The cracks at the Bank of England have become fissures

This has been a bad week for the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.  First came the appointment of Professor Silvana Tenreyro to the Monetary Policy Committee which led to even social media to have a brief period of  silence as everyone looked up who she was! Next came a reminder that his Chief Economist Andy Haldane is a modern version of a “loose cannon on the decks” on the edge of going off in almost any direction at any time. Finally last night came a critique from someone Governor Carney went out of his way ( North America) to appoint.

Kristin Forbes

Ms Forbes has given quite a damning account of her time at the Bank of England whilst also confirming several themes of this website.

In July 2014, when I started on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, it was widely expected (including by me) that we would begin increasing interest rates soon. It has been almost three years – and growth has averaged a healthy and above trend 2.3% (year-on-year) over this period. Yet interest rates are now lower – instead of higher – than when I started my term.

Fair play to her for the honesty but of course regular readers will be aware that I forecast this outcome back then. The establishment continue only to talk to themselves which is why we get the phrase “widely expected” when they are wrong as they live in an echo chamber. It is an irony that they try to wear the badge of diversity when in fact it is diversity of ideas that they most need and of course they shun.

Ms Forbes continues to land punches on the Bank of England consensus as another of the themes here the woeful forecasting record gets a mention.

A key justification for the large amount of stimulus that many people (albeit not me) supported in August was a forecast for a sharp contraction in growth to near recession levels and sharp increase in unemployment that would leave a meaningful increase in the number of people without a job. That forecast has not materialized.

As I wrote at the time this was perfectly predictable if you looked at the impact of falls in the value of the UK Pound £ which as a reminder is currently equivalent to a 2.75% cut in Bank Rate. If I was to make a one sentence critique of bringing members of the “international economic elite” to the Bank of England it would be that they invariable fail to understand the impact of changes in the UK Pound £. I write that in sad fashion in this instance because it looked for a time that Kristin Forbes did understand.

After the uppercut comes the left cross.

And as the UK economy has held up well since the Brexit vote, why has there been no consensus to tighten
monetary policy – or at least slightly reduce the substantial amount of stimulus provided in August – since
then?

So she thinks that the Bank of England is full of “Carney’s Cronies” as I have labeled them too?

a majority on the MPC does not support reversing a small portion of last August’s stimulus.

As an aside it is also revealing that even she does not seem to in the words of Blockbuster by Sweet “have a clue what to do” about all the QE. Back in September 2013 I wrote an article in City-AM with a suggestion on this front. Returning to the economic theme she points out that the world has changed at least according to the Bank of England so why has policy not changed?

Instead, over the three full quarters since the referendum, GDP has increased by over three times more (by almost 1 percentage point more) than forecast in the August Inflation Report, and unemployment is 0.5 percentage points lower. Put slightly differently, instead of increasing, unemployment has fallen so much that it is now at its lowest level in over 40 years. At the same time, inflation spiked to 2.9% in May. It is expected to continue increasing over the next few months and remain above target for
over three years.

It has been argued by some by the previous Governor Baron King of Lothbury intimidated some MPC members so as you read this next quote please be aware that his term ended in the summer of 2013 as Mark Carney arrived.

This pattern of different views and dissent by all types of committee members, however, seems to have
changed around 2013 – a period when there were a number of changes at the Bank and to the MPC’s remit,
making it hard to pinpoint the cause……… Not a single dissent since 2013 has come from an internal member.

Finally it would appear that someone at the Bank of England has caught up with a point I have been making since the EU Referendum vote.

Sterling’s recent depreciation appears to be shifting the trend component of UK inflation upward quickly, potentially generating more persistent inflationary pressures

This is all rather different to what Governor Carney told us at Mansion House.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations, and unemployment has reached a 40 year low.

Loose cannon on the decks

For those unaware this saying came from the Royal Navy where in the days of sailing ships a loose cannon was extremely dangerous to say the least. A modern version of this has been the Chief Economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane which we can see by a simple game of then and now. First just over 11 months ago.

In my personal view, this means a material easing of monetary policy is likely to be needed,…….Put differently, I would rather run the risk of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut than taking a miniature rock hammer to tunnel my way out of prison…….Given the scale of insurance required, a package of mutually-complementary monetary policy easing measures is likely to be necessary.

And this week.

