About notayesmanseconomics

I am an independent economist who studied at the London School of Economics. My speciality was (and remains) monetary economics. I worked in the City of London for several investment banks and then on my own account over a period of 15 years. After initially working in the government bond department at Phillips and Drew Ltd. I moved on into the derivatives arena with options of all types being a speciality. I never lost my specialisation in UK interest rates and also traded as a local on the London International Financial Futures Exchange where I mostly traded futures and options on future and present UK interest rates. So with my specialisations of monetary economics and knowledge of derivatives I have plenty of expertise to deploy on the financial and economic crisis which has unfolded in recent years. I have also worked in Tokyo Japan again in the derivatives sphere and the Japanese "lost decade" made me think about what I would do if it spread,which is very relevant now. My name is Shaun Richards and apart from the analysis on here you may have heard me on Share Radio where I regularly analyse economic events and developments, Bloomberg Radio or more recently on BBC Radio 4's Money Box. I also write economics reports for groups such as Woodford Investment Management. I can be contacted via the contact details on this website or on twitter via @notayesmansecon.

The return of the unreliable boyfriend causes carnage for the Pound £

Yesterday was not one of the better days for the Bank of England. To explain why let us take the advice of Kylie Minogue and step back in time. We go back to its house journal or the economics editor of the Financial Times Chris Giles on the 22nd of March.

The Bank of England has set the stage for an interest rate rise at its meeting in May, saying that pay growth was picking up and inflation was expected to remain above its 2 per cent target.

For Chris this was an example of deja vu and another success on its way for Forward Guidance.

Michael Saunders and Ian McCafferty broke ranks and voted for an immediate increase in interest rates, in a replay of events last September, when their dissenting views foreshadowed the MPC’s policy tightening announced in November.

The hits kept coming for the rise in May and go away camp.

The remaining seven MPC members argued that while nothing had changed significantly enough since the February meeting to justify an immediate move, they still believed rates would have to rise faster than markets had expected at the last meeting.

So the view advanced that an interest-rate rise in May was pretty much a done deal and markets moved towards suggesting a 90% chance of it. This was further reinforced by a speech given by Gertjan Vlieghe which I have mentioned before. From April 6th.

But last month Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, broke ranks with his colleagues on the nine-member committee when he said that rates could rise above 2 per cent over the same period.

So the stage was set and if there was a warning from the FT it was heavily coded and looked at something else.

The Riksbank has had some difficulties with its predictions. Until last year, it had been persistently over-optimistic about its ability to raise interest rates, always expecting rates to start rising soon

A bit like the England batsman James Vince who plays some flashy eye-catching shots but then gets out in the same familiar fashion.

Yesterday

Unfortunately for Governor Carney all his troubles were not so far away and it looked as though they were about to stay. He gave an interview to the BBC.

The governor of the Bank of England has said that an interest rate rise is “likely” this year, but any increases will be gradual.
Mark Carney said major decisions had to be taken on Brexit, including on the detail of the implementation period and the shape of a final deal.

There would also be a parliamentary vote on the future relationship between Britain and rest of the EU.

All those events would weigh on how fast interest rates rises would occur.

This poses more than a few problems. Firstly there is the issue of Brexit about which of course there are opposite views. But whichever side of the fence you are on the truth is that the water has been much less choppy recently so the Governor is flying a false flag. This adds to the problem he has in this area because he has been consistently too pessimistic on this subject, From the Guardian in May 2016.

That would leave the Bank with a difficult balancing act as it decides whether to cut, hold or raise interest rates to counter opposing forces, Carney added.

Of course the difficult balancing act suddenly became cut as fast as he could with a promise of a further cut that November which was later abandoned. This contrasts in polar fashion with the pace at which interest-rate increases arrive as we are still waiting for the one promised back in the summer of 2014. From the Wall Street Journal.

Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney said Thursday that interest rates in the U.K. could rise sooner than investors expect, sending the clearest signal yet that Britain’s central bank is inching closer to calling time on five years of record-low borrowing costs.

Well not that clear as it turned out to be comfortably numb.

A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves

This was something which created quite a disturbance in the markets as they scrambled to move interest-rate and bond futures. It is easy to forget now but the words of Governor Carney caused quite a bit of damage as the move eventually reversed. Also there was this.

And he warned the BOE intends to be vigilant over any risks to the recovery emanating from the housing market, where rising prices are stoking fears that Britons could become too indebted.

Indeed

Term Funding Scheme. Our Term Funding Scheme (TFS) provides funding to banks and building societies at rates close to Bank Rate. It is designed to encourage them to reflect cuts in Bank Rate in the interest rates faced by households and businesses.

Oh sorry not that £127 billion one nor the extra £60 billion of QE Gilt purchases. anyway as there is nothing to see here let;s move along.

How fast?

This issue is something which just gets ever more breathtaking so let me take you to the Bank of England Minutes.

All members agree that any future increases in Bank Rate are likely to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent.

The problem here is that whilst this is repeated by the media like a mantra nobody points out that we have had years of such hints and promises now with us remaining at the “emergency” Bank Rate of 0.5%. We did of course get a panic cut in the summer of 2016 followed after what was considered to be a suitable delay to avoid embarrassment an overdue reversal but no increases at all.I am reminded of the explanation of what minutes mean by the apochryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby which was along the lines of “Whatever you want” from Status Quo, But feel that this from June 2014 was more accurate.

