Expensive times are ahead for UK railway travellers and commuters

Before we even get to the latest UK inflation data some worrying data has emerged. What I mean by this is that Sweden has announced its inflation data which makes its monetary policy even more mind-boggling.

The inflation rate according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 2.2 percent in July 2017, up from 1.7 percent in June. The Swedish Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 0.5 percent from June to July 2017

If we look back to the July Minutes we see that the forecasting skills of the Riksbank are unchanged.

several board members emphasised that it was not sufficient for inflation to temporarily touch the 2 per cent mark.

Actually they are considering a switch of target but in fact that poses even more of a problem.

The inflation rate according to the CPI with a fixed interest rate (CPIF) was 2.4 percent in July, up from 1.9 percent in June. The CPIF rose by 0.6 percent from June to July 2017.

So let us leave the Riksbank to explain why it has an interest-rate of -0.5% and is adding to its QE bond purchases with inflation as above and the economy growing at an annual rate of 4%? This inflation rise added to the rise in India yesterday and in terms of detail was driven by package holiday (0.3%) and air fare ( 0.2%) price rises. Transport costs rises are a little ominous on the day that we find out how much UK rail fares will rise next January.

CPIH

This is the new UK inflation measure and is described thus.

CPIH is our lead measure of inflation and offers the most comprehensive picture of how prices are changing in the economy.

As it uses imputed rents for the housing sector I have challenged them on the use of “comprehensive” so far without much success but you may note the use of “lead” where I have had more success. Efforts to call it “headline” or “preferred” have been extinguished. Meanwhile this happened at the end of July.

On behalf of the Board of the Statistics Authority, I am pleased to confirm the re-designation of CPIH as a National Statistics.

I wish to challenge this by concentrating on the issue of rents. There are two issues here the first is the fantasy economics  that owner-occupiers rent out their homes and the second is the measurement of rents has problems.

  1. There is an issue over the spilt between new lets and existing ones which matters as new let prices tend to rise more quickly.
  2. There is an issue over lags in the data which has been kept under wraps but is suspected to be as long as 18 months so today’s data for July is actually last year’s.
  3. There is the issue that we are being reassured about numbers they confess to not actually knowing.

    “. I acknowledge the efforts by ONS staff to provide reassurance around the quality of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) private rents microdata, which are currently unavailable to ONS. “

There are alternatives which dissidents like me are pressing such as Household Costs Index designed originally by John Astin and Jill Leyland under the auspices of the Royal Statistical Society. This aims to measure what households experience in terms of inflation and thereby includes both house prices and interest-rates rather than fantasy calculations such as imputed rents. Officially it is in progress whereas in practice an effort is underway to neuter this such as the suggestion from the Office for National Statistics ( ONS) it would only be produced annually.

Why does this matter? Well look at the numbers and below is the housing section from CPIH.

The OOH component annual rate is 2.0%, unchanged from last month.  ( OOH = Owner Occupied Housing costs)

Now here are the ONS house price numbers also released today.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.9% in the year to June 2017 (down from 5.0% in the year to May 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly around 5% during 2017.

As you can see they are quite different in spite of the slow down in house price rises. Also we took the CPI numbers to align ourselves with Europe which is using house prices in its own plans for a new measure. This is a familiar theme where rationales are pressed and pressed but then dropped when inconvenient a bit like the RPIJ inflation measure.

Today’s data

We learnt something today I think.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.6%, unchanged from last month…….The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.6%, unchanged from last month.

Firstly we have detached a little from the recent international trend which may well be because we have been seeing higher inflation here. Also you may note that the fanfare of CPIH is currently rather pointless as it is giving the same result! Added to this there is a completely different picture to Sweden.

Transport, in particular motor fuels. Fuel prices fell by 1.3% between June and July 2017, the fifth successive month of price decreases. This contrasts with the same period last year, when fuel prices rose by 0.7%.

I checked air fares too and they fell.

Looking Ahead

There was a continuation of the good news on this front from the producer price indices.

The annual rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate slowed for the third time this year, mainly as a result of 2016 price movements dropping out of the annual comparison.

Much of the effect here comes from the change in the exchange rate where the post EU leave vote is beginning now to drop out of the annual data comparisons. Below are the latest numbers.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 3.2% on the year to July 2017, from 3.3% in June 2017, which is a 0.5 percentage points decline from their recent peak of 3.7% in February and March 2017……Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 6.5% on the year to July 2017, from 10% in June 2017; as per factory gate prices, the drop in July’s rate is due to 2016 price movements dropping out of the annual comparison.

In the detail there is something which will only be welcomed by farmers and central bankers ( who for newer readers consider food and energy inflation to be non-core)

Food production continued to be the main source of upward contributions to input and output price inflation fuelled by rising prices for home food materials and food products respectively.

We get a little more detail but not much.

Within home food materials the largest upward contribution came from crop and animal production, with prices rising 12.3% on the year to July 2017.

Comment

We see a welcome development in that the pressure for UK inflation rises has faded a bit. But commuters and rail travellers will be noting that my theme that the UK is a country with administered inflation is in play here.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.6%, up from 3.5% last month.

You see the “Not a National Statistic” Retail Prices Index is suddenly useful when setting things like rail fares or mobile phone contracts. A rough summary is that the ordinary person pays using the higher RPI but only receives ( pensions, tax allowances indexation) the lower CPI. This reminds me that the gap is 1% which gets little publicity. Indeed the gap between our old inflation measure and the new one continues to be much wider than the change in the target.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 3.9%, up from 3.8% last month.