I considered the case for a rate rise at the MPC’s June meeting.

As ever there is no real confession here about being wrong. After all if Andy had built a plane and it crashed on take-off who would fly on one of his planes again? But the central banking echo chamber is not like that even when they present devastating evidence of their own failure.

Wages have been surprisingly weak for much of the period since the global financial crisis. Chart 1 plots
successive Bank of England forecasts of wage growth since 2012. Wage growth in the UK has persistently
disappointed to the downside, on average by around 1 ¼ percentage points one year ahead.

You see our “loose cannon” knew this last August albeit a year less of it yet he still ignored his own frailties and ploughed ahead in that combination of arrogance and panic that we see from the central banking fraternity at such times. Yet in spite of such failure look what happened only last week.

Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Monetary Analysis and Statistics, and Chief Economist at the Bank of England, has been reappointed for a further three-year term as a member of the Monetary Policy Committee with effect from 12 June 2017.

Rewards for failure indeed. As I asked at the time on what ground was he reappointed please?

Comment

There is much to consider here as the themes of the Bank of England being the worst forecasting organisation in the world and the advent of “Carney’s Cronies” have been in play. However in the speech by Kristin Forbes there was also a confession of the earliest theme of this website so let us get to it.

Even more striking is the lack of other countries’ ability to sustain any tightening in monetary policy since the
crisis.

They are in their own junkie culture style trap but as it is Glastonbury weekend let me hand you over to Muse for a description.

I wanted freedom
Bound and restricted
I tried to give you up
But I’m addicted

Now that you know I’m trapped sense of elation
You’d never dream of
Breaking this fixation

You will squeeze the life out of me

 

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/

The Mark Carney experience at the Bank of England

This morning Mark Carney has given his Mansion House speech which was delayed due to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. One thing that was unlikely to be in the speech today was the outright cheerleading for the reform of the banking sector which was the basis of his speech back on the 7th of April as the news below emerged.

Barclays PLC and four former executives have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance.

The Serious Fraud Office charges come at the end of a five-year investigation and relate to the bank’s fundraising at the height of 2008’s financial crisis.

Former chief executive John Varley is one of the four ex-staff who will face Westminster magistrates on 3 July.

Firstly let me welcome the news that there will be a trial although the conviction record of the Serious Fraud Office is not good. The problem is that this has taken around nine years about something ( £7 billion raised from Qatar ) which frankly looked to have dubious elements when it took place. What you might call  slooooooooooooow progress of justice.

What about UK interest-rates?

We first got a confession about something we discovered last week.

Different members of the MPC will understandably have different views about the outlook and therefore on the potential timing of any Bank Rate increase.

Actually that is an odd way of saying it as five members voted for no change with some more likely to vote for a cut that a rise in my opinion. Although of course Mark Carney has had trouble before with rises in interest-rates which turn out to be cuts!

Next we got a confirmation of the Governor’s opinion.

From my perspective, given the mixed signals on consumer spending and business investment, and given
the still subdued domestic inflationary pressures, in particular anaemic wage growth, now is not yet the time
to begin that adjustment

Indeed he seems keen to kick this rather awkward issue – because it would mean reversing last August’s Bank Rate cut – as far into the future as possible.

In the coming months, I would like to see the extent to which weaker consumption growth is offset by other components of demand, whether wages begin to firm, and more generally, how the economy reacts to the prospect of tighter financial conditions and the reality of Brexit negotiations.

Indeed if we are willing to ignore both UK economic history and the leads and lags in UK monetary policy then you might be able to believe this.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations, and unemployment has reached a 40 year low.

Missing from the slap on the back that the Governor has given himself is the most powerful instrument of all which is the value of the UK Pound which has given the UK economy and more sadly inflation a boost. Indeed the initial response to the Governor’s jawboning was to add to the Pound’s fall as it fell below US $1.27 and 1.14 versus the Euro. Should it remain there then the total fall since the night of the EU leave vote then it is equivalent to a 2.75% fall in UK Bank Rate which is a bazooka compared to the 0.25% peashooter cut provided by the Bank of England. So if you believe Mark Carney you are likely not to be a fan of Alice In Wonderland.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Also if he is going to take credit for er “Credit is widely available” then he will be on very thin ice when he next claims the surge in unsecured credit is nothing to do with him.