Part of that normalisation would be a rise in Bank
Rate at some point

The some point has never arrived but of course the hot air rhetoric carries on regardless. From Bloomberg.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney says the U.K. should prepare for a few interest-rate increases over the next few years.

Perhaps he means after June 2019 when he leaves.

Comment

We find ourselves looking at a familiar theme which is the woeful forecasting record of the Bank of England. In this instance we see that it has changed its mid again about pay growth and inflation if we look through the Brexit inspired smokescreen. This matters because the present Governor Mark Carney has placed enormous emphasis on so-called Forward Guidance which of course has turned out to be anything but. It is a feature of his tenure that he is a dedicated follower of fashion but in his private moments he must regret following that particular central banking one. His forward guidance on climate change also has its troubles.

Carney said in the comments, made on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington.

This morning another member of the Bank of England Michael Saunders has demonstrated what a land of confusion they live in.

because the economy’s response to
changes in interest rates, especially rises, is more uncertain than usual.

Is it? Maybe one day we will find out! Also there is this rather bizarre statement and the emphasis is mine.

He also discusses why any further tightening is likely to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent.

So there you have it. As to the decision well the Bank of England has led itself and the markets up the garden path and now is having second thoughts. The real problem is not the current view which is more realistic but why it keeps being wrong?

A new Governor?

An ability not to see anything inconvenient seems a good start and of course the ability to deny almost anything would be of great help. Some have suggested he has gone because he wants to be in Europe next season but personally I think we should remember the positive influence he brought to English football in the early days. A big change to the drinking and eating cultures for a start.

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The IMF debt arrow warning misses the real target

Yesterday brought the latest forecasts from the IMF ( International Monetary Fund). Don’t worry I am not concerned with them as after all Greece would be now have recovered if they were right. But there is a link to the Greece issue and the way that it has found itself trying to push an enormous deadweight of debt which meant that Euro area policy had to change to make the interest-rates on it much cheaper. Here is the ESM or European Stability Mechanism on that subject.

1% Average interest rate on ESM loans to Greece (as of 28/04/2017)

That is a far cry from the “punishment” 4.5% that regular readers will recall that Germany was calling for in the early days and the implementation of which added to the trouble. Also if we continue with the debt theme there is another familiar consequence.

That is because the two institutions can borrow cash much more cheaply than Greece itself, and offer a long period for repayment. Greece will not have to start repaying its loans to the ESM before 2034, for instance.

So in the words of the payday lenders Greece now has one affordable monthly payment or something like that. As we note the IMF research below I think it is important to keep the consequences in mind.

The IMF Fiscal Monitor

Here is the opening salvo.

Global debt hit a new record high of $164 trillion in 2016, the equivalent of 225 percent of global GDP. Both private and public debt have surged over the past decade.

Later we get a breakdown of this.

Of the $164 trillion, 63 percent is non financial private sector debt, and 37 percent is public sector debt.

That is a fascinating breakdown so the banks have eliminated all their own debt have they? Perhaps it is the new hybrid debt being counted as equity. Also the IMF quickly drops its interest in the 63% which is a shame as there are all sorts of begged questions here. For example who is it borrowed from and is there any asset backing? In the UK for example it would include the fast rising unsecured or consumer credit sector as well as the mortgaged sector but of course even that relies on the house price boom for an asset value. Then we could get onto student debt which whilst I have my doubts about some of the degrees offered in return I have much more confidence in young people as an asset if I may put it like that. So sadly the IMF has missed the really interesting questions and of course is stepping on something of a land mine in discussing government debt after its debacle in Greece.

Government Debt

Here is the IMF hammering out its beat.

Debt in advanced economies is at 105 percent of
GDP on average—levels not seen since World War II.
In emerging market and middle-income economies,
debt is close to 50 percent of GDP on average—levels
last seen during the 1980s debt crisis. For low-income
developing countries, average debt-to-GDP ratios have
been climbing at a rapid pace and exceed 40 percent
as of 2017.

If we invert the order I notice that there are issues with the poorer countries again.

Moreover, nearly half of this debt is on
nonconcessional terms, which has resulted in a doubling
of the interest burden as a share of tax revenues
in the past 10 year.

This gives us food for though as you see one of the charts shows that such countries have received two phases of what is called relief, once in the 90s and once on the noughties. Is it relief or as Elvis Presley put it?

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

Next time I see Ann Pettifor who was involved in the Jubilee debt effort I will ask about this. Does such debt relief in a way validate policies which lead such countries straight back into debt trouble?

Advanced Countries

Here the choice of 2016 by the IMF is revealing. I have a little sympathy in that the data is often much slower to arrive than you might think but the government debt world has changed since them. Any example of this came from the UK only this week.

General government deficit (or net borrowing) was £39.4 billion in 2017, a decrease of £19.0 billion compared with 2016; this is equivalent to 1.9% of GDP, 1.1 percentage points below the reference value of 3.0% set out in the Protocol on the Excessive Deficit Procedure.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the UK passing one of the Maastricht criteria! But the point is that the deficit situation is much better albeit far slower than promised meaning that whilst the debt soared back then now prospects are different.

In truth I fear that the IMF has taken a trip to what we might call Trumpton.

In the United States—where
a fiscal stimulus is happening when the economy is
close to full employment, keeping overall deficits above
$1 trillion (5 percent of GDP) over the next three
years—fiscal policy should be recalibrated to ensure
that the government debt-to-GDP ratio declines over
the medium term.

