Are we on the road to a US $100 oil price?

As Easter ends – and one which was simply glorious in London – those of us reacquainting ourselves with financial markets will see one particular change. That is the price of crude oil as the Financial Times explains.

Crude rose to a five-month high on Tuesday, as Washington’s decision to end sanctions waivers on Iranian oil imports buoyed oil markets for a second day.  Brent, the international oil benchmark, rose 0.8 per cent to $74.64 in early European trading, adding to gains on Monday to reach its highest level since early November. West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, increased 0.9 per cent to $66.13.

If we look for some more detail on the likely causes we see this.

The moves came after the Trump administration announced the end of waivers from US sanctions granted to India, China, Japan, South Korea and Turkey. Oil prices jumped despite the White House insisting that it had worked with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure sufficient supply to offset the loss of Iranian exports. Goldman Sachs said the timing of the sanctions tightening was “much more sudden” than expected, but it played down the longer-term impact on the market.

 

So we see that President Trump has been involved and that seems to be something of a volte face from the time when the Donald told us this on the 25th of February.

Oil prices getting too high. OPEC, please relax and take it easy. World cannot take a price hike – fragile! ( @realDonaldTrunp)

After that tweet the oil price was around ten dollars lower than now. If we look back to November 7th last year then the Donald was playing a very different tune to now.

“I gave some countries a break on the oil,” Trump said during a lengthy, wide-ranging press conference the day after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. “I did it a little bit because they really asked for some help, but I really did it because I don’t want to drive oil prices up to $100 a barrel or $150 a barrel, because I’m driving them down.”

“If you look at oil prices they’ve come down very substantially over the last couple of months,” Trump said. “That’s because of me. Because you have a monopoly called OPEC, and I don’t like that monopoly.” ( CNBC)

If we stay with this issue we see that he has seemingly switched quite quickly from exerting a downwards influence on the oil price to an upwards one. As he is bothered about the US economy right now sooner or later it will occur to him that higher oil prices help some of it but hinder more.

Shale Oil

Back on February 19th Reuters summarised the parts of the US economy which benefit from a higher oil price.

U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise 84,000 barrels per day (bpd) in March to a record of about 8.4 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a monthly report on Tuesday……..A shale revolution has helped boost the United States to the position of world’s biggest crude oil producer, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Overall crude production has climbed to a weekly record of 11.9 million bpd.

Thus the US is a major producer and the old era has moved on to some extent as the old era producers as I suppose shown by the Dallas TV series in the past has been reduced in importance by the shale oil wildcatters. They operate differently as I have pointed out before that they are financed with cheap money provided by the QE era and have something of a cash flow model and can operate with a base around US $50. So right now they will be doing rather well.

Also it is not only oil these days.

Meanwhile, U.S. natural gas output was projected to increase to a record 77.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in March. That would be up more than 0.8 bcfd over the February forecast and mark the 14th consecutive monthly increase.

Gas production was about 65.5 bcfd in March last year.

Reinforcing my view that this area has a different business model to the ordinary was this from Reuters earlier this month.

Spot prices at the Waha hub fell to minus $3.38 per million British thermal units for Wednesday from minus 2 cents for Tuesday, according to data from the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). That easily beat the prior all-time next-day low of minus $1.99 for March 29.

Prices have been negative in the real-time or next-day market since March 22, meaning drillers have had to pay those with pipeline capacity to take the gas.

So we have negative gas prices to go with negative interest-rates, bond yields and profits for companies listing on the stock exchange as we mull what will go negative next?

Economic Impact on Texas

Back in 2015 Dr Ray Perlman looked at the impact of a lower oil price ( below US $50) would have on Texas.

To put the situation in perspective, based on the current situation, I am projecting that oil prices will likely lead to a loss of 150,000-175,000 Texas jobs next year when all factors and multiplier effects are considered.  Overall job growth in the state would be diminished, but not eliminated.  Texas gained over 400,000 jobs last year, and I am estimating that the rate of growth will slow to something in the 200,000-225,000 per year range.

Moving wider a higher oil price benefits US GDP directly via next exports and economic output or GDP and the reverse from a lower one. We do get something if a J-Curve style effect as the adverse impact on consumers via real wages and business budgets will come in with a lag.

The World

The situation here is covered to some extent by this from the Financial Times.

In currency markets, the Norwegian krone and Canadian dollar both rose against the US dollar as currencies of oil-exporting countries gained.

There is a deeper impact in the Middle East as for example there has been a lot of doubt about the finances of Saudi Arabia for example. This led to the recent Aramco bond issue ( US $12 billion) which can be seen as finance for the country although ironically dollars are now flowing into Saudi as fast as it pumps its oil out.

The stereotype these days for the other side of the coin is India and the Economic Times pretty much explained why a week ago.

A late surge in oil prices is expected to increase India’s oil import bill to its five-year high. As per estimates, India could close 2018-19 with crude import bill shooting to $115 billion, a growth of 30 per cent over 2017-18’s $88 billion.

This adds to India’s import bill and reduces GDP although it also adds to inflationary pressure and also perhaps pressure on the Reserve Bank of India which has cut interest-rates twice this year already. The European example is France which according to the EIA imports some 55 million tonnes of oil and net around 43 billion cubic meters of natural gas. It does offset this to some extent by exporting electricity from its heavy investment in nuclear power and that is around 64 Terawatt hours.

