The fall in the price of crude oil is a welcome development for UK inflation

One of the problems of official statistics is that we have to wait to get them. Of course numbers have to be collected, collated and checked and in the case of inflation data it does not take that long. After all we receive October’s data today. But yesterday saw some ch-ch-changes which will impact heavily on future producer price trends as you can see below.

Oil traders’ worries over record supplies arriving in Asia just as the outlook for its key growth economies weakens have pulled down global crude benchmarks by a quarter since early October. Ship-tracking data shows a record of more than 22 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil hitting Asia’s main markets in November, up around 15 percent since January 2017, and an increase of nearly 5 percent since the start of this year.

Not only is supply higher but there are issues over likely demand.

China, Asia’s biggest economy, may see its first fall in car sales on record in 2018 as consumption is stifled amid a trade war between Washington and Beijing.

In Japan, the economy contracted in the third quarter, hit by natural disasters but also by a decline in exports amid the rising protectionism that is starting to take its toll on global trade.

And in India, a plunging rupee has resulted in surging import costs, including for oil, stifling purchases in one of Asia’s biggest emerging markets. India’s car sales are also set to register a fall this year.

You may note along the way that this is a bad year for the car industry as we add India to the list of countries with lower demand. But as we now look forwards supply seems to be higher partly because the restrictions on Iran are nor as severe as expected and demand lower. Does that add up to the around 7% fall in crude oil benchmarks yesterday? Well it does if we allow for the fact that it seems the market has been manipulated again.

Hedge funds and other speculative money have swiftly changed from the long to the short side.

When the bank trading desks mostly withdrew from punting this market it would seem all they did was replace others. Of course OPEC is the official rigger of this market but its effort last weekend did not cut any mustard. So we advance with Brent Crude Oil around US $66 per barrel and before we move on let us take a moment for some humour.

As recently as September and October, leading oil traders and analysts were forecasting oil prices of $90 or even $100 a barrel by year-end.

Leading or lagging?

The UK Pound £

This can be and indeed often is a powerful influence except right now as the film Snatch put it, “All bets are off!” This is because it will be bounced around in the short-term ( and who knows about the long-term) by what we might call Brexit Bingo Bongo. Personally I think the deal was done weeks and maybe months ago and that in Yes Prime Minister style the Armistice celebrations gave a perfect opportunity to settle how it would be presented to us plebs. For those who have not seen Yes Prime Minister its point was such meetings are perfect because everybody thinks you are doing something else. The issue was whether it could be got through Parliament which for now is unknown hence the likely volatility.

Producer Prices

These are the official guide to what is coming down the inflation pipeline.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 3.3% on the year to October 2018, up from 3.1% in September 2018. The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process slowed to 10.0% on the year to October 2018, from 10.5% in September 2018.

Except if we now bring in what we discussed above you can see the issue at play.

Petroleum and crude oil provided the largest contribution to both the annual and monthly rates of inflation for output and input inflation respectively.

They bounce the input number around and also impact on the output series.

The monthly rate of output inflation was 0.3%, with the largest upward contribution from petroleum products (0.14 percentage points). The monthly growth for petroleum products rose by 0.5 percentage points to 2.0% in October 2018.

Actually the impact is higher than that because if we look at another influence which is chemical and pharmaceutical products they too are influenced by energy costs and the price of oil. So next month will see quite a swing the other way if oil price remain where they are. We have had a 2018 where oil prices have been well above their 2017 equivalent whereas now they are not far from level ( ~3% higher).

Inflation now

We saw a series of the same old song.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.4%, unchanged from last month……..The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, unchanged from last month.

This was helped by something especially welcome to all but central bankers who of course do not partake in any non-core activities.

Food prices remain little changed since the start of 2018 and fell by 0.1% between September and October 2018 compared with a rise of 0.5% between the same
two months a year ago.

Happy days in particular if you are a fan of yoghurt and cheese. The other factor was something which an inflation geek like me will be zeroing in on.

Clothing and footwear, where prices fell between September and October 2018 but rose between
the same two months a year ago.

There is an issue of timing as we are in the Taylor Swift zone of “trouble,trouble,trouble” on that front but this area is a big issue in the inflation measurement debate. Let me look at this from a new perspective presented by Sarah O’Connor of the FT.

Online fast-fashion brands have enjoyed success catering to what Boohoo calls the “aspirational thrift” of young millennials. They sell clothes that are often made close to home so that they can be produced more quickly in response to customer trends. “Our recent evidence hearing raised alarm bells about the fast-growing online-only retail sector,” said Mary Creagh, the committee’s chair. “Low-quality £5 dresses aimed at young people are said to be made by workers on illegally low wages and are discarded almost instantly, causing mountains of non-recycled waste to pile up.”

This is a direct view on the area of fast and often disposable fashion which is one of the problem areas of UK inflation measurement. There are issues here of poverty wages and recycling. But the inability of our official statisticians to keep up with this area is a large component of the gap between CPI and RPI, otherwise known as the “formula effect”.

Comment

The fall in the price of crude oil is a very welcome development for the trajectory of UK inflation. Should it be sustained then we may yet see UK inflation fall back to its target of 2% per annum. For example the price of fuel at the pump is some 10 pence per litre higher than a year ago for petrol and 14 pence per litre higher than a year ago for diesel, so the drop is not in the price yet. That may rule out an influence for November’s figures but we could see an impact in December. Other prices will be influenced too although probably not domestic energy costs which for other reasons only seem to go up. But as we looked at yesterday the development would be good for real wages where we scrabble for every decimal point.

