This morning has seen Reuters publish the details of an interview with one of the Bank of England’s policymakers Ian McCafferty. So let us take a look at what he said.
The Bank of England should not delay raising interest rates again, one of its top policymakers said, pointing to the possibility of faster pay rises and the recent strong pick-up in the world economy.
This is already a little awkward for our self-proclaimed inflation warrior. This is because the Bank of England has been forecasting faster pay rises for several years now usually due to output gap theory.
Speaking in his office in the BoE on Monday, adorned with books on the economy and a framed page of The Times newspaper with a headline about inflation, McCafferty said that as well as the boost from the world economy’s strong recovery, he thought there was now no slack left in Britain’s labor market.
The slack issue has been a problem for him and his colleagues for some time as this from a speech of his four years ago illustrates.
That is why, in the second phase of forward guidance that came into effect this month as the unemployment
rate passed 7%, the MPC expanded the range of indicators of labour market slack that we are formally
The first phase of Forward Guidance lasted around 6 months and it is hard not to have a wry smile as we have left both the unemployment level originally indicated and the other measure suggested by Ian well behind.
At present, these indicators suggest that the current level of slack in the economy, as reported in the
February Inflation Report, is in the region of 1-1½% of GDP, suggesting that there remains some room for
demand to recover further without exerting upward pressure on inflation.
Even if we are generous that had gone by the end of the year and yet Bank Rate is where it was then having followed the strategy of the Grand Old Duke of York when it did move. Oh and did I mention problems with forecasting a wages boom?
So the pickup in January settlements reported by a number of data providers certainly suggests that nominal pay is finally on the rise.
That is because it is from 2014 but pretty much same rhetoric has been used by the Bank of England this year. Actually Ian was embarrassingly wrong back then was average earnings fell sharply in that April meaning that the rolling three-month measure was at -0.3% in July.
What is the current wages evidence?
Ian gives us yet another regurgitation of the output gap or slack style analysis that has worked so badly for him over the past four years.
Unemployment at its lowest rate since 1975, skill shortages and signs that employers were resorting to higher wage offers to lure staff from rival firms or stop them from leaving would also create inflation pressure.
The official data does not give much of a backing for this as the three monthly average at 2.8% in January is higher than last year but by 0.6%. Also if you look back then this measure was around 3% in the late spring and summer of 2015 so it is a case of back to the future. If we move to the latest quarterly report of the Agents of the Bank of England we get what sounds like the same old scene.
Growth in total labour costs had remained modest, although average pay settlements this year were a little higher than in 2017 for many contacts (Chart 6). Most settlements were between 2½%–3½%, driven by a combination of improved profitability among exporters, the annual NLW increase and higher consumer price inflation.
As consumer inflation is set to fade there is an issue there and I will leave you to mull how government policy via the National Living Wage can lead to the Bank of England raising Bank Rate! Oh and many would regard exporters raising pay in response to higher profitability as a good thing.
There is more backing for the higher wages in prospect view from private-sector surveys such as this from this morning on Bloomberg.
U.K. firms facing a shortage of workers are pushing up starting salaries, according to IHS Markit and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
Pay for temporary or contract staff rose at the quickest pace in six months in March, as the supply of job candidates fell sharply, they said in a report on Tuesday. Vacancies grew across all categories, with engineers and IT workers the most sought after for permanent roles, and hotel and catering employees in highest demand for temporary jobs.
However City-AM has spotted something which Bloomberg seems to have overlooked.
However, signs of increasing pay pressure for staff in permanent roles have diminished since hitting an almost three-year high in January.
A Space Oddity
This is somewhere between confused and simply wrong and the emphasis is mine.
The BoE raised rates for the first time in more than a decade in November, saying that Britain, while growing more slowly than other rich countries because of the impact of the 2016 Brexit vote, was more prone to inflation than in the past.
If we look back to the past we have seen plenty of examples where inflation has been much higher. Ian should know this as I worked with him during one of them. But if we look more recently there are two reasons for using less not more. Firstly there has so far been no sign that the inflation caused by the fall in the UK Pound £ has had secondly and tertiary effects and rolled through the system like it used to. On the evidence so far it hit and then faded. Secondly inflation has not even gone as high as it did in the autumn of 2010.
The World Economy
This is an example of a type of space oddity.
the boost from the world economy’s strong recovery
This is an example of steering monetary policy via the rear window when you are supposed to be looking ahead via the front window. To set monetary policy correctly you would have needed to raise interest-rates around a year before this in fact you could argue somewhere around the time they cut them.
There is a clear problem in you being judge and jury on your own actions as Andy as attempted in Melbourne Australia today.
A detailed, disaggregated analysis of household balance sheets suggests the material loosening in UK
monetary policy after the financial crisis did not have significant adverse distributional consequences.
These days it only takes a couple of minutes for him to be challenged about reality which is very different to the lauding he used to get.
Personally I am disappointed that having invited Billy Bragg to give a talk at the Bank of England Andy has not produced one of these for him.
Some illustrative and tentative examples of these personal “monetary policy scorecards” have been shown.
Oh and I owe the Bank of England an apology as I though their version of sending Andy to Coventry was complete when they sent him to the Outer Hebrides whereas I now note he is giving speeches in Australia. Will he be the first man on Mars?
Also let me help him out on a subject which he has confessed to not understanding which is pensions. By my calculations his is worth at least £3.4 million will he be producing a personal scorecard?
There are two fundamental problems here. The first is the error made by the Bank of England back in August 2016 when it confused cut with raise something from which it has never fully recovered. It now has figured out that interest-rates are too low but in terms of timing would be raising in the face of falling inflation and signs of a weakening economic outlook.
Next is the issue of telling everyone it has made them better off. Apart from the obvious moral hazard involved if it was true then why does it need to keep telling us? Moving to a more technical issue it is difficult for a man who does not understand one of the biggest sources of wealth (pensions) to lecture us about it. Sweet summed it up back in the day.
Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say?
We just haven’t got a clue what to do
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way?
To Block Buster!