Carney’s Cronies

Ironically in a way the foreign exchange market was a day late as you see the real change came yesterday.

​The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced the appointment of Professor Silvana Tenreyro as an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).  Silvana will be appointed for a three year term which will take effect from 7 July 2017.

There are several issues here, if I start with British female economists then that is another slap in the face for them as none have been judged suitable for a decade. Next came the thought that I had never previously heard of her which turned to concern as we were told she came from “academic excellence” in an era where Ivory Towers have consistently crumbled and fallen along the lines of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. But after a little research one could see why she had been appointed. From a survey taken by the Centre For Macroeconomics.

Question Do you agree that the benefits of reforming the monetary system to allow materially negative policy interest rates outweigh the possible costs?

Agree. Confident. Reforming the monetary system to allow negative policy interest rates will equip the BoE with an additional tool to face potential crises in the future.

Does “reforming the monetary system” sound somewhat like someone who will support restrictions on the use of cash currency and maybe its banning? She is also a fan of QE ( Quantitative Easing ) style policies.

Question Do you agree that central banks should continue to use the unconventional tools of monetary policy deployed in response to the global financial crisis as part of monetary policy under normal economic conditions?

Agree. Confident. A wider set of policy tools would give mature and credible central banks like the BoE more flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions.

What is it about her apparent support for negative interest-rate and QE that attracted the attention of Mark Carney? Of course in a world after the woeful failure of Forward Guidance and indeed the litany of forecasting errors he was probably grateful to find someone who still calls the Bank of England “credible”!

Comment

We have a few things to consider and let me start with the reaction function of foreign exchange markets. The real news was yesterday as a fan of negative interest-rates was appointed to the Bank of England but the UK Pound waited until Mark Carney repeated his views of only Thursday to fall!

Meanwhile there was this from Governor Carney.

Monetary policy cannot prevent the weaker real income growth likely to accompany the transition to new
trading arrangements with the EU. But it can influence how this hit to incomes is distributed between job losses and price rises.

His views on the EU leave vote are hardly news although some are trying to present them as such. You might think after all the forecasting errors and Forward Guidance failures he would be quiet about such things. But my main issue here is the sort of Phillips Curve way we are presented a choice between “job losses” and “price rises” Just as all credibility of such thinking has collapsed even for those with a very slow response function in fact one slow enough to be at the Serious Fraud Office. He is also contradicting himself as it was only a few months ago we were being told by him that wage growth was on the up. Although that February Inflation Forecast press conference did see signs that the normally supine press corps were becoming unsettled about a Governor previously described as a “rockstar central banker” and “George Clooney” look a like.

Governor, back in August the forecast for GDP for this year
was 0.8%. Now it’s being forecast at 2.0%. That’s a really
hefty adjustment. What went wrong with your initial
forecast?

He may not be that bothered as you see much of today’s speech was in my opinion part of his job application to replace Christine Lagarde at the IMF.

With many concerned that global trade is taking local jobs, protectionist sentiments are once again rising
across the advanced world. Excessive trade and current account imbalances are now politically as well as
economically unsustainable.

Number Crunching

Of Denmark its banks and negative interest-rates

The situation regarding negative interest-rates mostly acquires attention via the Euro or the Yen. If the media moves beyond that it then looks at Switzerland and maybe Sweden. But there is an outbreak of negative interest-rates in the Nordic countries if we note that we have already covered Sweden, Finland is in the Euro and the often ignored Denmark has this.

Effective from 8 January 2016, Danmarks Nationalbank’s ( DNB ) interest rate on certificates of deposit is increased by 0.10 percentage point to -0.65 per cent.

Actually Denmark is just about to reach five years of negative interest-rates as it was in July of 2012 that the certificate of deposit rate was cut to -0.2% although it has not quite been continuous as it there were a few months that it rose to the apparently giddy heights of 0.05%.

In case you are wondering why Denmark has done this then there are two possible answers. Geography offers one as we note that proximity to the Euro area is associated with ever lower and indeed negative interest-rates. Actually due to its exchange rate policy Denmark is just about as near to being in the Euro as it could be without actually being so.

Denmark maintains a fixed-exchange-rate policy vis-à-vis the euro area and participates in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ERM 2, at a central rate of 746.038 kroner per 100 euro with a fluctuation band of +/- 2.25 per cent.

