The mad world of negative interest-rates is on the march

Yesterday as is his want the President of the United States Donald Trump focused attention on one of our credit crunch themes.

Just finished a very good & cordial meeting at the White House with Jay Powell of the Federal Reserve. Everything was discussed including interest rates, negative interest, low inflation, easing, Dollar strength & its effect on manufacturing, trade with China, E.U. & others, etc.

I guess he was at the 280 character limit so replaced negative interest-rates with just negative interest. In a way this is quite extraordinary as I recall debates in the earlier part of the credit crunch where people argued that it would be illegal for the US Federal Reserve to impose negative interest-rates. But the Donald does not seem bothered as we see him increasingly warm to a theme he established at the Economic Club of New York late last week.

“Remember we are actively competing with nations that openly cut interest rates so that many are now actually getting paid when they pay off their loan, known as negative interest. Who ever heard of such a thing?” He said. “Give me some of that. Give me some of that money. I want some of that money. Our Federal Reserve doesn’t let us do it.” ( Reuters )

That day the Chair of the US Federal Reserve Jerome Powell rejected the concept according to CNBC.

He also rejected the idea that the Fed might one day consider negative interest rates like those in place across Europe.

The problem is that over the past year the 3 interest-rate cuts look much more driven by Trump than Powell.

Of course, there are contradictions.Why does the “best economy ever” need negative interest-rates for example? Or why a stock market which keeps hitting all-time highs needs them? But the subject keeps returning as we note yesterday’s words from the President of the Cleveland Fed.

Asked her view on negative interest rates, Mester told the audience that Europe’s use of them “is perhaps working better than I might have anticipated” but added she is not supportive of such an approach in the United States should there be a downturn.

Why say “working better” then reject the idea?  We have seen that path before.

The Euro area

As to working better then a deposit-rate of -0.5% and of course many bond yields in negative territory has seen the annual rate of economic growth fall to 1.1%. Also with the last two quarterly growth readings being only 0.2% it looks set to fall further.

So the idea of an economic boost being provided by them is struggling and relying on the counterfactual. But the catch is that such arguments are mostly made by those who think that the last interest-rate cut of 0.1% made any material difference. After all the previous interest-rate cuts that is simply amazing. Actually the moves will have different impacts across the Euro area as this from an ECB working paper points out.

A striking feature of the credit market in the euro area is the very large heterogeneity across countries in the granting of fixed versus adjustable rate mortgages.
FRMs are dominant in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, while ARMs are prevailing in Austria, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (ECB, 2009; Campbell,
2012)

Actually I would be looking for data from 2019 rather than 2009 but we do get some sort of idea.

Businesses and Savers in Germany are being affected

We have got another signal of the spread of the impact of negative interest-rates .From the Irish Times.

The Bundesbank surveyed 220 lenders at the end of September – two weeks after the ECB’s cut its deposit rate from minus 0.4 to a record low of minus 0.5 per cent. In response 58 per cent of the banks said they were levying negative rates on some corporate deposits, and 23 per cent said they were doing the same for retail depositors.

There was also a strong hint that legality is an issue in this area.

“This is more difficult in the private bank business than in corporate or institutional deposits, and we don’t see an ability to adjust legal terms and conditions of our accounts on a broad-based basis,” said Mr von Moltke, adding that Deutsche was instead approaching retail clients with large deposits on an individual basis.

So perhaps more than a few accounts have legal barriers to the imposition of negative interest-rates. That idea gets some more support here.

Stephan Engels, Commerzbank’s chief financial officer, said this month that Germany’s second largest listed lender had started to approach wealthy retail customers holding deposits of more than €1 million.

Japan

The Bank of Japan has dipped its toe in the water but has always seemed nervous about doing anymore. This has been illustrated overnight.

“There is plenty of scope to deepen negative rates from the current -0.1%,” Kuroda told a semi-annual parliament testimony on monetary policy. “But I’ve never said there are no limits to how much we can deepen negative rates, or that we have unlimited means to ease policy,” he said. ( Reuters )

This is really odd because Japan took its time imposing negative interest-rates as we had seen 2 lost decades by January 2016 but it has then remained at -0.1% or the minimum amount. Mind you there is much that is crazy about Bank of Japan policy as this next bit highlights.

Kuroda also said there was still enough Japanese government bonds (JGB) left in the market for the BOJ to buy, playing down concerns its huge purchases have drained market liquidity.

After years of heavy purchases to flood markets with cash, the BOJ now owns nearly half of the JGB market.

In some ways that fact that a monetary policy activist like Governor Kuroda has not cut below -0.1% is the most revealing thing of all about negative interest-rates.

Switzerland

The Swiss found themselves players in this game when the Swiss Franc soared and they tried to control it. Now they find themselves with a central bank that combines the role of being a hedge fund due to its large overseas equity investments and has a negative interest-rate of -0.75%.