I have quite a bit of sympathy with questioning why the US has added a fiscal stimulus to all the monetary stimulus? I know it has been raising interest-rates but the truth is that it has less monetary stimulus now rather than a contraction. Those of us who fear that modern economies can only claim growth if they continue to be stimulated or a type of economic junkie culture will think along these lines. But also they lose ground with waffle like “full employment” in a world where the Japanese unemployment rate is 2.5% as to the 4.1% in the US. Oh and whilst we are at it there is of course the fact that Japan has been running such fiscal deficits for years now.

What about interest-rates and yields?

There was this from Lisa Abramowicz of Bloomberg yesterday.

While U.S. yields may still be rising, the world is still awash in central-bank stimulus. The amount of negative-yielding debt has actually grown by nearly $1.4 trillion since February, to about $8.3 trillion: Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Negative Yielding Debt index

My point is that for all the talk and analysis of higher interest-rates and yields we get this.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here and let me open with a bit of tidying up. Comparing a debt stock to an income/output flow ( GDP) requires also some idea of the cost of the debt. Moving on an opportunity has been missed to look at private-debt as we note that US consumer credit has passed the pre credit crunch peak. Of course the economy is larger but there are areas of troubled water such as car loans. This matters because the last surge in government debt was driven by the socialisation of private debt previously owned by the banks.

If we note the debt we have generically then there are real questions now as to high interest-rates can go? Some of you have suggested around 3% but in the end that also depends on economic growth which is apposite because the slowing of some monetary indicators suggests we may be about to get less of it. Should that turn further south then more than a few places will see an economic slow down that starts with both negative interest-rates and yields. These are the real issues as opposed to old era thinking.

• First, high government debt can make countries
vulnerable to rollover risk because of large gross
financing needs, particularly when maturities are
short

In reality that will be QE’d away if I may put it like that and the real question is where will the side-effects and consequences of the QE response appear? For example the distributional effects in favour of those with assets. Perhaps the real issue is the continuing prevalence of negative yields in a (claimed) recovery………From the Fab Four.

You never give me your money
You only give me your funny paper
And in the middle of negotiations
You break down

Me on Core Finance TV

We have good news as the Bank of England gets an inflation headache

As our attention moves today to inflation in the UK there is something we have cause to be grateful for. Let me hand you over to the Independent.

The pound hit its highest level against the dollar since the Brexit vote in June 2016, rising to $1.4364 by mid-morning………….

It has fallen back to US $1.43 since that but the principle that we have seen a considerable recovery since we fell below US $1.20 holds. If we look back to a year ago then we were just below US $1.28 and this matters for inflation trends because so many basic materials and commodities in particular are priced in US Dollars. We have not done so well against the Euro as we are around 2% lower than a year ago here which used to be considered as a dream ticket but as ever when we get what we want we either ignore it or forget we wanted it. The Euro has been strong which we can observe by looking at it versus the Swiss Franc where it has nearly regained the famous 1.20 threshold which caused so much trouble in January 2015.  But overall for us currency driven inflation has become currency driven disinflationary pressure.

Oil

On the other side of the coin we are seeing some commodity price pressure from crude oil and those who follow trading will be worried by this development.

DG closes long USDJPY position (Short of 3 units of yen vs the dollar). Opens short WTI & Brent (one unit of each) ( @RANsquawk )

You have reached a certain level of fame or infamy in this case when you are known by your initials but Dennis Gartman has achieved this with claims like the oil price will not exceed US $44 again in his lifetime. So we fear for developments after finding out he has gone short and if we look back we see that the price has been rising. The rally started around midsummer day last year when it was just below US $45 per barrel for Brent crude as opposed to the US $72 as I type this. More specifically it was at US $53  a year ago.

If we look wider at commodity prices we see that there has been much less pressure here as the CRB Index was 423 a year ago as opposed to the 441 of now. What there has been seems to have been in the metals section which has risen from 894 to 968. We can add to that the recent Russia sanctions driven rise in the Aluminium price as it is not included in the index.

Shrinkflation

This is on my mind because as many of you will recall we were told that products were shrinking because of the lower level of the UK Pound £. Last July the Office for National Statistics told us this.

No, you’re not imagining it – some of your favourite sweets really are shrinking. In November 2016, Toblerone chocolate bars reduced in size by about 10%, provoking outrage online. And Maltesers, M&Ms and Minstrelshave gone the same way.

It’s a phenomenon known as “shrinkflation” – where manufacturers reduce the package size of household goods while keeping the price the same.

I just wondered if any of you have seen signs of prices going back down or more specifically pack sizes growing? If we move to the price of ingredients which was blamed I note that sugar prices are lower over the past year from above US $17 to below US $12 and whilst cocoa prices have risen this year they are still below where they were in early 2016.

Even if the picture for chocoholics is a little mixed there were plenty of products which rose in price which we were told was due to the lower Pound £, have any of these fallen back now it is higher? I can tell you that the new running shoes I have just received were at the new higher £65 rather than the previous £55. I also recall Apple raising prices did they come back down?

Moving back to a more literal shrinkflation there was this a week ago. From City AM

According to new research from LABC Warranty, average house sizes have shrunk by over 12 square metres over the last 50 years.