Meanwhile I have left the “most comprehensive” measure of inflation to last which is what it deserves. This is because the CPIH measure ignores a well understood and real price – what you pay for a house – which is rising at an annual rate of 3.5% and replaces it with Imputed Rents which are never paid to get this.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, up from 1.0% last month.

But I do not need to go on because the body that has pushed for this which is Her Majesty’s Treasury which plans to save a fortune by using it may be having second thoughts if it’s media output is any guide.

 

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Inflation reality is increasingly different to the “preferred” measure of the UK

Today brings us a raft of UK data on inflation as we get the consumer, producer and house price numbers. After dipping my toe a little into the energy issue yesterday it is clear that plenty of inflation is on its way from that sector over time. I have a particular fear for still days in winter should the establishment succeed in persuading everyone to have a Smart Meter. Let us face it – and in a refreshing change even the official adverts now do – the only real benefit they offer is for power companies who wish to charge more at certain times. The “something wonderful” from the film 2001 would be an ability to store energy on a large scale or a green consistent source of it. The confirmation that it will be more expensive came here. From the BBC quoting Scottish Power.

We are leaving carbon generation behind for a renewable future powered by cheaper green energy.

We will likely find that it is only cheaper if you use Hinkley B as your benchmark.

Inflation Trends

We find that of our two indicators one has gone rather quiet and the other has been active. The quiet one has been the level of the UK Pound £ against the US Dollar as this influences the price we pay for oil and commodities. It has changed by a mere 0.5% (lower) over the past year after spells where we have seen much larger moves. This has been followed by another development which is that UK inflation has largely converged with inflation trends elsewhere. For example Euro area inflation is expected to be announced at 2.1% later and using a slightly different measure the US declared this around a week ago.

The all items index rose 2.3 percent for the 12 months ending September, a smaller increase than the 2.7-percent increase for the 12 months ending August.

There has been a familiar consequence of this as the Congressional Budget Office explains.

To account for inflation, the Treasury Department
adjusts the principal of its inflation-protected securities each month by using the change in the consumer price index for all urban consumers that was recorded two months earlier. That adjustment was $33 billion in fiscal year 2017 but $60 billion in the current fiscal
year.

The UK was hit by this last year and if there is much more of this worldwide perhaps we can expect central banks to indulge in QE for inflation linked bonds. Also in terms of inflation measurement whilst I still have reservations about the use of imputed rents the US handles it better than the UK.

The shelter index continued to rise and accounted for over half of the seasonally adjusted monthly increase in the all items index.

As you can see it does to some extent work by sometimes adding to inflation whereas in the UK it is a pretty consistent brake on it, even in housing booms.

Crude Oil

The pattern here is rather different as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has risen by 41% over the past year meaning it has been a major factor in pushing inflation higher. Some this is recent as a push higher started in the middle of August which as we stand added about ten dollars. Although in a startling development OPEC will now be avoiding mentioning it. From Reuters.

OPEC has urged its members not to mention oil prices when discussing policy in a break from the past, as the oil producing group seeks to avoid the risk of U.S. legal action for manipulating the market, sources close to OPEC said.

Seeing as the whole purpose of OPEC is to manipulate the oil price I wonder what they will discuss?

Today’s data

After the copy and pasting of the establishment line yesterday on the subject of wages let us open with the official preferred measure.

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) 12-month inflation rate was 2.2% in September 2018, down from 2.4% in August 2018.

For newer readers the reason why it is the preferred measure can be expressed in a short version or a ore complete one. The short version is that it gives a lower number the longer version is because it includes Imputed Rents where homeowners are assumed to pay rent to themselves which of course they do not.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.0%, unchanged from last month.

As you can see these fantasy rents which comprise around 17% of the index pull it lower and we can see the impact by looking at our previous preferred measure.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.4% in September 2018, down from 2.7% in August 2018.

This trend seems likely to continue as Generation Rent explains.

The experience of the past 14 years suggests rents are most closely linked to wages – i.e. what renters can afford to pay.

With wage growth weak in historical terms then rent growth is likely to be so also and thus from an establishment point of view this is perfect for an inflation measure. This certainly proved to be the case after the credit crunch hit as Generation Rent explains.

As the credit crunch hit in 2008, mortgage lenders tightened lending criteria and the number of first-time buyers halved, boosting demand for private renting – the sector grew by an extra 135,000 per year between 2007 and 2010 compared with 2005-07.  According to the property industry’s logic, the sharp increase in demand should have caused rents to rise – yet inflation-adjusted (real) rent fell by 6.7% in the three years to January 2011.

Meanwhile if we switch to house prices which just as a reminder are actually paid by home owners we see this.

UK average house prices increased by 3.2% in the year to August 2018, with strong growth in the East Midlands and West Midlands.

As you can see 3.2% which is actually paid finds itself replaced with 1% which is not paid by home owners and the recorded inflation rate drops. This is one of the reasons why such a campaign has been launched against the RPI which includes house prices via the use of depreciation.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, down from 3.5% last month.

There you have it as we go 3.3% as a measure which was replaced by a measure showing 2.4% which was replaced by one showing 2.2%. Thus at the current rate of “improvements” the inflation rate right now will be recorded as 0% somewhere around 2050.

The Trend

This is pretty much a reflection of the oil price we looked at above as its bounce has led to this.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 3.1% on the year to September 2018, up from 2.9% in August 2018….The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process rose to 10.3% on the year to September 2018, up from 9.4% in August 2018.