The nuclear link is clear for energy importers as I note plans in the news for India to build another 12.

Comment

There are many ways of looking at this so let’s start with central banks. As I have hinted at with India they used to respond to a higher oil price with higher interest-rates to combat inflation but now mostly respond to expected lower aggregate demand and GDP with interest-rate cuts. They rarely get challenged on this U-Turn as we listen to Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

Next comes the way we have become less oil energy dependent. One way that has happened has been through higher efficiency such as LED light bulbs replacing incandescent ones. Another has been the growth of alternative sources for electricity production as right now in my home country the UK it is solar (10%) wind (15%) biomass (8%) and nukes (18%) helping out. I do not know what the wind will do but solar will of course rise although its problems are highlighted by the fact it falls back to zero at night as we continue to lack any real storage capacity. Also such moves have driven prices higher.

As to what’s next? Well I think that there is some hope on two counts. Firstly President Trump will want the oil price lower for the US economy and the 2020 election. So he may grow tired of pressurising Iran and on the other side of the coin the military/industrial complex may be able to persuade Saudi Arabia to up its output. Also we know what the headlines below usually mean.

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Are negative interest-rates becoming a never ending saga?

Today brings this subject to mind and let me open with the state of play in Switzerland.

The Swiss National Bank is maintaining its expansionary
monetary policy, thereby stabilising price developments
and supporting economic activity. Interest on sight
deposits at the SNB remains at – 0.75% and the target
range for the three-month Libor is unchanged at between
– 1.25% and – 0.25%.

As you can see negative interest-rates are as Simple Minds would put it alive and kicking in Switzerland. They were introduced as part of the response to a surging Swiss Franc but as we observe so often what are introduced as emergency measures do not go away and then become something of a new normal. It was back on the 18th of December 2014 that a new negative interest-rate era began in Switzerland.

The introduction of negative interest rates makes it less attractive to hold Swiss franc investments, and thereby supports the minimum exchange rate.

Actually the -0.25% official rate lasted less than a month as on the 15th of January 2015 the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro was abandoned and the official interest-rate was cut to -0.75% where it remains.

Added to that many longer-term interest-rates in Switzerland are negative too. For example the Swiss National Bank calculates a generic bond yield which as of yesterday was -0.26%. This particular phase of Switzerland as a nation being paid to borrow began in late November last year.

The recovery

The latest monthly bulletin tells us this.

Jobless figures fell further, and in February the
unemployment rate stood at 2.4%.

There was a time when this was considered to be below even “full employment” a perspective which has been added to this morning and the tweet below is I think very revealing.

If we look at the Swiss economy through that microscope we see that in this phase the unemployment rate has fallen by 1%. Furthermore we see that not only is it the lowest rate of the credit crunch era but also for much of the preceding period as it was back around the middle of 2002.

So if we look at the Swiss internal economy it is increasingly hard to see what would lead to interest-rates rising let alone going positive again. This is added to by the present position as described by the SNB monthly bulletin.

According to an initial estimate, GDP in Switzerland grew
by 0.7% in the fourth quarter. Overall, GDP thus stagnated
in the second half of 2018, having grown strongly to
mid-year.
Leading indicators and surveys for Switzerland point to
moderately positive momentum at the beginning of 2019.

The general forecasting view seems to be for around 1.1% GDP growth this year. So having not raised interest-rates in a labour market boom it seems unlikely unless they have a moment like the Swedish Riksbank had last December that we will see one this year,

Exchange Rate

There is little sign of relief here either. There was a brief moment round about a year ago that the Swiss Franc looked like it would get back to its past 1.20 floor versus the Euro. But since then it has strengthened and is now at 1.126 versus the Euro. Frankly if you are looking for a perceived safe-haven then does a charge of 0.75% a year deter you? That seems a weak threshold and reminds me of my article on interest-rates and exchange rates from the 3rd of May last year.

However some of the moves can make things worse as for example knee-jerk interest-rate rises. Imagine you had a variable-rate mortgage in Buenos Aires! You crunch your domestic economy when the target is the overseas one.

Well events have proven me right about Argentina but whilst the scale here is much lower we have a familiar drum beat. The domestic economy has been affected but the exchange-rate policy has had over four years and is ongoing.

The Euro

Let me hand you over to the President of the ECB Mario Draghi at the last formal press conference.

First, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. We now expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the end of 2019……….These are decisions that have been taken following a significant downward revision of the forecasts by our staff.

For reasons only known to themselves part of the financial media persisted in suggesting that an ECB interest-rate rise was in the offing and it would be due round about now. The reality is that any prospect has been pushed further away if we note the present malaise and read this from the same presser.

negative rates have been quite successful in our monetary policy.

Although we can never rule out an attempt to continue to impose negative rates on us but exclude the precious in some form.

Sweden

Last December the Riksbank did start to move away from negative interest-rates. The problem is that they now find themselves wearing something of a central banking dunces cap. Having failed to raise rates in a boom they decided to do so in advance of events like this.

Total orders in industry decreased by 2.0 percent in February 2019 compared with January, in seasonally adjusted figures………..Among the industrial subsectors, the largest decrease was in the industry for motor vehicles, down 12.7 percent compared with January. ( Sweden Statistics yesterday)

Like elsewhere the diesel debacle is taking its toll.