The study looked at 10,000 houses built between 1930 and the present day, using open data from property sites Rightmove and Zoopla. The analysis concluded that house sizes are smaller than they were in the 1930s, after reaching a peak in the 1970s.

How does that work with the obesity crisis?

Today’s data

There was more of the welcome news we have been expecting on here although I note that the Financial Times has called it “disappointing.”

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.7% in February.

We do get a hint that the rally in the UK Pound £ has helped from this part of the detail.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 2.4%, down from 3.0% last month.

Good prices were pushed up by the previous fall in the currency but now inflation in this area is rather similar to that in the services sector ( 2.5%) so after the recent drops we may see a plateau of sorts. As to the factors at play this month as I have noted several times in the past couple of years it is time to say thank you ladies.

Large downward effect…….. Prices overall rose this year by less than a year ago, with the main downward contributions coming from women’s dresses, jumpers, cardigans and coats, and boys’ T-shirts.

The good news carried on with the Retail Prices Index although of course with a higher number albeit less of a gap than we have got used to.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, down from 3.6% last month.

Producer Prices

These give us an idea of what is “coming up that hill” as Kate Bush would put it. Here we see some better news at the start.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) was 2.4% on the year to March 2018, down from 2.6% in February 2018.

However we do see the beginnings of the influence of the higher oil price further in the distance.

Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 4.2% on the year to March 2018, up from 3.8% in February 2018.

House Prices

We even had better news on this front.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.4% in the year to February 2018 (down from 4.7% in January 2018). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained generally under 5% throughout 2017 and into 2018. Average house prices in the UK decreased by 0.1% on the month.

Of course if we look at all the different measures we seem to be bouncing between 0% and 5% but that in itself is better and the 5% upper barrier looks like it might be set to fall.

Comment

Just in time for the sunny spring weather the UK economy has produced two days of good data. Yesterday’s employment data has been followed by a fall in nearly all our inflation measures which of course sprinkles a few rays of sunshine on the prospects for real wages. These numbers will take time to filter into the other data such as consumption and GDP ( from the autumn perhaps) but the worm has now turned in this respect albeit not in time for the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile there are two pockets of trouble and they are centred within our establishment. Firstly Bank of England Governor Carney has apparently had a headache and asked for some ibuprofen as he mulls how an inflation targeting central banker can raise interest-rates into falling inflation having ignored its rise?

Also the Office of National Statistics has argued itself into an increasingly lonely corner with this.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.3%, down from 2.5% in February.

Why has it become the economics version of “Johnny no mates”? Because nobody believes this version of property inflation.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.2%, unchanged from last month

If you have to make up a number my tip is to make at least some effort at credibility.

 

 

 

Is this something of a Goldilocks scenario in the UK labour market?!

Today brings us to the latest official wages and labour market data for the UK . If that feels wrong you are indeed correct and the rationale for switching from a Wednesday is both breathtaking and probably true. From City AM in February.

The ONS said today: “Publication of labour market statistics on the day of Prime Minister’s Questions – one of the most important and most widely covered parliamentary occasions – means there is a risk that these detailed statistics are not fully understood by Parliamentarians on both sides of the House before they can be debated. This reduces the public value of these statistics.

Of course recent events suggest that they still will not understand them!

If we move to wages then the mood music generally is that they are rising. This is an international theme as anecdotes from the US are accompanied by talk of rises in Japan. The particular problem with Japan is that seems to come each year with the flowering of the Cherry Blossoms and usually lasts about as long as the flowers. Switching back to the UK we were told this last week. From the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.

March data signalled a further sharp increase in permanent staff placements across the UK, with the pace of expansion edging up fractionally since February. In contrast, temp billings expanded at the weakest pace for over a year.

So we see what is in labour market terms signs of a mature phase of the expansion. Jobs growth cannot boom for ever so employers may well be switching from offering temporary to permanent work in response to fears that they may find it harder to get temporary workers. If we look back for some perspective we see that the rally in UK employment began at the end of 2011 and the around 29,300,000 of then has been replaced by around 32,300,000 now. Frankly it told us something was changing well before the output or GDP data with the caveat being the question around what does employment actually mean these days?

Moving to wages the REC told us this.

Pay pressures remain marked

 

Average starting salaries continued to increase sharply in March, despite the rate of inflation softening to a ten-month low. Pay for temporary/contract staff rose at the quickest pace since last September.

Let us hope so as we have a lot of ground to regain as the Office for National Statistics suggested last week. Some of you have been kind enough to suggest its production of income data minus the imputed numbers is a success for my efforts but either way it have given some food for thought.

Cash real household disposable income (RHDI) per head fell for the second successive year, both on a national accounts and cash basis. Cash RHDI per head fell, by 0.7% year on year, whereas national accounts RHDI per head fell 0.3% year on year.

This is an interesting result although I am not sure that they have the numbers under control as they rose by 5% in 2015 perhaps excluding the fantasy numbers is proving more problematic than they thought. They also give a great definition of fantasy or made-up numbers though!

 it is not expenditure (or income) directly observed by homeowners. As a result, the national accounts measure of RHDI can differ from the perceived experience of households.

Today’s data

Having noted earlier the way that the level of employment turned out to be a better signal than GDP back in 2011/12 lets us go straight to it.

There were 32.26 million people in work, 55,000 more than for September to November 2017 and 427,000 more than for a year earlier.

which leads to this.

