Why is the Bank of England preparing for a 0% interest-rate?

Sometimes events have their own motion as after enjoying watching England in the cricket yesterday which is far from something I can always I had time to note it was Mansion House speech time. My mind turned back to 2014 when Bank of England Governor Mark Carney promised an interest-rate rise.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first-rate hike and this decision is becoming
more balanced.
It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

Of course four years later we are still waiting for the unreliable boyfriend to match his words with deeds. Indeed last night he was sailing in completely the opposite direction as shown by this.

The additional capital means the MPC could, if necessary, re-launch the TFS in future on the Bank’s balance sheet, cementing 0% as the lower bound.

We have learnt in the credit crunch era to watch such things closely as preparations for an easing on monetary policy have so regularly turned into action as opposed to tightening for which in the UK we have yet to see an outright one. All we have is a reversal of the last error ridden cut to a 0.25% Bank Rate as I note that the extra £60 billion of QE, Corporate Bond QE and Term Funding Scheme are still in existence.

There was another mention of a 0% interest-rate later in the piece.

Although the principles guiding the MPC’s choice of threshold still hold, with the lower bound on Bank Rate
now permanently close to 0%,

In the words of Talking Heads “is it?”

The Lower Bound

This has been an area which if we keep our language neutral has been problematic for Governor Carney to say the least! For example last night’s speech mentioned an area I have flagged for some time.

relative to the effective lower bound on Bank
Rate of 0.5% at that time

When the statement was originally made there were obvious issues when we had countries that had negative interest-rates well below the “lower bound”. As an example the Swiss National Bank announced this yesterday morning.

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 they are already equipped for a -1.25% interest-rate and have a -0.75% one it is hard not to smile at the “lower bound” of Mark Carney. The truth in my opinion is that it means something quite different and as ever the main player is the “precious” or the banks.

In August 2016, the MPC launched the Term Funding Scheme (TFS) in order to reinforce the pass-through
of the cut in Bank Rate to 0.25% to the borrowing rates faced by households and companies.

As you can see it is badged as a benefit to you and me which of course is a perfect way to slip cheap liquidity to the banks. After all competing for savings from us must be a frightful bore for them and it is much easier to get wholesale amounts and rates from the Bank of England.

Bank of England balance sheet

There are changes here as well.

With the Chancellor’s announcement tonight of a ground-breaking new financial arrangement and capital
injection for the Bank of England, we now have a balance sheet fit for purpose and the future.

What arrangement? There will be a capital injection of £1.2 billion this year raising it to £3.5 billion. That can go as high as £5.5 billion should the Bank of England make profits bur after that it has to be returned to HM Treasury.

The gearing for liquidity operations is quite something to behold.

The additional capital will significantly increase the amount of liquidity the Bank can provide through
collateralised, market-wide facilities without needing an indemnity from HM Treasury to more than half a
trillion pounds. This lending capacity would expand to over three quarters of a trillion pounds when, as
designed, additional capital above the target level is accrued through retained earnings.

On the first number the gearing would be of the order of 140 times.Care is needed with that though as the Bank of England does insist on collateral in return for the liquidity. Mind you that is not perfect as a guardian as those who recall the episode where the Special Liquidity Scheme was ended early due to “phantom securities”. If you do not know about that the phrase itself is rather eloquent as an explanation.

Reducing the National Debt

Yesterday was  good day for data on the UK public finances but that may be dwarfed by what was announced in the speech.

Today’s announcement increases the amount of risk the Bank can carry on its balance sheet. As a result,
the Bank plans to bring the £127 billion of lending extended through the TFS onto our balance sheet by the
end of 2018/19 the financial year.

That had me immediately wondering if the Office for National Statistics will now drop the requirement for this to be added to the UK National Debt. this would bring us into line with rules elsewhere as for example if you will forgive the alphabetti spaghetti the TLTROs and LTROs of the European Central Bank are not added to the respective national debts. Such a change would reduce our national debt from 85.4% of GDP to below 80%. I am sure I am not the only person thinking that would be plenty to help finance the suggested boost to the NHS should you choose.

QE

There was a change here and this reflects the 0.5% change in the “lower bound”

Although the principles guiding the MPC’s choice of threshold still hold, with the lower bound on Bank Rate
now permanently close to 0%, the MPC views that the level from which Bank Rate can be cut materially is
now around 1.5%.
Reflecting this, the MPC now intends not to reduce the stock of purchased assets until Bank Rate reaches
around 1.5%.

Let me offer you two thoughts on this. Firstly as the Bank of England has yet to raise interest-rates from the emergency 0.5% level then discussing 1.5% or 2% is a moot point. Secondly this is a way of locking in losses as you will be driving the price of the Gilts owned lower by raising Bank Rate. Even holding the Gilts to maturity has issues because you get 100 back and in the days of the panic driven Sledgehammer QE buying where market participants saw free money coming and moved prices away the Bank of England paid way over 100.

Comment

It is hard not to have a wry smile at Governor Carney planning for a 0% Bank Rate as one of his colleagues joins those voting for a rise to 0.75%. Of course Governor Carney wants a rise to 0.75% eventually, say after his term has ended for example. The irony was that the person who has put so much effort into trying to be the next Governor voted for a rise. As to how Andy Haldane’s campaign has gone let me offer you this from Duncan Weldon.

Next month: 6 votes to hold 2 votes to hike And one vote for something involving a dog and a frisbee.

There was a time when people used to disagree with my views about Andy Haldane whereas now the silence is deafening in two respects. One is that I do not get challenged on social media about it anymore and the other is that if you look for the chorus line of support that used to exist it appears to have disappeared and in some cases been redacted.