As a final note UK new car prices edged higher as used car prices nudged lower. I mention this because there are falling prices in the US leading to worries about the car loans situation.

 

Remember rebalancing? Is UK manufacturing really picking- up as housing cools?

Today has opened with a reminder of both  a major economic issue of 2017 for the UK and the theme that the UK is an inflation nation. From the BBC.

British Gas will increase electricity prices by 12.5% from 15 September, its owner Centrica has said, in a move that will affect 3.1 million customers.

However, the company’s gas prices will be held at their current level.

The average annual dual-fuel bill for a typical household on a standard tariff will rise by £76 to £1,120, up by 7.3%.

Unless you live in an all electric property it is the last number I guess which is the most relevant. However the reason is not what you might think according to Centrica.

Centrica chief executive Iain Conn told the BBC’s Today programme that wholesale costs had gone down and were not the reason for the price rise.

“We have seen our wholesale costs fall by about £36 on the typical bill since the beginning of 2014 and that is not the driver”

A fascinating viewpoint and he rammed home what were the real causes.

It is transmission and distribution of electricity to the home and government policy costs that are driving our price increase

We are back to the UK being an inflation nation theme as whilst out political class regularly promise energy cost price caps and the like they then sign us all up to policies often but not always green based which will cost us all more money as time passes. The headline feature in this regard was the promise of £92.50 per megawatt hour to EDF for electricity from the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power station or around double current prices.

Perhaps that is why the Bank of England targets an inflation rate of 2% per annum and claims that is sound money as in fact there is a steady drip feed away from us. These days the impact of even such a rate of inflation is larger due to the weak level of wage rises.

Inflation trends

The good news on this front has been the rally in the UK Pound £ versus the US Dollar which passed US $1.32 yesterday. Of course the US Dollar is weak overall but the price we pay for commodities will be helped by this. Less hopeful has been the rise in the  price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has risen above US $52 per barrel. Some other commodity prices have been rising too as the Reserve Bank of Australia reported earlier.

Using spot prices for the bulk commodities, the index increased by 7.4 per cent in July in SDR terms and remains 21.9 per cent higher over the past year.

These things are of course very volatile with The Australian reporting this earlier.

According to Platts’ The Steel Index, benchmark 62 per cent iron ore at Chinese ports rose $US4.10, or 6 per cent, to $US73.10 last night, the highest since early April and up from lows of $US53 hit in mid June.

So there are inflationary pressures around for the rest of this year.

Inflation measurement

This was released yesterday by the UK Office for Statistics Regulation ( OSR ).

On behalf of the Board of the Statistics Authority, I am pleased to confirm the re-designation of CPIH as a National Statistic.

I gave evidence to the OSR suggesting that they should not do so. In my opinion they have not demonstrated that they can estimate imputed rents and prices accurately. The situation below is apparently just fine.

 I acknowledge the efforts by ONS staff to provide reassurance around the quality of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) private rents microdata, which are currently unavailable to ONS…………. ONS’s lack of assurance over these data in 2014 played a significant role in our decision to remove National Statistics status.

How can you reassure about data you do not know? Anyway the result was no surprise however  the ONS ( Office for National Statistics) will be damaged but what has been a tin eared propaganda campaign in favour of CPIH and I fear the OSR has shown that it looks and sounds good but in reality simply rubber stamps the establishment viewpoint. Even past fans and supporters  of CPIH such as the economics editor of the Financial Time Chris Giles seem to lack any real enthusiasm for it.

House prices

We got an estimate of what has been going on with Nationwide customers today.

The annual pace of house price growth remained broadly stable in July at 2.9%, only a touch lower than the 3.1% recorded in June.

There is an irony here as the effort to exclude house price rises from the inflation data applies just as it is pretty much the same as the official inflation measure. Also the market is looking rather becalmed.

Survey data point to relatively sluggish levels of new buyer enquiries, but at the same time surveyors report that relatively few properties are coming onto the market

UK Manufacturing

The news this morning was good on this front.

The rate of improvement in UK manufacturing operating conditions accelerated for the first time in three months at the start of the third quarter.

A factor in this was very welcome.

foreign demand rose at the second-strongest rate in the series history, beaten only by that recorded in April 2010. Companies reported improved inflows of new work from clients in North America, Europe, the AsiaPacific region and the Middle-East.

Are we finally seeing that bit of economic theory called the J-Curve applying after the fall in the value of the UK Pound? Perhaps we got that as well as a benefit from the recent higher Pound.

Cost pressures eased in July

This would be rare for the UK as movements in the currency invariably seem bad! Just to be clear these are movements over different periods of time where prices respond more quickly than business. Also there was a further improvement in the UK employment situation.

The ongoing upturns in output and new orders encouraged further job creation in July. Staffing levels rose for the twelfth straight month. The pace of expansion was among the best registered over the past three years.

Comment

Let us briefly bask in the glow of a UK manufacturing renaissance especially if we add in the CBI report of a week or two ago. We have even managed to nudge above the economic boom in France as our PMI ( Purchasing Manager’s Index) reading at 55.1 was slightly above its 54.9. Meanwhile house price growth has notably faded. Much more of this and the “rebalancing” of former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King will be on the menu again or if we add a dose of reality for the first time. Also 0.2 on this measure is simply spurious accuracy. Indeed if you note this piece of research from them the margins are much wider.

