Trade what is it good for?

Yesterday brought news which financial markets have received warmly this morning. From the Financial Times.

The US has stepped back from the brink of a trade war with China after Washington halted plans to impose tariffs on up to $150bn of imports, according to the US Treasury secretary.  “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Steven Mnuchin said in a television interview on Sunday.

My first thought is one of simple relativity which is how important numbers for the world economy get dwarfed these days when we look at central bank balance sheets. Moving back to the trade issue we have been facing this situation.

 Chinese negotiators resisted a Trump administration push to make a commitment to increase purchases by $200bn annually.

Such numbers fascinate me as in the nice round number mostly seems to ignore what will be bought and what would be done with them as the detail falls rather short.

Mr Mnuchin said. But he said the US side had very specific “industry by industry” targets in mind, raising the possibility of a 35-40 per cent increase in agricultural imports this year and an additional $50bn-$60bn in annual US energy exports over the next three to five years.

For example the agricultural numbers are a “possibility” even in the rhetoric. Whilst we could see more shale oil production how much more food can the US grow and produce? This seems much more a nod to the support base for President Trump that a real plan. If we move on the real issue is driven by this though.

Critics in the US are also concerned that its main emphasis appears to be on meeting Mr Trump’s goal of reducing the US’s annual $337bn trade deficit with China rather than tackling more difficult structural issues in the Chinese economy, such as Beijing’s subsidisation of key industries and systemic theft of US intellectual property.

Yes the trade deficit as we get a reminder that one of the global imbalances which the so-called great and the good told us needed fixing has not been fixed. Or as the Bureau for Economic Analysis puts it for the first three months of 2018.

Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $25.5 billion, or 18.5 percent, from the same period in 2017. Exports increased $39.2 billion or 6.8 percent. Imports increased $64.7 billion or 9.1 percent.

Trade is good

It is not often put this way but let me point out that there are good elements here. For example the United States is boosting economic output in the rest of the world both with its purchases and its larger deficit. Most countries are of course poorer than the US but some more so and thereby benefit. The numbers below are the deficits for March

China ($35.4),Mexico ($7.0),India ($1.4)

Trade is very badly measured

Numbers are bandied about in this area implying far more accuracy than in fact exists. As I looked at the numbers I noted for example that the US had a small deficit with Canada in March whereas I recall a while back both thought they were in surplus. From Bloomberg.

Canadian officials tend to use U.S. data to make their case and the Bureau of Economic Analysis has calculated the U.S. had a $7.7 billion surplus in 2016. But Statistics Canada data show it’s Canada with the surplus in goods and services, totaling C$18.8 billion ($14.6 billion) last year.

As Hot Chocolate put it “Everyone’s a Winner” except of course they cannot be in a zero-sum game. Actually you might think it would make everyone happy in the mirage but of course we do not seem to be. An example of the problems and issues here was provided by the UK statistical office on the 8th of this month.

The £9.8 billion upward revision to the total trade deficit in 2016 means the deficit has been revised from £40.7 billion to £30.9 billion (Table 2). The main driver of the revision in 2016 came from improvements made to methods used to estimate net spread earnings, which feed into exports of services. The net spread earnings improvement revised trade in services exports back to 2004.

The good part is that they are working on the data and there is specific good news for the UK. But the catch is that it opens a window onto matters which are missed or badly measured. I have long argued on here that this is a serious issue for the UK as we have little detail on our services exports which is an important factor in our economy and seems likely to be something which would reduce our trade deficit it it was measured properly. These are difficult areas for statisticians as numbers from financial markets are unreliable as for example if you had a “good thing” you would want to keep it quiet in the way that the Prudential rather famously wrong-footed the rest of the UK Gilt market back in the early days of my career. Also this is true.

This collection of NSE has proved challenging as it is not something the reporting units are required to report under financial regulations.

World Trade Growth

Last year was a good year. From the World Trade Organisation.

Trade volume growth in 2017, the strongest since 2011, was driven mainly by cyclical factors, particularly increased investment and consumption expenditure. Looking at the situation in value terms, growth rates in current US dollars in 2017 (10.7% for merchandise exports, 7.4% for commercial services exports) were even stronger, reflecting both increasing quantities and rising prices.

In general world trade growth is around 1.4/1.5 times world GDP growth although of course even here we hit trouble. From Luis Martinez of the University of Chicago

The results indicate that yearly GDP growth rates are inflated by a factor of between 1.15 and 1.3 in the most authoritarian regimes. Correcting for manipulation substantially changes our understanding of comparative economic performance at the turn of the XXI century.

The catch is that we in the west have been getting more authoritarian and of course there is the possibility that they do not leave their lights on all night as some do in the west.

I show that the elasticity of official GDP figures to nighttime lights is systematically larger in more authoritarian regimes.

Comment

There is a lot to consider here and the headline comes from Trump Town with a protectionist agenda based on America First. Of course before that came other moves such as the way China subsidises industries to crowd out competition and the way that Germany got a lower exchange-rate via membership of the Euro.

Next comes the issue of whether it will provide yet another signal of an economic slow down? So far the outlook seems good as the Harpex shipping index has been rising and is now at 657.