Moving to more positive news there has been rather a good piece written by the England footballer Raheem Sterling and whilst no doubt there has been some ghostwriting the final message is very welcome I think.

England is still a place where a naughty boy who comes from nothing can live his dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trade Wars what are they good for?

This week trade is in the news mostly because of the Donald and his policy of America First. This has involved looking to take jobs back to America which is interesting when apparently the jobs situation is so good.

Our economy is perhaps BETTER than it has ever been. Companies doing really well, and moving back to America, and jobs numbers are the best in 44 years. ( @realDonaldTrump )

This has involved various threats over trade such as the NAFTA agreement primarily with Canada and Mexico and of course who can think of Mexico without mulling the plan to put a bit more than another brick in the wall? Back in March there was the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. From Politico.

While President Donald Trump announced steel and aluminum tariffs Thursday, officials from several of the United States’ closest allies were 5,000 miles away in Santiago, Chile, signing a major free-trade deal that the U.S. had negotiated — and then walked away from.

The steel and aluminium tariffs were an attempt to deal with China a subject to which President Trump has returned only recently. From the Financial Times.

Equities sold off and havens firmed on Tuesday after Donald Trump ordered officials to draft plans for tariffs on a further $200bn in Chinese imports should Beijing not abandon plans to retaliate against $50bn in US duties on imports announced last week.

According to the Peterson Institute there has been a shift in the composition of the original US tariff plan for China.

 Overall, 95 percent of the products are intermediate inputs or capital equipment. Relative to the initial list proposed by the Office of the US Trade Representative on April 3, 2018, coverage of intermediate inputs has been expanded considerably ……….Top added products are semiconductors ($3.6 billion) and plastics ($2.2 billion), as well as other intermediate inputs and capital equipment. Semiconductors are found in consumer products used in everyday life such as televisions, personal computers, smartphones, and automobiles.

The reason this is significant is that the world has moved on from even the “just in time” manufacturing model with so many parts be in sourced abroad even in what you might think are domestic products. This means that supply chains are often complex and what seems minor can turn out to be a big deal. After all what use are brakes without brake pads?

Thinking ahead

Whilst currently China is in the sights of President Trump this mornings news from the ECB seems likely to eventually get his attention.

In April 2018 the euro area current account recorded a surplus of €28.4 billion.

Which means this.

The 12-month cumulated current account for the period ending in April 2018 recorded a surplus of €413.7 billion (3.7% of euro area GDP), compared with €361.3 billion (3.3% of euro area GDP) in the 12 months to April 2017.

 

 

So the Euro area has a big current account surplus and it is growing.

This development was due to increases in the surpluses for services (from €46.1 billion to €106.1 billion) and goods (from €347.2 billion to €353.9 billion

There is plenty for the Donald to get his teeth into there and let’s face it the main player here is Germany with its trade surpluses.

Trade what is it good for?

International trade brings a variety of gains. At the simplest level it is access to goods and resources that are unavailable in a particular country. Perhaps the clearest example of that is Japan which has few natural resources and would be able to have little economic activity if it could not import them. That leads to the next part which is the ability to buy better goods and services which if we stick with the Japanese theme was illustrated by the way the UK bought so many of their cars. Of course this has moved on with Japanese manufacturers now making cars in the UK which shows how complex these issues can be.

Also the provision of larger markets will allow some producers to exist at all and will put pressure on them in terms of price and quality. Thus in a nutshell we end up with more and better goods and services. It is on these roads that trade boosts world economic activity and it is generally true that world trade growth exceeds world economic activity of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth.

Since the Second World War, the
volume of world merchandise trade
has tended to grow about 1.5 times
faster than world GDP, although in the
1990s it grew more than twice as fast. ( World Trade Organisation)

Although like in so many other areas things are not what they were.

However, in the aftermath of the global
financial crisis the ratio of trade growth
to GDP growth has fallen to around 1:1.

Although last year was a good year for trade according to the WTO.

World merchandise trade
volume grew by 4.7 per
cent in 2017 after just
1.8 per cent growth
in 2016.

How Much?

Trying to specify the gains above is far from easy. In March there was a paper from the NBER which had a go.

About 8 cents out of every dollar spent in the United States is spent on imports………..The estimates of gains from trade for the US economy that we review range from 2 to 8 percent of GDP.

Actually there were further gains too.

When the researchers adjust by the fact that domestic production also uses imported intermediate goods — say, German-made transmissions incorporated into U.S.-made cars — based on data in the World Input-Output Database, they conclude that the U.S. import share is 11.4 percent.

So we move on not enormously the wiser as we note that we know much less than we might wish or like. Along the way we are reminded that whilst the US is an enormous factor in world trade in percentage terms it is a relatively insular economy although that is to some extent driven by how large its economy is in the first place.

Any mention of numbers needs to come with a warning as trade statistics are unreliable and pretty universally wrong. Countries disagree with each other regularly about bilateral trade and the numbers for the growing services sector are woeful.

Comment

This is one of the few economic sectors where theory is on a sound footing when it meets reality. We all benefit in myriad ways from trade as so much in modern life is dependent on it. It has enriched us all. But the story is also nuanced as we do not live in a few trade nirvana, For example countries intervene as highlighted by the World Trade Organisation in its annual report.

Other issues raised by members
included China’s lack of timely and
complete notifications on subsidies
and state-trading enterprises,

That is pretty neutral if we consider the way China has driven prices down in some areas to wipe out much competition leading to control of such markets and higher prices down the road. There were plenty of tariffs and trade barriers long before the Donald became US President. Also Germany locked in a comparative trade advantage for itself when it joined the Euro especially if we use the Swiss Franc as a proxy for how a Deutschmark would have traded ( soared) post credit crunch.