So we have an upwards shift in the trend but it is back to energy and oil again.

The largest contribution to both the annual and monthly rate for output inflation came from petroleum products.

Comment

It is indeed welcome to see an inflation dip across all of our measures. It was driven by these factors.

The largest downward contribution came from food and non-alcoholic beverages where prices fell between August and September 2018 but rose between the same two months a year ago…..Other large downward contributions came from transport, recreation and culture, and clothing.

Although on the other side of the coin came a familiar factor.

Partially offsetting upward contributions came from increases to electricity and gas prices.

Are those the cheaper prices promised? I also note that the numbers are swinging around a bit ( bad last month, better this) which has as at least a partial driver, transport costs.

Returning to the issue of inflation measurement I am sorry to see places like the Resolution Foundation using the government’s preferred measures on inflation and wages as it otherwise does some good work. At the moment it is the difference between claiming real wages are rising and the much more likely reality that they are at best flatlining and perhaps still falling. Mind you even officialdom may not be keeping the faith as I note this announcement from the government just now.

Yes that is the same HM Treasury which via exerting its influence on the Office for National Statistics have driven the use of imputed rents in CPIH has apparently got cold feet and is tweeting CPI.

Of hot air, wind power and UK real wages

Today brings us to the latest UK labour market data but before we get there we see two clear features of these troubled times. One is in fact a hardy perennial referred to in Yes Prime Minister by Jim Hacker over thirty years ago although he was unable to arrange one. From Kensington Palace..

Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the Spring of 2019.

Who says the UK has no plans for Brexit when a Royal Baby is in the process of being deployed?

Next comes some intriguing news from Scottish Power reported by the BBC like this.

Scottish Power to use 100% wind power after Drax sale

My first thought was to wonder what happens when the wind does not blow? Or only weakly as for example if we look at UK electricity production this morning where according to Gridwatch it is 5 GW out of a maximum of around 12.5 GW? There is little extra on this to be found in the detail.

Scottish Power plans to invest £5.2bn over four years to more than double its renewables capacity.

Chief executive Keith Anderson said it was a “pivotal shift” for the firm.

“We are leaving carbon generation behind for a renewable future powered by cheaper green energy. We have closed coal, sold gas and built enough wind to power 1.2 million homes,” he said.

As you can see the issue of when the wind does not blow gets entirely ignored in the hype. Indeed one part of its past production which could help to some extent by being used when the wind does nor blow which is hydro power has just been sold! As to the claims I see that this provides cheaper electricity that is rather Orwellian as we know that the green agenda is driving prices higher but tries to hide it. Still the good news for Scottish Power customers is that if all the statements are true then there will be no more price rises because energy costs are now pretty much fixed.

As you might expect raising such thoughts on social media leads to some flack. According to @Scottishfutball I am a stupid man although that tweet has now disappeared. Here is a longer answer to show the other side of the coin from Is anybody there on Twitter.

When the wind doesn’t blow they have hydroelectric power, wave power, solar, biomass, pumped hydro storage. Add in micro grids, battery storage and deferred demand and it’s very achievable.

The hydro power they just sold? And what’s “deferred demand”?

Wages

Here the news was a little better.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 3.1% excluding bonuses, and by 2.7% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

So we see that on this three-monthly measure total pay has risen at a 0.1% faster rate and basic pay by 0.2%. The balancing item here is bonuses which fell by 1.3% in August on a year before.

Let us take a look at this as the Bank of England wants us to. Here is its Chief Economist Andy Haldane from last week.

A year on, I think there is more compelling evidence of a new dawn breaking for pay growth, albeit with the
light filtering through only slowly……….Looking beneath the headline figures, evidence of an up-tick in pay is clearer still. Private sector pay growth (again excluding bonuses) has been grinding through the gears; it recently hit the psychologically-important 3% barrier. Private sector wage settlements so far this year are running at 2.8% and in some sectors, such as construction and IT, are running well in excess of 3%.

Someone needs to tell Andy that if an average is 3% some will be above and some will be below. Also is the growth 3% or 2.8%? But let us ignore those and Andy’s lack of enthusiasm for bonuses, no doubt influenced by his own personal experience. On this measure we see that private-sector pay growth is now 3.1% so another nudge higher and with July and August both registering 3.3% we could see another rise next time. The trouble is that whilst this is welcome we are back at the old central banking game of cherry picking to data to produce an answer you arrived at before you looked at it. Also one cannot avoid noting that the theory Andy so loves – and has led him regularly up the garden path over the past 5 years or so – would predict this wage growth to be more like 5%. Or to put it another way the view shown below seems not a little desperate and the emphasis is mine.

This evidence suggests the pulse of the Phillips curve has quickened as the labour market has tightened.
Unlike over much of the past decade, estimated wage equations are now broadly tracking pay.

So the new “improved” models are just the old ones in a new suit?

Some reality

If we switch to total pay we see that over the course of 2018 it is much harder to pick a clear pattern.  Whilst we are a little higher than a year ago as 2.7% replaces 2.4% it is also true that we opened the year at 2.8%. Next month should be better as the May 2% reading drops out but it is a crawl at best. If we switch to real wages we are told this.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) increased by 0.7% excluding bonuses, and by 0.4% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Here comes my regular reminder that even such small gains rely on using an inflation measure that is not fit for purpose. This is because the CPIH measure relies on imputed rents which are a figment of statistical imagination and which, just by chance of course, invariably lower the reading. We will be updated on the inflation numbers tomorrow but it was 2.4% compared to the 2.7% of its predecessor ( CPI ) and the 3.5% of the one before that ( RPI)  as we try to detect a trend. Even using it shows that the last decade has been a lost one in real wage terms.