The new registrations of passenger cars during 2019 decreased by 15.2 percent compared with last year. There were 27 710 diesel cars in total registered this year, a decrease of 26 percent compared with last year.

Anyway this is the official view.

As in December, the forecast for the repo rate indicates that the next increase will be during the second half of 2019, provided that the economic outlook and inflation prospects are as expected.

Japan

This is the country that has dipped its toe into the icy cold world of negative rates by the least but the -0.1% has been going for a while now.

introduced “QQE with a Negative Interest Rate” in January 2016 ( Bank of Japan)

If the speech from Bank of Japan Board Member Harida on March 6th is any guide it is going to remain with us.

I mentioned earlier that the economy currently may be weak, and the same can be said about prices.

Also he gives an alternative view on the situation.

Following the introduction of QQE, the nominal GDP growth rate, which had been negative since the global financial crisis, has turned positive………Barring the implementation of both QE and QQE, Japan’s nominal GDP growth would have remained in negative territory this whole time since 1998.

Is it all about the nominal debt of the Japanese state then? Also he seems unlikely to want an interest-rate increase.

Rather, premature policy tightening in the past caused economic deterioration, a decline in both prices and production, and lowered interest rates in the long run.

Comment

We find that there are two routes to negative interest-rates. The first is to weaken the exchange-rate such as we have seen in Switzerland and the second is to boost the economy like in the Euro area. So external in the former and internal in the latter. It can be combined as if you wish to boost your economy a lower exchange-rate is usually welcome and this pretty much defines Abenomics in Japan.

As we stand neither route seems to have worked much. Maybe a negative interest-rate helped the Euro area and Japan for a while but the current slow down suggests not for that long. So we face something of an economic oxymoron which is that it is the very fact that negative interest-rates have not worked which explains their longevity and while they seem set to be with us for a while yet.

 

How is it that even Germany needs an economic stimulus?

Sometimes we have an opportunity like the image of Janus with two heads to look at an event from two different perspectives. This morning’s trade data for Germany is an example of that. If we look at the overall theme of the Euro era then the way that Germany engineered a competitive devaluation by joining with weaker economies in a single currency has been a major factor in this.

According to provisional results of the Deutsche Bundesbank, the current account of the balance of payments showed a surplus of 16.3 billion euros in February 2019, which takes into account the balances of trade in goods including supplementary trade items (+19.1 billion euros), services (-1.1 billion euros), primary income (+6.2 billion euros) and secondary income (-7.9 billion euros). In February 2018, the German current account showed a surplus of 19.5 billion euros.

The large surplus which as you can see derives from its trade in goods feels like a permanent feature of economic life as it has been with us for so long. Also it is the bulk of the trade surplus of the Euro area which supports the value of the Euro although if we shift wider the Germany trade surplus is one of the imbalances which led to the credit crunch itself. So let us move on as we note an example of a currency devaluation/depreciation that has been quite a success for Germany.

What about now?

The theme of the last six months or so has shone a different perspective on this as the trade wars and economic slow down of late 2018 and so far this year has led to this.

Germany exported goods to the value of 108.8 billion euros and imported goods to the value of 90.9 billion euros in February 2019……After calendar and seasonal adjustment, exports were down 1.3% and imports 1.6% compared with January 2019.

We can add to that by looking at January and February together and if we do so on a quarterly basis then trade has reduced the German economy by a bit over a billion Euros. Compared to last year the net effect is a bit under four billion Euros.

One factor in this that is not getting much of an airing is the impact of the economic crisis in Turkey. If look at in from a Turkish perspective some 9% of imports come from Germany ( h/t Robin Brooks) and the slump will be impacting even though if we switch to a German view the relative influence is a lot lower.

Production

On Friday we were told this.

+0.7% on the previous month (price, seasonally and calendar adjusted)
-0.4% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

There was an upwards revision to January and if we look back we see that the overall number peaked at 108.3 last May fell to 103.7 in November and was 105.2 in February if we use 2015 as our benchmark. So there has been a decline and we will find out more next month as March was a fair bit stronger than February last year.

Orders

These give us a potential guide to what is on its way and it does not look good.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in February 2019 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 4.2% on the previous month……..-8.4% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted).

If we switch to the index we see that at 110.2 last February was the peak so that is a partial explanation of why the annual fall is so large as for example March was 108.6. But it is also true that this February saw a large dip to the weakest in the series so far at 101. 2 which does not bide well.

Also you will no doubt not be surprised to read that a decline in foreign orders has led to this but you may that it is orders from within the Euro area that have fallen the most. The index here was 121.6 last February as opposed to 104.6 this.

Forecasts

On Thursday CNBC told us this.

Forecasts for German growth were revised significantly downwards in a ‘Joint Economic Forecast’ collated by several prominent German economic research institutes and published Thursday, with economists predicting a meager 0.8% this year.

This is more than one percentage point lower than a prediction for 1.9% made in a joint economic forecast in fall 2018.

Although they should be eating a slice of humble pie after that effort last autumn.

The private sector surveys conducted by Markit were a story of two halves.

