Of UK Retail Sales and a 5% cut in real interest-rates

A feature of my career and time working with and analysing finance and economics has been the fall in interest-rates and yields. This of course has ended up with us now facing a period where more than a few interest-rates and bond yields are in fact in negative territory. My subject of yesterday France has a central bank ( ECB) with a deposit and current account of -0.4% and its 2 year bond yield is -0.5%. But let me give you some perspective from the Bank Underground blog of the Bank of England.

Real interest rates have fallen by around 5 percentage points since the 1980s.

Eye-catching is it not? Just to break this down they were 0% in the 1970s, 4.7% in the 1980s, then 1.9% up to the credit crunch and since 2009 have been -1.3%, Oh and that is 6% and not 5% by the way. For clarity this is for the United States one year yield minus how inflation turned out to be in that year.

So in the period since the 1980s we have seen, as I have pointed out quite a few times before quite a stimulus applied to the world economy and of course a fair bit of this has come in the credit crunch era. We then face a rather awkward conundrum because the supposed cure of lower interest-rates and yields is in response at least in part to the problems created by lower interest-rates and yields! A sort of doubling the dose response to an addiction. How does that usually work out?

Of course some want ever more as I note individuals like Kenneth Rogoff who want to ban as much cash as they can as they fear that they will not be able to repeat the “cure” next time around. This plainly means interest-rates going even more negative and more places seeing them. For example the UK now has a Bank Rate of 0.25% after over 3 years of pretty solid economic growth so what happens when the next recession turns up? Such thoughts have the problem of why a cure needs to be repeated so often at ever higher dosages and with ever more side-effects?

As to the causes of this the Bank Underground tries to dismiss fears over secular stagnation by pointing out this.

In the late 1930s, Alvin Hansen developed the term “secular stagnation” to describe his concerns that structural factors such as stagnant technological development and weaker population growth prospects would weigh on growth permanently.  We know now that these concerns over secular trends proved misplaced, and played little role in weaker growth.

Rather ominously that was really only changed by the second world war which is hardly a hopeful precedent! The author hopes that things will get better so lets join him in that but the truth is we are much less sure and there is a sort of unmentioned sword of Damocles hanging all over this which is Japan where the lost decade has become the lost decades.

Although the author would not put it like this there is quite a critique of current Bank of England policy tucked away in the blog.

When agents assign a low probability to the central bank remaining hawkish towards inflation, real rates must rise by a significantly larger amount in response to a given shock to stabilise inflation.  The required response decreases as credibility improves.

So as the credibility of Forward Guidance is only for the credulous now and the Bank of England plans to “look through” rising inflation then the logic applied there suggests real rates will have to rise substantially. Awkward.

Retail Sales

Speaking of rising inflation there was this in the data released this morning.

Average store prices (including fuel) increased by 1.9% on the year, the largest contribution to this increase came from petrol stations, where year-on-year average prices were estimated to have risen by 16.1%.

Regular readers will be aware that I was ahead of the pick-up in retail sales in the UK and quite a few other places by explaining that the lower inflation driven mostly be lower crude oil prices would raise consumption via a boost to real wages. So we are now beginning to see the mirror image of that relationship. It was only on Wednesday that I pointed out the real wage growth was fading and on some inflation measures had now gone negative. The price rise was just not from fuel as this from the food sector shows.

In January 2017, prices increased by 0.5% compared with December 2016, the largest month-on-month rise since April 2013, while the year-on-year increase of 0.2% is the highest since June 2014,

Thus the numbers today are not the surprise they have been presented as.

Month-on-month the quantity bought is estimated to have fallen by 0.3%.

If we look for more perspective we see this.

The underlying pattern as suggested by the 3 month on 3 month movement decreased by 0.4%; the first fall since December 2013.

In annual terms there is still growth but it has faded substantially for the heady days of late 2016.

In January 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry is estimated to have increased by 1.5% compared with January 2016, the lowest growth since November 2013.

Actually so much of the change can be found in the sector where prices have risen the most.

The year-on-year increase in fuel stores is the largest rise since September 2011, contributing to the strong growth seen in the amount spent in fuel stores on the year. However, the quantity bought has decreased following the rise in fuel prices, suggesting that consumers are more cautious with spending in this sector.

Have readers noticed less traffic on the roads?

Tourism

There was some good news here albeit with an odd kicker.

Overseas residents made 9.2 million visits to the UK in the 3 months to December 2016. This was 6% higher than the same 3 months in 2015. The amount spent on these visits was unchanged at £5.3 billion.

It is no great surprise that the lower UK Pound £ has led to more visitors but I am curious that they spent no more. For a start how do we know? Does someone follow them into every shop? Also this goes against the argument made by some that past retail sales growth in the UK was added to by foreign purchasers using lower price for them.

Whatever the state of play there we do seem to be seeing more US tourists as we wonder if Trump fears are higher than Brexit ones?

Visits from North America increased by 15% in the 3 months to December 2016, when compared with the same 3 months in 2015.

Comment

We see that we have been living our lives in an extraordinarily favourable interest-rate environment. Many reading this will have lived their whole lives in it. The catch is that it has ended up being associated with trouble on two fronts. Firstly it did not avert a credit crunch and in fact ended up contributing to it and secondly if it was a cure we would not be where we are. Although care is needed as there were plenty of economic gains back in the day. As for now well some old fears have reappeared.

More Americans fell behind on their car loan payments in the fourth quarter, bringing auto delinquencies to their highest since the height of the financial crisis, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data released on Thursday showed…….

In the fourth quarter, $142 billion in car loans were generated, giving 2016 the most auto loan originations in the 18-year history of the data, the New York Fed said.