As to trade itself the issue is complex as the issue of US energy production reminds us. This is because whilst the US Energy Information Agency reports the quote below the issue is not that simple.

The United States has been a net energy importer since 1953, but AEO2018 projects the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2022 in the Reference case.

You see that is different from self-sufficiency as the US will export more than it imports but due for example to the different types of crude oil will still be importing. In a way that is a reminder of the intricate links in trade these days as few products are now entirely from one country as so many have lots of links in their chain.

Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows) ( Fleetwood Mac)

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Is there a shortage of US Dollars and if so why?

At the moment we are seeing quite a few trends combined which look as though they are returning us to a position where there is a shortage of US Dollars. This is troubling as this was an issue in the genesis of the credit crunch as back then it affected banks and particularly European and Japanese ones. It seems odd as the foreign exchange market is very liquid but maybe it is not liquid enough or at least at the right price. Back in March Pictet Bank provided something of an explainer.

The problem is a spike in the differential between LIBOR and the Overnight Index Swap, or the premium over the risk-free rate non-US banks pay to borrow dollars outside of the US.

The spread has risen to 42 basis points, the highest since February 2012, and up from 25 basis points at the start of last month and just 10 basis points in November.

While the rise does not pose a systemic risk, it has nevertheless raised the cost, and reduced the availability, of dollar-denominated loans for non-US banks by a considerable margin and in short space of time.

It is pretty much back to that level (43) after going above 60 and just for clarity that is 0.6%. Here is the first lesson  of this saga in that in our present world some interest-rates do not seem to have much impact at all as for example I did warn on the third of this month that a rise in Argentinian ones would backfire. Some 9.75% higher later I guess my point has been made for me. However here we have a 0.6% or so at the peak looks in terms of Carly Rae Jepson that it “really,really,really,really” matters. This appears to be driven by two factors the first is that it affects the “precious” otherwise known as the banks and is in US Dollars. Of course the official story is rather different as the excerpt below from the May Inflation Report of the Bank of England shows.

In the years following the crisis, funding spreads narrowed as banks repaired their balance sheets and became more resilient.

I am resilient, we are resilient , it has unexpectedly collapsed ….

US Dollar

This has been a factor as we note that recently the US Dollar has been what we might call King Dollar again. If we use the US Dollar Index or DXY for this we see that it has rallied four points since mid April from over 89 to over 93 now. The bigger turn came at the opening of June 2014 when it has dipped below 80. So the price of the US Dollar has risen too over this phase. Whilst the DXY is now out of date in trade terms as for example the Chinese Yuan is missing it does a job for this sort of analysis as the Yen and Euro are there.

US Interest-Rates and Yields

This has been a case of singing along with Jackie Wilson.

You know your love (your love keeps lifting me)
Keep on lifting (love keeps lifting me)
Higher (lifting me)
Higher and higher (higher

The US Federal Reserve has increased its official interest-rate to between 1.5% and 1.75% and nearly as importantly has been raising the rhetoric about there being more (3/4) increases this year. I am not convinced by this but if we look around markets seem to be accepting it perhaps on the grounds that unlike other central banks the Fed has at least been reasonably consistent.

Also there have been rises in bond yields with the media concentrating on 3% for the ten-year Treasury Note and then 3.1%. But for this purpose more significant is what has taken place at the shorter maturities. The chart below gives us a handle on what has been taking place there.

Let me be clear here this is a financial markets thing rather than a real economy thing but these do have a way of leaking across and tripping up the unwary. Adding to this we are seeing real world effects too as I note this from Reuters.

Interest rates on U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose to the highest in seven years as a bond market selloff this week propelled 10-year yields to the highest since July 2011, Freddie Mac said on Thursday………Thirty-year mortgage rates averaged 4.61 percent in the week ended May 17, matching the level last seen in May 2011.

Of course they affect the banks from another route.

Quantitative Tightening

One way that the supply of US Dollars is being reduced is quite basic as the US Federal Reserve has set out to do that explicitly. From a balance sheet which just passed US $ 4.5 Trillion we now see that it has fallen to US $4.36 trillion which put like that may not seem a lot but that is US $140 billion or so. The pace is also picking up a bit so in terms of narrow money or what central bankers have loved to call “high-powered money” there is less of it to go around from this source at any rate.

Crude Oil

This too seems to have been a factor in the recent moves and there is some logic to this as of course the vast majority of oil business is settled in US Dollars. Not all of it anymore but a large proportion. Thus the rise in the price exemplified by the fact that the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil is now just below US $80 or some 52% over the past year has also sucked US Dollars out of the system. This is my view is of course mostly a timing thing as the oil producers will then spend them as for example one of the ways the money gets recycled is by the Gulf States buying weapons but we know that timing matters in the credit crunch era. Supposedly because we are more resilient as I look up that particular page in my financial lexicon for these times.

There are many views on this but here is one from a social media exchange I was involved in.

My thesis is the $/oil correlation is a consequence of oil market design/paradigm shift. This began 1st July 2017 & completed a couple of months ago. ie the dollar is now on an If I’m right, when (not if) oil falls the $ will fall with it ( @cjenscook )

Comment

Let us now look at it the other way from the point of view of the central bankers. Let me take you to the US Federal Reserve website where with something of a fanfare it declared this back in the day.