The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 years who were in work) was 75.4%, higher than for a year earlier (74.6%) and the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

So our labour market has continued in quantity terms to improve and for perspective here is the low on these figures.

The lowest employment rate for people was 65.6% in 1983, during the economic downturn of the early 1980s.

On this measure we are doing extraordinarily well and if we look into the detail we see that over the past year the gains have been mostly in full-time work (280,000) at least according to the ONS as its definition of this is a bit of a chocolate teapot. Also perhaps confirming points made by many of you in the comments section we are finally shifting back away from self-employment as it fell by 30,000 to 4.76 million as employment rose by 427,000.

Wage growth

This is both better and something of a curate’s egg.

Between December 2016 to February 2017 and December 2017 to February 2018, in nominal terms, both regular pay and total pay increased by 2.8%.

The better bit comes from the fact that on this measure it has improved over the past few months and according to our official statisticians it has done this.

regular pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.2% while total pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.1%.

Of course that relies on the really rather woeful ( we are back to imputed rent) headline inflation measure they use as we are still slightly below on their previous measure and more than 1% below using the measure before that ( RPI). Is there a trend there?

Where it is a curate’s egg is two-fold. Firstly given the employment situation it should be much higher if the past is any guide and will have many Ivory Towers gasping for air. Secondly the last three months from December to February have gone 3.1% then 2.8% and now 2.3%. Best of luck finding an upwards trend in that! Your only hope is that the numbers are erratic.

Unemployment

This looked set to rise and indeed we had seen some flickers and hints of that but it was replaced this time around by this.

For December 2017 to February 2018, there were: 1.42 million unemployed people, 16,000 fewer than for September to November 2017, 136,000 fewer than for a year earlier and the lowest since June to August 2005.

For some reason the ranks of unemployed men are shrinking much faster than that of women for which I have no good explanation.

Inactivity

This is a subject often ignored but we do seem to have a difference with the US and its participation rate issue.

the economic inactivity rate for people was 21.2%, lower than for a year earlier (21.6%) and the joint lowest since comparable records began in 1971.

Comment

The UK performance on the quantity measures of the labour market would be described as “outstanding” by the now sadly departed Drill Sargeant in the film Full Metal Jacket. But as we have observed so many times the relationship between it and wages growth has broken down. There has been some new research on this subject from David Bell and David ( Danny) Blanchflower.

We also provide evidence that the UK Phillips Curve has flattened and conclude that the UK NAIRU has shifted down. The underemployment rate likely would need to fall below 3%, compared to its current rate of 4.9% before wage growth is likely to reach pre-recession levels. The UK is a long way from full-employment.

I have a lot of sympathy with those who argue that under employment is an issue although it is sad to see the Phillips Curve being resurrected from its grave yet again. Also whilst it is about the UK it is hard not to think of Japan and its lack of wage growth with unemployment under the threshold. Of course the mention of an unemployment threshold will send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England economics department as we wonder if 3% will be the new 7%?

The reality is that for all the economic good news the state of play is this and remember this involves what we might call a favourable definition of inflation plus puts self-employed wages under the floorboards.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £486 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £36 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008

 

 

The Nine Elms problem is one of over supply

Partly because it is back in the news ( did it ever really go away?) and partly due to the nicer weather I cycled past Battersea dogs and cats home yesterday heading up to Vauxhall which gave me a cyclists eye view of the Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station developments. One simple measure is that it takes more than a few minutes to do this which gives an initial idea of scale. Another is my crane count which has now reached 32 as opposed to the 24 or 25 of the past. So activity is rising which of course is in the opposite direction to the official UK construction series but of course for me there is a type of locality bias here. Also if you cycle through the development as I did a couple of months ago you find that adding depth to height and length adds even more to the scale.

The Financial Times has been on the case too.

Battersea luxury homes scheme powers on despite oversupply fears

Frankly I am not sure what choice there is now but let us look deeper.

Now surrounded by hoardings and scaffolding, it lies at the heart of one of the most ambitious redevelopment schemes in Britain’s capital, with nearly 40 sites, owned by domestic and overseas developers, clustered in the surrounding 561 acres known as Nine Elms.

So nearly 3 Battersea Parks and there was an effort to pinch some of the park as well back in the day which fortunately was rebuffed. This has led to this.

It is four years since the prime property market peaked in London, but estate agency group JLL estimates that 3,323 upmarket homes are under construction and another 6,332 in the pipeline across the wider Nine Elms area. The volume of homes planned for the area has prompted fears of an oversupply of luxury properties that most Londoners cannot afford. According to JLL, properties in Nine Elms command £1,400 per sq ft on average, while landlords investing in one-bedroom flats can expect to command £450 a week rent.

This takes me back to February 7th when I noted this from the Guardian.

More than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell, raising fears that the capital will be left with dozens of “posh ghost towers”………The total number of unsold luxury new-build homes, which are rarely advertised at less than £1m, has now hit a record high of 3,000 units.

I guess ghost towers are a special(s) case of a ghost town.

Do you remember the good old days
Before the ghost town?
We danced and sang,
And the music played inna de boomtown

Prices?

Back in February the FT was telling us this.

Prices per square foot in prime London have fallen 5 per cent since their 2014 peak while in the most expensive “prime central” areas they are down 11 per cent.

Whereas now it is giving us examples of larger falls.