Auto debt hit $1.16 trillion, with a $93 billion rise over the year.

Sub-prime car loans anyone?

If we move to the UK then the consumer surge is fading. The numbers are erratic and influenced by the rise in the price of fuel but even taking that out annual growth fell to 2.6%. It remains a shame that the Bank of England last summer contributed to the inflation rise via the way that their rhetoric and Bank Rate cut and QE pushed the UK Pound £ lower. Before this is over I expect what was badged as a stimulus to turn out to be the reverse via its impact on real wages.

The unemployment rate in France continues to signal trouble

It is time for us to nip across the Channel or perhaps I should say La Manche and take a look at what is going on in the French economy. This morning has brought news which reminds us of a clear difference between the UK and French economy so let us get straight to the French statistics office.

In Q4 2016, the average ILO unemployment rate in metropolitan France and overseas departments stood at 10.0% of active population, after 10.1% in Q3 2016.

Thus we note immediately that the unemployment rate is still in double-digits albeit only just. Here is some more detail.

In metropolitan France only, the number of unemployed decreased by 31,000 to 2.8 million people unemployed; thus, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage points q-o-q, standing at 9.7% of active population. It decreased among youths and persons aged 50 and over, whereas it increased for those aged 25 to 49. Over a year, the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points.

So unemployment is falling but very slowly and it is higher in the overseas departments. It is also rising in what you might call the peak working group of 25 to 49 year olds. It was only yesterday we noted that the UK unemployment rate was much lower and in fact less than half of that above.

the unemployment rate for people was 4.8%; it has not been lower since July to September 2005

Thus if we were looking for the key to French economic problems it is the continuing high level of unemployment. If we look back to pre credit crunch times we see that it was a little over 7% it then rose to 9.5% but later got pushed as high as 10.5% by the consequences of the Euro area crisis and has only fallen since to 10% if we use the overall rate. Thus we see that there has only been a small recovery which means that another factor is at play here which is time. A lot of people will have been unemployed for long periods with it would appear not a lot of hope of relief or ch-ch-changes for the better.

Among unemployed, 1.2 million were seeking a job for at least one year. The long-term unemployed rate stood at 4.2% of active population in Q4 2016. It decreased by 0.1 percentage points compared to Q3 2016 and Q4 2015.

The long-term unemployment rate is not far off what the total UK unemployment rate was for December (4.6%) which provides a clear difference between the two economies. Here is the UK rate for comparison.

404,000 people who had been unemployed for over 12 months, 86,000 fewer than for a year earlier

It is not so easy to get wages data but the non-farm private-sector rise was 1.2% in the year to the third quarter. So there was some real wage growth but I also note the rate of growth was slowing gently since the peak of 2.3% at the end of 2011 and of course inflation is picking up pretty much everywhere as the US “surprise” yesterday reminded pretty much everyone, well apart from us. Unless French wage growth picks up it like the UK will be facing real wage falls in 2017.

Productivity

There is an obvious consequence of the UK producing a broadly similar output to France with a lower unemployment rate if we note that productivity these days is in fact labour productivity. There are always caveats in the numbers but the UK Office for National Statistics took a look a year ago.

below that of Italy and France by 14 and 15 percentage points respectively ( Final estimates for 2014 show that UK output per worker was:)

My worry about these numbers has always been Japan which for its faults is a strong exporter and yet its productivity is even worse than the already poor UK.

above that of Japan by 14 percentage points

Economic growth

This remains poor albeit with a flicker of hope at the end of 2016.

In Q4 2016, GDP in volume terms* accelerated: +0.4%, after +0.2% in Q3. On average over the year, GDP kept rising, practically at the same pace: +1.1% after +1.2% in 2015. Without working day adjustment, GDP growth amounts to +1.2 % in 2016, after +1.3 % in 2015.

However the pattern is for these flickers of hope but unlike the UK where economic growth has been fairly steady France sees quite wide swings. For example GDP rose by 0.6% in Q1 so the economy pretty much flatlined in Q2 and Q3 combined. Whether this is a measurement issue or the way it is unclear. We do know however that it seems to come to a fair extent from foreign trade.

All in all, foreign trade balance contributed slightly to GDP growth: +0.1 points after −0.7 points. ( in the last quarter of 2016).

But as we look for perspective we do see an issue as for example 2016 should have seen two major benefits which is the impact of the lower oil price continuing and the extraordinary stimulus of the ECB ( European Central Bank). Yet economic growth in 2015 and 2016 were both weak and show little signs of any great impact. If we switch to the Euro then its trade weighted value peaked at 113.6 in November 2009 and has fallen since with ebbs and flows to 93.5 now so that should have helped overall. In the shorter term the Euro has rotated around its current level.

Production

With its more dirigiste approach you might expect the French economy to have done better here but as I have pointed out before that is not really so. If we look at manufacturing France saw growth in 2016 but we see a hint of trouble in the index for it being 103 at the end of 2016 on an index based at 100 in 2010. So overall rather weak and poor growth. Well it is all rather British as we note the previous peak was 118.5 in April 2008. Actually with its 13% decline that is a lot worse than the UK.

manufacturing (was) 4.7% lower when compared with the pre-downturn peak in February 2008.

Of course there are also links as the proposed purchase of Opel ( Vauxhall in the UK) by Peugeot reminds us.

Oh and those mulling the de-industrialisation of the West might want to note that the French manufacturing index was 120.9 back in December 2000.

Debt and deficits

This has received some publicity as Presidential candidate Fillon said this only yesterday. From Bloomberg.