In May 2010, the FOMC announced that in response to the re-emergence of strains in short-term U.S. dollar funding markets it had authorized dollar liquidity swap lines with the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, and the Swiss National Bank.

They had been gone for all of three months and were supposed to go as my emphasis below returns us again to my financial lexicon for these times.

 In October 2013, the Federal Reserve and these central banks announced that their existing temporary liquidity swap arrangements–including the dollar liquidity swap lines–would be converted to standing arrangements that will remain in place until further notice.

Very little is being used right now as one European bank has taken 80 million US Dollars worth in revolving 6 day credit or there are more than one. But this reminds me of the old wartime analogy of President FD. Roosevelt and loaning your neighbour a hose in case he has a fire. Meanwhile the emerging markets have started to be called the submerging ones.

UK production and manufacturing have seen a lost decade

Today brings us what is called a theme day by the UK Office for National Statistics as we get data on production, manufacturing and trade. This comes at a time when the data will be especially prodded and poked at. This is mainly driven by the fact that there have been hints of an economic slow down both in the UK and in the Euro area. Added to that we have seen rising tensions around Syria and the Middle East which have pushed the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil above US $70 which if sustained will give us another nudge higher in terms of cost push or if you prefer commodity price inflation. If we return to yesterday’s topic of Bank of England policy we see the potential for it to find itself between a rock and a hard place as a slowing economy could be combined with some oil price driven inflation.

Production

This opened with a worrying note although of course the issue is familiar to us.

In the three months to February 2018, the Index of Production decreased by 0.1% compared with the three months to November 2017, due to a fall of 8.6% in mining and quarrying, caused mainly by the shutdown of the Forties oil pipeline within December 2017.

If we move to the February data we see that it rose but essentially only because of the cold weather that caused trouble for services and construction.

In February 2018, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.1% compared with January 2018; energy supply provided the largest upward contribution, increasing by 3.7%.

If we look into the detail we see that the colder weather raised production by 0.43% meaning that there were weaknesses elsewhere. Some of it came from the oil and gas sector where in addition to some planned maintenance there was a one-day shut down for the rather accident prone seeming Forties field. But there was also something which will attract attention.

Manufacturing output decreased by 0.2%, the first fall in this sector since March 2017, when it fell by 0.4%. Within this sector 7 of the 13 sub-sectors decreased on the month; led by machinery and equipment not elsewhere classified, which fell by 3.9%, the first fall since June 2017, when it decreased by 4.9%.

This has been a strength of the UK economy in recent times and concerns about a possible slow down were only added to by this.

 It should be noted that the growth in this sector of 0.1% during January 2018 and published last month, has been revised this month to 0.0%, further supporting evidence provided in the January 2018 bulletin of a slow-down in manufacturing output.

Although our statisticians found no supporting evidence for this there remains the possibility that the bad weather played a role in this. Otherwise we are left with an impression of a manufacturing slow down which does fit with the purchasing managers indices we have seen. The annual comparison however remains good just not as good as it was.

 in February 2018 compared with February 2017, manufacturing increased by 2.5%.

Also there were hopes that we might regain the previous peak for manufacturing output which was 106.8 in February 2008 where 2015 = 100 but we scaled to 105.4 in January and have now dipped back to 105.2. The situation in production is somewhat worse as we are still quite some distance from the previous peak which on the same basis was at 111.1 in February 2008 and this February was at 104.8. The issue is complicated by the decline of North Sea Oil and Gas but overall those are numbers which look like a depression to me especially after all this time which one might now call a lost decade.

Trade

We traditionally advance on these numbers with some trepidation after years and indeed decades of deficits on this particular front. So let us gather some cheer with some better news.

Comparing the 12 months to February 2018 with the same period in 2017, the total trade deficit narrowed by £12.9 billion to £27.5 billion; the services surplus widened by £11.1 billion to £108.3 billion and the goods deficit narrowed by £1.8 billion to £135.8 billion.

Tucked away in this was some good news and for once a triumph for economics 101.

Total exports rose by 10.4% (£59.4 billion) to £627.6 billion compared with total imports, which increased by 7.6% (£46.5 billion) to £655.1 billion.

In true Alice In Wonderland terms our exports have to do this to make any dent in our deficit because the volume of imports is larger.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

Both goods and services imports have responded well to the lower value of the UK Pound £ as well as being influenced by the favourable world economic environment.

 Goods exports rose by 11.3% (£34.9 billion) to £345.0 billion ……..Services exports rose by 9.5% (£24.5 billion) to £282.6 billion

We rarely give ourselves the credit for being a strong exporting nation because it gets submerged in our apparent lust for imports.

As to the more recent pattern I will let you decide if the change below means something as it is well within the likely errors for such data.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £0.4 billion to £6.4 billion in the three months to February 2018

A little wry humour is provided by the fact that in terms of good exports our annual improvement was due to exports to the European Union. However the humour fades a little as I note our official statisticians have no real detail at all on our services exports which is a great shame as they are a strength of our economy.

Construction

After the cold spell in February this was always going to be a difficult month.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 0.8% in February 2018………Construction output also decreased in the month-on-month series, contracting by 1.6% in February 2018, stemming from a 9.4% decrease in infrastructure new work.