Currently that involves an interest-rate that is -0.25% lower than in the Euro area but the margin does vary as for example when the interest-rate rose in 2014 when the DNB tried to guess what the ECB would do next and got it wrong.

A Problem

If we think of the Danish economy then we think of negative interest-rates being implemented due to weak economic growth. Well the DNB has had to face up to this.

However, the November revision stands out as an unusually large upward revision of the compilation of GDP level and
growth……… average annual GDP growth has now
been compiled at 1.3 per cent for the period 2010-
15, up from 0.8 per cent in the previous compilation.
GDP in volume terms is now 3.4 per cent higher in
2015 than previously compiled,

Ooops! As this begins before interest-rate went negative we have yet another question mark against highly activist monetary policy. The cause confirms a couple of the themes of this website.

new figures for Danish firms’ foreign
trading in which goods and services do not cross the
Danish border entailed substantial revisions

So the trade figures were wrong which is a generic statement across the world as they are both erratic and unreliable. Also such GDP shifts make suggestions like this from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers look none too bright.

moving away from inflation targeting to something like nominal gross domestic product-level targeting would be a better idea.

In this situation he would be targeting a number which was later changed markedly, what could go wrong?

Also there is a problem for the DNB as we note that it has a negative interest-rate of -0.65% but faces an economy doing this.

heading towards a boom with output above the normal level of capacity utilisation……….The Danish economy is very close to its capacity limit.

Whatever happened to taking away the punchbowl as the party starts getting going?

Oh and below is an example of central banker speech not far off a sort of Comical Ali effort.

Despite the upward revision of GDP, Danmarks Nationalbank’s assessment of economic developments
since the financial crisis is basically unchanged.

The banks

This is of course “the precious” of the financial world which must be preserved at all costs according to central bankers. We were told that negative interest-rates would hurt the banks, how has that turned out? From Bloomberg.

Despite half a decade of negative interest rates, Denmark’s banks are making more money than ever before.

What does the DNB think?

Overall, the largest Danish banks achieved their
best ever performance in 2016, and their financial
statements for the 1st quarter of 2017 also recorded
sound profits…………In some areas, financial developments are similar to developments in the period up to the financial crisis in 2008, so there is every reason to watch out for
speed blindness.

Still no doubt the profits have gone towards making sure “this time is different”? Er, perhaps not.

On the other hand, the capital base has not increased notably since 2013, unlike in Norway and Sweden where the banks have higher capital adequacy.

What about house prices?

Both equity prices and prices of owner-occupied
homes have soared, as they did in the years prior to
the financial crisis.

Although the DNB is keen to emphasise a difference.

As then, prices of owner-occupied homes in Copenhagen have risen considerably, but with the difference that the price rises have not yet spread to the rest of Denmark to the same degree. The prices of rental properties have also increased and are back at the 2007 level immediately before
the financial crisis set in

It will have been relieved to note a dip in house price inflation to 4.2% at the end of 2016 although perhaps less keen on the fact that house prices are back to the levels which caused so much trouble pre credit crunch. Of course the banking sector will be happy with higher house prices as it improves their asset book whereas first-time buyers will be considerably less keen as prices move out of reach.

In spite of the efforts of the DNB I note that the Danes have in fact been reining in their borrowing. If we look at the negative interest-rate era we see that the household debt to GDP ratio has fallen from 135% to 120% showing that your average Dane is not entirely reassured by developments. A more sensible strategy than that employed by some of the smaller Danish banks who failed the more extreme version of the banking stress tests.

A Space Oddity

Politician’s the world over say the most ridiculous things and here is the Danish version.

Denmark should cut taxes to encourage people to work more, which would increase the supply of labour and help prevent the economy from overheating in 2018, Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said…

So we fix overheating by putting our foot on the accelerator?

Comment

If we look wider than we have so far today we see that international developments should be boosting the Danish economy in 2017. This mostly comes from the fact that the Euro area economy is having a better year which should boost the Danish trade figures if this from the Copenhagen News is any guide.

Denmark has been ranked seventh in the new edition of the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2017, which has just published by the Swiss business school IMD.

But if we allow for the upwards revision to growth we see that monetary policy is extraordinarily expansionary for an economy which seems to be growing steadily ( 0.6% in Q1) . What would they do in a slow down?