Reviving a statement he made after becoming prime minister in 2007, Fillon said France is essentially bankrupt and warned that it can face situations comparable to those of Greece, Portugal and Italy. “You think it can’t happen here but it can,” he said.

As to the figures the fiscal deficit at 3.5% of GDP is better than the UK but of course does fall foul of the Euro area 3% limit. The national debt to GDP ratio is 97.5% and has been rising. On the 7th of this month I pointed out that France could still borrow very cheaply due to the ECB QE program but that relative to its peers it was slipping. That has been reinforced this week as for the first time for quite a while the Irish ten-year yield fell to French levels.  It may seem odd to point this out on a day when France has been paid to issue some short-tern debt but the situation has gone from ultra cheap to very cheap overall and there is a cost there.

Comment

I pointed out back on the 2nd of November last year that there were more similarities between the UK and French economies than we are often told but that there are some clear differences. We have looked at the labour market today in detail but there is also this.

There is much to consider here as we note that for France the new economic growth norm seems to be 1% rather than the 2% we somewhat disappointedly recognise for ourselves. Over time if that persists the power of compounding will make it a big deal.

Oh and of course house prices if we look at the UK boom which began in the middle of 2013 we see that France has in fact seen house prices stagnate since then as the index was 103.03 ( Q2 2013) back then compared to 102.82 in the third quarter of 2016

With UK inflation heading above target why are we getting more Bank of England QE?

Today we arrive at the latest UK inflation data series and the Bank of England will be facing a situation it has not been in for a while. This is that consumer inflation is now quite near to its official target as the CPI ( Consumer Prices Index) gets near to 2%. This poses yet another question about its policy as we see that the Bank of England is buying another £775 million of UK Gilts today. Even worse these are longs and ultra longs as it will be making offers out into the 2060s. So it will be creating a problem for our children and grandchildren all in the name of boosting an economy which has so far down well and boosting inflation which is now pretty much on target.

Of course the Bank of England thinks that inflation will rise further in 2016 as it explained at its Inflation Report earlier this month.

Beyond that, inflation is expected to increase further, peaking around 2.8% at the start of 2018, before falling gradually back to 2.4% in three years’ time. This overshoot is entirely because of sterling’s fall, which itself is the product of the market’s view of the consequences of Brexit.

The Sterling fall was exacerbated by the policy easing from the Bank of England which drove it lower when the UK economy was already getting a substantial boost. To be specific it was expectations of easing which drove it lower after Governor Carney’s rhetoric promised it and ignored the fact that there are 8 other voting members.

As an aside I await the views of the inflationolholics who want a 4% inflation target such as Professor Tony Yates and Professor Wren-Lewis. No doubt their Ivory Tower models love the inflation rise as their economic models tell them that wages will rise in response although of course the real world is apt to remain so inconvenient and inconsiderate. Of course I suppose Professor Yates has a model which shows he was right when he and I debated monetary policy last September on BBC Radio 4’s Moneybox whereas of course the real world shows exactly the reverse.

Today’s data

Let me first open with an alternative universe.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 2.9%, up from 2.7% last month.

So this has gone even further above its old target of 2.5% and would now be signalling that it was time for the Bank of England to consider reducing all its monetary stimulus rather than adding to it. No wonder it was scrapped! However we do learn something by looking at the new measure.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.8%, up from 1.6% in December.

So we immediately learn two things the first is that there is a gap of 1.1% between two measures which are supposed to both measure UK inflation. You will no doubt not be surprised that the lower number has got the official nod or we have seen an “improvement”. But there is the secondary issue of the fact that the target was only changed by 0.5% or less than half. So there was a monetary policy easing that gets little publicity. Some of the difference is that in spite of the fact that mortgage costs are excluded RPIX still has an influence from owner occupied housing costs which the official CPI turns its blind eye to.

What are house prices doing?

Here are the numbers.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 7.2% in the year to December 2016 (up from 6.1% in the year to November 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

Many of you will no doubt be having a wry smile at the way these were moved out of the headline inflation number (2003) just ahead of a boom in house prices. But the UK establishment is about to claim it is including them whilst not actually doing so. I explained in full detail on the 15th of November last year.

There is another issue which the National Statistician has attempted to fudge by writing “the inclusion of an element of owner occupiers’ housing costs”. How very Sir Humphey Appleby! I have noted that many people have reported that house prices are being included but you see they are not. Instead there is a statistical swerve based on the Imputed Rent methodology where they assume house owners receive a rent and then put growth in that in the numbers. The same rental growth measurement that according to their own missives  they need to “strengthen”.

Let us look at this month’s number.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.0%, up from 1.7% in December.

Lets is start with the good which is that when it becomes the first measure on the statistical bulletin next month it will give a higher number than the one it replaces. The bad is that if you look at  house prices it is still way behind them because the number it makes up or “imputes” tells us this about housing costs.

The OOH component annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.6% last month.

Apologies to any first time buyers who are now choking on their coffee or tea. The ugly is that this made up number is not even a national statistic because of their failures in simply measuring rents. This has led to revisions and an abandonment of the past rental series.

I made these points to the UK National Statistician John Pullinger in late January as I reported on the 31st.

I was pleased to point out that his letter to the Guardian of a week ago made in my opinion a case for using real numbers for owner-occupied housing such as house prices and mortgage-rates as opposed to the intended use of an imputed number such as Rental Equivalence.

What drove things this month?

If we look at the detailed data then it was clothing and footwear which held inflation back.

Overall, prices fell by 4.2% between December 2016 and January 2017, compared with a smaller fall of 3.1% last year

That tugged it back by 0.1% on the annual rate and offset some of the 0.29% rise from transport costs.

What is coming over the hill?