For August 2018, average total pay (including bonuses), before tax and other deductions from pay, for employees in Great Britain was: £523 per week in nominal terms, up from £508 per week for a year earlier……..£492 per week in constant 2015 prices, up from £489 per week for a year earlier, but £30 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week for February 2008.

As you can see even using the new somewhat deflated inflation number there will be another lost decade for real wages at the current rate of progress.

Comment

Today has mostly been a journey of comparing wish-fulfillment with reality, or the use of liberal quantities of hopium. Still perhaps it will be found at a fulfillment center, whatever that is. From CNBC.

Tech giant Amazon is set to install solar panels at its fulfillment centers across the U.K.  ( H/T @PaulKingsley16 )

If we switch back to the Bank of England which of course is also full of rhetoric on the climate change front, as after all someone has to offset all the globetrotting of Governor Carney, we return to wages again. Actually it has reined in its views quite a bit.

The rise in wages projected by the Bank is, to coin a phrase, limited and gradual. Private sector pay is
assumed to rise from 3% currently to around 3 ¾% three years hence, or around 25 basis points per year.

The catch is the implied assumption that we will always grow because any slow down would then knock real wages further. But even on that view once we allow for likely inflation it looks as if there will be only a little progress at best.

 

 

 

 

 

What is the economic impact of a US $100 price for crude oil?

The last few days have seen something of an explosion in mentions of a one hundred-dollar price for crude oil. Usually they mean the price for Brent Crude Oil which went above US $86 per barrel last week and is now around US $84. This means that we have seen a 50% rally over the past year for it. Some care  is needed as the other main benchmark called West Texas Intermediate is around ten dollars lower at around US $74 per barrel. The last time we saw the spread between these two indices widening then it looked like the bank trading desks and especially the Vampire Squid were to blame and it went as wide as twenty dollars. For those wondering what the Russians get then the Urals benchmark is around 4 or 5 dollars lower than Brent but what always amazes me is the price that Canada get. The price of Western Canada Select is US $25.20 although it was as high as US $58 in the summer. Whatever the cause it is a very odd price for a type of oil that is relatively expensive to produce.

Economic effects

The Far East

The Financial Times took a look at some research on the impact here.

According to Citi’s Johanna Chua, Asian countries suffer the most when oil prices rise because, aside from Malaysia, most are net oil importers. Singapore runs a sizable 6.5 per cent oil and gas deficit, followed closely by Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Indonesia and Vietnam manage slightly smaller deficits of roughly 1 per cent.

Given this exposure, many of these economies see the largest inflation swings when oil prices rise…….Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Vietnam lead the pack, with Thailand, India and Taiwan rounding out the top six:

They do not say it but we are of course aware that especially these days inflation rises can have a strong economic impact via their impact on real wages. Of course if an economy is vulnerable higher oil prices can push it over the edge and it has hit Pakistan.From the International Monetary Fund or IMF.

The fast rise in international oil prices, normalization of US monetary policy, and tightening financial conditions for emerging markets are adding to this difficult picture. In this environment, economic growth will likely slow significantly, and inflation will rise.

Some of the impact of the IMF arriving again in Lahore feels eye-watering.

The team welcomes the policy measures implemented since last December. These include 18 percent cumulative depreciation of the rupee, interest rate increases of cumulatively 275 bps, fiscal consolidation through the budget supplement proposed by the minister of finance, a large increase in gas tariffs closer to cost recovery levels, and the proposed increase in electricity tariffs. These measures are necessary steps that go in the right direction.

Whether the population in what is a poor country think this is in the right direction is a moot point but as a cricket fan let me wish the administration of Imran Khan well. Sadly just as I type this the price of oil has just risen another 8.5% via this morning’s devaluation.

What the research above seems to have skipped over to my mind is the impact on China as according to WTEx it was 18.6% of the world’s oil imports totaling US $162 billion last year. Its own production is in decline according to OilPrice.com.

Crude oil production alone fell by an annual 4 percent to 191.51 million tons — or about 3.85 million bpd in 2017 — to the lowest in nine years, due to maturing fields and few viable new discoveries at home.

So we are left wondering how strong a factor the higher oil price was in the monetary easing in China last weekend?

First World

The FT gives us a familiar list of those it expects to be impacted.

For Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Ethan Harris, Japan, Europe and the UK are “clear losers,” with growth there coming under pressure by 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points next year. Not only do all three import their oil, but also, households in Europe and the UK save little, leaving them with smaller nest eggs to buffer price increases.

I am not sure about the latter point but much of this is familiar with Japan being a big energy importer and Europe not a lot different.The UK became a net importer a while back although there have been some changes recently. What I mean by that is that according to the official data we are importing less and producing slightly more. Firstly that is not quite the picture on North Sea Oil we are sometimes told which did fall but seems currently stable whereas we are using less (-7.4% in the latest quarter). Perhaps it is the impact of a growing share of renewables in electricity production which is 20% or just under 7 Gigawatts as I type this.

Inflation

The IMF researched the impact of a higher oil price last year.

A 10 percent increase in global oil inflation increases, on average, domestic inflation by about 0.4 percentage at impact. The effect is short-lasting—vanishing two years after the shock—, similar between advanced and developing economies and tends to be larger for positive oil price shocks than for negative ones.