We also learn a few things about negative interest-rates. Firstly the banking sector has done rather well out of them – presumably by a combination of raising margins and central bank protection as we have discussed on here frequently – and secondly they did not turn out to be temporary did they?

Yet as we see so often elsewhere some events do challenge the official statistics. From the Copenhagen Post.

Aarhus may be enjoying ample wind in its sails by being the European Capital of Culture this year, but not everything is jovial in the ‘City of Smiles’.

On average, the Danish aid organisation Kirkens Korshær has received 211 homeless every day in Aarhus from March 2016-March 2017, an increase of 42 percent compared to the previous year, where the figure was 159.

Portugal

Let me offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected by that dreadful forest fire yesterday.

Problems mount for Mark Carney at Mansion House

The UK’s central bank announces its policy decision today and it faces challenges on several fronts. The first was highlighted yesterday evening by the US Federal Reserve.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1 to 1-1/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

UK monetary policy is normally similar to that in the US as our economies often follow the same cycles. This time around however the Bank of England has cut to 0.25% whilst the Federal Reserve has been raising interest-rates creating a gap of 0.75% to 1% now. In terms of the past maybe not a large gap but of course these days the gap is large in a world of zero and indeed negative interest-rates. Also we can expect the gap to grow in the future.

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate;

There was also more as the Federal Reserve made another change which headed in the opposite direction to Bank of England policy.

The Committee currently expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.

So the Federal Reserve is planning to start the long journey to what used to be regarded as normal for a central bank balance sheet. Of course only last August the Bank of England set out on expanding its balance sheet by another £70 billion if we include the Corporate Bond purchases in what its Chief Economist Andy Haldane called a “Sledgehammer”. So again the two central banks have been heading in opposite directions. Also on that subject Mr.Haldane was reappointed for another three years this week. Does anybody know on what grounds? After all the wages data from yesterday suggested yet another fail on the forecasting front in an ever-growing series.

Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Monetary Analysis and Statistics, and Chief Economist at the
Bank of England, has been reappointed for a further three-year term as a member of the Monetary Policy
Committee with effect from 12 June 2017.

For those interested in what Andy would presumably call an anti-Sledgehammer here it is.

( For Treasury Bonds) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $6 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $6 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $30 billion per month…… ( for Mortgage Securities) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $4 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $4 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $20 billion per month.

Whilst these really are baby steps compared to a balance sheet of US $4.46 trillion they do at least represent a welcome move in the right direction.

The Inflation Conundrum

This has several facets for the Bank of England. The most obvious is that it eased policy last August as inflation was expected to rise and this month we see that the inflation measure it is supposed to keep around 2% per annum ( CPI ) has risen to 2.9% with more rises expected. It of course badged the “Sledgehammer” move as being expansionary for the economy but I have argued all along that it is more complex than that and may even be contractionary.

Today’s Retail Sales numbers give an example of my thinking so let me use them to explain. Here they are.

In May 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry was estimated to have increased by 0.9% compared with May 2016; the annual growth rate was last lower in April 2013…..Month-on-month, the quantity bought was estimated to have fallen by 1.2% following strong growth in April 2017.

So after a strong 2016 UK retail sales have weakened in 2017 but my argument is that the main driver here has been this.

Average store prices (excluding fuel) increased by 2.8% on the year; the largest growth since March 2012.

It has been the rise in prices or higher inflation which has been the main driver of the weakness in retail sales. A factor in this has been the lower value of the Pound which if you use the US inflation numbers as a control has so far raised UK inflation by around 1%. This weakness in the currency was added to by expectations of Bank of England monetary easing which of course were fulfilled. You may note I say expectations because as some of us have been discussing in the comments section the main impact of QE on a currency happens in the expectations/anticipation phase.

On the other side of the coin you have to believe that a 0.25% cut in interest-rates has a material impact after cuts of over 4% did not! Also that increasing the Bank of England’s balance sheet will do more than adding to house prices and easing the fiscal deficit. A ten-year Gilt yield of 0.96% does not go well with inflation at 2.9% ( CPI) and of course even worse with RPI ( 3.7%).

House Prices

I spotted this earlier in the Financial Times which poses a serious question to Bank of England policy.