Also there is the issue of where the trade benefits go? As this from NBC highlights there were questions all along about the Trans Pacific Partnership.

These included labor rights rules unions said were toothless, rules that could have delayed generics and lead to higher drug prices, and expanded international copyright protection.

This leads us back to the issue of labour struggling (wages) but capital doing rather well in the QE era. Or in another form how Ireland has had economic success but also grotesquely distorted some forms of economic activity via its membership of the European Union and low and in some cases no corporate taxes. Who would have thought a country would not want to levy taxes on Apple? After all with cash reserves of US $285.1 billion and rising it can pay.

So the rhetoric and actions of the Donald does raise fears of trade wars and if it goes further the competitive devaluations of the 1920s. But it is also true that there are genuine issues at play which get hidden in the melee a bit like Harry Kane after his first goal last night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting rents which do not exist in a consumer inflation measure is a disgrace

Yesterday the Economic Affairs Committee took a look at the Retail Price Index measure of consumer inflation in the UK. An excellent idea except as I have contacted them to point out.

Accordingly I am making contact for two reasons. Attending the event would give your members exposure to a much wider range of expertise on the subject of the RPI than the limited group you have today. Also it will help you with the subject of balance as the four speakers you will be listening too today are all against the RPI with some being very strongly so. This gives a very unbalanced view of the ongoing debate on the subject.

The event I refer too is this evening at the Royal Statistical Society at which I will be one of those who reply to the National Statistician John Pullinger.

I intend to point out that the RPI does indeed have strengths and it relates to my letter to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney from February.

“. I am not sure what is a step up from known error but I can say that ignoring something as important to the UK as that sector when UK  house prices have risen by over 29% in your term as Governor when the targeted CPI has only risen by more like 7% is exactly that.”

This is because it makes an effort to reflect this.

This is because the RPI does include owner occupied housing and does so using house prices and mortgage interest-rates. If we look at house prices we see that admittedly on a convoluted route via the depreciation section they make up some 8.3% of the index.

This compares for example with the Consumer Price Index which completely ignores the whole subject singing “la,la,la” when it comes up. There has been a newer attempt to reflect this issue which I look at below.

Also it means that the influence is much stronger that on the only other inflation measure we have which includes house prices which is CPI (NA). In it they only have a weighting of 6.8%. So the RPI is already ahead in my view and that is before you allow for the 2.4% weighting of mortgage interest-rates.

As you can see the new effort at least acknowledges the issue but comes up with a lower weighting. This is because they decided that they only wanted to measure the rise in house prices and not the land. This is what they mean by Net Acquisitions or NA.

Now with 8.3% ( 10.7%) and 6,8% in your mind look what happens with the new preferred measure CPIH.

Now let me bring in the alternative about which the National Statistician John Pullinger and the ONS are so keen. This is where rather than using house prices and mortgages of which there are many measures we see regularly in the media and elsewhere, they use fantasy rents which are never actually paid. Even worse there are all sorts of problems measuring actual rents which may mean that this is a fantasy squared if that was possible.

But this fantasy finds itself with a weight of 16.8% or at least it was last time I checked as it is very unstable. Has our owner-occupied housing sector just doubled in size?

As you can see whilst you cannot count the (usually fast rising ) value of land it would appear that you can count the ( usually much slower rising) rent on it. That is the road that leads to where we are today where the officially approved CPIH gives a lower measure than the alternatives. Just think for a moment, if there is a sector in the UK with fast rising inflation over time it has been housing. So when you put it in the measure you can tell people it is there but it gives a lower number. Genius! Well if you do not have a conscience it is.

Yet the ordinary man or woman is not fooled and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney must have scowled when he got the results of his latest inflation survey on Friday.

After all when asked ( by the Bank of England) they come up with at 3.1% a number for inflation that is closer to the RPI then the alternatives.

Just because people think a thing does not make it right but it does mean you need a very strong case to change it . Fantasy rents are not that and even worse they come from a weak base as illustrated below.

The whole situation gets even odder when you note that from 2017 to this year the weighting for actual rents went from 5.6% to 6.9%.

Who knew that over the past year there was a tsunami of new renters? More probably but nothing like a 23% rise. This brings me back to the evidence I gave to the UK Statistics Regulator which was about Imputed Rents which relies on essentially the same set of numbers. I explained the basis for this was unstable due to the large revisions in this area which in my opinion left them singing along to Fleetwood Mac.

I’m over my head (over my head)
Oh, but it sure feels nice

Today’s data

Let me start with the number which was much the closest to what people think inflation is according to the Bank of England.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, down from 3.4% last month. The all items RPI is 280.7, up from 279.7 in April.

So reasonably close to the 3.1% people think it is as opposed to.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.4%, unchanged from last month. The all items CPI is 105.8, up from 105.4 in April

When we ask why? We see that a major factor is the one I have been addressing above.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 3.9% in the year to April 2018 (down from 4.2% in March 2018). This is its lowest annual rate since March 2017 when it was 3.7%.

In spite of the slow down in house price inflation it remains an upward pull on inflation measures. You will not be surprised to see what is slowing it up.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices increased by 1.0% over the year.

Now let me switch to what our official statisticians,regulators and the economics editor of the Financial Times keep telling us is an “improvement” in measuring the above.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, down from 1.2% last month.