Despite sustained strong growth in services business activity in March, the Composite Output Index slipped from a four-month high of 52.8 in February to 51.4, its lowest reading since June 2013. This reflected a marked fall in goods production – the steepest since July 2012.

In terms of absolute levels care is needed as this survey showed growth when the German economy contracted in the third quarter of last year. The change in March was driven by something that was eye-catching.

Manufacturing output fell markedly and at the fastest
rate since 2012, with the consumer goods sector joining
intermediate and capital goods producers in contraction.

Comment

A truism of the Euro era is that the ECB sets monetary policy for Germany rather than for the whole area. Whilst that has elements of truth to it the current debate at the ECB suggests that it is “The Precious” which takes centre stage.

A debate on whether to “tier” the negative interest rates that banks pay on the idle cash they park at the ECB is now underway, judging by recent ECB comments and the minutes from the March meeting. ( Reuters)

There is a German element here as we note a Deutsche Bank share price of 7.44 Euros which makes any potential capital raising look very expensive especially to existing shareholders.. Also those who bought the shares after the new hints of a merger with Commerzbank have joined existing shareholders in having singed fingers. Maybe this is why this has been floated earlier.

The next frontier for stimulus at the ECB should include stock purchases, BlackRock’s Rick Rieder says

Will he provide a list? I hope somebody at least pointed out that the Japanese experience of doing this has hardly been a triumph.

It all seems not a little desperate as we see that ECB policy remains very expansionary at least in terms of its Ivory Tower models. It’s ability to assist the German economy has the problem that it already holds some 511 billion of German bonds at a time when the total numbers are shrinking, so there are not so many to buy.

This from Friday suggests that should the German government so choose there is plenty of fiscal space.

According to provisional results of quarterly cash statistics, the core and extra budgets of the overall public budget – as defined in public finance statistics – recorded a financial surplus of 53.6 billion euros in 2018.

That is confirmed by so many of Germany’s bond having a negative yield illustrated by its benchmark ten-year yield being 0% as I type this.

The catch is provided by my junkie culture economics theme. Why after all the monetary stimulus does even Germany apparently need more? In addition if we have been “saved” by it why is the “speed limit” for economic growth now a mere 1.5%?

They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you ( Talking Heads )

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India is facing its own version of a credit crunch

Travel broadens the mind so they say so let us tale a trip to the sub-continent and to India in particular. There the Reserve Bank of India has announced this.

On the basis of an assessment of the current and evolving macroeconomic situation, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) at its meeting today decided to: reduce the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) by 25 basis points to 6.0 per cent from 6.25 per cent with immediate effect.

Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF stands adjusted to 5.75 per cent, and the marginal
standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate to 6.25 per cent.

The MPC also decided to maintain the neutral monetary policy stance.

So yet another interest-rate cut to add to the multitude in the credit crunch era and it follows sharp on the heels of this.

In its February 2019 meeting, the MPC decided to
reduce the policy repo rate by 25 basis points (bps)
by a majority of 4-2 and was unanimous in voting
for switching its stance to neutral from calibrated
tightening.

This time around the vote was again 4-2 so there is a reasonable amount of dissent about this at the RBI.

What has caused this?

The formal monetary policy statement tells us this.

Taking into consideration these factors and assuming a normal monsoon in 2019,the path of CPI inflation is revised downwards to 2.4 per cent in Q4:2018-19, 2.9-3.0 per cent in H1:2019-20 and 3.5-3.8 per cent in H2:2019-20, with risks broadly balanced.

That path is below the annual inflation target of 4% (+ or – 2%) so it is in line with that.

However we know that central banks may talk about inflation targeting but supporting the economy is invariably a factor and can override the former. The Economic Times points us that way quoting the Governor’s words.

“The MPC notes that the output gap remains negative and the domestic economy is facing headwinds, especially on the global front,” RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said. “The need is to strengthen domestic growth impulses by spurring private investment which has remained sluggish.”

I will park for the moment the appearance of the discredited output gap theory and look at economic growth. The opener is very familiar for these times which is to blame foreigners.

Since the last MPC meeting in February 2019, global economic activity has been losing pace……The monetary policy stances of the US Fed and central banks in other major advanced economies (AEs) have turned dovish.

I would ask what is Indian for “Johnny Foreigner”? But of course more than a few might say it in English. But if we switch to the Indian economy we are told this in the formal report.

Since the release of the Monetary Policy Report (MPR)
of October 2018, the macroeconomic setting for the
conduct of monetary policy has undergone significant
shifts. After averaging close to 8 per cent through
Q3:2017-18 to Q1:2018-19, domestic economic
activity lost speed.

So a slowing economy which is specified in the announcement statement.

GDP growth for 2019-20 is projected at 7.2 per cent – in the range of 6.8-7.1 per cent in H1:2019-20 and 7.3-7.4 per cent in H2 – with risks evenly balanced.

That is more likely to be the real reason for the move and the Markit PMI released this morning backs it up.

The slowdown in service sector growth was
matched by a cooling manufacturing industry.
Following strong readings previously in this quarter,
the disappointing figures for March meant that the
quarterly figure for the combined Composite Output
Index at the end of FY 2018 was down from Q3.

The actual reading was 52.7 but we also need to note that this is in an economy expecting annual economic growth of around 7% so we need to recalibrate. On that road we see a decline for the mid 54s which backs up the slowing theme.