Since 1980, the compounded inflation-adjusted gain for a UK homeowner has been 212 per cent. Before 1980 house price gains were much tamer over the various cycles either side of the second world war. Indeed, in aggregate, prices were largely unchanged over the previous 100 years, once inflation is accounted for.

A change in policy? Of course much of that was before Mark Carney’s time but we know from his time in Canada and here that house price surges and bubbles do happen on his watch. The article then looks at debt availability.

The one factor that did change, though, and marked the start of that step change in 1980, is the supply of mortgage debt……….has resulted in a sevenfold increase in inflation-adjusted mortgage debt levels since then.

This leads to something that I would like Mark Carney to address in his Mansion House speech tonight.

Second an inflation-targeting central bank, which has delivered a more aggressive monetary response to each of the recent downturns, because of that high debt burden.

On that road we in the UK will see negative interest-rates in the next downturn which of course may be on the horizon.

Comment

There is much to consider for the Governor of the Bank of England tonight. If he continues on the current path of cutting interest-rates and adding to QE on any prospect of an economic slow down then neither he nor his 8 fellow policy setting colleagues are required. We could replace them with an AI ( Artificially Intelligent ) Robot although I guess the danger is that it becomes sentient Skynet style ( from The Terminator films ) and starts to question what it is doing?

However moving on from knee-jerk junkie culture monetary policy has plenty of problems. It first requires both acknowledgement and admittal that monetary policy can do some things but cannot do others. Also that international influences are often at play which includes foreign monetary policy. I have looked at the Federal Reserve today well via the Far East other monetary policy applies. Let me hand you over to some research from Neal Hudson of Residential Analysts on buyers of property in London from the Far East.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these buyers have been using local mortgages to fund their purchases.  The limited evidence I have suggests that around half of Hong Kong and Singaporean buyers use a local mortgage while the majority of mainland Chinese buyers use one.

Okay on what terms?

The main difference is that the mortgage rate tends to be slightly higher (London Home Loan comparison) and local lenders allow borrowers to have far higher debt multiples.

These people are not as rich as might previously have been assumed and we need to throw in changes in the value of the UK Pound £ which are good for new buyers but bad for existing ones. Complicated now isn’t it?

On a personal level I was intrigued by this.

Last year I visited a development in Nine Elms and the lobby felt more like a hotel than a residential block. There were significant numbers of people appearing to pick up and drop off keys with suitcases in tow.

You see I live in another part of Battersea ( the other side of the park) and where i live feels like that as well.

 

 

 

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.

Abenomics does not address the economic problems facing Japan

At the moment Japan must be looking at the UK with some bemusement. That is because it has been a country with political instability with a merry-go-round of Prime Ministers and yet an axis has shifted. We are now in a type of flux whereas Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been in power since November 2012. This means that his economics policy of Abenomics has had a decent run in terms of time and yet again we see someone who has taken the Matrix style blue pill and declared it a success. Let me hand you over to Matt O’Brien of the Washington Post.

Its unemployment rate has fallen to a 22-year low of 2.8 percent — yes, you read that right — due in large part to all the yen it has created the past four years.

The former which we have looked at before is a success and it is the flip side of this.

Maybe the best way to tell isn’t its super-low unemployment rate, but rather its super-high employment rate. That, as you can see below, has shot up since the start of Abenomics to an all-time high of 83.5 percent, making our own 78.3  ( He means the US ) percent rate look downright measly in comparison.

Again a success in itself as the quantity measures in the labour market are as strong as anywhere. But then we get an enormous leap of what I can only call faith.

It can’t be the fiscal or structural parts of Abenomics, because they’ve barely been tried……..All their money-printing seems to have given businesses the confidence — and the cheaper currency — they needed to expand a little more.

Thus we see a conclusion that the money printing has led to higher employment. Some would argue that with a fiscal deficit of 4.8% of GDP in 2015 and 4.5% last year with a debt to GDP ratio that fiscal stimulus had been tried rather a lot. Also there seems to be any lack of a causal relationship as the phrase “seems to have” suggests. Let us finish with some hyperbole.

And all it would have taken was printing a few trillion yen, which actually isn’t that high a price to pay.

Numbers may not be a strength for Matt as we remind ourselves of this from the 6th of this month.

At the end of May 31 2017, the Bank of Japan held a total of 500.8 trillion yen in assets,

Taking the red pill

Dissent in Japan is mostly considered to be non-Japanese so this from the Nikkei Asian Review ( NAR ) is interesting. First the ground is described.