Which is essentially driven by this.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.0% in the 12 months to May 2018; unchanged from April 2018.

So they take rents ( which they have had all sorts of trouble measuring and maybe underestimating by 1% per annum) and imagine that those who do not pay rent actually do and hey presto!

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.3%, up from 2.2% in April.

I often criticise the media but in this instance they deserve praise as in general they ignore this woeful effort.

Comment

Today has been a case of me putting forwards my views on the subject of inflation measurement which I hold very strongly. This has been an ongoing issue since 2012 and regular readers will recall my successful battle to save the RPI back then. I take comfort in that because over time I have seen my arguments succeed and more and more join my cause. This is because my arguments have fitted the events. To give a clear example I warned back in 2012 that the measure of rents used was a disaster waiting to happen whereas the official view was that it was fine. Two or three years later it was scrapped and of course we saw that the Imputed Rent numbers had a “discontinuity”. The saddest part of the ongoing shambles is even worse than the same sorry crew being treated as authorities about a subject they are consistently wrong about it is that we could have spent the last 6 years improving the measure as whilst it has strengths it is by no means perfect.

Let me give credit to the Royal Statistical Society as it has allowed alternative views an airing (me) and maybe there is a glimmer from the House of Lords who have speedily replied to me.

Staff to the Committee will be in attendance this evening, and we have emailed the details to the members: the unfortunate short notice and the busy parliamentary schedule currently means it may be unlikely for them to attend. We will report back to them on the event nevertheless.

I hope the event goes well for you.

Returning to today’s we now face the risk that this is a bottom for UK inflation as signalled by the producer price numbers.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) was 2.9% on the year to May 2018, up from 2.5% in April 2018.Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 9.2% on the year to May 2018, up from 5.6% in April 2018.

This has been driven by the rise in the price of oil where Brent Crude Oil is up 56% on a year ago as I type this and the recent decline in the UK Pound £. This will put dark clouds over the Bank of England as the wages numbers were a long way from what it thought and now it may have talked the Pound £ down into an inflation rise. Yet its Chief Economist concentrates on matters like this.

Multiversities ‘hold key to next leap forward’ says ⁦⁩ Chief Economist Andy Haldane ( @jkaonline)

Isn’t that something from one of the Vin Diesel Riddick films?

 

 

 

 

 

The UK joins France and Germany with falling production in April

Today brings us a raft of new detail on the UK economy and as it is for April we get the beginnings of some insight as to whether the UK economy picked up after the malaise of only 0.1% GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) growth in the first quarter of this year. According to Markit PMI business survey we have in the first two months of this quarter but of course surveys are one thing and official data is another.

So far, the three PMI surveys indicate that GDP looks set to rise by 0.3-0.4% in the second quarter.

As for the manufacturing sector the same set of surveys has told us this.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index® (PMI®
) rose to 54.4, up slightly from April’s
17-month low of 53.9, to signal growth for the
twenty-second straight month.

So we see that April can be looked at almost any way you like. Manufacturing has been in a better phase for a while now partly in response to the post EU leave vote fall in the UK Pound £. According to the survey we are still growing but April was the weakest month in this phase although some caution is required as I doubt whether a survey that can be in the wrong direction is accurate to anything like 0.5.

Of course the attention of Mark Carney and the Bank of England will be on a sector that it considers as and maybe more vital. From the Local Government Association.

Councils’ ability to replace homes sold under Right to Buy (RTB) will be all but eliminated within five years without major reform of the scheme, new analysis from the Local Government association reveals today.

The detail of the numbers is below.

The LGA said that, in the last six years, more than 60,000 homes have been sold off under the scheme at a price which is, on average, half the market rate, leaving councils with enough funding to build or buy just 14,000 new homes to replace them.

We sometimes discuss on here that the ultimate end of the house price friendly policies of the UK establishment will be to give people money to buy houses. Well in many ways Right To Buy does just that as those who have qualified buy on average at half-price. Also we see that one of the other supposed aims of the scheme which was to replace the property sold with new builds is failing. I guess we should not be surprised as pretty much every government plan for new builds fails.

Production and Manufacturing

These were poor numbers as you can see below.

In April 2018, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.8% compared with March 2018, led by a fall of 1.4% in manufacturing and supported by falls in energy supply (2.0%), and water and waste (1.8%).

The fall in energy supply is predictable after the cold weather of March but the manufacturing drop much less so. If we review the Markit survey it was right about a decline but in predicting growth had the direction wrong. On a monthly basis the manufacturing fall was highest in metal products and machinery which both fell by more than 3% but the falls were widespread.

with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling;

If we step back to the quarterly data we see that it has seen better times as well.

In the three months to April 2018, the Index of Production increased by 0.3% compared with the three months to January 2018, due primarily to a rise of 3.2% in energy supply; this was supported by a rise in mining and quarrying of 4.3%………..The three-monthly fall to April 2018 in manufacturing of 0.5% is the largest fall since May 2017, due mainly to decreases in electrical equipment (9.4%), and basic metals and metal products (1.8%).

So on a quarterly basis we have some production growth but not much whereas manufacturing which was recently a star of our economy has lost its shine and declined. There has been a drop in trade which has impacted here.

The fall in manufacturing is supported by widespread weakness throughout the sector due to a reduction in the growth rate of both export and domestic turnover.

Actually for once the production and trade figures seem to be in concert.

Goods exports fell £3.1 billion, due mainly to falls in exports of machinery, pharmaceuticals and aircraft, while services exports also fell £2.5 billion in the three months to April 2018…….Falling volumes was the main reason for the declines in exports of machinery, pharmaceuticals and aircraft in the three months to April 2018 as price movements were relatively small.