In the circumstances I thought this was not too bad although this may have left me in a class of two.

You see the past is better than we thought it was which also confirms some of the doubts I have expressed about the reliability of this data.

The annual growth in 2017 of 5.7% is revised upwards from the 5.1% growth reported.

So it is not in a depression but has entered a recession.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider as we note that any continuation of the recent falls will see manufacturing continue its own lost decade as we note that overall production seems trapped in one with little hope of  what might be called “escape velocity”. That means that the Bank of England faces a scenario where the picture for this particular 14% of the economy has seen the grey clouds darken. By contrast construction went from a really good phase into a recession which  the bad weather has made worse. I would expect the weather effect to unwind fairly quickly but that returns us to a situation which looked weak,

This leaves the expressed policy of the “unreliable boyfriend” in something of a mess as his forward guidance radar seems to have looked backwards again. Perhaps his new private secretary James Benford will help although I note his profile has been so low Bloomberg had to look him up on LinkedIn, I hope they got the right person. Also life can be complex as for example Russians in the UK might be thinking as they go from threats of financial punishment to seeing the UK Pound £ rally by 2% today and by over 10% in the past week to around 91 versus the R(o)uble .

Let me remain in the sphere of the serially uncorrelated error term by congratulating Roma on a stunning win last night.

 

 

Is the US economy at a turning point?

Yesterday brought us some significant news from the US economy. One segment of this was the testimony given by the new Chair of the US Federal Reserve Jerome Powell as everyone combs his words looking for any signs of a change in policy. The sentence from the written testimony that has drawn most attention is below.

In gauging the appropriate path for monetary policy over the next few years, the FOMC will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheated economy and bringing PCE price inflation to 2 percent on a sustained basis. ( PCE is Personal Consumption Expenditure )

The reason for that is the use of the word “overheated” which brings with it all sorts of value judgements and implications. This was added to by the phrase he added to this.

My personal outlook for the economy has strengthened since December.

We also got an explanation of what was driving such thoughts.

 In particular, fiscal policy has become more stimulative and foreign demand for U.S. exports is on a firmer trajectory. Despite the recent volatility, financial conditions remain accommodative.

The nod to fiscal policy was a change of emphasis from his predecessor Janet Yellen as I am reminded of the analysis of the US Congress on the subject we looked at on February the 8th.

The Joint Committee staff estimates that this proposal would increase the average level of output (as measured by Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) by about 0.7 percent relative to average level of output in the present law baseline over the 10-year budget window.

The underlying position

The thoughts above added to the existing situation which Chair Powell described thus.

Turning from the labor market to production, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product rose at an annual rate of about 3 percent in the second half of 2017, 1 percentage point faster than its pace in the first half of the year.

So the fiscal policy will add to an already strengthening situation and the emphasis is mine.

Economic growth in the second half was led by solid gains in consumer spending, supported by rising household incomes and wealth, and upbeat sentiment. In addition, growth in business investment stepped up sharply last year, which should support higher productivity growth in time.

The reason I have highlighted that bit is because Chair Powell had explicitly linked it to wage growth.

Wages have continued to grow moderately, with a modest acceleration in some measures, although the extent of the pickup likely has been damped in part by the weak pace of productivity growth in recent years.

If we switch to the section on employment we see a continuing theme.

Monthly job gains averaged 179,000 from July through December, and payrolls rose an additional 200,000 in January. This pace of job growth was sufficient to push the unemployment rate down to 4.1 percent, about 3/4 percentage point lower than a year earlier and the lowest level since December 2000.

Are we seeing a hint of Phillips Curve style analysis which would predict wage growth acceleration? We did get told he likes policy rules.

Personally, I find these rule prescriptions helpful

Also you may note that he hinted at a pick-up in jobs growth in January which comes when the unemployment rate tells us that according to old policy rules we have what would have been considered to be full employment. It was also interesting that he skirted what we might call the missing eleven million or so via the drop in the participation rate.

the labor force participation rate remained roughly unchanged, on net, as it has for the past several years

I am not sure that it all be blamed on retiring “baby boomers” as we were told.

So we are told that the economy is strong and got a pretty strong hint that higher wage growth is expected and of course that follows the 2.9% growth seen in January in average hourly earnings.

Wages should increase at a faster pace as well.

What about inflation?

That is supposed to pick-up as well as we continue our journey on a type of virtual Phillips Curve.

 we anticipate that inflation on a 12-month basis will move up this year and stabilize around the FOMC’s 2 percent objective over the medium term.

These days it is something of a residual item in speeches by central bankers. This is for two main reasons. The first is that they have really been targeting output and the labour market. The second is that even after an extraordinary amount of QE they failed to generate the ( consumer) inflation they promised and so they are de-emphasising it.

Overheating?

This subject flickered onto some radar screens yesterday as they observed this from the Census Bureau.

The international trade deficit was $74.4 billion in January, up $2.1 billion from $72.3 billion in December.
Exports of goods for January were $133.9 billion, $3.1 billion less than December exports. Imports of goods
for January were $208.3 billion, $0.9 billion less than December imports.