I am sure that nobody is surprised that there is more enthusiasm for raising than there is for cutting prices! If we translate that into what we have seen over the past 12 months then the IMF would expect to see a rise in inflation of 2% due to this. More accurately we should say up to as not all prices have risen as much as Brent Crude.

The Winners

There are obvious winners here such as Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf States, Russia, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. Some African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria will benefit and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund will have to invest even more money. But as it is American foreign policy which has driven the reduction in supply mostly via pressure and embargoes on Iran it is rude to point this out?

Crude oil production in the U.S. shale patch will hit 7.59 million bpd next month, the Energy Information Administration said in its latest Drilling Productivity Report. This is 79,000 bpd more than this month’s estimated production. ( OilPrice.com )

I have written before that due to their high debts this industry is driven by cash flows which currently are pouring in.Is it a coincidence that US foreign policy is so beneficial for them? Or if we go deeper the role of QE and low interest-rates in the shale oil business model.

Comment

Some mathematical economists may be sure there is no impact as overall this is a zero sum game. Also for central bankers the oil price is non-core but in reality it does have an impact as oil producers spend less than oil importers on average.

 If oil prices head above US$100 a barrel, it could shave 0.2 percentage points from global economic growth next year – but this hinges crucially on the US dollar, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. ( Straits Times)

I think it might be more than that but the issue is never simple. Also they are right to point out that the US Dollar has strengthened when the convention is for it to fall with an oil price rise. Continuing my theme above is it rude to point out that the US military industrial complex is likely to be a major beneficiary from the extra cash flowing into the Gulf?

There is a catch here which is that so far we have seen “experts” promise us US $200 oil and US $20 oil and we have seen neither? So perhaps we should be looking at the economic effect of an oil price fall.Meanwhile one likely winner from the oil price rises has managed via extreme incompetence to be a loser.

VENEZUELA INFLATION TO REACH 10 MILLION PERCENT IN 2019: IMF ( @lemasabachthani )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The banking problems of India are mounting

We in the western world have got used to problems with our banking system but yesterday highlighted that we are far from alone. From the Reserve Bank of India.

The Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India are closely monitoring recent developments in financial markets and are ready to take appropriate actions, if necessary.

This morning we have seen the government also trying to calm matters.

MUMBAI: Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday the government is ready to ensure credit is available to non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), just a day after the market regulator and the central bank sought to calm skittish investors.  ( Economic Times of India).

There are a variety of factors at play here but the common denominator is the shadow banking sector.

Yes Bank

Here there were signs of trouble on Friday as the central bank intervened. From Reuters.

 Indian private sector lender Yes Bank Ltd’s shares tumbled nearly a third on Friday, wiping as much as $3.1 billion off its market value, after the central bank reduced charismatic CEO Rana Kapoor’s term, creating uncertainty about its outlook.

Using the word “charismatic” to describe a banker is a warning sign in itself but events here were being driven by this.

Yes Bank’s bad loans spiked in October last year after a risk-based supervision exercise by the central bank forced the lender to account for 63.55 billion rupees ($881.1 million) more in the non-performing category. Kapoor had termed it a “temporary setback” and said remedial steps were underway.

Ah temporary we know what that means especially in banking circles! Yes Bank is the fifth biggest private-sector bank in India and seems to have fallen victim to the effort described below.

Indian banks have seen a surge in soured loans that hit a record $150 billion at the end of March and stricter rules enforced by the central bank are expected to have pushed the industry’s non-performing loans even higher.

So as we note that Yes Bank had been rather too enthusiastic in living up to its name we see that others were competing with it. Somewhat bizarrely it would appear that the RBI is dealing with the private banks because it feels it cannot do so with the state-owned ones.

Earlier this year, RBI chief Urjit Patel said the central bank had limited authority over state-run banks that account for the bulk of bad loans in the sector, and called for reforms to give the regulator more powers to police such lenders.

State Banks

At a time like this we have learned to be very wary of mergers where the reality is often very different from the claims. From News18.

The merger of Bank of Baroda, Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank by the government poses short-term challenges like spurt in bad assets, but will be beneficial over a longer term, a report said today.

Slippages may increase in the short-term as recognition of non-performing assets is harmonised and accelerated, India Ratings said in a note.

By contrast The Times of India appears to have taken up cheerleading.

Made in Baroda, now poised to merge and take on the world

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd

This morning the focus is especially on IL&FS which as Bloomberg explains below has been struggling for a while now.

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. an Indian conglomerate that has missed payment on more than five of its obligations since August, is seeking to raise more than 300 billion rupees ($4.2 billion) selling assets to cut debt, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg.

This is a particular problem because as ever with banking issues the fear is of contagion.

Investors are concerned that defaults by IL&FS, which has total debt of $12.6 billion — 61 percent in the form of loans from financial institutions — could spread to other shadow banks in Asia’s third-largest economy. The firm, which helped fund India’s longest highway tunnel, hasn’t been able to pay more than 4.9 billion rupees ($68 million) of its obligations this year and has additional dues of about 2.2 billion rupees to be repaid by end of October, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

If we move to the wider shadow banking sector or as India calls them non banking financial companies ( NBFCs) then according to the Economic Times of India we have seen some contagion hints.

The sell-off was sparked by news that a large fund manager sold short-term bonds issued by Indian NBFC Dewan Housing Finance Corp at a sharp discount, raising fears of wider liquidity problem among NBFCs.