In fact, periods of sustained downturns, the extent to which takes the annual rate of growth of manufacturing output into negative territory, have only ever been recorded when the PMI surveys output index has fallen below 52.6 for more than one month.

So is 50 the threshold for growth or 52.6? Also there is the issue that on this measure the UK had manufacturing growth in the second quarter as opposed to this.

The latest ONS data meanwhile estimated that manufacturing output fell 0.5% in the second quarter.

So we are either booming or contracting? That makes the “on the one hand….on the other hand” of economists seem accurate! Here is the conclusion of the Markit analysis.

The relationship between the PMI and ONS data therefore suggest that the current weakness in the ONS data is merely another temporary downturn and that a resumption to growth will be seen in the third quarter, providing PMI data remain above 52.6 in August and September.

Let’s be upbeat and hope for that although the real message here is that all the numbers are unreliable. Indeed as is news from my old employer Deutsche Bank. From the Financial Times.

 

Landsec, the property company, said on Tuesday it had signed an agreement for Deutsche to take at least 469,000 square feet at 21 Moorfields, a site under construction in the City of London.

Only last week it was supposed to be flooding out of London. No doubt some will go to Frankfurt but how many?

 

 

 

Welcome relief for UK real wages from lower inflation numbers

Today is inflation day in the UK as we get the official data for consumer, producer and house price inflation. In case you were wondering why they all come out on one day  meaning that some details get ignored in the melee ( mostly producer price inflation) well that is the point! Previously when the data were released separately there were potentially three days of embarrassment for the government and establishment which they have reduced to just one. Job done in a way.

However even before we get today’s numbers the subject is in the news in several ways. From the BBC.

Motorists are being saddled with the fastest year-on-year rise in insurance premiums since records began five years ago, the industry has warned. Average car insurance premiums have gone up by 11% in the past year, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI). The typical bill for an annual policy is now £484, it said.

One of my themes which is institutionalised inflation is on the march here.

The ABI says the change in the discount rate is the main reason behind the rise, but also blames the latest increase in insurance premium tax which went up from 10% to 12% on 1 June…….That is why the government reduced the discount rate to -0.75%.

I have included the discount rate as it is a consequence of the way Bank of England QE has driven real bond yields into negative territory. Oh what a tangled web, and that is before we get to the plague of false claims and deliberate accidents which mar this area and drive up premiums.

Buttering us up

An odd feature of the current phase is high butter prices which stretch well beyond the UK as this from @Welt indicates.

price has risen this week in Germany by another 30 Cent or 20% to 1.79€, highest price ever after WWII.

In France there are worries about rises in croissant prices and maybe even a shortage of them. The causes are in essence the farming boom/bust cycle combined with a rise in demand as the Financial Times explains.

 

The combination of falling milk output in key producing countries and adverse weather sent the international butter price to a record high in June, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization…..

 

Raphael Moreau, a food analyst at Euromonitor, says that butter consumption has been lifted by demand for “natural” products among shoppers as they move away from spreads such as margarine. “In the UK, butter consumption has also been supported by the home-baking boom,” he says.

So far this has yet to be fully reflected in consumer prices but as supply is inelastic or inflexible in the short-term this could carry on for the rest of 2017.

The other side of the coin

On the 13th of June I pointed out this about the trend for producer prices.

Fortunately we see that the main push is beginning to fade.

Also adding to this is that the UK Pound has been improving against the US Dollar. Friday’s surge that took it to US $1.31 is of course after today’s numbers were calculated but the lower UK Pound will be a decreasing effect as we go forwards.

Today’s Numbers

There was a very welcome change today.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.6% in June 2017, down from 2.9% in May 2017.

The drivers of this were as follows.

Fuel prices fell by 1.1% between May and June 2017, the fourth successive month of price decreases. This contrasts with the same period last year, when fuel prices rose by 2.2%. Taken together, these movements resulted in prices for motor fuels making a large downward contribution to the change in the rate………Recreational and cultural goods and services, with prices overall falling by 0.1% between May and June 2017, compared with a rise of 0.6% a year ago.

If we look at the pattern actually there was no inflation in the month itself.

The all items CPI is 103.3, unchanged from last month.

Oh and the period where the oil price drove goods prices lower is over as we see that goods and services inflation are now pretty much the same.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 2.6%, down from 2.9% last month. ……..The CPI all services index annual rate is 2.7%, down from 2.8% last month.

Looking Ahead

As we noted last month the pressure coming from higher producer price inflation is looking like it is fading.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 3.3% on the year to June 2017 from 3.6% in May 2017, which is the slowest rate prices have increased since December 2016…….Input prices rose 9.9% on the year to June 2017 from 12.1% in May 2017, meaning the annual rate has fallen 10 percentage points since January 2017.

This is mostly about one thing.

Inputs of crude oil is the main driver of the recent slowing of input price inflation as annual price growth for crude oil fell from 88.9% in February 2017 to 9.1% in June 2017.

Two factors are at play here as we see the impact of the oil price no longer falling and the UK Pound/Dollar exchange rate which has risen from its lows of January.

Housing Inflation

We have an official measure that includes imputed rents as a way of measuring housing costs for owner-occupiers. As you can see they are in fact reducing the level of inflation measured.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.6%, down from 2.7% in May. …….The OOH component annual rate is 2.0%, down from 2.1% last month( OOH= Owner Occupied Housing Costs)……..Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.8% in the 12 months to June 2017;

The problem for our official statisticians is that few people have bothered much with the change in its headline measure as this from Adam Parsons the Sky News business correspondent indicates.