That is welcome although the cause is not! But we see a signs of a slowing from the better trend which still looks good on an annual comparison.

In the three months to April 2018, the Index of Production increased by 2.3% compared with the same three months to April 2017, due mainly to a rise of 2.3% in manufacturing.

If we compare ourselves to France we see that it’s manufacturing production rose by 1.9% over the same period. However whilst we are ahead it is clear that our trajectory is worsening and we look set to be behind unless there is quite a swing in May. As to the Markit manufacturing PMI then its performance in the latest quarter has been so poor it has been in the wrong direction.

As we move on let me leave you with this as a possible factor at play in April.

 It should also be noted that survey response was comparatively high this month and notable weakness was due mainly to the cumulative impact of large businesses reporting decreased turnover.

Trade

We have already looked at the decline in good exports but in a way this was even more troubling.

 services exports also fell £2.5 billion in the three months to April 2018.

Regular readers will be aware that I have a theme that considering how important the services sector is to the UK economy we have very little detail about its impact on trade. As an example a 28 page statistical bulletin I read had only one page on services. I am reminded of this as this latest fall comes after our statisticians had upgraded the numbers as you see the numbers are mostly estimates.

So not a good April but the annual picture remains better.

The UK total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £6.7 billion to £30.8 billion in the 12 months to April 2018. An improvement to the trade in services balance was the main factor, as the trade surplus the UK has in services widened £9.9 billion to £108.7 billion. The trade in goods deficit worsened, widening £3.2 billion to £139.5 billion over the same period.

Construction

This was yet again a wild card if consistency can be that.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 3.4% in April 2018; the biggest fall seen in this series since August 2012.

The consistency comes from yet another fall whereas the wild card element is that it got worse on this measure in spite of a small increase in April

Comment

There is a lot to consider here today but let us start with manufacturing where there are three factors at play. The money supply numbers have suggested a slow down and it would seem that they have been accurate. Next we have the issue that exports are weak and of course this is into a Euro area economy which is also slowing as for example industrial production fell by 0.5% in France and 1% in Germany in April on a monthly basis. Some are suggesting it is an early example of the UK being dropped out of European supply chains but I suspect it is a bit early for that.

Moving to construction we see that it is locked in the grip of an icy recession even in the spring. It seems hard to square with the 32 cranes between Battersea Dogs Home and Vauxhall but there you have it. I guess the failure of Carillion has had quite an effect and linking today’s stories we could of course build more social housing.

Looking forwards the UK seems as so often is the case heavily reliant on its services sector to do the economic heavy lifting, so fingers crossed.

 

 

Italy faces another bond market crisis

The situation in Italy has returned to what we now consider as a bond market danger zone although this time around the mainstream media seems much less interested in a subject which it was all over only a fortnight ago. Before we get to that as ever we will prioritise the real economy and perhaps in a type of cry for help the Italian statistics office has GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) per capita at the top of its page. This shows that the post Second World War surge was replaced by such a decline since the 28,699 Euros of 2007 that the 26,338 of last year took Italy back to 1999. The lack of any growth this century is at the root cause of the current political maelstrom as it is the opposite of what the founders of the Euro promised.

Retail Sales

These attracted my attention on release yesterday and you will quickly see why.

In April 2018, both the value and volume of retail trade show a fall respectively of -4.6% and -5.4%
comparing to April 2017, following strong growth in March 2018.

Imagine if that had been the UK Twitter would have imploded! As we look further we see that there seems to be an Italian spin on the definition of a recession.

In April 2018, the indices of retail trade saw a monthly recession, with value falling by 0.7% and volume
dropping by 0.9%.

Taking a deeper perspective calms the situation somewhat but leaves us noting a quarterly decline.

Notwithstanding the monthly volatility, looking at the underlying pattern, the 3 months to April picture
reports a slight decline as value decreased by 0.5% and volume contracted by 0.2%.

This is significant as this is supposed to be a better period for the Italian economy which has been reporting economic growth for a couple of years now. It does not have the UK problem of inflation impacting on real wages because inflation is quite subdued.

In May 2018, according to preliminary estimates, the Italian harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) increased by 0.4% compared with April and by 1.1% with respect to May 2017 (it was +0.6% in the previous month).

Actually the rise in inflation there may further impact on retail sales via real wages. Indeed the general picture here sees retail sales in April at 98.6 compared to 2015 being 100. Seeing as that is supposed to have been a better period for the Italian economy I think it speaks for itself.

The economy overall

This is consistent with the general European theme we have been both observing and expecting. From yesterday’s official monthly report.

The downturn in the leading indicator continues, suggesting a deceleration in economic activity for the coming months.

This would continue the decline as in terms of GDP growth we have seen 0.5% twice then 0.4% twice and then 0.3% twice. Ironically that had shifted Italy up the pecking order after the 0.1% for the UK and the 0,2% for France after its downwards revision. But the detail is not optimistic.

Italian growth has been fostered by change in inventories (+0.7 percentage points) and by domestic consumption expenditures (+0.3 percentage points).

The inventory position seems to be a case of “what goes up must come down” from the aptly named Blood Sweat & Tears and we have already seen that retail sales will not be helping consumption.

The trade position is in general a strong one for Italy but the first quarter showed a weakening which seems to have continued in April.

In April, exports toward non-EU countries recorded a contraction (-0.9% compared to the previous month) less marked than in the previous months (- 3.1% over the last three months February-April). In the same quarter, total
imports excluding energy showed a negative change (-0.7%).