Nearly five years after the fateful day when the SNB stopped capping the Swiss Franc we get ever more deja vu from its assessments.

The situation on the foreign exchange market is still fragile, and the Swiss franc has appreciated in trade-weighted terms. It remains highly valued.

Comment

I have consistently argued that the situation regarding negative interest-rates has two factors. The first is how deep they go? The second is how long they last? I have pointed out that the latter seems to be getting ever longer and may be heading along the lines of “Too Infinity! And Beyond!”. It seems that the Swiss National Bank now agrees with me. The emphasis is mine.

This adjustment to the calculation basis takes account of the fact that the low interest rate environment around the world has recently become more entrenched and could persist for some time yet.

We have seen another signal of that recently because the main priority of the central banks is of course the precious and we see move after move to exempt the banks as far as possible from negative interest-rates. The ECB for example has introduced tiering to bring it into line with the Swiss and the Japanese although the Swiss moved again in September.

The SNB is adjusting the basis for calculating negative interest as follows. Negative interest will continue to be charged on the portion of banks’ sight deposits which exceeds a certain exemption threshold. However, this exemption threshold will now be updated monthly and
thereby reflect developments in banks’ balance sheets over time.

If only the real economy got the same consideration and courtesy. That is the crux of the matter here because so far no-one has actually exited the black hole which is negative interest-rates. The Riksbank of Sweden says that it will next month but this would be a really odd time to raise interest-rates. Also I note that the Danish central bank has its worries about pension funds if interest-rates rise.

A scenario in which interest rates go up
by 1 percentage point over a couple of days is not
implausible. Therefore, pension companies should
be prepared to manage margin requirements at
all times. If the sector is unable to obtain adequate
access to liquidity, it may be necessary to reduce the
use of derivatives.

Personally I am more bothered about the pension funds which have invested in bonds with negative yields.After all, what could go wrong?

 

 

Germany escapes recession for now but what happens next?

This morning has brought the economics equivalent of a cliffhanger as we waiting to see if Germany was now in recession or had dodged it. The numbers were always going to be tight. so without further ado let me hand you over to Destatis.

WIESBADEN – In the third quarter of 2019, the price-adjusted gross domestic product in Germany increased by 0.1% on the second quarter of 2019, after adjustment for seasonal and calendar variations.

So Germany has avoided what has become called the technical definition of recession which is two quarters of contraction in a row. However there was a catch.

According to the most recent calculations, taking into account newly available statistical information, the GDP was down 0.2% in the second quarter of 2019, which is 0.1 percentage points more than first published.

So like the UK the German economy shrank by 0.2% in the second quarter which means that over the half-year the economy was 0.1% smaller. Putting it another way the economy was at 107.20 at the end of the first quarter and at 107.03 at the end of the third quarter.

Just to add to the statistical party the first quarter saw growth revised higher to 0.5% so we have a pattern similar to the UK just weaker. As to the detail for the latest quarter we are told this.

positive contributions in the third quarter of 2019 mainly came from consumption, according to provisional calculations. Compared with the second quarter of 2019, household final consumption expenditure increased, and so did government final consumption expenditure. Exports rose, while imports remained roughly at the level of the previous quarter. Also, gross fixed capital formation in construction was up on the previous quarter. Gross fixed capital formation in machinery and equipment, however, was lower than in the previous quarter.

As you can see it was consumption which did the job which was presumably driven by the employment figures which remain strong.

Compared with September 2018, the number of persons in employment increased by 0.7% (+327,000). The year-on-year change rate had been 1.2% in December 2018, 1.1% in January 2019 and 0.8% in August 2019.

So rising employment albeit at a slowing rate and with it looks as though there has been solid real wage growth too.

 In calendar adjusted terms, the costs of gross earnings in the second quarter of 2019 rose by 3.2% year on year,

At that point inflation had slowed to 1.5% so as far as we know there has been both employment and real wage growth. So we might have expected consumption growth to be higher than it has been.

We are in awkward territory with the mention of exports because they do not count in the output version of GDP as they are sales hence they go in the expenditure version. So we look at production for overseas sales which is problematic as shown below.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that German exports increased by 4.6% and imports by 2.3% in September 2019 year on year. After calendar and seasonal adjustment, exports were up 1.5% and imports 1.3% compared with August 2019.

But whilst that is good GDP counts this.

In September 2019, production in industry was down by 0.6% on the previous month and -4.3% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Now production is not the only source for exports as services are not in it but services will have had to had been booming so we need more information I think.

Statistical Humility

The analysis of GDP numbers to 0.1% is something I have warned about before. Let me illustrate with this from Sweden Statistics earlier.