DHFC was as high as 679 Rupees at the beginning of the month but in spite of a bounce back rally today it is now at 400.

Bad Debts at Indian banks

The Financial Stability Report of June 26th posted a warning shot.

The stress in the banking sector continues as gross non-performing advances (GNPA) ratio rises further……. SCBs’ GNPA ratio may rise from 11.6 per cent in March 2018 to 12.2 per cent by March 2019………… eleven public sector banks under prompt corrective action framework (PCA PSBs) may experience a worsening of their GNPA
ratio from 21.0 per cent in March 2018 to 22.3 per cent, with six PCA PSBs likely experiencing capital shortfall relative to the required minimum CRAR of
9 per cent.

Sorry for all the acronyms and SCB stands for Scheduled Commercial Banks.

As Reuters reported in May perhaps more of this will be needed.

 When the Indian government announced a surprise $32 billion bailout plan for the nation’s state-controlled banks last October, credit rating firms and the nation’s central bank saw it as a huge step to getting the industry back to robust health – and lending more to businesses and consumers.

Yet the reality as you will have seen already has been one of disappointment.

House Prices

There has been some extraordinary action here in the credit crunch era. According to the RBI house price growth averaged around 15% between 2011 and 2017. Prices are around two and a half times what they were at the beginning of that period. So you might think that the banks are safe. But maybe the times they are a-changing as The Hindu reported in July.

Residential property prices have dropped by up to 15 per cent in Mumbai, NCR, Pune and Kolkata in the first half of 2018 despite government incentives and reduced prices as developers battle with unsold inventory that will take another three years to clear up, Knight Frank said today.

We will have to wait a while for the official data but should we see a dip we will find out which lenders were assuming it would only be up,up and away.

Comment

On the face of it the weekend brought some good economic news for India as Fitch Ratings forecast that GDP would rise at an annual rate of 7.8% next year. In what is a poor country in isolation that is very welcome. But the ratings agencies were also optimistic for the western world before our banks hit the “trouble,trouble,trouble” of Taylor Swift.

In terms of bad economic news then it can be encapsulated in the way that Brent Crude Oil has risen above US $80 per barrel this morning. As well as the inflationary impact India is an oil importer so the balance of payments will be hit again by this. No doubt this has been a factor in the weakening of the Rupee through 70 versus the US Dollar (72.6 as I type this) which adds to the inflation problem. Should the RBI respond to this with another interest-rate increase then we see that there is a chain of tightening going on inside India’s financial sector. Can it take the strain?

 

 

 

 

Both money supply growth and house prices look weak in Australia

The morning brought us news from what has been called a land down under. It has also been described as the South China Territories due to the symbiotic relationship between its commodity resources and its largest customer. So let us go straight to the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 per cent.

At a time of low and negative interest-rates that feels high for what is considered a first world country but in fact the RBA is at a record low. The only difference between it and the general pattern was that due to the commodity price boom that followed the initial impact of the credit crunch it raised interest-rates to 4.75%, but then rejoined the trend. That brought us to August 2016 since when it has indulged in what Sir Humphrey Appleby would call masterly inaction.

Mortgage Rates

However central bankers are not always masters of all they survey as there are market factors at play. Here is Your Mortage Dot Com of Australia from yesterday.

The race to raise interest rates is on as two more major lenders announced interest rate hikes of up to 40 basis points across mortgage products.

According to an Australian Financial Review report, Suncorp and Adelaide Bank have raised variable rates of investor and owner-occupied mortgage products to compensate for increasing capital costs.

Adelaide Bank is hiking rates for eight of its products covering principal and interest and interest-only owner-occupied and investor loans.

Starting 07 September, the rate for principal and interest mortgage products will increase by 12 basis points. On the other hand, interest-only mortgage products will bear 35-40 basis points higher interest rates.

 

This follows Westpac who announced this last week.

The bank announced that its variable standard home-loan rate for owner occupiers will increase 14 basis points to 5.38% after “a sustained increase in wholesale funding costs.”

A rate of 5.38% may make Aussie borrowers feel a bit cheated by the phrase zero interest-rate policy or ZIRP. However a fair bit of that is the familiar tendency for standard variable rate mortgages to be expensive or if you prefer a rip-off to catch those unable to remortgage. Your Mortgage suggests that the best mortgage rates are in fact 3.6% to 3.7%.

Returning to the mortgage rate increases I note that they are driven by bank funding costs.

This means the gap between the cash rate and the BBSW (bank bill swap rate) is likely to remain elevated.

That raises a wry smile as when this happened in my home country the Bank of England responded with the Funding for Lending Scheme to bring them down. So should this situation persist we will see if the RBA is a diligent student. Also I note that one of the banks is raising mortgage rates by more for those with interest-only mortgages.

Interest Only Mortgages

Back in February Michele Bullock of the RBA told us this.

Furthermore, the increasing popularity of interest-only loans over recent years meant that by early 2017, 40 per cent of the debt did not require principal repayments . A particularly large share of property investors has chosen interest-only loans because of the tax incentives, although some owner-occupiers have also not been paying down principal.

So Australia ignored the view that non-repayment mortgages were to be consigned to the past and in fact headed in the other direction until recently. Should this lead to trouble then there will be clear economic impacts as we note this.

As investors purchase more new dwellings than owner-occupiers, they might also exacerbate the housing construction cycle, making it prone to periods of oversupply and having a knock on effect to developers.