CPIH – the stat that nobody wants, and nobody quotes

Oh and it is still not a national statistic which were the grounds for demoting RPI but seem to be ignored in the case of CPIH.

Meanwhile house price inflation is rather different to rental inflation.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.7% in the year to May 2017.

This is why they put imputed rents into the new headline inflation measure! It was always likely to give a lower number because house prices can and indeed have been inflated by the way that mortgage costs have been driven lower by the Bank of England. As to troubles here we saw another sign last week. From whatmortgage.co.uk.

The Bank of England has warned mortgage lenders of the possible risks posed by the recent trend of longer loan terms………Woods highlighted the recent trend of mortgage terms rising from 25 years to 35 years or “even longer”.

Comment

First let me welcome the better inflation data which will help with the economic issue of the day which is real wage growth. Or to be more specific it is seems set to be less poor than it might have been. Good.

In terms of inflation I would like to draw your attention to a problem which the UK establishment does its best to try to sweep under the carpet. This is that the old inflation target called RPIX is at 3.8% but the newer CPI is at 2.6% with the gap now being 1.2% which is very significant. Also there is the issue that we pay things at RPI ( Retail Price Index) currently at 3.5% but only receive CPI currently at 2.6% which is quite an establishment scam. This particularly affects students who find that costs in their loans are escalating into the stratosphere with implications for matters such as mortgage affordability if not final repayment as so many of these will never be repaid.

Looking ahead we are certainly not out of the inflation woods as there are still dangers of higher numbers in the autumn as we note the butter and insurance effects discussed earlier. We do not know what the Pound £ and the oil price will do. As to comparisons with Euro area inflation at 1.3% we get a guide to how much the lower Pound £ has affected our inflation rate which has turned out to be pretty much along the lines I suggested back on the 19th of July last year.

I expect a larger impact on the annual rate of inflation than the Draghi Rule implies and estimate one of say 1%.

 

The Brexit Breakfast saga

Yesterday saw quite an extraordinary missive from the offices of KPMG that combined economics and an insight into the apparent habits of staff at that organisation. It led to some debate and indeed some humour so let us take a look. From the Guardian.

Brexit breaks breakfast? Hard Brexit could mean hard luck for fry-up fans…….Shoppers would be forced to pay £3 more for a traditional British fry-up if the government fails to secure a trade deal with the EU, piling more pressure on already cash-strapped consumers.

That is a bit of a shock is it not as it implies such a breakfast would be £3 more each which seems rather extreme. Of course some products have risen in price already due to the lower value for the UK Pound £ as the UK imports quite a bit of the food it consumes.

Here is how Bloomberg released this.

The price attracted my attention so I enquired if they only ate in five-star hotels? It quickly turned out that I wasn’t the only one.

let’s just say I enjoyed a full English last week £7.50. Same price as a year ago at my same local coastal cafe. ( @mhewson_CMC )

 

Read this (and its comments) with your breakfast. £5 here at Totnes Waterside (  @RSR108 )

 

Tesco all you can eat £4,95 KPMG making a real dogs dinner of their analysis. No doubt you can get cheaper elsewhere ( @BarrattPeter )

The analysis stated that the ingredients came from the mid-range of a UK supermarket although some were not convinced.

“KPMG UK analysed the cost of mid-range ingredients of a fry-up from a leading UK supermarket” where…Fortnum and Mason??! ( @maximbroking )

I am not sure if the Guardian re wrote their article but anyway it now states that this was for a family breakfast, something missing from the original Bloomberg article. The debate then shifted to the choice of ingredients with the choice of olive oil to the fore.

Somewhere that cooks its breakfasts in a litre of olive oil? ( @dsquaredigest)

I have to confess I was beginning to feel a little queasy especially as it turned out that some might do this albeit if course we do not know what oil was used here.

I used to have a friend who did their fryups in about two inches depth of fat…utterly inedible! ( @MattBrookes3 )

There were some alternative suggestions for the use of olive oil.

You don’t cook in it, you barbarian. You wash down your meal with a couple of pints of it. ( @Birdyworld)

One Bloomberg journalist did appear willing to give it a go.

As I mulled the list I was curious about the addition of French butter to the list for two reasons as what I buy is mostly UK butter and of course French butter is usually unsalted giving a very different taste. I wasn’t the only one it would seem.

Welsh butter with mine please boyo ( @putt1ck )

 

I’m remain/internationalist but I always buy UK for my fry up, I don’t think these calcs will effect me? PS toss the oil, use butter! ( @LukeMcElligott )

Some took this a stage further.

I find Swiss organic grass-fed butter goes better with baked beans………but only ever fair-trade Himalayan Yak butter with my Japanese Kotoka Strawberry jam. Obviously, ( @WEAYL )

The issue of strawberry jam got a mention.

and who puts strawberry jam on their fry-up!? ( @ChrisB_IG )

Although hope springs eternal for one Bloomberg customer.

Bacon=NL,bread=local,Cherry vine tomato=Spain/NL/or Kent UK 😉 Strawberry jam= free with Bloomburg subscription (I would hope) ( @Svedenmacher )

We did discover someone keen on French butter albeit for a modern reason.

I often buy President butter, especially lately … to piss off the Brexiteers ;). ( @ClausVistensen )

Thus we found quite a bit of debate over the ingredients which then seemed to be reflected off Bloomberg Towers.