A glance at property listings online reveals hefty discounts being offered as owners cut overblown prices. A one-bedroom flat in Aykon London One, a 50-story tower planned by Dubai-based developer Damac Properties, is being offered at £1.1m — a 36 per cent discount to its initial £1.7m price in November…………
Elsewhere, a five-bedroom penthouse is available for £11m — it was listed at close to £14m six months ago. Property agents say many vendors will be investors who bought off-plan early and no longer wish to complete.

What we do not know is how realistic these asking prices were in the first place? Also if you had bought off-plan as it is called then rather than take a 36% loss if that is what it is then you would presumably simply abandon your 10% deposit.

Number Crunching

There is the issue of value which of course is in this instance a little like asking how long is a piece of string? However a reply to the FT article from B gives it a go.

Work out the numbers with stamp duty, Agent fees, maintenance costs etc and the yield works out to 1.5% per annum for a cash buyer in an oversupplied market with limited prospect of capital gains at least for some years.

Assuming the FT data is correct then applying my rule of thumb for such matters means that the price needs to halve. Of course central London runs down a different road but this from Vanessa Warwick in January provides some perspective looking at a house in Newcastle.

*Trending* Is this 3 bed terrace for £39K with £550 pcm rental income a deal?

Actually if you look into it the start price seems to have been more like £55k but on that basis our Nine Elms yield just gets worse. It would also appear from the comments that the area might be what has become called a “sh*thole” by President Trump but then of course according to him Nine Elms is an “off location”.

If City-AM was right last week perhaps someone will be along.

The number of buy-to-let investors in the UK has hit an all-time high of 2.5m in the latest tax year. According to research from real estate agency Ludlow Thompson, the number of buy-to-let investors has increased five per cent in the last year, and 27 per cent over the last five years.

Mind you with rents in London falling I am not so sure about this bit.

Rising numbers of landlords shows the enduring appeal of buy-to-let, particularly in London,” said Stephen Ludlow, chairman at Ludlow Thompson. “The long-term picture for the buy-to-let market remains strong.”

Notice the use of “long-term” which in this instance appears to mean strong in spite of falling prices and rents. Mind you for some in central London his long-term may have come true. From Acadata this morning.

This is, however, almost entirely due to a massive 30.7% annual increase in the average price in Kensington and Chelsea,
London’s most expensive borough – and that largely the result of just seven high value property sales

lucky number 7?

Mortgages

It is hard not to think of the famous quote by Karl Marx after the news from the weekend.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

From This Is Money.

The Post Office has launched a mortgage designed to help first-time buyers get onto the property ladder without the need for a deposit.

The deal – known as the family link mortgage – works by giving the first-time buyer a 90 per cent loan-to-value mortgage secured against the property they’re buying plus an interest-free five-year loan secured on a close relative or parent’s home.

There’s a catch – the parental home needs to be mortgage-free for the buyer to be eligible.

But unlike alternative family mortgages, this one costs the parents nothing so long as the buyer repays the loan on time.

This may not be of enormous use at Nine Elms due to the maximum size being £500,000.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here although some seem to have made up their mind before it even began. The perhaps aptly named Tony Islington in the FT comments.

Stuck in the wastelands of South London…..

Perhaps he drives a London black cab but whilst some parts of the area have stunning views over the Thames there are also some like this.

You have different developers putting up “luxury” towers and blocks cheek-by-jowl.  As a resident. your view would be either that of a neighbouring development or a set of railway tracks leading into the busiest railway station in the country.   Virtually all residents have on the ground is a giant supermarket. ( Nguba )

If anybody spots the giant supermarket please let me know. In the end the project will be reliant on foreign buyers as there are so few in the UK who can buy at these prices. But there is a flow of businesses to the area as this from the Wandsworth Guardian points out.

Dorling Kindersley (DK), the world leading illustrated reference publisher will move to One Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms from their 80 Strand Office by 2020……..DK have chosen to join colleagues from its sister company, Penguin Random House UK, whose move was announced in December 2017. The move is in line with a general shift in the media and publishing industries, with Apple to soon unveil London headquarters within the Nine Elm’s district.

But for now it looks like a classic case of over-supply.

R Lee Emery

The drill instructor who was so terrifying in Full Metal Jacket has sadly passed away. Let me leave you with this from him.

Here, you are ALL equally useless!

 

 

 

How soon will the US national debt be unaffordable?

It is time to look again at a subject which has been a regular topic in the comments section. This is what happens when national debt costs start to rise again? We have spent a period where rises in national debts have been anesthetized by the Quantitative Easing era where central bank purchases of sovereign debt have had a side effect of reducing debt costs in some cases by very substantial amounts. Of course  it is perfectly possible to argue that rather than being a side effect it was the real reason all along. Personally I do not think it started that way but once it began like in some many areas establishment pressure meant that it not only was expanded in volume but that it has come to look in stock terms really rather permanent or as the establishment would describe it temporary. Of the main players only the US has any plan at all to reduce the stock whereas the Euro area and Japan continue to pile it up.

So let us take a look at projections for the US where the QE flow effect is now a small negative meaning that the stock is reducing. Here is Businessweek on the possible implications.

Over the next decade, the U.S. government will spend almost $7 trillion — or almost $60,000 per household — servicing the nation’s massive debt burden. The interest payments will leave less room in the budget to spend on everything from national defense to education to infrastructure. The Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections show that interest outlays will exceed both defense discretionary spending and non-military discretionary spending by 2025.

The numbers above are both eye-catching and somewhat scary but as ever this is a case of them being driven by the assumptions made so let us break it down.