I am sorry to say that our valiant professors will be pleased by this.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 3.5% on the year to January 2017, which is the seventh consecutive period of annual price increases and the highest they have been since December 2011.

So as you can see the heat is on and that is being pushed by prices further up the chain.

Prices for materials and fuels paid by UK manufacturers for processing (input prices) rose 20.5% on the year, which is the fastest rate of annual growth since September 2008.

These only impact on some of the numbers and so get filtered out as well as reaching consumer inflation but they will continue to nudge consumer inflation higher as we move into the spring of this year.

Comment

There is much to consider here as we note that under our old regime inflation would be above target rather than just below it. However where we are poses a serious question for the Bank of England as it is pushing inflation higher with its ongoing monetary easing which even the inflationistas must now question. Indeed even the CPIH measure which next month will be first in the statistical bulletin with its imputed rents would if it had a 2% annual target be on it. I do hope that Governor Carney and Chief Economist Andy Haldane will soon be available to explain why a solidly growing economy with inflation heading above target needs a “Sledgehammer” of monetary easing. Actually Andy has been quiet of late has he been put back in the cellar he has spent most of the last 28 years in? How can he build an Ivory Tower from there?

Meanwhile the rest of us face higher inflation and I fear we will see 3% inflation on the CPI measure and 4% on the RPI measure as 2017 develops. I can say that I will be having more contact with the UK statistics establishment on the subject of their planned changes and will express my views to the best of my ability.

Seer of the year

There are many candidates for this but to be so wrong in only 24 house deserves a special mention. So step forwards European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici only yesterday.

After returning to growth in 2016, economic activity in is expected to expand strongly in 2017-18.

And the Greek statistics authority today.

The available seasonally adjusted data1 indicate that in the 4 th quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.4% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2016,

To coin a phrase Pierre is a specialist in failure. Still he does have a famous song to sing.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

 

Japan continues to see wages stagnate

A feature of the credit crunch era has been weak wage growth and in particular weak real wage growth. More than a few countries such as my own the UK have not seen real wages fully recover to their pre credit crunch peaks. If we look back we see that the assumptions of the Ivory Towers ( in the UK for example wage growth of ~4% and real wage growth of ~2%) were already built on rather shaky foundations as real wage growth was already fading. Sadly the Ivory Towers learned little as I note last week at its Inflation Report press conference the Bank of England was criticised for consistently over-estimating wage growth. Or if you like another Forward Guidance failure.

However the real front line for the malaise in real wage growth is to be found by looking east to Nihon or the land of the rising sun where there has been trouble for some time. The problem was described by the World Economic Forum back in June 2013.

According to a survey by Reuters in February, 85% of responding firms said they would maintain current wage levels or make further cuts this year. Japanese companies typically resort to wage cuts for workers with so-called life-long employment contracts rather than lay-offs to adjust for cyclical downturns or due to tougher price competition from abroad. As a result, the unemployment rate has been low, but wages continue to decline. Due to the strong protection of permanent workers, firms typically have redundant permanent workers, thus have no incentive to increase their wages.

People sometimes ask me about full employment but Japan has in some areas gone further and had a type of over employment. In the time I was working there people were employed to count numbers crossing walkways or to open lift doors. A nice service but not especially necessary. However there is another feature of the Japanese labour market which keeps wages low.

Worse yet, only a third of the Japanese labour force (typically older and male labour) has a permanent contract. The majority of the young and female labour force is working under a temporary contract with much lower salary and practically no job security, which creates a kind of caste system in the labour market.

Enter Abenomics

This was supposed to be something of a cure-all for the Japanese economy with higher inflation and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth boost wages. also the third arrow of Abenomics was supposed to be reforms to help deal with the labour market issues above. Regular readers will be aware that I doubted both routes from the beginning as Prime Minister Abe was an “insider” who in his previous term was guilty of what is called pork barrel politics. However places like Bloomberg and the Financial Times supported the new programme of Abenomics and have regularly produced headlines describing success even when the numbers do not describe that at all.

2016 was a better year

NHK News takes up the case.

Japan’s labor ministry says average monthly wages adjusted for inflation rose in 2016, the first increase in 5 years.

The data is the preliminary result of a nationwide survey.

The ministry says the average monthly wage, including bonuses and overtime pay, was about 315 thousand yen, roughly 2,800 dollars. That’s up 0.7 percent in real terms from the previous year.

The good news is that there was a rise albeit a small one. However there are several issues raised as we are 4 years or so into Abenomics and this is way below what was promised. There is also a clear fundamental flaw as wages were supposed to rise with higher inflation but instead we see this reported.

Lower consumer prices pushed the adjusted figure higher.

So exactly the opposite of what was intended! If we move to The Mainichi we see little sign of the promised reforms either.

The average monthly pay of full-time workers in 2016 increased 0.8 percent to 411,788 yen from the preceding year, while that of part-time workers was down 0.1 percent to 97,670 yen.

December

If we move to the data for the month of December we see an all too familiar pattern. From Reuters.

Japanese wages, on an annual inflation-adjusted basis, dropped in December for the first time in a year, government data showed on Monday, a setback for hopes that consumer spending can increase and help lift economic growth.

The decline was caused by a rise in the cost of living, which outpaced nominal pay hikes, officials said. Higher prices for items such as fresh vegetables have increased living costs.

Higher inflation driving real wages lower is somewhat awkward for Abenomics which plans for exactly the reverse! If we look at the numbers cash earnings were 0.1% higher than a year before so inflation did not have to be much to push real wages lower. The worst sector to be in was the utility one where wages fell by 2.8% and the best was the real estate sector where they rose 4.5%. This meant that real wages fell by 0.4% on a year before and December with its high level bonus payments meaning it is the peak month ( around 60% higher than the average) is the worst month for this too happen.