Also there’s no ketchup or hash browns. The moral of this story is don’t go for breakfast at KPMG ( @Lucy_meakin )

Considering the cost some were unhappy with the quality.

Funny looking sausage anyway. I think I’ll give it a miss. ( @PaulKingsley16 )

As ever some were hoping for a bright side to the issue.

Does anyone know if KPMG have vacancies for analysts economists researchers -will come out of retirement for their hourly Breakfast rates. ( @BarrattPeter)

Whereas the other side of the atlantic felt we needed to widen our perspective somewhat.

You Europeans are so dense. It’s the labor cost component of the typical Chinese household cook that’s driving up breakfast costs. ( @EquityTrader44 ).

Still it could all have been much worse. Imagine this for breakfast or anything really.

Another salvo in the war on cash

There is much to consider in the report on the gig economy by Matthew Taylor today but one bit in particular caught my eye.

The author of a government review into work practices would like to see an end to the “cash-in-hand economy”.

Matthew Taylor, whose report is out on Tuesday, said cash jobs such as window cleaning and decorating were worth up to £6bn a year, much of it untaxed.

Although he wants to present it as progress.

Mr Taylor also said he did not want to ban cash payments outright, but hoped, over time, the increasing popularity of transaction platforms such as PayPal and Worldpay would see a shift from cash-in-hand work.

“In a few years time as we move to a more cashless economy, self-employed people would be paid cashlessly – like your window cleaner. At the same time they can pay taxes and save for their pension,” he said.

This has many of the features of so-called blue sky thinking reports. In itself the cash in hand economy is hard to defend because tax is not paid and it is therefore unfair on those who pay taxes on income. However his effort to claim it would benefit the workers is risible “they can pay taxes and save for their pension.” From a magic money tree? Also it is hard not to think that the establishment wanted this review as part of an effort to raise more tax like the Chancellor’s attempt to increase National Insurance on the self-employed of a fee months ago. If they cannot make a relatively minor change without a fast U-Turn how exactly will they tax these workers?

But we have a theme of more tax being paid which will please the establishment and another feature these days which is of things being leaked before they are announced properly. Why not wait a few hours? It is all about expectations management which moves me to my  main point which is that the establishment seems ever more desperate to get rid of cash.

You would think that it is one of the barriers to them introducing negative interest-rates in the future……Oh hang on!

Comment

Economic life is often much more complicated than it first appears as for example we are on the road to more electronic payments. Over the past few years I have found myself paying for things with a card that would have been unthinkable before. Yet this is also true . From the Bank of England.

Despite speculation to the contrary, the number of banknotes in circulation is increasing. During 2016, growth in the value of Bank of England notes was 10%, double its average growth rate over the past decade.

Evidence of stockpiling?

As to the breakfast saga there are a few bits to consider. The first is the British obsession with a fry-up which goes in hot pursuit of our obsession with tea. Although apparently not the latter at KPMG who drink coffee. Next we have the click bait effort of claiming breakfast would cost £26.61 where even the family addition from the Guardian does not work unless you use all of the olive oil ( I am getting queasy again) and drink several gallons of coffee with slabs of butter.

Meanwhile there are issues one of which is a regular theme of mine which is that we import so much food in the UK and could do much better on that front. Some things we cannot grow (oranges) but some we can. Actually KPMG seems unaware of what we do produce as apparently we grow a lot of mushrooms. Of course we could end up paying higher tariffs for some products as we seem to have become rather dependent on Danish bacon. But for other products such as olive oil ( assuming you use it) Europe is not the only source and transport costs are often low.

Could the Bank of England step in with some Sledgehammer Breakfast QE?

 

What is happening to the economy of Qatar?

Today I intend to take a look at the economy of one of the Gulf states Qatar. It hit the news earlier this month due to these events from Gulf News.

June 5: The UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting extremism, and giving the countries’ diplomats 48 hours to leave.

June 6: WAM, the UAE state news agency, announces that the country has closed its seaports, as well as its airspace, to all Qatari vessels and airplanes.

So it went into the bad boy/girl camp as diplomatic and economic sanctions were applied. Although in the topsy-turvy world in which we live this happened soon after.

Qatar will sign a deal to buy as many as 36 F-15 jets from the U.S. as the two countries navigate tensions over President Donald Trump’s backing for a Saudi-led coalition’s move to isolate the country for supporting terrorism.

Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah and his U.S. counterpart, Jim Mattis, completed the $12 billion agreement on Wednesday in Washington, according to the Pentagon.

The sale “will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar,” the Defense Department said in a statement.

I do not know about you but if I thought that someone was indeed sponsoring terrorism I would not be selling them fighter jets! Still I suppose it does help achieve one of the Donald’s main aims which is to boost US manufacturing.

Also whilst we are on the subject of “Madness, they call it madness” there was of course the decision to award the 2022 football World Cup to a country with extraordinarily high temperatures. Also one could hardly claim that football was coming home!

How was the Qatari economy doing?

There was a time when it was party, party, party. From the Financial Times.

ministers used to boast about the economy expanding at one of the fastest rates in the world: in the decade to 2016, growth averaged 13 per cent.

Much of this was of course due to higher prices for crude oil and associated products which then changed.

The oil crash in 2014 hastened a spending review, with budget cuts and widespread redundancies across the energy and government sectors, including thousands at the state petroleum group. Jobs have been cut in museums and across education, media and health, with many projects cancelled or delayed.