In central banking terms that “oversupply” of course is code for house price falls which is like kryptonite to them. Indeed the quote below is classic central banker speak.

 For example, since it is not their home, investors might be more inclined to sell investment properties in an environment of falling house prices in order to minimise capital losses. This might exacerbate the fall in prices, impacting the housing wealth of all home owners.

What does the RBA think about the housing market?

Let us break down the references in this morning’s statement.

Conditions in the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets have continued to ease and nationwide measures of rent inflation remain low. Housing credit growth has declined to an annual rate of 5½ per cent. This is largely due to reduced demand by investors as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Lending standards are also tighter than they were a few years ago, partly reflecting APRA’s earlier supervisory measures to help contain the build-up of risk in household balance sheets. There is competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

Sadly we only have official data for the first quarter of the year but it makes me wonder why Sydney and Melbourne were picked out.

The capital city residential property price indexes fell in Sydney (-1.2%), Melbourne (-0.6%), Perth (-0.9%), Brisbane (-0.6%) and Darwin (-1.1%) and rose in Hobart (+4.3%), Adelaide (+0.5%) and Canberra (+0.9%).

You could pick out Sydney on its own as it saw an annual fall, albeit one of only 0.5%. Perhaps the wealth effects are already on the RBA’s mind.

The total value of residential dwellings in Australia was $6,913,636.6m at the end of the March quarter 2018, falling $22,498.3m over the quarter. ( usual disclaimer about using marginal prices for a total value)

As to housing credit growth if 5 1/2% is low then there has plainly been a bit of a party. One way of measuring this was looked at by Business Insider back in January.

The ABS and RBA now estimate total Household Debt to Disposable Income at 199.7%, up 3% on previous estimates,

The confirmation that there has been something of a party in mortgage lending, with all the familiar consequences, comes from the section explaining the punch bowl has been taken away! Lastly telling us there is competition for higher credit quality mortgages tells us that there is not anymore for lower quality credit.

Comment

If we look for unofficial data, yesterday brought us some house price news from Business Insider.

Australian home prices fell for an eleventh consecutive month in August, led by declines in a majority of capital cities.

According to CoreLogic’s Hedonic Home Value Index, Australia’s median home price fell 0.3%, adding to a 0.6% drop recorded previously in July.

That took the decline over the past three months to 1.1%, leaving the decline over the past year at 2%.

That is not actually a lot especially if we factor in the price rises which shows how sensitive this subject is especially to central bankers. If we look at the median values we perhaps see why the RBA singled out Sydney ( $855,000) and Melbourne ($703,000) or maybe they were influenced by dinner parties with their contacts.

This trend towards weaker premium housing market conditions is largely attributable to larger falls across Sydney and Melbourne’s most expensive quarter of properties where values are down 8.1% and 5.2% over the past twelve months.

Another issue to throw into the equation is the money supply because for four years broad money growth averaged over 6% and was fairly regularly over 7%. That ended last December when it fell to 4.6% and for the last two months it has been 1.9%. So there has been a clear credit crunch down under which of course is related to the housing market changes. This is further reinforced by the narrower measure M1 which has stagnated so far in 2018.

Much more of that and the RBA could either cut interest-rates further or introduce some credit easing of the Funding for Lending Scheme style. Would that mean one more rally for the housing market against the consensus? Well it did in the UK as we move into watch this space territory.

Also this slow down in broad money growth we have been observing is getting ever more wide-spread,

 

 

An economic tsunami is hitting Venezuela

Last night a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the nation of Venezuela that must feel like it has the four horsemen of the apocalypse on its case right now. Fortunately there does not seem to have been major damage but we cannot say that about the economic earthquake that has been hitting it in recent times. As ever I will do my best to avoid politics in what has become a politically charged area and merely point out that it is another case of a country being held up as an economic model and then seeing trouble hit just like we have seen with Turkey. However the problems here are on a much larger scale.

If we go back to the 7th of November 2013 then Mark Weisbot told us this in the Guardian.

Will those who cried wolf for so long finally see their dreams come true? Not likely.

But how can a government with more than $90bn in oil revenue end up with a balance-of-payments crisis? Well, the answer is: it can’t, and won’t. In 2012 Venezuela had $93.6bn in oil revenues, and total imports in the economy were $59.3bn……… This government is not going to run out of dollars.

Hyperinflation is also a very remote possibility.

And then perhaps the denouement.

Of course Venezuela is facing serious economic problems. But they are not the kind suffered by Greece or Spain, trapped in an arrangement in which macroeconomic policy is determined by people who have objectives that conflict with the country’s economic recovery.

With one bound it could be free.

Venezuela has sufficient reserves and foreign exchange earnings to do whatever it wants, including driving down the black market value of the dollar and eliminating most shortages.

Sadly for Venezuela that analysis has turned out to be a combination of wishful thinking and castles in the sky. Let us start with what should be the jewel in the crown which is oil production as I recall back in the day London Mayor Ken Livingstone planning a big oil deal with Venezuela. From the BBC in February 2007.

Ken Livingstone has signed an oil deal with Venezuela – providing cheap fuel for London’s buses and giving cut price travel for those on benefits.

Now we see very different times as Venezuela seems unable to get the oil out of the ground and to markets as oilprice.com reported on Monday.

Venezuela’s oil production continues to decline. In July, output fell to just 1.278 million barrels per day (mb/d), down 500,000 bpd from the fourth quarter of last year and down nearly 1 mb/d from two years ago. A growing number of analysts see output dipping below the 1-million-barrel-per-day mark by the end of 2018.