Prospects

Earlier I quoted from a wages survey from 2013 so how is that going now? From Reuters.

Nearly two-thirds of Japanese companies do not plan to hike their workers’ wages this year, a Reuters poll showed, a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign for higher pay to spur a recovery and a way to end two decades of deflation.

The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted Jan. 4-17, also found that most wage gains over the past four years since Abe came to power have been minimal and that nearly one-quarter of firms have implemented none at all.

Indeed Reuters appears to have been reading me.

On the other hand, prices may increase as oil prices rebound, which will curb (inflation-adjusted) real wages and hurt households’ purchasing power,

Also this next bit makes grim reading for those in the media who have proclaimed success on the wage front in Japan.

The Corporate Survey also asked companies how much they have raised wages since 2012. Some 23 percent said they have kept overall wages unchanged, while 51 percent have raised them around 0.5-1.5 percent. Only 26 percent said wages had risen by about 2 percent or more.

Comment

Back on the 15th of May 2015 I pointed out my fears in this area.

If we look at real wages I note the number of references in rising wages in Governor Kuroda’s speech. Except real wages fell by 2.6% in the year to March which means that they have fallen in every month of the two years of QQE now.

There has been an improvement on an annual basis which you can see if I give you the real wages data, 2013 -0.9%,2014 -2.8%,2015 -0.9% and 2016 +0.7%. So it is possible to argue that there is an improving trend. Except the elephant in that particular room is that it is lower inflation which has driven that ads opposed to the higher inflation Abenomics is so keen on. Also you can see that the overall number for real wages is lower.

If we look back wages rose in Japan at the end of the last century but have fallen this and it is hard to avoid the thought that the numbers below have impacted here. From The Economist.

The number of 20- to 29-year-olds in Japan has crashed from 18.3m to 12.8m since 2000, according to the World Bank. By 2040 there might be only 10.5m of them. Cities like Tama are therefore playing not a zero-sum game but a negative-sum game, frantically chasing an ever-diminishing number of young adults and children.

It also looks at the Okatuma region.

Children have become so scarce that the large primary school is only about one-quarter full. Residents in their 70s outnumber children under ten by more than five to one

The Bank of Japan can do all the “yield curve management” it likes but even if it ends up buying the Japanese government bond market how will that improve the real economy and in particular wages? Still it could be worse you could be one of the footballers invited to play at the Fukushima TEPCO plant.

welcomes professional soccer players at Daiichi to show progress made at the power station

 

The Forward Misguidance of Mark Carney and the Bank of England continues

Yesterday was a rather extraordinary day at the Bank of England even by its standards. I do not mean in terms of the policy announcements as they were not only unchanged but were always likely to be that way. This is of course because it boxed itself in with its pronouncements of economic doom last summer leading to its Bank Rate cut and extra QE (Quantitative Easing). There was actually a technical announcement on the QE front about another Operation Twist style move.

the Committee agreed to re-invest the £11.6 billion of cash flows associated with the redemption of the January 2017 gilt held by the Asset Purchase Facility

If you think about an economy which the Bank of England now thinks will have 2% economic growth in 2017 and inflation heading above target soon that is simply completely inappropriate and wrong. It is a consequence of its silly “Sledgehammer” rhetoric which Mark Carney plainly feels is too embarrassing to reverse now.

Economic growth forecasts

The Bank of England and Mark Carney seem to be getting worse and worse at this. From yesterday’s MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) Minutes.

The preliminary estimate of GDP growth for 2016 Q4 had been 0.6%, the same rate of growth as had been registered in the previous two quarters, and 0.2 percentage points higher than expected at the time of the November 2016 Inflation Report. This, together with improvements in business survey output and expectations indicators, had led Bank staff to raise their GDP growth nowcast for 2017 Q1 to 0.5%, also 0.2 percentage points higher than in November.

Such things matter when the Forward Guidance had led to policy changes as we saw in August. In fact the situation is ever more woeful than that. Even the Financial Times which of course has lauded Mark Carney as a “rockstar” central banker could not avoid pointing out this reality.

The Bank of England upgraded UK growth forecasts significantly for the second time in six months on Thursday in the latest indication the central bank’s once-dire outlook for the economy after June’s Brexit vote has been proven overly pessimistic.

The bank said it now predicts gross domestic product will grow 2 per cent this year, the same as last year and up from 1.4 per cent forecast in November. Shortly after the referendum, the BoE predicted the economy would expand just 0.8 per cent.

The simple fact is that the UK consumer and if you look into the detail our female consumers behaved like they have in the past and carried on regardless. It is for the Bank of England to explain why it ignored UK economic history. Perhaps the way it is now packed with people I have described as Carney’s cronies?

Was this predictable?

Yes it was as I pointed out back then. From August 3rd last year on the day of ignominy for the Bank of England.

I would vote for unchanged policy as I waited to see how we respond to the lower value of the UK Pound £ which on the old rule of thumb has provided a move equivalent to a 2%  Bank Rate cut.

I repeated this view on BBC Radio Four’s Moneybox on the 17th of September when I debated with ex Bank of England staffer Professor Tony Yates who said “they did pretty much the right thing”. However it was kind yesterday of Mark Carney to confirm that I was indeed right all along.

Third, financial conditions in the UK remain supportive, underpinned by low risk-free rates, the 18% fall in sterling since its November 2015 peak, and lower credit spreads.

Mark Carney tries to take the credit for this

Perhaps the worst part of yesterday’s Inflation Report was the bit where Mark Carney tried to take the credit for the performance of the UK economy.