There was something of a familiar feature to this.

In the West Bay business district, the impact of shrinking corporate and residential demand is stark. The flagship development boomed from 2004 to 2014 but the area is now littered with unoccupied and half-built skyscrapers.

The World Cup Boomlet

Work on this has turned out to be anti-cyclical and has provided a boost.

The Gulf state is building nine sports stadiums, “cooled” fan zones, hotels, sewage works and roads ahead of the football tournament……the government is spending $500m a week on World Cup-related infrastructure.

However there was a consequence.

Qatar, the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas, recorded its first budget deficit in 15 years in 2016 — a $12bn financing gap

Oil

This and its related products are the driver of the economy as OPEC notes.

Oil and natural gas account for about 55 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Petroleum has made Qatar one of the world’s fastest-growing and highest per-capita income countries.

There are various different measures but Global Finance puts it as the world’s highest per capita GDP in 2016. Of course this wealth mostly simply emerges from the ground mostly in the form of natural gas.

Of course the fact that the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has fallen below US $45 is not welcome in Qatar as it reduces GDP, exports and government revenue. Also since May the price of natural gas has been falling with the NYMEX future dropping from US $3.42 to US $2.89. So bad times on both fronts as Qatar mulls the impact of the US shale oil producers.

Monetary Policy

You might have been wondering why there have not been reports of a crashing Qatari Rial. That is because of this. From the Qatar Central Bank.

QCB has adopted the exchange rate policy of its predecessor, Qatar Monetary Agency, through fixing the value of the Qatari Riyal (QR) against the US dollar (USD) at a rate of QR 3.64 per USD as a nominal anchor for its monetary policy.

So we have a type of fixed exchange rate or if you prefer a currency peg. This means that monetary policy is in effect imported from the United States which led to this.

Qatar Central Bank has decided to raise its QMR Deposit rate (QMRD) on Thursday June 15,2017 By 25 basis point from 1.25% to 1.50% .

Even in these times of low interest-rates one of 1.5% is hardly going to cut it in terms of currency support so minds immediately turn to the foreign exchange reserves. The QCB had 125.4 billion Riyals at the end of April. This was down on the recent peak of 158.3 billion Riyals of July 2015 presumably due to responses to the lower oil price. This meant that a balance of payments current account surplus of 50.1 billion Riyals of 2015 became a 30.3 billion deficit in 2016.

At a time like this people will also note that the external debt of the Qatari government rose from 73.4 billion Rials at the end of 2105 to 116.2 billion at the end of 2016. Also the banking sector has become more dependent on foreign cash according to Reuters.

Qatar’s banks became dependent on foreign funding during the last few years of strong economic growth. Their foreign liabilities increased to 451 billion riyals (97.90 billion pounds) in March from 310 billion riyals at the end of 2015.

Also if we look back to the 13th of this month I noticed this in the statement from the QCB saying that the banking sector was operating normally, which of course usually means it isn’t!

that QCB has sufficient foreign currencies reserves to meet all requirements.

So presumably it has been using them.

Qatar Investment Authority

The QIA manages a portfolio estimated at around US $335 billion and at a time like this investing abroad will look rather clever in foreign currency terms. Although the exact list may not be entirely inspiring.

Main assets include Volkswagen, Barclays, Canary Wharf, Harrods, Credit Suisse, Heathrow, Glencore, Tiffany & Co., Total.

There is speculation that there is pressure to use these assets. From Reuters.

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has transferred over $30 billion worth of its domestic equity holdings to the finance ministry and may sell other assets as part of a restructuring drive, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

As someone who cycled past one of those assets – Chelsea Barracks –  only yesterday that provides food for thought for the London property market I think.

Comment

The discussion so far has been about financial issues so let us look at a real economy one which could not be more Arabic.

Saudi blockade on Qatar sabotages multi-billion dollar camel ……….A rescue mission is underway in Qatar after thousands of camels were expelled from Saudi Arabia due to the ongoing blockade. each of them can be worth up to $75,000  ( Al Jazeera )

Also food is being sent from Turkey.

Turkey is sending food supplies to Qatar by sea on Wednesday to compensate for a recent embargo by Qatar’s neighbour states, according to Turkey’s economy minister. (Al Jazeera )

At least it is better than sending soldiers which is unlikely to improve anything. But if we move back to the financial impact we wait to see how much has been spent to support the currency. We can see from the forward rates that there must have been some and maybe a lot. Also is it a coincidence that the UK looks to be taking the investment in Barclays to court? On that subject this from The Spectator is quite extraordinary.

Why I’m sad to see Barclays in the dock, and astonished to see John Varley there

Apparently he should not be there because he was “impeccably well tailored and mannered, who always looked destined for the top — but was also universally liked by his colleagues” something which could have come straight from the satire and comedy about “nice chaps” in Yes Prime Minister.

Meanwhile with the UK weather and the subject of today it is time for some Glenn Frey.

The heat is on (yeah) the heat is on, the heat is on
(Burning, burning, burning)
It’s on the street, the heat is on

Me on TipTV Finance

http://tiptv.co.uk/car-loans-canary-coal-mine-not-yes-man-economics/

Imputed Rents do their job of slowing rises in UK inflation

Today we find ourselves reviewing the data on the rise in inflation in the UK in 2017. This has been caused by a couple of factors. The first is something of a world-wide trend where the price of crude oil stopped falling and being a disinflationary influence. The second has been the fall in the value of the UK Pound which accelerated following the vote for the UK to leave the European Union just over a year ago. If we look back a year then the current US $1.269 has replaced the US $1.411 back then. So the inflation which was supposedly dead ( if you recall the Deflation hype and paranoia..) came back on the menu.