Forward Guidance

We regularly find ourselves observing problems with this and the truth is that as a concept it is deeply flawed and yet again it has turned out to be actively misleading. Here is the RBI version.

The MPC maintained status quo on the policy repo rate in its October 2018 meeting (with a majority of 5-1) but switched stance from neutral to calibrated tightening.

So it led people to expect interest-rate rises and confirmed this in December. I am not sure it could have gone much more than cutting at the next two policy meetings. That is even worse than Mark Carney and the Bank of England.

Output Gap

Regular readers know my views on this concept which in practice has turned out to be meaningless and here is the RBI version. From the latter period of last year.

the virtual closing of the output
gap.

Whereas now.

The MPC notes that the output gap remains negative and the domestic economy is facing
headwinds, especially on the global front. The need is to strengthen domestic growth impulses by
spurring private investment which has remained sluggish

Yet economic growth has been at around 7% per annum. I hope that they get called out on this.

The banks

We have looked before at India’s troubled banking sector and since then there has been more aid and nationalisations. Here is CNBC summing up some of it yesterday.

Over the last several years, a banking sector crisis in India has left many lenders hamstrung and impeded their ability to issue loans. Banks and financial institutions, a key source of funding for Indian companies, hold over $146 billion of bad debt, according to Reuters.

That may be more of a troubled road as India’s courts block part of the RBI plan for this.

But such things do impact monetary transmission.

Analysts said the transmission of the previous rate cut in February did not materialise as liquidity remained tight. Despite the central bank’s continued open market operations and the dollar-rupee swap, systemic liquidity as of March-end was in deficit at Rs 40,000 crore.

The tightness in liquidity was visible in high credit-deposit ratios and elevated corporate bond spreads.  ( Economic Times)

Putting it another way.

What is holding them back is higher interest rate on deposits and competition from the government for small savings.

The RBI is worried about this and reasonably so as it would be more embarrassing if they ignore this rate cut too.

Underlining the importance of transmission of RBI rate cuts by banks to consumers, Governor Shaktikanta Das on Thursday said the central bank may come out with guidelines on the same.

“We hope to come out with guidelines for rate cut transmission by banks,” Das said, interacting with the media after the monetary policy committee (MPC) meet.

 

Comment
There is a fair bit here that will be familiar to students of the development of the credit crunch in the west. I think one of my first posts as Notayesmanseconomics was about the way that official interest-rates had diverged from actual ones. Also we have a banking sector that is troubled. Next we have quick-fire interest-rate cuts following a period when rises were promised. So there are more than a few ticks on the list.
As to money supply growth it is hard to read because of the ongoing effects of the currency demonetisation in late 2016. So I will merely note as a market that broad money growth was 10.4% in February which is pretty much what it was a year ago.

 

Australia faces both falling house prices and a falling money supply

This morning has brought us up to date with news from what the Men at Work described as.

Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?

That is of course what was called Australis and then Australia and these days in economic terms can be considered to be the South China Territories. The monetary policy statement from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)  reinforces the latter point as you can see.

The outlook for the global economy remains reasonable, although growth has slowed and downside risks have increased. Growth in international trade has declined and investment intentions have softened in a number of countries. In China, the authorities have taken steps to ease financing conditions, partly in response to slower growth in the economy.

One needs to read between the lines of such rhetoric as for a central banker “remains reasonable” is a little downbeat in reality as we note the following use of “declined” “softened” and “slower”.But he was providing a background to this.

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

In essence the heat is on for another interest-rate cut and if you are wondering why? There is this.

GDP rose by just 0.2 per cent in the December quarter to be 2.3 per cent higher over 2018. Growth in household consumption is being affected by the protracted period of weakness in real household disposable income and the adjustment in housing markets. The drought in parts of the country has also affected farm output.

I will come to the central bankers fear of negative wealth effects from what they call an “adjustment in housing markets” in a moment as we note they cannot bring themselves to mention lower house prices. The pattern of GDP growth looks really rather poor as we see that the trend goes 1.1%,0.8% and then 0.3% and now 0.2%. So we see a familiar pattern of much weaker growth in the second half in 2018 which if we see again in the first half of this year will see the annual rate of growth halve. Actually it may be worse than that as the only factor driving growth according to Australia Statistics was this.

Government final consumption expenditure increased 1.8% during the quarter contributing 0.3 percentage points to GDP growth.

So without it the economy would have shrunk and Australia might be on course for something it has escaped for quite a while which is a recession. Also according to the Australia Treasury Budget from earlier it is planning a dose of austerity.

The total turnaround in the budget balance between 2013-14 and 2019-20 is projected to be $55.5 billion, or 3.4 per cent of GDP.

The Government’s plan for a stronger economy ensures it can guarantee essential services while returning the budget to surplus.

This budget year will see a surplus of $7.1 billion, equal to 0.4 per cent of GDP.

Budget surpluses will build in size in the medium term and are expected to exceed 1 per cent of GDP from 2026-27.

So as you can see it seems unlikely that government spending will continue to boost the economy. Also as they are assume growth of 2.25% then those numbers as so often seem rooted in fantasy rather than reality. Next if we switch back to the RBA the austerity plan comes at this time.

 In Australia, long-term bond yields have fallen to historically low levels.