This is something which has been rising as we note this from the Bureau of Economic Analysis or BEA earlier this month.

For 2017, the goods and services deficit increased $61.2 billion, or 12.1 percent, from 2016. Exports
increased $121.2 billion or 5.5 percent. Imports increased $182.5 billion or 6.7 percent.

So we may well be seeing economic growth sucking in imports yet again or a different form of overheating. Thus the words of Chairman Powell above on exports were both true ( they are up) and to some extent misleading as imports have risen faster. This is reinforced with my usual caution about monthly trade data by  the size of the January  goods deficit which is the largest for ten years. If we allow for the fact that the shale oil and gas boom flatters the figures the numbers take a further turn for the worse.

Consumer Confidence

We return to the same theme as we note this.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® increased in February, following a modest increase in January. The Index now stands at 130.8 (1985=100), up from 124.3 in January. The Present Situation Index increased from 154.7 to 162.4, while the Expectations Index improved from 104.0 last month to 109.7 this month.

So another signal looks strong.

Comment

If we start with the analysis of Chair Powell we see that the US Federal Reserve plans to continue interest-rate rises this year and that it means to do so either 3 or more likely 4 times. This is based on the view that otherwise the economy will overheat as discussed above. Let me add a personal view to this which is the current madness of going along at 0.25%, why not raise by 0.5% in March and then sit back for a while and see what develops? Monetary policy has long lags and if you take ages to act you are at an ever greater risk of being proved wrong.

Another factor in this is the data I have looked at above as I have held something back until now which is troubling. Here is the extra bit from the consumer confidence figures.

Consumer confidence improved to its highest level since 2000 (Nov. 2000, 132.6).

Now if we look at the trade in goods figures the deficit was last higher in January 2008 a time when consumer confidence was high in many places too. What happened next in both instances?

If we continue with that line of thought we find that the oil market may be giving a hint as well.

https://twitter.com/a_coops1/status/968783142717919233

Another reason I think to act more decisively now as after all interest-rates will only be 1.75% to 2% after a 0.5% rise a level I have long argued for and then wait and see. After all we could be seeing a flicker of a road to QE4.

UK Inflation looks set to fall as 2018 progresses

Today brings us face to face with the UK context on what many are telling us has been the cause of the recent troubled patch for world equity markets. This is because a whole raft of inflation data from the consumer producer and housing sector is due. The narrative that inflation has affected equities markets has got an airing in today’s Financial Times.

The inflation threat has simmered for months, but the missing link had been wage growth, which made the rise in the US jobs figures for January so important, fund managers say. Indeed, the yield on the 10-year Treasury is 40 basis points higher this year, driven almost entirely by inflation expectations. Strong global economic data, coupled with sweeping tax cuts and the recent expansionary budget deal in Washington, should stir price pressures.

Actually that argument seems to be one fitted after the events rather than before as the rise in bond yields could simply be seen as a response to the expansionary fiscal policy in the US combined with interest-rate increases and a reduction albeit small in the size of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Actually as the FT admits inflation is often considered to be good for equities!

While faster inflation would typically be good for stocks, lifting companies’ pricing power and suggesting economic growth is accelerating.

Wages

There is also a theme doing the rounds about wage inflation. Yesterday Gertjan Vlieghe of the Bank of England joined this particular party according to Reuters.

 a pick-up in wages ……..signs of a pick-up in wages

The problem for the Bank of England on this front is two-fold. Firstly it has been like the boy ( and in some cases) girl who has cried wolf on this front and the second is that the official data has picked up no such thing so far. Thus we are left essentially with one higher wages print of 2.9% for average hourly earnings in the United States. So the case is still rather weak as we wonder if even the current economic recovery can boost wages in any meaningful sense.

Trends

The first trend which should first show in the producer price numbers is the strength of the UK Pound versus the US Dollar over the past year. It was if we look back about 14 cents lower than the current US $1.388. Also the price of crude oil has dipped back from the rally which took it up to US $70 in terms of the Brent benchmark to US $62.47 as I type this. This drop happened quite quickly after this.

Goldman Sachs has held one of the most optimistic views on the rebalancing of the oil market and oil prices in the near term, and the investment bank is now growing even more bullish, predicting that the oil market has likely balanced, and that Brent Crude will reach $82.50 a barrel within six months. ( OilPrice.com)

The Vampire Squid is building up quite a track record of calling the market in the wrong direction as back in the day it called for US $200 a barrel and when prices fell for a US dollar price in the teens. I will let readers decide for themselves whether it is simply incompetent or is taking us all for “muppets”.

Today’s data

The good news was that the trends discussed above are beginning to have an impact.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) rose 2.8% on the year to January 2018, down from 3.3% in December 2017…….Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 4.7% on the year to January 2018, down from 5.4% in December 2017.

Tucked away was the news that the worst seems to be passing us as this is well below the 20.2% peak of this time last year.

The annual rate of inflation for imported materials and fuels was 3.5% in January 2018 (Table 2), down 1.7 percentage points from December 2017 and the lowest it has been since June 2016.

It is a little disappointing to see the Office for National Statistics repeat a mistake made by the Bank of England concentrating on the wrong exchange rate.