“In order for Japan’s economy to achieve more than a recovery and continue stable, long-term growth after that, it is essential to strengthen Japan’s growth potential,” proclaimed a key economic and fiscal policy plan finalized in June 2013,

Okay so what has happened since then?

But the country’s potential growth rate now stands at 0.69%, according to the Bank of Japan, compared with 0.84% in the second half of fiscal 2014 — a sobering take on what Abenomics has actually accomplished.

If we return to the case made by Matt O’Brien above the fact that estimates of the potential growth rate have fallen seems to be missing doesn’t it? That is awkward for business supposedly being more confident in response to a promise to print money to infinity and maybe beyond. The tectonic plates on which supporters of QE stand would be on their own Ring of Fire if there are further suggestions that it reduces potential economic growth. I have been a critic of QE style policies and note that this below suggests yet another problem with the claimed transmission mechanism.

But while tax cuts helped boost businesses, many are merely hoarding their cash. Total internal reserves held by Japanese corporations have grown some 40% under Abe to 390 trillion yen. No solutions are in sight.

The NAR seems to agree with me about the trajectory of fiscal policy as well.

In terms of fiscal policy, Japan has passed seven supplementary budgets in just five years, spending about 25 trillion yen in the process.

“Extreme fiscal spending and other measures have led to a distorted allocation of resources in the economy and reduced productivity,” said Ryutaro Kono, chief Japan economist at BNP Paribas.

Also the NAR fires a lot of criticism at the so-called third arrow of Abenomics which is reform in Japan.

The debate on compensation for unfairly dismissed employees has stalled. While Tokyo opened the door for foreign workers with exceptional skills or those in certain sectors such as cleaning, it has shied away from a comprehensive discussion on immigration. Momentum to tackle regulatory barriers is fading.

It points out that if Abe wished to reform the labour market politically he is in what might be called a “strong and stable” position due to the way his party the LDP controls both the upper and lower houses in parliament.

The economy

There was some disappointment last week as the economic growth figures for the first quarter took a downwards revision.

The expansion in real gross domestic product, the total value of goods and services produced in the country adjusted for inflation, was revised to an annualized 1.0 percent growth from the previously estimated 2.2 percent expansion, the Cabinet Office said. ( The Japan Times ).

The good part of that was that it meant that Japan had grown for five quarters in a row which it had not done for over a decade. There were two bad parts though in that as well as being in the economic growth dog kennel with the UK there was an implication for the Abenomics plan of boosting inflation to 2% per annum.

In  nominal terms, or unadjusted for price changes, the economy shrank an annualized 1.2 percent, the biggest contraction since 2.2 percent registered in the July-September period of 2012.

Also the period of Abenomics was supposed to see a rise in inflation and more particularly a rise in wages. As the Japan Times reminds us the labour market is tight.

Moreover, there were 148 job positions open for every 100 people looking for work, the highest ratio in 43 years.

But wage growth is at best anemic.

But the labor ministry reported that in 2016, wages across the board — regardless of whether we’re talking full-time or part-time employment, regular or nonregular employees — only rose by 0.4 percent

Why? Well as we observe in some many countries official definitions of being in a job miss changes in the real world.

a larger portion of the workforce is in part-time and non regular jobs, which traditionally pay less.

Comment

There have been some extraordinary claims made for the success of monetary easing and QE. In my opinion we see a clear divorce between the financial and real economy. If we look at the financial economy in the era of Abenomics we see booming equity markets ( the Nikkei 225 has risen from 9000 or so to ~20,000), a lower currency ( versus the US Dollar it has gone from 80 to 110) and booming bond markets with a ten-year yield of 0%. But the real economy has not seen the boom in wages promised nor any great turn in the rate of GDP growth. Ironically it has been the recent fall in inflation that seems to have given GDP an upwards push rather than the claimed surge to 2% per annum.

Meanwhile the real challenge is adapting to this.

The annual number of babies born in Japan slipped below 1 million in 2016 for the first time since records began, with the estimated figure for the year coming in at 981,000, according to government figures. ( Japan Times)

The reminds us of the demographic changes underway highlighted by the fact that the figures for the 6 months to May showed the population falling by another 245,000. Exactly how will QE fix those?