US National Debt

It is on the up and up.

Debt held by the public, which has doubled in the past
10 years as a percentage of gross domestic product
(GDP), approaches 100 percent of GDP by 2028 in
CBO’s projections.

Those of you who worry we may be on the road to World War III will be troubled by the next bit.

That amount is far greater than the
debt in any year since just after World War II

As you can see the water has got a bit muddled here as the CBO has thrown in its estimates of economic growth and debt held by the public so let us take a step back. It thinks that annual fiscal deficits will rise to above US $1 Trillion a year in this period meaning that from now until 2028 they will total some US $12.4 billion. That will put the National Debt on an upwards path and the amount held by the public will be US $28.7 Trillion. Sadly they skirt the issue of how much the US Federal Reserve will own so let us move on.

Deficits

These have become more of an issue simply because the CBO thinks the recent Trump tax changes will raise the US fiscal deficit. The over US $1 Trillion a year works out to around 5% of GDP per annum.

Bond Yields

These are projected to rise as the US Federal Reserve raises its interest-rates and we do here get a mention of it continuing to reduce its balance sheet and therefore an implied reduction in its holdings of US Treasury Bonds.

Meanwhile, the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes increases from its average of 2.4 percent in the latter part of 2017 to 4.3 percent by the middle of 2021. From 2024 to 2028, the interest rate on 3-month Treasury bills averages
2.7 percent, and the rate on 10-year Treasury notes,
3.7 percent.

Currently the 10-year Treasury yield is 2.83% so the forecast is one to gladden the heart of any bond vigilante. If true this forecast will be a major factor in rising US debt costs over time as we know there will be plenty of new borrowing at the higher yields. But here comes the rub this assumes that these forecasts are correct in an area which has often been the worst example of forecasting of all. For example the official OBR forecast in the UK in a similar fashion to this from the CBO would have UK Gilt yields at 4.5% whereas in reality they are around 3% lower. That is the equivalent of throwing a dart at a dartboard and missing not only it but also the wall.

Inflation

This comes into the numbers in so many ways. Firstly the US does have inflation linked debt called TIPS so higher inflation prospects cost money. But as they are around 9% of the total debt market any impact on them is dwarfed by the beneficial impact of higher inflation on ordinary debt. Care if needed with this as we know that price inflation does not as conventionally assumed have to bring with it wage inflation. But higher nominal GDP due to inflation is good for debt issuers like the US government and leads to suspicions that in spite of all the official denials they prefer inflation. Or to put it another way why central banks target a positive rate of consumer inflation ( 2% per annum) which if achieved would gently reduce the value of the debt in what is called a soft default.

The CBO has a view on real yields but as this depends on assumptions about a long list of things they do not know I suggest you take it with the whole salt-cellar as for example they will be assuming the inflation target is hit ignoring the fact that it so rarely is.

In those years, the real interest rate on
10-year Treasury notes (that is, the rate after the effect of
expected inflation, as measured by the CPI-U, has been
removed) is 1.3 percent—well above the current real rate
but more than 1 percentage point below the average real
rate between 1990 and 2007.

Economic Growth

In many ways this is the most important factor of all. This is because it is something that can make the most back-breaking debt burden suddenly affordable or as Greece as illustrated the lack of it can make even a PSI default look really rather pointless. There is a secondary factor here which is the numbers depend a lot on the economic impact assumed from the Trump tax cuts. If we get something on the lines of Reaganomics then happy days but if growth falters along the lines suggested by the CBO then we get the result described by Businessweek at the opening of this article.

Between 2018 and 2028, actual and potential real output
alike are projected to expand at an average annual
rate of 1.9 percent.

The use of “potential real output” shows how rarefied the air is at the height of this particular Ivory Tower as quite a degree of oxygen debt is required to believe it means anything these days.

Comment

The issue of the affordability forecast is mostly summed up here.

CBO estimates that outlays for net interest will increase
from $263 billion in 2017 to $316 billion (or 1.6 percent
of GDP) in 2018 and then nearly triple by 2028,
climbing to $915 billion. As a result, under current law,
outlays for net interest are projected to reach 3.1 percent
of GDP in 2028—almost double what they are now.

This terns minds to what might have to be cut to pay for this. However let me now bring in what is the elephant in this particular room, This is that if bond yields rise substantially pushing up debt costs then I would expect to see QE4 announced. The US Federal Reserve would step in and start buying US Treasury Bonds again to reduce the costs and might do so on a grand scale.. Which if you think about it puts a cap also on its interest-rate rises and could see a reversal. Thus the national debt might remain affordable for the government but at the price of plenty of costs elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

The Bank of England faces quite a dilemma

At the moment the minds of the Bank of England must be getting more befuddled than usual as jet lag adds to the usual problems. Once they get back from Australia ( Haldane and Broadbent) and Canada ( Governor Carney) no doubt they will set aside time to read Governor Carney’s latest speech on climate change. That is assuming the forward guidance of their various pilots is working much better than theirs as otherwise a few more flights will be required to get home. So let us open with some relatively rare good news for them. From the BBC.

Reaction Engines Limited (REL), the UK company developing a revolutionary aerospace engine, has announced investments from both Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

REL, based at Culham in Oxfordshire, is working on a propulsion system that is part jet engine, part rocket engine.

