Outlook.

In 2017 GDP is expected to increase by 1.5 percent in real terms.The domestic demand will provide a
contribution of 1.5 percentage points while foreign demand will account for a negative 0.1 percentage
point conterbalaced by the contribution of inventories (0.1 pp). In 2018 GDP is estimated to increase
by 1.4 percent in real terms driven by the contribution of domestic demand (1.5 percentage points)
associated to a negative contribution of the foreign demand (-0.1 percentage points).

When ECB President Mario Draghi made his “everything it takes ( to save the Euro)” speech back in 2012 he might have hoped for a bit more economic zest from his home country.  Even now with the Euro area economy displaying something of a full head of steam Italy does not seem to be doing much better than its long-term average which is to grow at around 1% per annum. That is in the good times and as we noted earlier it gets hit hard in the bad times.

The girlfriend in a come theme builds up if we recall this from the 4th of July.

If we move to a measure which looks at the individual experience which is GDP per capita we see that it has fallen by around 5% over that time frame as the same output is divided by a population which has grown.

There will have been an improvement from the growth in the third quarter but we are still noting a fall in GDP per capita of over 4% in Italy in the Euro era. So more than a lost decade on that measure. As I have pointed out before Italy has seen positive migration which helps with future demographic issues but does not seem to have helped the economy much in the Euro area. For example net immigration was a bit under half a million in 2007 and whilst it has fallen presumably because of the economic difficulties it is still a factor.

During 2016, the international net migration grew by more than 10,000, reaching 144,000 (+8% compared to
2015). The immigration flow was equal to nearly 301,000 (+7% compared to 2015).

Putting it another way the population of Italy was 56.9 million when it joined the Euro and at the opening of 2017 it was 60.6 million. So more people mostly by immigration as the birth rate is falling have produced via little extra output according to the official statistics.

The labour market

If we switch to the labour market we see a reflection of the problem with output and GDP.

In October 2017, 23.082 million persons were employed, unchanged over September 2017. Unemployed
were 2.879 million, -0.1% over the previous month.

So only a small improvement but the pattern below begs more than a few questions.

Employment rate was 58.1%, unemployment rate was 11.1% and inactivity rate was 34.5%, all unchanged
over September 2017.

There are of course issues with a double-digit unemployment which has as part of its make-up an ongoing problem with youth unemployment.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 34.7%, -0.7 percentage points over the previous month

If UB40 did a song for youth unemployment in Italy it would have to be the one in three ( and a bit) not the one in ten

Also the employment rate is internationally low which is mostly reflected in a high inactivity rate. The unemployment rate in Italy is not far from where it was when it joined the Euro.

The banks

It was only last week I looked at the ongoing problems of the Italian banks and whilst they have had many self-inflicted problems it is also true that they have suffered from a weak Italian economy this century. So they have suffered something of a double whammy which means Banca Carige is trying to raise 560 million Euros with the state of play being this according to Ansa.

Out of the main basket Carige, closed the trading of rights to raise capital, it remains at 0.01 euros.

A share price of one Euro cent speaks rather eloquently for itself. If you go for the third capital increase in four years what do you expect?

National Debt

Italy is not especially fiscally profligate but the consequence of so many years of economic struggles means that the relative size of the national debt has grown. From it statistics office.

The government deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 2.6% in 2015 to 2.5% in 2016. The primary surplus as a percentage of GDP, equal to 1.5% in 2016, remained unchanged compared to 2015.

The government debt to GDP ratio was 132.0% at the end of 2016, up by 0.5 percentage points with respect to the end of 2015.

For those who recall the early days of the crisis in Greece the benchmark of a national debt to GDP ratio was set at 120% so as not to embarrass Italy (and Portugal). As you can see it misfired.

Italy has particular reason to be grateful for the QE bond buying of the ECB which has kept its debt costs low otherwise it would be in real trouble right now.

Although on the other side of the coin Italians are savers on a personal or household level.

The gross saving rate of Consumer households (defined as gross saving divided by gross disposable
income, the latter being adjusted for the change in the net equity of households in pension funds reserves)
was 7.5%, compared with 7.7% in the previous quarter and 9.0% in the second quarter of 2016.

Comment

The issue with the Italian economy is that the current improvement is only a thin veneer on the problems of the past. It may awake from the coma but then doesn’t seem to do that much before it goes back to sleep. The current economic forecasts seem to confirm more of the same as we fear what might happen in the next down turn.

One part of the economy that is doing much better is the manufacturing sector according to this morning’s survey released by Markit.

Italy’s manufacturing industry continued to soar in
November as strong external demand, especially
for capital goods, continued to underpin surging
levels of output in the sector.
“Capacity subsequently came under pressure, as
evidenced by the strongest recorded rise in
backlogs of the series history. Companies again
added to their staffing levels as a result.

Let us hope that this carries as we again wonder how much of the economic malaise suffered by Italy is caused by output switching to the unregistered sector.

Me on CoreTV Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/unsecured-credit-improving/

http://www.corelondon.tv/bitcoin-cryptocurrency-smashing-10000/