So lower exports are not good and lower imports may be a further sign of weakening domestic demand as well. As ever the monthly data is unreliable but as you can see below Italy’s vert strong trade position with non EU countries has weakened so far this year as we mull the stronger Euro.

The trade balance registered a surplus of 7,141 million euro compared to the surplus of 7,547 million euro in the same period of 2017.

An ominous hint of trouble ahead comes if we note the likely impact of a higher oil price on Italy’s energy trade balance deficit of 12.4 billion Euros for the first four months of 2018.

Bond Markets

These are being impacted by two main factors. Via @liukzilla we are able to award today’s prize for stating the obvious to an official at the Bank of Italy.

ROSSI SAYS YIELD SPREAD WIDER DUE TO -EXIT RISK: ANSA || brilliant…

It seems to have been a day where the Bank of Italy is indeed in crisis mode as we have also had a case of never believe anything until it is officially denied.

A GRADUAL RISE IN INTEREST RATES TO PRE-CRISIS LEVELS IS NOT A CAUSE FOR CONCERN FOR ITALY -BANK OF ITALY OFFICIAL ( @DeltaOne )

The other factor is the likelihood that the new Italian government will loosen the fiscal purse strings and spend more. It is already asking the European Union for more funds which of course will come from a budget that will ( May?) lose the net contribution from the UK.

Thus the bond market has been sold off quite substantially again this week. If we look at it in terms of the bond future ( BTP) we see that the 139 and a bit of early May has been replaced by just under 123 as I type this. Whilst there are implications for those holding such instruments such as pension funds the main consequence is that Italy seems to be now facing a future where the ten-year benchmark yields and costs a bit over 3%. This is a slow acting factor especially after a period where the ECB bond purchases under QE have made this cheap for Italy. But there has already been one issue at 3% as the new drumbeat strikes a rhythm.

There has also been considerable action in the two-year maturity. Now this is something that is ordinarily of concern to specialists like me but the sharp movements mean that something is going on and it is not good. It is only a few short week’s ago that this was negative before it then surged over 2% in a dizzying rise before dropping back to sighs of relief from the establishment. But today it is back at 1.68% as I type this. In my opinion something like a big trading position and/or a derivative has blown up here which no doubt will be presented as a surprise at some future date.

Meanwhile here is the Governor of the Bank of Italy describing the scene at the end of last month.

Having widened considerably during the sovereign debt crisis, the spread between the average cost of the debt and GDP growth narrowed to around
1 per cent. It could narrow further over the next few years so long as the economic situation remains positive. If the tensions of the last few days subside, the cost of debt will also fall, if only slightly, when the securities
that were placed at higher rates than newly issued ones come to maturity.

Comment

So to add to the other issues it looks like the Italian economy is now slowing and of course it was not growing very much in the first place. This makes me think of the banks who are of course central to this so let us return to Governor Visco’s speech.

Italian banks strengthened capital in 2017. Common equity increased by €23 billion, of which €4 billion was provided by the Government for the recapitalization of Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Those who paid up will now be mulling losses yet again as even more good money seems to be turning bad and speaking of bad.

NPLs, net of loan loss provisions, have
diminished by about a third with respect to the end of 2015, to €135 billion. The coverage ratio, i.e. the ratio of the stock of loan loss provisions to gross NPLs, has reached 53 per cent, a much higher level than the average for the
leading European banks.

On and on this particular saga goes which will only really ever be fixed by some economic growth which of course is where we came in. Also whoever has done this has no doubt been suffering from a sleepless night or two recently.

The decrease in the stock of NPLs is partly due to the sharp rise in sales on the secondary market, facilitated by the favourable economic situation
(€35 billion in 2017 against a yearly average of €5 billion in the previous four years). This year sales are expected to reach €65 billion for the banking
system as a whole.

 

 

 

Japan is a land of high employment but still no real wage growth

Some days quite a few of our themes come naturally together and this morning quite a few strands have been pulled together by the news from Nihon the land of the rising sun. Here is NHK News on the subject.

Workers in Japan are continuing to take home bigger paychecks. A government survey says monthly wages rose year-on-year for the 9th-straight month in April.

Preliminary results show that pay for the month averaged about 277,000 yen, or roughly 2,500 dollars. That includes overtime and bonuses.

The number is an increase of 0.8 percent in yen terms from a year earlier. But when adjusted for inflation, the figure came in flat.

Nonetheless, labor ministry officials say that wages are continuing on a trend of moderate gains.

As you can see this is rather familiar where there is some wage growth in Japan but once we allow for inflation that fades away and often disappears. This is a particular disappointment after the better numbers for March which were themselves revised down as Reuters explains below.

That follows a downwardly revised 0.7 percent annual increase in real wages in March, which suggests that the government’s repeated efforts to encourage private-sector wage gains have fallen flat.

Growth in March was the first in four months, which had fueled optimism that a gradual rise in workers’ salaries would stimulate consumer spending in Japan.

Actually Reuters then comes up with what might be one of the understatements of 2018 so far.

The data could be discouraging for the Bank of Japan as it struggles to accelerate inflation to its 2 percent price target.

Let us now step back and take a deeper perspective and review this century. According to Japan Macro Advisers real wages began this century at 114.1 in January 2000 and you already get an idea of this part of the “lost decade” problem by noting that it is based at 100 some fifteen years later in 2015. As of the latest data it is at 100.5 so it has been on a road to nowhere.

Abenomics

One of the features of the Abenomics programme which began in December 2012 was supposed to be a boost to wages. The Bank of Japan has launched ever more QE ( which it calls QQE in the same way that the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant became the leak-free Sellafield) as shown below. From July 2016.