The sterling effective exchange rate index (ERI) rose to 79.0 in January 2018. On the year, the ERI was up 2.6% in January 2018 and was the fourth consecutive month where the ERI has shown positive growth.

Commodities are priced in US Dollars in the main.

Consumer Inflation

This showed an example of inflation being sticky.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, unchanged from last month.

However prices did fall on the month due to the January sales season mostly.

The all items CPI is 104.4, down from 104.9 in December

The inflation rate was unaffected because they fell at the same rate last year.

There was something unusual in what kept annual inflation at 3%.

The main upward contribution came from admission prices for attractions such as zoos and gardens, with prices falling by less than they did last year.

I will put in a complaint when I pass Battersea Park Childrens Zoo later! More hopeful for hard pressed budgets was this turn in food prices.

This effect came from prices for a wide range of types of food and drink, with the largest contribution coming from a fall in meat prices.

My friend who has gone vegan may be guilty of bad timing.

An ongoing disaster

The issue of how to deal with owner-occupied housing remains a scar on the UK inflation numbers. This is the way they are treated in the preferred establishment measure.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.2%, down from 1.3% last month. ( OOH = Owner Occupied Housing).

Not much is it, so how do they get to it? Well this is the major player.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.1% in the 12 months to January 2018; this is down from 1.2% in December 2017.

If you are thinking that owner occupiers do not pay rent as they own it you are right. Sadly our official statisticians prefer a fantasy world that could be in an episode of The Outer Limits. They have had a lot of trouble measuring rents which means their fantasies diverge even more from ordinary reality.

If they had used something real then the numbers would look very different.

UK house prices rose 5.2% in the year to December 2017, up from 5.0% in November 2017.

This makes inflation look much lower than it really is and is the true purpose in my opinion. A powerful response to this at one of the public meetings pointed out that due to the popularity of leasing using rents for the car sector would be realistic ( they do not) but using it for owner-occupied housing is unrealistic ( they do).

If you want a lower inflation reading thought it does the trick.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.7%, unchanged from last month.

Comment

The underlying theme is that UK consumer inflation looks set to trend lower as 2018 progresses which is good news for both consumers and workers. The initial driving force of this was the rally of the UK Pound £ against the US Dollar and as it has faded back a little we have seen lower oil prices. We also get a sign that prices can fall combined with annual inflation.

The all items CPI is 104.4, down from 104.9 in December…..The all items RPI is 276.0, down from 278.1 in December…….The all items CPIH is 104.5, down from 105.0 in December.

One issue that continues to dog the numbers is the treatment of housing and for all the criticisms levelled at it a strength of the RPI is that it does have house prices ( via depreciation).

The all items RPI annual rate is 4.0%, down from 4.1% last month.

Meanwhile the Bank of England seems lost in its own land of confusion. It cut interest-rates into an inflation rise and then raised them into an expected fall! This is of course the wrong way round for a supposed inflation targeter. Now they seem to be trying to ramp up the rhetoric for more increases forgetting that they need to look 18 months ahead rather than in front of their nose. Perhaps they should take some time out and listen to Bananarama.

I thought I was smart but I soon found out
I didn’t know what life was all about
But then I learnt I must confess
That life is like a game of chess

 

 

If UK growth has a “speed limit” of 1.5% how is manufacturing growing at 3.4%?

Yesterday saw the Quarterly Inflation Report of the Bank of England where its takes the opportunity to explain its views on the UK economy. There was a subject which Governor Mark Carney returned to several times and it was also in the opening statement.

It is useful to step back to assess how the economy has performed relative to the MPC’s expectations in order to understand the forces at work on it.

You are always in trouble when you have to keep telling your audience you got things right. I don’t see Pep Guardiola having to explain things like that or Eddie Jones and that is because things have gone well for them. Increasingly the Governor is finding himself having to field questions essentially based upon my theme that the Bank of England has a poor forecasting record. Actually tucked away in his statement was yet another confession.

GDP growth is expected to average around 1¾%
over the forecast period, a little stronger than projected in November.

I would like to present his main point in another way as we were told that policy is “transparent” and being done “transparently”. Okay so apply that test to this?

The MPC judges that, were the economy to evolve broadly in line with its February Inflation Report projections, monetary policy would need to be tightened somewhat earlier and by a somewhat greater extent over the forecast period than it anticipated at the time of the
November Report, in order to return inflation sustainably to the target.

So if they get things right which they usually do not then interest-rates will rise by more than the previous unspecified hint? That is opaque rather than transparent especially when you have a habit of saying things like this.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming more balanced…………..It could happen sooner than markets currently expect. (Mansion House June 2014).

What actually happened? The next move was a Bank Rate cut! Also I noted this in the Financial Times from back then.

This speech marks an important change of tone from the governor……..with rates rising earlier, further and faster than markets currently price in.

I noted this because it was from Michael Saunders who was of course giving bad advice to Citibank customers as we wonder if his enthusiasm for the Governor’s thoughts and words got him appointed to the Monetary Policy Committee?