In fact they fell to an all time low for the benchmark ten-year at 1.72% recently and is spite of a bounce back are still at a very low 1.82%. So yet again we are observing a situation where countries borrow heavily when it is expensive and try in this instance not to borrow at all when it is cheap. I know it is more complicated than that but we also have this into an economic slow down.

The Government is focused on reducing net debt as a share of the economy, which is expected to peak in 2018-19 at 19.2 per cent of GDP.

The Government is on track to eliminate net debt by 2029-30.

So it may look to be Keynesian but reality seems set to intervene especially on the economic growth forecasts.

House Prices

Again we see that the Governor of the RBA cannot bring himself to say, falling house prices. It is apparently just too painful.

The adjustment in established housing markets is continuing, after the earlier large run-up in prices in some cities. Conditions remain soft and rent inflation remains low.

Even worse it has implications for “the precious”.

 At the same time, the demand for credit by investors in the housing market has slowed noticeably as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Growth in credit extended to owner-occupiers has eased.

Indeed a central banker would have his/her head in their hands as they see the negative wealth effects in the latest quarterly national accounts.

Real holding losses on land and dwellings were $170.8b. This marks a fourth consecutive quarter of losses and reflects the falling residential property prices over the past year. ……The real holding losses have translated into the first fall in household assets (-1.5%) since the September quarter 2011. Household liabilities increased 1.0%.

Some of the latter was falling equity prices which have since recovered but house prices have not. Here is ABC News on the first quarter of 2019.

On a national basis, the average house price fell 2.4 per cent to $540,676, and apartment prices dropped 2.2 per cent to $484,552 during that period.

CoreLogic observed that markets which experienced their peaks earlier had experienced sharper downturns.

Darwin and Perth property prices skyrocketed during the mining boom, but peaked in 2014. Since then dwelling values in both capitals have fallen by 27.5 per cent and 18.1 per cent respectively.

So it seems likely that the value of the housing stock fell again. If we move to the official series we see that in the rather unlikely instance you could sell all of Australia’s houses and flats in on e go then from the end of 2015 to early 2018 the value rose by one trillion Aussie Dollars from a bit below 6 trillion to a bit below 7. Now in a development to pack ice round a central bankers heart it has fallen to 6.7 trillion officially and if we factor in other measures is now 6.6 trillion Aussie Dollars and to quote Alicia Keys.

Oh, baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fallin’

Comment

Australia escaped the worst of the credit crunch via its enormous natural resource base. According to the RBA index of commodity prices that has not ended.

Preliminary estimates for March indicate that the index decreased by 0.9 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after increasing by 5.3 per cent in February (revised)…….Over the past year, the index has increased by 11.0 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, LNG and alumina prices. The index has increased by 16.6 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

But now we see that the domestic economy has weakened whilst the boost from above has faded. If we look ahead and use the narrow money measures that have proved to be such a good indicator elsewhere we see that the narrow money measure M1 actually fell in the period December to February. If we switch to the seasonally adjusted series we see that growth faded and went such that the recent peak last August of Aussie $ 357.1 billion was replaced by Aussie $356.1 billion in February so we are seeing actual falls on both nominal and real terms. Thus the outlook for the domestic economy remains weak and could get weaker.

 

 

Italy looks set for another economic recession sadly

A feature of the last year or so has been something of an economic car crash unfolding in Italy and we have received two further perspectives on that subject this morning. Sadly neither is an April Fool although in these times they have become ever harder to spot. According to Markit times not only remain hard but have deteriorated in the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing business conditions in Italy continued
to worsen in March as a sharp reduction in new orders
led to a further decline in output. Production fell for the
eighth consecutive month, whilst new orders contracted
at the fastest rate in nearly six years. Meanwhile, business
confidence dipped slightly from February, but was
nonetheless positive.

The reported fall in new orders was led from abroad.

Additionally, new business from abroad fell in March
at a rate just shy of December 2018’s near six-and-a-half year record.

This meant that the reading was as follows.

At 47.4, the reading was down from 47.7 in February
and signalled the sharpest monthly decline in the health of
the sector since May 2013.

Also the optimism reported frankly seems at odds with reality.

Optimism regarding the year ahead outlook for output was
sustained in March, but concerns over further contractions
in customer demand and a continuation of negative market
trends meant sentiment weakened from February.

Markit itself does not seem to hold out much hope for a quick rebound.

All in all, Italian manufacturing output looks set to decline
further in Q2, especially when looking at slowdowns in key
sources of external demand in neighbouring European
markets.

Employment

The situation here posed a question too this morning.

In February 2019, the number of employed people moderately declined compared with January (-0.1%,
-14 thousand); the employment rate decreased to 58.6% (-0.1 percentage points). The fall of employment
involved mainly people aged 35-49 years (-74 thousand), while people aged over 50 continued to go up
(+51 thousand).

There is an interesting age shift in the pattern which we are seeing across a wide range of countries. There are two main drivers here which are interrelated. The first is the demographic of an ageing population. The second is the rises in official retirement ages and in Italy perhaps the ongoing economic troubles leading to actual retirements being postponed.

If the manufacturing PMI is any guide the employment falls continued in March too.

As a result of the setbacks in output and new work,
employment in Italy’s manufacturing sector declined in
March.