The Bank will purchase Japanese government bonds (JGBs) so that their amount outstanding will increase at an annual pace of about 80 trillion yen.

This is the main effort although as I have noted in my articles on the Tokyo Whale it has acquired quite an appetite for equities as well.

The Bank will purchase ETFs so that their amount outstanding will increase at an annual
pace of about 6 trillion yen(almost double the previous pace of about 3.3 trillion yen)

As it likes to buy on dips the recent Italian crisis will have seen it buying again and as of the end of March the Nikkei Asian Review was reporting this.

The central bank’s ETF holdings have reached an estimated 23 trillion yen based on current market value — equivalent to more than 3% of the total market capitalization of the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s first section — raising concerns about pricing distortions.

So not the reduction some were telling us was on the way but my main point today was that all of this “strong monetary easing” was supposed to achieve this and it hasn’t.

The Bank will continue with “QQE with a Negative Interest Rate,” aiming to achieve the price stability target of 2 percent, as long as it is necessary for maintaining that target in a stable manner.

The clear implication was that wages would rise faster than that. It is often forgotten that the advocates of QE thought that as prices rose in response to it then wages would rise faster. But that Ivory Tower world did not turn up as the inflation went into asset prices such as bonds,equities and houses meaning that wages were not in the cycle. Or as Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda put it at the end of last month.

Despite these improvements in the real economy, prices and wages have remained sluggish. This phenomenon has recently been labeled the “missing inflation” or “missing wage inflation” puzzle………. It is urgent that we explore the mechanism behind the changes in price and wage dynamics especially in advanced economies.

Most people would think it sensible to do the research before you launch at and in financial markets in such a kamikaze fashion.

The economy

There are different ways of looking at this. Here is the economic output position.

The economy shrank by 0.6 percent on an annualized basis, a much more severe contraction than the median estimate for an annualized 0.2 percent.

Fourth quarter growth was revised to an annualized 0.6 percent, down from the 1.6 percent estimated earlier. ( Reuters)

Imagine if that had been the UK we would have seen social media implode! As we note that over the past 6 months there has been no growth at all. In case you are wondering about the large revision those are a feature of the official GDP statistics in Japan which reverse the stereotype about Japan by being especially unreliable.

If we move to the labour market we get a different view. Here we see an extraordinary low-level of unemployment with the rate being a mere 2.5% and the job situation is summed up by this from Japan Macro Advisers.

In March 2018, New job offers to applicant ratio, a key indicator in Japan to measure the tightness of the labor demand/supply was 2.41 in March, signifying that there are 2.41 new job postings for each new job seeker. The ratio of 2.41 is the highest in the statistical history since it begun in 1963.

So the picture is confused to say the least.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but let us start with the reality that whilst there are occasional flickers of growth so far the overall pattern in Japan is for no real wage growth. Only yesterday we were looking at yet another Bank of England policymaker telling us that wage growth was just around the corner based on a Phillips Curve style analysis. We know that the Bank of England Ivory Tower has an unemployment rate of 4,25% as the natural one so that the 2.5% of Japan would see Silvana Tenreyro confidently predicting a wages surge. Except reality is very different. If we stick to the UK perspective we often see reports we are near the bottom of the real wage pack but some cherry picking of dates when in fact Japan is  worse.

Moving back to Japan there was a paper on the subject of low unemployment in 1988 from Uwe Vollmer which told us this.

Even more important, the division of annual labour income
into basic wages, overtime premiums and bonuses
allows companies to adjust wages flexibly to changes in
macroeconomic supply and demand conditions,
resulting in low rigidities of both nominal and real wages.

On the downside yes on the upside no as we mull the idea that in the lost decade period Japan has priced itself into work? If so the Abenomics policy of a lower exchange-rate may help with that but any consequent rise in inflation will make the Japanese worker and consumer worse off if wages continue their upwards rigidity.

Meanwhile as we note a year where the Yen was 110 or so a year ago and 110 now there is this from an alternative universe.

The Bank of Japan’s next policy move may be to raise its bond-yield target to keep the yen from weakening too much, according to a BOJ adviser and longtime associate of Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda.

Or maybe not.

With its inflation target still far away, the BOJ must continue its current monetary stimulus for now, Kawai said

Also in his land of confusion is a confession that my critique has been correct all along.

While a weak yen helps the BOJ’s efforts to stoke inflation — and has been an unspoken policy objective — too much weakness can hurt businesses that import raw materials, while some consumers would feel the pain of higher prices for imports.

He seems lost somewhere in the Pacific as in terms of the economics the economy has seen a weak patch and you are as far away as ever from your inflation target yet you do less? Still the inflation target will be helped by a higher oil price except as I often point out Japan is a large energy importer so this is a negative even before we get to the fact that it makes workers and consumers poorer.

 

 

 

The Bank of England seems determined to ignore the higher oil price

This morning has brought the policies of the Bank of England into focus as this from the BBC demonstrates.

Petrol prices rose by 6p a litre in May – the biggest monthly increase since the RAC began tracking prices 18 years ago.

Average petrol prices hit 129.4p a litre, while average diesel prices also rose by 6p to 132.3p a litre.

The RAC said a “punitive combination” of higher crude oil prices and a weaker pound was to blame for the increases.

It pointed out that oil prices broke through the $80-a-barrel mark twice in May – a three-and-a-half year high.

As well as the higher global market price of crude, the pound’s current weakness against the US dollar also makes petrol more expensive as oil is traded in dollars.