The UK establishment responds

If you do not want the public to realise that inflation is rising but do not wish to introduce any policies to stop it then the only option available to you is to change the way the numbers are measured. Last Autumn the UK statistical establishment began quite a rush to increase the use of rents in  a new headline UK inflation measure. There is of course a proper use for rents which is for those who do rent, however the extension was for those who own their house and do not actually rent it out. So yes imputed rents were required to fill the gap. Here is the official explanation.

However, it does not include the costs associated with owning a home, known as owner occupier housing costs. ONS decided that the best way to estimate these costs is a method known as ‘rental equivalence’. This estimates the cost of owning a home by calculating how much it would cost to rent an equivalent property. A new index based on CPI but including owner occupier housing costs – CPIH – was launched in 2013.

How has that gone?

This new index had some problems in 2014,

Also there is this.

We have still not yet addressed all of the necessary requirements for CPIH to become a national statistic.

So why the rush? Well last week’s numbers on rents from Homelet will have raised a wry smile for many.

UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…..May’s decrease in average rental values marks a significant moment for the rented property sector. This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis.

So rents were rushed in as part of the “most comprehensive measure” of UK inflation just in time for them to fall! Those who believe that rental inflation is related to wage growth will no doubt be thinking that wage growth and hence likely rental growth is lower these days. This is all rather different to house prices where lower mortgage rates can set off more price rises and inflation. I have met those responsible for this and pointed out that the word “comprehensive” is misleading as they do not actually measure the owner occupied housing market they simply impute from the rental one.

Today’s data

We see this.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.9% in May 2017, up from 2.7% in April………The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH, not a National Statistic) 12-month inflation rate was 2.7% in May 2017, up from 2.6% in April.

So not only is the new measure again below the older one we see that the gap has now widened from 0.1% to 0.2%. As the difference must be the imputed rental section let us take a look.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.8% in the 12 months to May 2017; this is unchanged from April 2017.

As you can see whilst the official data does not have the falls indicated by Homelet it is a drag on the overall inflation measure. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have a broad smile on his face right now. Oh and the reason why it is not showing falls is that the numbers are what might be called “smoothed”. The actual monthly  numbers are quite erratic ( which of course would lead to doubts if people saw them) so in fact the numbers are over a period of time and then weighted. The ONS has been unwilling to reveal the length of the period used but it used to be around 18 months. This is of course another reason why this methodology is flawed and a bad idea because rents from a year ago should be in last years indices not this months.

I have argued for a long time ( this debate began in 2012) that house prices should be used as they are of course actually paid rather than being imputed. Also they behave very differently to rents as a pattern and are more timely which is important. So what are they doing?

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.6% in the year to April 2017 (up from 4.5% in the year to March 2017).

As you can see house price inflation is currently treble that of rental inflation. Can anybody think why the UK establishment wanted rents rather than house prices used in the consumer inflation measure?

Our past measure

The Retail Price Index used to be used in the UK.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.7%, up from 3.5% last month.

So the pattern of higher inflation measures being retired continues. Although it does at least serve two roles. The first is for indexation of things people pay such as mobile phone bills as my contract rises by it as of course do student loans. The second is for the indexation of Bank of England pensions where it seems strange that the establishment attack on RPI somehow got forgotten

Looking ahead

Fortunately we see that the main push is beginning to fade.

The annual rate of factory gate price inflation (output prices) remained at 3.6% for the third consecutive month and slowed on the month to 0.1%, from 0.4% in March and April……….The annual rate of inflation for materials and fuels (input prices) fell back to 11.6% in May, continuing its decline from 19.9% in January 2017 following the recent strength of sterling.

There is still momentum to push the annual rate of inflation higher which will not be helped if the post General Election dip in the value of the UK Pound persists. But the main push has now been seen. We should be grateful that the price of crude oil is around US $48 per barrel in Brent Crude terms.

Comment

The latest attempt by the UK establishment to “improve” the UK measurement of consumer inflation is being shown up for what it is, an attempt to manipulate the numbers lower. I guess things we receive will no longer be indexed to CPI they will be switched to CPIH! Also will the Bank of England switch its inflation target? If so it will complete a journey which has lowered the measure from 3.9% ( where what is called RPIX now is) to 2.7% or a 1.2% change when the target was only moved by 0.5%. In these times of lower wage rises, interest-rates and yields then 0.7% per annum matters quite a bit over time.

An answer to this would be to put the asset price which the Bank of England loves to inflate, house prices, in the inflation index. Let me leave you today with the price of a few basic goods if they had risen in line with them.

 

As I am off later to buy a chicken for dinner I am grateful it has not risen at such a rate.

China faces up to a ratings downgrade

This morning we have received news about the world’s second largest economy. The Ratings Agency Moodys issued this statement.

Moodys Investors Service has today downgraded China’s long-term local currency and foreign currency issuer ratings to A1 from Aa3 and changed the outlook from negative to stable.

As you can see from the statement this was not a complete surprise as the outlook had been negative although in some ways the timing was as not so long ago the IMF had told us this. From Reuters on the 18th of April.