In part this reflects Bank of England policy actions, which have also helped lower the impact of uncertainty on activity.

He omitted to point out his own doom laden pronouncements which would hardly have helped uncertainty and he had another go at that yesterday.

This stronger projection doesn’t mean the referendum is without consequence………More broadly, the level of GDP is still expected to be 1½% lower in two years’ time than projected in May, despite the substantial easing of monetary, macroprudential and fiscal policies.

If we return to Governor Carney’s claims we see that we had a “bazooka” from a lower pound compared to a “pea shooter” from his Bank Rate cut as I pointed out on Moneybox. Indeed the Governor got himself into something of a mess at the press conference as he tried to take some of the credit for consumer resilience (debt fuelled growth) and then denied that there was much debt fuelled growth! So let us leave him in his own land of confusion.

Ivory Tower alert

We got some of this too as the woeful Bank of England forecasting effort saw this addition.

Specifically, the MPC now judges that the rate of unemployment the economy can achieve while being consistent with sustainable rates of wage growth to be around 4½%, down from around 5% previously.

This was such a hot potato that the subject was handed over to Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent to explain. Ben was obviously uncomfortable as he began speaking behind his hand in the manner of Jose Mourinho. He then tried to tell us he had been right all along which of course begged the question of why there was a change? Anyway we then did get a brief burst of honesty.

Forecasting is a hazardous business

It is for Ben!

Oh and remember when their Forward Guidance was that 7% unemployment was a significant level? Whatever happened to that….

Inflation

Another problem is brewing here and this is in addition to the fact that it is going “higher and higher”. This from the Bank of England yesterday was simply wrong.

Beyond that, inflation is expected to increase further, peaking around 2.8% at the start of 2018, before falling gradually back to 2.4% in three years’ time.

As I have written many times on here that is too low as I expect it to rise above 3% due to the impact of the lower UK Pound £ and the higher price of crude oil. I recall Kristin Forbes of the Bank of England saying that she thought inflation would be pushed some 1.75% higher but now she seems to have done something of a U-Turn and decided it will be more like 0.75%. As the UK Pound £ has fallen further in the meantime that is quite a big change.

Comment

There is one aspect of Bank of England Forward Guidance which has in fact proved correct.

the appropriate level of Bank Rate is likely to be materially below the 5% level set on average by the Committee prior to the financial crisis.

I think we can say 0.25% is materially below 5%. But the rest of it has proven to be woeful. After all Mark Carney’s hints of a Bank Rate rise would fit an economy over 3 years into a growth phase and with inflation set to run above target. But of course all his hints and teases were followed by exactly the reverse or a Bank Rate cut.

As to the inflation forecast well this morning has brought the beginnings of a further critique of that as well. From the BBC.

Npower has announced one of the largest single price rises implemented by a “Big Six” supplier. The company will raise standard tariff electricity prices by 15% from 16 March, and gas prices by 4.8%. A typical dual fuel annual energy bill will rise by an average of 9.8%, or £109.

Also there is the media inspired great lettuce and broccoli crisis of 2017.

Some supermarkets are rationing the amount of iceberg lettuce and broccoli customers can buy – blaming poor growing conditions in southern Europe for a shortage in UK stores.

Tesco is limiting shoppers to three iceberg lettuces, as bad weather in Spain caused “availability issues”.

Morrisons has a limit of two icebergs to stop “bulk buying”, and is limiting broccoli to three heads per visit.

Asda said courgette stocks were still low after a UK shortage last month.

I guess we can expect higher prices here too as we mull whether the weather has ever affected food availability in the past! As a public service announcement there did not appear to be any shortage at Lidl at Clapham Junction yesterday. What will the Bank of England do about rising inflation? Well as you can see it takes a while to say “nothing”

At its February meeting, the MPC unanimously judged that it remained appropriate to seek to return inflation to the target over a somewhat longer period than usual, and that the current stance of monetary policy remained appropriate to balance the demands of the Committee’s remit.

If you are trading the US non-farm payroll numbers today then good luck….

 

 

 

Inflation is back!

Regular readers will be aware that as 2016 progressed and the price of crude oil did not fall like it did in the latter part of 2015 that a rise in consumer inflation was on the cards pretty much across the world. This would of course be exacerbated in countries with a weak currency against the US Dollar and ameliorated by those with a strong currency. This morning has brought an example of this from a country which I gave some praise to only on Monday so let us investigate.

An inflationary surge in Spain

This mornings data release from the statistics institute INE was eye-catching indeed. Via Google Translate

The estimated annual inflation of the CPI in January 2017 is 3.0%, according to the An advance indicator prepared by INE.This indicator provides an advance of the CPI which, if confirmed, would increase of 1.4 points in its annual rate, since in December this variation was of 1.6%.

Okay and the reason why was no great surprise to us on here.

This increase is mainly explained by the rise in the prices of electricity and The fuels (gasoil and gasoline) in front of the drop that they experienced last year.

So as David Bowie put it they have been putting out fire with gasoline. As we investigate further I note that El Pais labels it as an Ultimate Hora and gives us some more detail.

The agency blames the acceleration of inflation to the rise in electricity prices, which this month has exploded, affecting mainly consumers in the regulated market of light, 46.5% of households, Which pay according to the hourly evolution of electricity prices in the wholesale market.

Actually that sounds ominous in the UK as the National Grid was effectively promising no blackouts yesterday but at the cost of more volatile ( which of course means higher) domestic energy prices. The actual numbers for Spanish consumers are eye-watering.