There is little or nothing that could have been done about the rising price of crude oil but there is something that could have been done about the “pound’s current weakness against the US dollar”. In fact it is worse than that if we look back to April 20th.

The governor of the Bank of England has said that an interest rate rise is “likely” this year, but any increases will be gradual.

This was quite an unreliable boyfriend style reversal on the previous forward guidance towards a Bank Rate rise in May that the Financial Times thought was something of a triumph. But the crucial point here is that the UK Pound £ was US $1.42 the day before Mark Carney spoke as opposed to US $1.33. Some of that is the result of what we call the King Dollar but Governor Carney gave things a shove. After all we used to move with the US Dollar much more than we have partly because our monetary policy was more aligned with its. Or to be precise only cuts in interest-rates seem likely to be aligned with the US under the stewardship of Governor Carney.

Just as a reminder UK inflation remains above target where it has been for a while.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.4% in April 2018, down from 2.5% in March 2018.

The welcome fall in inflation due to the rally in the UK Pound £ has been torpedoed by the unreliable boyfriend and a specific example of this is shown below.

Let us give the BBC some credit for releasing those although the analysis by its economics editor Kamal Ahmed ignores the role of the Bank of England.

Silvana Tenreyro

Silvana in case you are unaware is a member of the Monetary Policy Committee who gave a speech at the University of Surrey yesterday evening. As you can imagine at a time of rising inflation concerns she got straight to what she considers to be important.

Many critics have laid the blame on the tools that economists use – our models.So, in my speech today, I
will attempt to shed some light on how and why economists use models. Specifically, I will focus on how they
are useful to me as a practitioner on the MPC

Things do not start well because in my life whilst there has been a change from paper based maps to the era of Google Maps they have proved both useful and reliable unlike economic models.

An oft-used analogy is to think of models as maps

Perhaps Silvana gets regularly lost. She certainly seems lost at sea here.

Similarly, economic models have improved with greater
computing power, econometric techniques and data availability, but there is still significant uncertainty that
cannot be eliminated.

Let me add to this with an issue we have regularly looked at on here which is the Phillips Curve and associated “output gap” style analysis.

Many commentators have recently argued that the Phillips curve is no longer apparent in the data – the
observed correlation between inflation and slack is much weaker than it has been in the past. If the Phillips
curve truly has flattened or disappeared, then the current strength of the UK labour market may be less likely
to translate into a pick-up in domestic inflationary pressures. Given that the Phillips curve is one of the
building blocks of standard macroeconomic models, including those used by the MPC, a breakdown in the
relationship would also call for a reassessment.

Er no I have been arguing this since about 2010/11 as the evidence began that it was not working in the real world. However Silvana prefers the safe cosy world of her Ivory Tower.

My view is that these fears are largely misplaced. I expect that the narrowing in labour market slack we have
seen over the past year will lead to greater inflationary pressures, as in our standard models.

The fundamental problem is that the Bank of England has told us this for year after year now. One year they may even be right and no doubt there will be an attempt to redact the many years of errors and being wrong but we are now at a stage where the whole theory is flawed even if it now gets a year correct. As we stand with four months in a row of falling total pay in the UK the outlook for the Phillips Curve is yet again poor. Here is how Silvana tells us about this.

Although average weekly earnings (AWE) growth has now been strengthening since the middle of 2017,

Inflation

Fortunately on her way to the apparently important work of explaining to us of how up is the new down regarding economic models Silvana does refer to her views on inflation.

such as energy costs. And indeed, Chart 2 shows that the contribution of the purple bars to inflation
is correlated with the peaks and troughs of oil-price inflation over the past decade or so

It is probably because her mind is on other matters that she has given us a presumably unintentional rather devastating critique of the central bankers obsession with core inflation which of course ignores exactly that ( and food). Mind you it does not take her long to forget this.

Since the effects of oil-price swings are transitory, there is a good case for ‘looking through’ their impact on inflation.

Oh and those who recall my critique of the Bank of England models on the subject of the impact of the post EU leave vote will permit me a smile as I note this.

But in the past few quarters, we have seen some
building evidence that import prices have been rising slightly less than we had expected (only by around half
of the increase in foreign export prices – Chart 3). For me, this may be one reason why CPI inflation has
recently fallen back faster than we had expected.

I have no idea why they thought this and argued against it correctly as even they now admit. This is of course especially awkward in the middle of a speech designed to boost the economic models that have just been wrong yet again!

Comment

If we move to the policy prescription the outlook is not good for someone who has just dismissed the recent rise in the oil price as only likely to have a “transitory” effect. In fact as we move forwards we get the same vacuous waffle.

While I anticipate that a few rate rises will be needed, the timing of those rate rises is an open question

Okay but when?

With falling imported inflation offset by a gradual pick-up in domestic costs, I judge that conditional on the
outlook I have just described, a gradual tightening in monetary policy will be necessary over the next three
years to return inflation to target and keep demand growing broadly in line with supply.

So not anytime soon!

The flexibility is limited, however – waiting a few more
quarters increases the likelihood that inflation overshoots the target. In May, I felt that as in these scenarios, the costs of waiting a short period of time for more information were
small.

So more of the same although let me give Silvana a little credit as she was willing to point out that Forward Guidance is a farce.

Taken literally, the models suggest implausibly large economic effects from promises about interest rates many years in the future. There is ample empirical evidence that these strong assumptions do not hold in real-world data.

Also she does seem willing to accept that the world is a disaggregated place full of different impacts on different individuals.

Another unrealistic assumption in many macroeconomic models is that everyone is the same. Or more
accurately, that everyone can be characterised by a single, representative household or firm.