The IMF upgraded its estimate for China’s 2017 growth to 6.6 percent from 6.5 percent, which it made in January. It also raised its forecast for growth next year to 6.2 percent from the previous 6.0 percent.

This added to the upgrade it has given China in January when it had raised the economic growth forecast for 2017 from 6.2%. In fact only on the 9th if this month the IMF had repeated this message.

In China, the region’s biggest and the world’s second largest economy, policy stimulus is expected to keep supporting demand. Although still robust with 2017 first quarter growth slightly stronger than expected, growth is projected to decelerate to 6.6 percent in 2017 and 6.2 in 2018.

 

This slowdown is predicated on a cooling housing market, partly reflecting recent tightening measures, weaker wage and consumption growth, and a stable fiscal deficit.

Although whilst it was relatively upbeat the IMF has warned about credit expansion.

Why did Moodys act?

As the quote from the Financial Times below shows Moodys are concerned about the financial system in China.

“The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” Marie Diron, the agency’s associate managing director for sovereign risk, wrote in an announcement on Wednesday.

Indeed if we look at the statement they expect China to go along at least part of the journey that us westerners have travelled.

While China’s GDP will remain very large, and growth will remain high compared to other sovereigns, potential growth is likely to fall in the coming years. The importance the Chinese authorities attach to growth suggests that the corresponding fall in official growth targets is likely to be more gradual, rendering the economy increasingly reliant on policy stimulus.

Of course their economic growth is officially recorded at higher levels than ours but it looks like the Chinese will have to accept a sort of new normal where economic growth is lower just like we have.

GDP growth has decelerated in recent years from a peak of 10.6% in 2010 to 6.7% in 2016.

If we look at the situation in terms of the national debt to GDP ratio we have looked at for Greece and the UK this week already then it looks as if China is currently in a lot better place.

Moody’s expects China’s direct fiscal debt to reach 40 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of next year and 45 per cent by 2020. ( Financial Times).

However in a development which is very familiar just like us Westerners the Chinese do all they can to keep what is public-sector debt off the official books.

In addition, it notes that China’s reliance on disguised fiscal spending through off-budget special purpose vehicles owned by local governments is likely to persist. The Financial Times reported this month on a confidential World Bank assessment warning of risks from so-called local government financing vehicles.

Moodys are expecting further growth in this area.

Similar increases in financing and spending by the broader public sector are likely to continue in the next few years in order to maintain GDP growth around the official targets.

Let us look at the wider debt burden in China which is something I looked at back on January 5th.

China’s total debt load had reached 255 per cent of GDP by the end of June, up from 141 per cent in 2008 and well above the average of 188 per cent for emerging markets, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Moodys thinks that this will happen going forwards.

More broadly, we forecast that economy-wide debt of the government, households and non-financial corporates will continue to rise, from 256% of GDP at the end of last year according to the Institute of International Finance. This is consistent with the gradual approach to deleveraging being taken by the Chinese authorities and will happen because economic activity is largely financed by debt in the absence of a sizeable equity market and sufficiently large surpluses in the corporate and government sectors.

I would counsel caution about the use of averages here as not only can they be misleading without an idea of dispersion it could be signalling a group going over the cliff together.

Debt and Demographics

Should debt continue to rise then China will share a problem that is affecting more than a few of the evil western capitalist imperialists. From my article on January 5th.

“In 10 to 15 years, China’s demographic decline will become more prominent, and the labour force will be declining by about 5m people per year,” says Brian Jackson, senior economist at the Beijing office of IHS, a consultancy.

Commodity prices

Mining.com updates us on the trends for Iron Ore.

The Northern China import price for 62% Fe iron ore fines was $61.90 a tonne on Monday, down more than 20% year-to-date on growing fears of an oversupplied market.

There is quite a bit going on as the Chinese increasingly use scrap iron in production but it is hard not to think of the Iron Ore which was used as collateral in financial deals as we looked at some time back.How much of that is in today’s 5% fall in the price of Iron Ore futures is hard to say. Dr.Copper rallied at the end of 2016 after several years of decline but seems to have mostly flat lined in 2017 at around US $2.50.

The outlook

This month’s business surveys recorded something of a slow down.

The Caixin China Composite PMI™ data (which covers both manufacturing and services) signalled a further slowdown in growth momentum at the start of the second quarter. This was highlighted by the Composite Output Index posting 51.2 in April, down from 52.1 in March, and the lowest reading for ten months.

The ratio between the numbers here and official levels of economic growth are very different to what we see in the west but any slow down will not be welcome.

Comment

There are a few things to consider here. Firstly we are unlikely to see much of a fall in bond prices and rises in yields in response to this as used to happen. The Chinese bond market is almost entirely ( ~ 96% ) domestically owned making it rather like Japan meaning that any selling by foreign investors is not that likely to be significant. Also these days central banks mostly intervene to stop such things don’t they?

Moving onto the economy we see that monetary conditions are the issue and for this to end well the Chinese will have to make a much better job of dealing with a credit boom than we did in the west. Will they be able to continue to tighten policy if economic growth slows further? As to outflows of money we are regularly assured these days that they have pretty much stopped but to my mind there is a worrying signal which is the continuing rise in the price of bitcoin.

The average price of Bitcoin across all exchanges is 2326.72 USD ( @bitcoinprice )

Finally these things are not the same without an official denial are they? From Xinhua News.

China’s Finance Ministry on Wednesday dismissed a decision by international rating agency Moody’s to downgrade China’s long-term local currency and foreign currency issuer ratings.