Also as IPE pointed out last September that the retirement situation in Italy is typically complex.

By comparison, the statutory retirement age in 2019 will be 67. This keeps rising, as planned by law, to keep up with demographic projections. In reality, however, people on average retire at about the age of 62. This is the result of the complicated legislative framework, which effectively means every worker’s personal circumstances can contribute to bringing his retirement age forward.

Also the current government has plans to reduce the official retirement age.

Returning to the employment data we see that the situation is turning as previously there had been rises.

Employment rose by 0.5% (+113 thousand) compared with February 2018. The increase concerned men
and women, involving people aged 25-34 years (+21 thousand) and over 50 (+316 thousand).

Unemployment

There was something of a double whammy in the labour market in February.

In February, the number of unemployed persons rose by 1.2% (+34 thousand); the increase involved men
and women and persons aged over 35. The unemployment rate grow up to 10.7% (+0.1 percentage
points), while the youth rate slight decreased to 32.8% (-0.1 percentage points).

So both unemployment and the unemployment rate rose. There is also something of a swerve familiar to regular readers of my work which is that the unemployment rate in January was reported originally at 10.5%. However it is now reported as being up 0.1% at 10.7%. So the impression is given that it is 0.1% up when in fact it was worse in January and is now worse than that or if you like the rise is 0.2% against the original. The fall in youth unemployment is much more welcome but it is hard not to have a concern about the way that it is still 32.8%. In fact there are two concerns to my mind. Firstly that it too may start to rise as prospects weaken and secondly along the signs of the song from Ace.

How long has this been going on?
How long has this been going on?

There must be more than a few in the youth unemployment numbers who have been unemployed for years and must feel like giving up.

Over the past year the decline in unemployment now looks rather marginal.

On a yearly basis, the growth of employment was accompanied by the fall of unemployed persons (-1.4%,
-39 thousand) and inactive people aged 15-64 (-1.3%, -169 thousand).

Actually I can go further as the three-month average looked like it was heading to 10% and did make 10.25% if I stare hard at the chart. But the reality was that the response to the relative boom was already over and the unemployment rate was turning and then rising.

Two lost decades?

A research paper from Italy’s statisticians suggest two linked and thereby troubling trends especially for the south.

 Both qualifications of the latter manual type show, in the twenty years, a considerable increase in the stock of employees that exceeds the growth of the
employed people who carry out work with higher qualifications. Also on the positive side of the variations, there are clear territorial differences that have a
different impact on the employment balance for Italy and for the South, where the contribution to the medium-high and high qualification employment is less than one third of
the contribution given by this work to the employment of the Country.

This is a version of my “Good Italy: Bad Italy” theme where the south in particular has seen quite a deterioration in the quality of employment and in particular skilled manual work has been replaced by non-skilled.

Official economic surveys

As you can see these bring maybe a little hope as they give opposite results.

In March 2019, the consumer confidence index decreased from 112.4 to 111.2. All of its components worsened: the economic, the personal, the current and the future one (from 126.4 to 123.9, from 108.2 to 106.8, from 109.4 to 107.8 and from 116.9 to 115.9, respectively).

With regard to the business surveys, the business confidence index (IESI, Istat Economic Sentiment Indicator) bettered from 98.2 to 99.2.

The business sentiment gain came mostly from the services sector.

Comment

There was a time around six months ago that the Italian government was talking about economic growth of 2% and in some extreme cases 3% where yesterday we were told this. From Reuters.

 Italy can’t afford fiscal expansion at a time when its economic growth is heading to close to zero, Treasury Minister Giovanni Tria said on Sunday.

Tria said Italy was in a phase of economic slowdown and could not consider introducing restrictive measures. He was speaking at a conference in Florence, and his remarks were carried on Italian radio stations.

“Certainly we don’t have the room for expansionary measures,” he then added.

Actually the official data has shown it to have been at zero in the year to the last quarter of 2018 and we now fear that it is contracting.. Any decline this quarter will put Italy into yet another recession and the number-crunching is not favourable.

The carry-over annual GDP rate of change for 2019 is equal to -0.1%.

Meanwhile over to the banks National Resolution Fund and its 2018 accounts.

The main results of the annual accounts for the year ended 31 December 2018 are as follows:

  • Assets € 429,869,033;
  • Liabilities € 972,900,609;
  • Endowment fund (excluding the result for the year) € (484,918,684);
  • Net result for the period € (58,112,892);
  • Endowment fund at 31 December 2018 € (543,031,576).

The negative net result for the period is largely attributable to:

  • Interest expense € (31.4 million);
  • Allocations to the provisions for risks € (26.5 million).

How does a negative endowment fund work?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The War on Cash is exposed by yet more banking sector money laundering

Some days events almost write an update for me and so without further ado let me hand you over to a letter from the President of the ECB Mario Draghi to the Spanish MEP Ms Paloma López Bermejo.

The Governing Council of the ECB has decided to stop issuing the €500 banknote and to exclude it from the
Europa banknote series , amid concerns that this denomination could facilitate illicit activities. As of 27
January 2019, 17 of the 19 national central banks in the euro area no longer issue €500 banknotes.