The average price of the megawatt hour (MWh) in the wholesale electricity market was on January 1, 51.9 euros. This Tuesday, the last day of January, the average price stands at 73.27 euros, 43.4% more. On Wednesday 25, the average stood at 91.88 euros (78.9% more than January 1), with maximums of more than 100 euros for the time stretches with more demand. Consumers receiving the regulated tariff (Voluntary Price for the Small Consumer, PVPC) will see those increases already reflected in their next receipt of light and have already been noted in the CPI, which has registered the highest level for more than four Years,

I guess they must be grateful that this has not been a long cold winter as such prices would have appeared earlier and maybe gone higher. The push higher in the inflation measure was exacerbated by the fact that fuel prices fell this time last year.

Thus, in January 2016, electricity fell by 13% compared to the same month in 2015. The gas price fell at a rate of 15%, while other fuels (diesel for heating, butane …) went down To 19.9%. Finally, the fuel and lubricants registered a year-on-year decrease of 7.1%.

It would seem that El Pais has cottoned onto one of my themes.

 The evolution of oil prices largely explained the behavior of the CPI in Spain. In January of 2016, the oil marked minimums in less than 30 dollars. Now, with the price of a barrel of brent upwards (around 55 dollars), fuels are rising and expenses related to housing are rising: gas, of course, a byproduct, and electricity, which is generated Partly by burning gas.

So far we have looked at Spain’s own CPI but the situation was the same for the official Euro area measure called HICP ( which confusingly is called CPI in the UK) as it rose to an annual rate of 3% as well. This poses an issue for the ECB as El Pais points out.

In any case, inflation is already at levels above the ECB’s target of 2%

Also it points out that Spain will see a reduction in real purchasing power as wage growth is now much lower than inflation.

already at levels that imply a loss of purchasing power for pensioners – the government will only update pensions by 0.25 %, The minimum that marks the law, for officials, whose salaries will not rise above 1%, and the vast majority of wage earners, since the average wage increase agreed in the agreements remained at 1, 06%.

There are also other concerns as to how it may affect Spain’s economic recovery.

As Spanish inflation is above European, the Spanish economy may lose competitiveness, not only because it may affect exports, but also because it may lead to a rise in wages.

Germany

A little more prosaic and also for December and not January but we saw this from Germany yesterday.

The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be +1.9% in January 2017. A similarly high rate of inflation was last measured in July 2013 (+1.9%).

German consumers will be particularly disappointed to note that the inflation was in essential items such as energy (5.8%) and food (3.2%). Of course central bankers and their media acolytes will rush to call these non-core as we wonder if they sit in the cold and dark without food themselves?!

This poses another problem for the ECB as Germany is now pretty much on its inflation target ( just below 2%) and this morning has also posted good news on unemployment where the rate has fallen to 5.9%.

Euro area

This morning’s headline is this.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 1.8% in January 2017, up from 1.1% in December 2016, according to a flash estimate from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

So a by now familiar surge as we note that it is now in the zone where the ECB can say it is achieving its inflation target. Of course it will look for excuses.

energy is expected to have the highest annual rate in January (8.1%, compared with 2.6% in December), followed by food, alcohol & tobacco (1.7%, compared with 1.2% in December),

Accordingly if you take out the things people really need ( energy and food) the “core” inflation rate falls to 0.9%. But the heat is on now as Glenn Frey would say.

Weetabix

The Financial Times reported this yesterday.

Giles Turrell, chief executive of Weetabix, said on Monday that the company was absorbing the higher cost of dollar denominated wheat but that Weetabix prices were likely to go up later this year by “mid-single digits”.

Sadly the decline of the FT continues as the “may” is reported in the headline as “Weetabix prices hiked” . The Guardian was much fairer although this bit raised a smile.

Although the company harvests wheat in Northamptonshire, it is sold in US dollars on global markets, meaning the cost in pounds to buy wheat in the UK has gone up.

Comment

It is hard not to have a wry smile as it was not that long ago in 2016 that the consensus was that inflation is dead and of course before that the “deflation nutters” were in full cry. Any news from them today? Of course the official mantra will be on the lines of this as reported by DailyFX.

ECB’s Villeroy says concerns about rising inflation are exaggerated.

What was that about never believing anything until it is officially denied? It was only yesterday that another ECB board member was informing us that there would be no change in monetary policy for 6 months when today’s inflation and GDP data suggests it is already behind the curve, as I pointed out on the 19th of this month. Although as ever Italy ( unemployment rising to 12%) is lagging behind. As Livesquawk points out not everyone has got the memo.

Spanish EconMin deGuindos: Inflationary Trend In Europe Could Lead To Tightening Of MonPol, Higher Interest Rates

So we see a problem and whilst some of the move in Spain is particular to one month it is also true that the pattern has changed now and so should the response of the ECB as it looks forwards.

UK National Statistician

Thank you to John Pullinger for meeting a group of inflation specialists including me at the Royal Statistical Society last Wednesday. I was pleased to point out that his letter to the Guardian of a week ago made in my opinion a case for using real numbers for owner-occupied housing such as house prices and mortgage-rates as opposed to the intended use of an imputed number such as Rental Equivalence. This will be more important when the UK makes the changes planned for March. Here is the section of his letter which I quoted.

And there is a real yearning for trustworthy analysis that deals with both the inherent biases in many data sources and also the vested interests of many who try to cloak their own opinions and prejudices as “killer facts”.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Carney plans to do nothing about rising UK inflation

Today is inflation day in the UK where we receive the full raft of data from producer to consumer inflation topped off with the official house price index. We already know that December saw gains elsewhere in the world such as Chinese producer prices and consumer inflation in the Czech Republic and some German provinces so we advance with a little trepidation. That of course is the theme we were expecting for the UK anyway as the oil price was unlikely to repeat the falls of late 2015 ( in fact it rose) and this has been added to by the fall in the value of the UK Pound £ after the EU leave vote last June.