Also I note that the 0.25% Bank Rate cut and Sledgehammer QE is claimed to have had an enormous impact.

this strategy has worked with
employment rising and slack steadily being absorbed

Yet this morning Ben Broadbent has contradicted this on BBC 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money.

dep gov Ben Broadbent said that was “true to some extent”, adding he didn’t think a couple of 25 basis point [0.25%] rises in a year would be a great shock

So if two rises are no big deal how was one cut a big deal? I guess if you send out your absent-minded professor out at the crack of dawn he is more likely to go off-piste.

Our intrepid Governor was also keen to expound on the Bank of England’s improvement in the area of diversity which he did as part of a panel composed of four middle-aged white men. As to policy independence regular readers will be well aware of my theme that the establishment took the Bank back under its control some time ago.

Today’s data

This was always going to be affected by the shutdown of the oil and gas pipeline for the Forties area in the North Sea as we already knew it has reduced GDP by around 0.05%.

In December 2017, total production was estimated to have decreased by 1.3% compared with November 2017; mining and quarrying provided the only downward contribution, falling by 19.1% as a result of the shut-down of the Forties oil pipeline for a large part of December.

Ouch indeed! However if we look deeper we see that production has been on an upwards sweep.

Total production output increased by 2.3% for the three months to December 2017 compared with the same three months to December 2016……….For the calendar year 2017, total production output increased by 2.1% compared with 2016,

Now that the Forties pipeline is back to normal there will be an additional push to the numbers.

Manufacturing

This sector has been on a good run which has been welcome to see after years and indeed decades of relative decline.

In the three months to December 2017……..due to a rise of 1.3% in manufacturing;

As to the driving force well we have heavy metal football at Liverpool courtesy of Jurgen Klopp and maybe we have some heavy metal economics too.

Within manufacturing, 9 of the 13 manufacturing sub-sectors experienced growth; the largest contribution to quarterly growth came from basic metals and metal products, which increased by 5.7%.

If we look deeper we see this which compares the latest quarter with a year ago..

The largest upward contribution came from manufacturing, which increased by 3.4%, due to broad-based strength, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors increasing. Transport equipment provided the largest upward contribution, increasing by 6.6%, with three of its four industries increasing. The largest upward contribution came from the manufacture of aircraft, spacecraft and related machinery, while motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers fell by 0.3%.

There is something of an irony for those who found it amusing to jest that the UK would have to export to space in future as we indeed seem to be doing so. Of course space has been in the news this week with the successful, launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket with the successful landing of two of the three boosters which according to the Meatloaf critique “aint bad” and was also awe-inspiring. As you can imagine I heartily approve of it playing Space Oddity on repeat and the way Don’t Panic flashes on the car dashboard in big friendly letters.

Returning to manufacturing we have nearly made our way back to the place we were once before as the Eagles might put it.

 both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 5.2% and 0.5% respectively in the three months to December 2017.

Trade

The familiar theme is as ever of yet another deficit but the December numbers were even more difficult to interpret than usual due to the impact of the Forties pipeline closure. This was its impact on the latest quarter.

The 21.6% decrease in export volumes of fuels (mainly oil) had a large impact on the fall in export volumes. When excluding oil export volumes increased by 1.3%……The value increase in fuels imports was due largely to price movements, as fuels import prices increased by 14.2% while fuels import volumes increased by 0.3%.

If we look back 2017 was a better year for UK trade.

UK export volumes up 7.4% between 2016 & 2017, import volumes were up 4.1%

This meant that the trade deficit fell by £7 billion ( not by £70 billion as was initially reported) so the cautionary note is that we still have a long way to go.

Comment

Today’s numbers provide their own critique to the rhetoric of Mark Carney and the Bank of England. Let me show you the two. Firstly the data.

The largest upward contribution came from manufacturing, which increased by 3.4%

Yet according to the Bank of England this is the “speed limit”.

the MPC judges that very little spare capacity remains and that supply capacity will grow only modestly over the
forecast, averaging around 1½% a year.

If you think it through logically it is an area where you would expect physical constraints and yet it does not seem to be bothered. Indeed the other area where there are physical constraints has done even better on an annual comparison.

 construction output in Great Britain grew by 5.1% in 2017

So as ever the Bank of England prefers its models to reality and if you listened carefully to the press conference Ben Broadbent confirmed this. What he did not say was that he is persisting with this in spite of a shocking track record.

Just for clarity the construction numbers are correct but had really strong growth followed by the more recent weakness. However as I have pointed out many times care is needed as we regularly get significant revisions..

 

 

 

 

What are the consequences of a weak US Dollar?

So far 2018 has seen an acceleration of a trend we saw last year which is a fall in the value of the US Dollar. The latest push was provided by the US Treasury Secretary only yesterday at Davos. From Bloomberg.

“Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos. The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all,” he said.

“Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

The way it then fell it is probably for best its value is not a concern as the rhetoric was both plain and transparent.

A day before Trump’s scheduled arrival in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin endorsed the dollar’s decline as a benefit to the American economy and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the U.S. would fight harder to protect its exporters.

The response to the words is a pretty eloquent explanation of why policy makers have a general rule that you do not comment on the level of the exchange rate. Not only might you get something you do not want there is also the issue of being careful what you wish for! Sadly the Rolling Stones were not on the case here.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You’ll find
You get what you need

However you spin it we are in a phase where the US government is encouraging a weaker dollar as part of the America First strategy. It has already produced an echo of the autumn of 2010 if this from the Managing Director of the IMF is any guide.