At the moment the sums are small but it is a reminder that space technology has been a success story for the UK economy over the past couple of years. It has been getting more and more mentions in the official statistics.

Ben Broadbent

Deputy Governor Broadbent has given a speech at the Reserve Bank of Australia this morning. Tucked away in it is something of a gem even for our absent-minded professor.

I discovered when writing the talk that my former colleague Paul Tucker made very similar arguments regarding accountability back in 2011.

The last thing any sensible person would do is equate former Bank of England Deputy Governor Paul Tucker with accountability. Many of you will remember the saga but for those that do not here is the Guardian from back then.

Paul Tucker, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, is among several figures from the world of finance to receive a knighthood in the New Year honours list, despite claims that he was involved in the Libor interest-rate fixing scandal.

What has concerned our bureaucrat is what concerns bureaucrats the most everywhere which is a challenged to the bureaucratic empire.

Some have argued that, because there are significant interactions between the two, monetary and macroprudential policy should be housed not just in the same institution, but in the same policymaking committee
within the central bank. The distinct MPC and FPC should become a single “FMPC”.

Okay why not ?

The risk is that a single committee would pay
too much attention to its more verifiable objectives – the cyclical stabilisation of inflation and growth, currently
allocated in the main to the monetary policymaker – and too little to financial stability.

Yet he seems to forget this later as he remembers his boss is on both committees so we get this.

Even if the two hands are separate, it is important that the one should know what the other
is doing, and in that respect it helps that some people sit on both committees.

Indeed they do some things together.

Many economic
issues are relevant for both and, in the Bank of England, the MPC and FPC regularly receive joint briefings
on such matters.

Poor old Ben then trips over his own feet with this as an increasing number think that what he fears is the current state of play.

I think there would be risks in asking the central bank to meet a wide range of objectives with no distinctive accounting for the use of its various tools.

The housing market

Those at the Bank of England who have trumpeted wealth effects from higher house prices will be troubled by this from Estate Agents Today.

Prices are flat nationally but there are major regional variations with London seeing the sharpest fall in prices, according to the surveyors.

Respondents in the South East of England, East Anglia and the North East of England also reported prices to be falling, but to a lesser extent than in London.

Prices increased elsewhere in the UK in the last three months.

Will they now be so keen to try to push mortgage interest-rates higher and thus drive away the claimed wealth effects? Whereas at the moment the situation according to the credit conditions survey of the Bank of England reminds us that its previous policies are still having an effect.

A narrowing of spreads reflects an increase in the level of
competition in the mortgage market. In recent discussions, the major UK lenders noted that competition remains very strong.

Can anybody please tell me where the £127 billion of funding given to the banks by the Term Funding Scheme may have gone? It does not seem to have gone here.

The perceived availability of credit to small businesses decreased slightly in 2018 Q1, according to respondents to the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Voice of Small Business Index.

Also if we return to the argument provided by Ben Broadbent that a separate FPC is vital I wonder what he and they think of where the biggest impact of their TFS has been.

 competition remains very strong
and since November has increased in the higher LTV market,………..Consistent with this, the difference
between quoted rates on two-year fixed rate 90% and 75%
LTV mortgages has narrowed from 90 basis points in August to 69 basis points in March. ( LTV = Loan To Value).

As I understand it this is officially called vigilance these days.

Consumer Credit

Another example of “vigilance” can be provided here from today’s survey. You may recall that the Bank of England has taken something of a journey on this subject after Governor Carney told us this in February 2017.

This is not a debt-fuelled consumer expansion
that we’re dealing with.

Now the survey tells us this.

There has been a modest tightening in the availability of
consumer credit over the past year.

This is a reining back from the promises of a reduction that we saw in the survey for the third and fourth quarters of last year which they are no doubt hoping we have forgotten. Of course we see a sign of the Term Funding Scheme at play yet again.

Lending spreads have tightened in recent months as interest rates remained broadly unchanged following the rise in Bank Rate.

This provides two problems for the Bank of England. Firstly it has boosted consumer credit with its “Sledgehammer” policies and now we will have to face the consequences. Next is a confirmation of the earliest theme of this blog which is that Bank Rate has very little and sometimes nothing to do with the interest-rates charged in this area. In effect therefore it is somewhat impotent.

 

Comment

Yet again our absent-minded professor has been somewhat forgetful. For example his own move from being an “external” member to an internal one at the Bank of England was clearly beneficial for him but was bad for the idea of external members bringing fresh ideas and dare I say it independence to the Bank. Now that Rubicon has been crossed they too may now be hoping for promotion and monetary gain and hence influenced in the same way their appointment was an attempt to avoid.

Also the empire building of the current Governor who has overseen inflation in the number of Deputy Governors such as Ben is clearly something that cannot be challenged within the Bank. For example I am no great fan of macro prudential policy as when it was used in the past it failed and I notice the fanfare in favour has gone much quieter as reality has replaced hype.

Moving to the interest-rate issue that presently seems to be the topic du jour every day the Bank of England is facing something of a crisis as its forward guidance has put it between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the increases seen and expected in US interest-rates and the hard place is the trajectory of the UK economy.

Nigeria

The honesty is admirable but it is hard not to smile as you read why Nigeria released its inflation data an hour early today. The Hat Tip is to @LiveSquawk

It will be shortly. I published one hour earlier by accident. Forgot Watch still on London time so I released 8am instead of 9am as published 😊😊. Probably need a break/holiday. My apologies