The Bank of England

Governor Mark Carney updated us in a speech yesterday about how he intends to deal with rising inflation. But first of course we need to cover his Bank Rate cut and £70 billion of extra QE ( Quantitative Easing) including Corporate Bond purchases from August as tucked away in the speech was a confession of yet another Forward Guidance failure.

Over the autumn, demand growth remained more resilient than had been expected, particularly consumer spending.

Yet at the same time we were expected to believe that by being wrong the Bank of England was in fact a combination of Superman and Wonder Woman as look what it achieved.

but an output gap of some 1½%, implying around 1/4 million lost jobs

So Mark why did you not cut Bank Rate by a further 1.5% and do an extra £350 billion of QE because then you would have pretty much eliminated unemployment? If only life were that simple! For a start it is rather poor to see a theory (the output gap) which I pointed out was failing in 2010 and did fail in 2011 having a rave from a well deserved grave. I guess any port is  welcome when you are in a storm of your own mistakes.

As to his intention to deal with inflation I summarised that last night as he spoke at the LSE.

Here is the Mark Carney speech explaining how and why he will miss his inflation target http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2017/954.aspx 

It was nice to get a mention on the BBC putting the other side of the debate.

http://bbc.in/2jsktij

You see with his discussion of algebra and “lambda,lambda,lambda” we are given an impression of intellectual rigour but the real message was here.

the UK’s monetary policy framework is grounded in society’s choice of the desired end.

What is that Mark?

monetary policymaking will at times involve striking short-term trade-offs between stabilising inflation and supporting growth and employment

As you see we are being shuffled away from inflation targeting as we wonder how long the “short-term” can last? As we do we see a familiar friend from my financial lexicon for these times.

inflation may deviate temporarily from the
target on account of shocks

So “temporarily” is back and a change in the remit will allow him to extend his definition of it towards the end of time if necessary.

Since 2013, the remit has explicitly recognised that in these
circumstances, bringing inflation back to target too rapidly could cause volatility in output and employment
that is undesirable.

Of course with his Forward Guidance being wrong on pretty much a permanent basis Governor Carney can claim to be in a state of shock nearly always. A point of note is that this is a policy set by the previous Chancellor George Osborne not the current one.

The fundamental problem is that as inflation rises it will reduce real wages ( although maybe not in the Ivory Tower simulations) and thereby act as a brake on the economy just like in did in 2011/12.

Today’s data

We are not surprised on here although I see many messages online saying they were.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.6%, up from 1.2% in November.

In terms of detail the rise was driven by these factors.

Within transport, the largest upward effect came from air fares, with prices rising by 49% between November and December 2016, compared with a smaller rise of 46% a year earlier.

So a sign of how air travellers get singed at Christmas and also this.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages, where prices overall, increased by 0.8% between November and December 2016, having fallen by 0.2% last year

So Mark Carney and the central banking ilk will be pleased as if we throw in motor fuel rises the inflation is in food and fuel or what they call “non-core”. Of course the rest of us will note that it is essential items which are driving the inflation rise.

Target alert

I have been pointing out over the past year or so the divergence between our old inflation target and the current one. Well take a look at this.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 2.7%, up from 2.5% last month.

It is above target and whilst there are dangers in using one month’s data we see that this month implies that our inflation target was loosened in 2002/03 by around 0.6%. Good job nothing went wrong later……Oh hang on.

What happens next?

We get a strong clue from the producer prices numbers which tell us this.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 2.7% on the year to December 2016 and 0.1% on the month,

As you see they are pulling inflation higher and if we look further upstream then the heat is on.

Prices for materials and fuels paid by UK manufacturers for processing (input prices) rose 15.8% on the year to December 2016 and 1.8% on the month.

The relationship between these numbers and consumer inflation is of the order of the one in ten sung about by the bank UB40 so our rule of thumb looks at CPI inflation doubling at least.

House Prices

What we see is something to make Mark Carney cheer but first time buyers shiver.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 6.7% in the year to November 2016 (up from 6.4% in the year to October 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

So whilst I expect a slow down in 2017 the surge continues or at least it did in November. Surely this will have been picked up by the UK’s new inflation measure which we are told includes owner-occupied housing costs?

The all items CPIH annual rate is 1.7%, up from 1.4% in November……The OOH component annual rate is 2.6%, unchanged from last month.

So no as we see a flightless bird try to fly and just simply crash. That is what happens when you use Imputed Rent methodology which after all is there to convince us we have economic growth and therefore needs a low inflation reading.

As an aside we got an idea of the boom and then bust in Northern Ireland as the average house price rose to £225,000 pre credit crunch but is now only £124,000. Is that a factor in its current crisis?

Comment

Last night saw a real toadying introduction to the speech by Mark Carney at the LSE.

He is someone who thinks very deeply about the big responsibilities he has, and he has that very rare talent of being able to think and act at the same time

The introducer must exist in different circles to me as I know lot’s of people like that and of course the last time Governor Carney acted the thinking was wrong. I did have a wry smile as this definition of the distributional problems that the extra QE has and will create.

He has been thinking very hard about distributional issues

What we actually got was a restatement of Bank of England policy which involves talking about the inflation target as if they mean it and then shifting like sand to in fact giving the reasons why they will in fact look the other way. Last time they did this the growth trajectory of the UK economy fell ( with real wages) rather than rose as claimed. The only ch-ch-changes in the meantime are that the current inflation remit will make it even easier to do.