 “It’s not time to have any kind of currency war,” Lagarde said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Criticising someone for rhetoric by upping the rhetoric may not be too bright. Also there are more than a few examples of countries trying to win the race to the bottom around the world.

What does a lower US Dollar do?

Back in November 2015 Stanley Fischer gave us the thoughts of the US Federal Reserve.

To gauge the quantitative effects on exports, the thick blue line in figure 2 shows the response of U.S. real exports to a 10 percent dollar appreciation that is derived from a large econometric model of U.S. trade maintained by the Federal Reserve Board staff. Real exports fall about 3 percent after a year and more than 7 percent after three years.The gradual response of exports reflects that it takes some time for households and firms in foreign countries to substitute away from the now more expensive U.S.-made goods.

Also imports are affected.

The low exchange rate pass-through helps account for the more modest estimated response of U.S. real imports to a 10 percent exchange rate appreciation shown by the thin red line in figure 2, which indicates that real imports rise only about 3-3/4 percent after three years.

This means that the overall economy is affected as shown below.

The staff’s model indicates that the direct effects on GDP through net exports are large, with GDP falling over 1-1/2 percent below baseline after three years. Moreover, the effects materialize quite gradually, with over half of the adverse effects on GDP occurring at a horizon of more than a year.

Okay we need to flip all of that around of course because we are discussing a lower US Dollar this time around. Net exports will be boosted which will raise economic output or GDP over time.

How much?

If we look at the US Dollar Index we see at 89.1 it has already fallen by more than 3% this year. The recent peak was at just over 103 as 2016 ended so we have seen a fall of a bit under 14%. The official US Federal Reserve effective exchange rate has fallen from 128.9 in late December 2016 to 116.8 at the beginning of this week so 116 now say. Conveniently that gives us a fall of the order of 10%.

So if we look up to the preceding analysis we see that via higher exports and reduced imports US GDP will be 1.5% higher in three years time than otherwise.

What about inflation?

There is a lower impact on the US because of the role of the dollar as the reserve currency and in particular as the currency used for pricing the majority of commodities.

While the Board staff uses a range of models to gauge the effect of shocks, the model employed in figure 4–as well as other models used by staff–suggests that the dollar’s large appreciation will probably depress core PCE inflation between 1/4 and 1/2 percentage point this year through this import price channel.

You may note that Stanley Fischer continues the central banking obsession with core inflation measures when major effects will come from food and energy. It would be entertaining when they sit down to luncheon to say that we are having a core day so there isn’t any! Have you ever tried eating an i-pad?

So inflation may be around 0.5% higher.

What about everybody else?

The essential problem with reducing the value of your currency to boost your economy via exports is that overall it is a zero-sum game. As you win somebody else loses.  So the gains are taken from somebody else as no doubt minds in Beijing, Tokyo and Frankfurt are thinking right now. Of course pinning an actual accusation on the United States is not easy because of its persistent trade deficits.

Furthermore the exchange-rate appreciation seen elsewhere will not be welcomed by the ECB ( European Central Bank) and particularly the Bank of Japan. The latter is pursuing an explicit Yen depreciation policy to try to generate some inflation whereas what it has instead seen is a rise towards 109 versus the US Dollar. Of course workers and consumers will have reason to thank the lower dollar as lower inflation will boost their spending power.

Later today we will see how Mario Draghi handles this at the ECB policy meeting press conference. He finds himself pursuing negative interest-rates and still substantial if tapering QE and a stronger currency. It is hard for him to be too critical of the US though when even Christine Lagarde is saying this.

LAGARDE: GERMANY’S 8% CURRENT ACCOUNT SURPLUS IS EXCESSIVE ( @lemasabacthani)

Of course that takes us back to a past competitive depreciation which Germany arranged via its membership of the Euro.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here. As it stands it looks as though the US economy will benefit over the next 3 years (convenient for the political timetable) by around 1.5% of GDP at the cost of higher inflation of 0.5%. There are two main problems with this type of analysis of which the first is simply the gap between theory and reality. The smooth mathematical curves of econometrics are replaced in practice by businesses and consumers ignoring moves for as long as they can and then responding but by how much and when? So we see a succession of jump moves. The other issue is that exchange-rates are usually on the move and can change in an instant unlike economies leaving us wondering which exchange-rate they are responding too?

Next we have the awkward issue of a country raising interest-rates and seeing a currency depreciation. Theory predicts the reverse. I have a couple of thoughts on this and the first is about timing. In my opinion exchange-rates these days move on expectations of an event so they have already happened before it does. So the current phase of interest-rate rises was reflected in the US Dollar rise from the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015. That works because if anything we have seen fewer rate rises than expected back then and the bond market has fallen less. As to the Federal Reserve well with the US Dollar here and inflation with a little upwards pressure it will therefore find a scenario which makes it easy for it to keep nudging interest-rates higher.

Meanwhile there are other factors which are hard to quantify but seem to happen. For example a lower dollar coming with higher commodity prices. Hard to explain and of course there are other factors in play, But it seems to have happened again.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/will-pound-go-next-vs-us-dollar/