This is a big deal for an economy that was summarised like this by Forbes last November.

Venezuela’s oil available for export is at its lowest level since 1989. The lost revenue devastates: Oil sales are 50% of Venezuela’s GDP and 95% of its export revenue.

We can do a rough calculation as according to the Latin America Herald Tribune this is the price of oil there.

According to Venezuelan government figures, the average price in 2018 for Venezuela’s mix of heavy and medium crude for 2018 which Caracas now prices in Chinese Yuan is now $59.41.

So as a rough rule of thumb it has been losing some US $60 million a day so far  in 2018. Also I do not know about you but if your largest customer is US oil refineries then trying to price your oil in Yuan does not seem well thought out! Actually what we might call the potential loss is extraordinary as the Herald Tribune continues.

In 1998, the year prior to Hugo Chavez becoming president, Venezuela was producing 3.5 million bpd and had plans to increase that production go 6 to 8 million bpd by 2008.

There are two main consequences here as we note the impact on Venezuela itself which is highly deflationary and on the rest of us which is inflationary. This is because it is this lack of production which has helped drive oil prices higher as Venezuela is a long way short of its OPEC quota.

Money Money Money

There is plenty of this and in theory much more as Reuters hinted at on Friday.

Jittery Venezuelans on Friday rushed to shops and lined up at gas stations on concerns that a monetary overhaul to lop off five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation could wreak financial havoc and make basic commerce impossible.

Sadly the website of the Central Bank of Venezuela cannot be reached so Bloomberg takes up the tale.

The official rate for the currency will go from about 285,000 per dollar to 6 million, a shock that officials tried to partly offset by raising the minimum wage 3,500 percent to the equivalent of just $30 a month……..The devaluation comes at the same time the government is redenominating the currency by lopping off five zeros and introducing new bills and a name change. So instead of the new minimum wage being 180 million strong bolivars, it will be 1,800 sovereign bolivars. Banks were closed and busy trying to adopt ATMs and online platforms to the new currency rules.

My financial lexicon for these times would of course have warned about any currency with “strong” in its title and the strong Bolivar has behaved as the novel 1984 would suggest. As to inflation please do not adjust your sets ( or screens).

One likely outcome is that inflation, which already was forecast to reach 1 million percent this year, will get fresh fuel from the measures. Prices are currently rising at an annualized rate of 108,000 percent, according to Bloomberg’s Café con Leche index.

If I was there I would only be able to help by providing an inflation index for prisoners as for quite some time it has been illegal to try to measure inflation. If we step back for a moment the numbers here do evoke images of Weimar Germany and the hyperinflation then.

In Venezuela, the old bolivar bills could be seen muddied and crumpled up on the street, so worthless that not even street beggars picked them up. ( Wall Street Journal).

Or to put it another way pictures of cash in wheelbarrows from back then have been replaced by pictures like this.

In theory the currency has backing but in practice we will have to wait and see.

Comment

What we are seeing here is the breakdown of basic economic concepts. Let us start with the simple concept of how to price things.

Many shopkeepers said they had no idea how much to charge customers ( WSJ)

This has a lot of consequences. Firstly how can they operate and sell anything? Basic concepts such as value of stock break down and the value of the business. So it is no surprise that many shops have shut. The concept of a price has broken down which means so has inflation.

Next there is the issue of what Abba called money,money money. As it too loses much meaning. For example the person quoted below in the Wall Street Journal has not been able to get cash for five months!

When Henrique Rosales got to the automated-teller machine on Tuesday to withdraw Venezuela’s new currency, he found it dispensed a maximum of 10 sovereign bolivars a day, the equivalent of 15 U.S. cents.

“This money is going to disappear out of my hands in no time,” said the 29-year-old waiter, who said he hasn’t seen cash in five months. He hasn’t been able to pay for bus fare and walks several miles a day from his hilltop slum to the seafood eatery where he works.

In such a situation the concept of a money supply breaks down as well as if we are in trouble with the cash or high-powered money element what about the rest? If we look at the UK we see that narrow money is about 3% and the other 97% we can summarise as bank lending. But how can banks in Venezuela lend right now? Do they even have the faintest idea what the bank is worth let alone whether it is wise to lend to the customer?

The truth is that numbers like GDP and the like become pretty much meaningless at a time like this as if we do not even have a price the whole theoretical structure breaks down. What we will see are toe factors at play. There must be an element of barter going on and probably a large one and irony of ironies a lot of transactions must be in US Dollars. Back at the height of the Ukraine crisis I pointed out that we needed a US Dollar money supply as well and let us bring things really up to date as we may well need to measure this too.

Cryptocurrency Dash is seeing a surge in new merchant sign-ups and wallet downloads in Venezuela as hyperinflation in the country runs wild………..”We are seeing tens of thousands of wallet downloads from the country each month,” Ryan Taylor, the CEO of the Dash Core Group, told Business Insider. “Earlier this year, Venezuela became our number two market even ahead of China and Russia, which are of course huge into cryptocurrency right now.” ( Business Insider)

At a time like this we perhaps get the clearest guide from other indicators.

Over the past three years about 3,000 Venezuelans have entered Colombia every day and the country has granted temporary residence to more than 800,000.

Peru says that last week alone, 20,000 Venezuelans entered the country. ( BBC)

Meanwhile the Economist Intelligence Unit does give us a clue as to a cause of the hyper inflation.

The government heavily relies on monetisation to fund its deficits,