As you will see in a moment if “could facilitate illicit activities” was applied consistently then Mario would be closing down bank after bank and maybe all of them. Yet we find that when we come to “the precious” that the goalposts are on wheels as they are so mobile. Oh and you may not be surprised to see which two central banks are dragging their feet.

To ensure a smooth transition and for logistical reasons, the Deutsche Bundesbank and the Oesterreichische
Nationalbank requested the right to continue issuing the notes until 26 April 2019.

I am not quite sure where Mario is going with this bit as actual withdrawal of the notes would collapse confidence in his currency.

In order to maintain public trust in euro banknotes, existing €500 banknotes will remain legal tender and can
continue to be used as a means of payment and store of value. They will also retain their value; because it
will remain possible to exchange them at the national central banks of the Eurosystem for an unlimited period
of time.

Swedbank and money laundering

This has been a fast-moving story so let us dip into Reuters from only yesterday,

Money laundering allegations against Swedbank have sparked fears that the largest lender in the Baltic region will become embroiled in a scandal engulfing rival Danske Bank, and face the threat of lawsuits, fines and other sanctions.

Swedbank Chief Executive Birgitte Bonessen said she was doing everything she could to handle the situation, adding that nobody at the bank had been charged with committing a crime.

That has moved on already as we move to @LiveSquawk.

Trading In Shares In Swedbank Halted……….Swedbank Shares Trade Halt To Remain Until Notice From AGM…….Swedbank Says Board Has Dismissed CEO Bonnesen, Started Search For Permanent Replacement

As you can see this escalated quickly and is still doing so as I type this. As to Ms. Bonnesen we see that not only are her fingers all over this but it looks like she was promoted due to her “success” in what has turned out to be money laundering on an industrial scale. Back to Reuters.

“Swedbank believes that it has been truthful and accurate in its communications with all government authorities,” said Bonnesen who oversaw the bank’s anti-money laundering policy between 2009 and 2011 before heading its Baltic operations.

As to the details of what took place there is this.

Regulators in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began a joint investigation into Swedbank after SVT in February reported allegations that at least 40 billion Swedish crowns ($4.3 billion) in suspicious transactions took place between Swedbank and Danske Bank’s Baltic accounts.

If we look at the share price we can put a time on this as the 210.8 Krona on the 19th of February was replaced by 165.1 on the 21st. It was 148.8 this morning before trading was halted.

Moving to the specific problems we see this. Johannes Borgen pointed out yesterday evening that a familiar theme of “higher and higher baby” was at play.

“Today’s initiated activity [.. refers to unlawful disclosure of inside information and aggravated swindling.” On top of the reported 135bn cash flows for high risk non resident clients in the Baltics.

Also one of the flags for this sort of thing are PEPs or Politically Exposed Persons where banks have or rather should have very strict rules for obvious reasons and yet there was this. Johannes again in the next two quotes.

SVT reported that ex-Ukraine boss Yanukovych used a Swed Baltic account to transfer money out of Ukraine in 2011 ($4m…) How on earth can that not raise a GIGANTIC red flag ??? Seriously ???? When I see all the admin nightmare that comes with being a PEP…

For those unaware all such clients are only approved after due dilligence although we are supposed to believe that someone failed to spot the new client was the President of the Ukraine. Also if we switch to the share price plunge I looked at above apparently then some being ahead of the game is just find.

But really the absolute TOP story is this: reportedly (Dagens Nyheter) the bank told its 15 largest shareholders about the SVT broadcast on AML… two days ahead !! And now the bank says it was not insider information 🤣🤣

Those having something of a sense of deja vu about all this might be thinking of February 19th last year.

The Financial and Capital Markets Commission (FCMC) has imposed a moratorium on ABLV Bank, following a request by the European Central Bank (ECB). This means that temporarily, and until further notice, a prohibition of all payments by ABLV Bank on its financial liabilities has been imposed, and is now in effect.

Another money laundering problem and yet again one where the US authorities opened up the can of worms. Also the problems went as high as the central bank itself.

Latvian authorities prepared to explain the detention of ECB Governing Council member Ilmars Rimsevics by the anti-graft bureau in a weekend of activity culminating in the early-Monday imposition of a payment moratorium on the nation’s third-largest bank.

Comment

There are a lot of strands which collide here but the “war on cash” theme is rammed home by the fact that the ECB is on its case as it “could” cause illicit activity whereas banks that have done so get overlooked for quite some time. Care is needed as such activity crosses borders by definition and many of the activities highlighted above took place before the ECB was fully in charge as the Baltic countries joined the Euro more recently. But there is supposed to be an accession programme which should be including due diligence on banking activities. After all in the case of Latvia this ended up exceeding its annual economic output or GDP! Also it is the US authorities rather than the European ones who start the policing ball rolling.

Each saga involves misrepresentation and obfuscation from the directors of the bank or banks involved followed by ever larger numbers.

Moving onto happier news for the ECB this morning’s money supply release provided a bit of relief.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 6.6% in February from 6.2% in January.

Which led straight to this as there was a minor change in M2 but essentially M1 flowed into this.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 4.3% in February 2019 from 3.8% in January.

So things did not get worse and in effect in narrow money terms we went back to December. Perhaps the better numbers from France I looked at on Tuesday helped. Thus we can expect Euro area economic growth to be slow but for there to be some overall.

The Investing Channel