Statistics Sweden is publishing revised statistics on the Labour Force Surveys (LFS) for the period July 2018 to September 2019, in which only half of the sample is used, due to an earlier identification of quality deficiencies……..this increases the uncertainty, particularly at a more disaggregated level.

You can say that again! Or to put it another way the unemployment rate of 7.4% in September is now reported as 6.6%. Now we all make mistakes and honesty is the best policy but an error of this size begs so many questions. It reminds me of the mistake made in Japan over the measurement of real wages which was in the same direction although of course had the opposite implication for the economy.

Whilst neither example was about GDP the same principles hold and in the case of Sweden I think the mistake is worse because unemployment is a much simpler concept.

Looking Ahead

This could not have been much more negative.

Business confidence across the German private sector
has slipped to the lowest since the global financial crisis,
according to the latest IHS Markit Global Business
Outlook survey. Output of goods and services is on
average expected to fall slightly over the next 12 months,
while firms have signalled their intention to cut
workforce numbers for the first time in ten years.
Concerns about future profits are meanwhile reflected
in a negative outlook for capital spending (capex).

Now Markit have not had a good run on Germany as they have signalled growth when there has not been any so I am not sure where this takes us? Where there might be some traction is in this bit as we have noted already that employment growth is slowing.

now these latest figures point to private sector workforce numbers actually falling over the coming year.

As to other areas the example is mixed. For now the news seems bad and you will have probably guessed the area.

“By the end of 2022, Mercedes-Benz Cars plans to save more than 1 billion euros in personnel costs. To this end, jobs are to be reduced,” the company said in a statement.

“The expanded range of plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles is leading to cost increases that will have a negative impact on Mercedes-Benz Cars’ return on sales,” it added. ( thelocal.de )

Looking further ahead there is potentially some better news on the horizon.

Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, has said Berlin will be the site of its first major European factory as the carmaker’s expansion plans power ahead.

“Berlin rocks,” Mr Musk said, adding Tesla would build an engineering and design centre in the German capital.

Tesla previously said it aimed to start production in Europe in 2021.

The moves come as the firm, which has also invested heavily in a Chinese factory, faces intensifying competition in the electric vehicle industry.

Comment

Let me start with this just released by the Financial Times.

Learning to love negative interest rates……..As evidence accumulates the naysayers case becomes less convincing.

So Germany should be booming right? After all it not only has an official deposit rate of -0.5% but it also has a benchmark bond yield of -0.3%. Yet the economy had a burst of growth and has now pretty much stagnated for a year. So actually it is the case for negative interest-rates which has got weaker. No doubt more of the same “medicine” will be prescribed.

We find ourselves observing what has become a two-speed economy where the services sector is struggling to make up for the declines in the manufacturing sector or if you like they are turning British. There are deeper questions here as for example how much manufacturing will remain in the West?

Also the money supply situation which has been helpful so far in 2019 may be turning lower for the Euro area as a whole.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, decreased to 7.9% in September from 8.5% in August.

So for now there is not much sign of a turn for the better and if we stick to annual GDP growth as our measure that will be focused on the first quarter next year as there is a 0.5% reading to be replaced.  Germany must have its fingers crossed for the end of the trade war.

The Investing Channel

 

 

Was that the bond market tantrum of 2019?

Sometimes economics and financial markets provoke a wry smile. This morning has already provided an example of that as Germany’s statistics office tells us Germany exported 4.6% more in September than a year ago, so booming. Yes the same statistics office that told us yesterday that production was down by 4.3% in September so busting if there is such a word. The last couple of months have given us another example of this do let me start by looking at one side of what has taken place.

QE expansion

We have seen two of the world’s major central banks take steps to expand their QE bond buying one explicitly and the other more implicitly. We looked at the European Central Bank or ECB only on Wednesday.

The Governing Council decided to restart net purchases under each constituent programme of the asset purchase programme (APP)……….. at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November 2019.

More implicitly have been the actions of the US Federal Reserve as it continues to struggle with the Repo crisis.

Based on these considerations, last Friday the FOMC announced that the Fed will be purchasing U.S. Treasury bills at least into the second quarter of next year.7 Specifically, the Desk announced an initial monthly pace of purchases of $60 billion.

That was John Williams of the New York Fed who added this interesting bit.

These permanent purchases

Also there is this.

In concert with these purchases, the FOMC announced that the Desk will continue temporary overnight and term open market operations at least through January of next year.

Maybe a hint that they think dome of this is year end US Dollar demand. But we find that the daily operations continue and at US $80.14 billion as of yesterday they continue on a grand scale. So the Treasury Bill purchases and fortnightly Repo’s have achieved what exactly?

If we move from the official denials that this is QE to looking at the balance sheet we see that it is back above 4 trillions dollars and rising. In fact it was US $4.02 trillion at the end of last month or around US $250 billion higher in this phase.

Bond Markets

You might think and indeed economics 101 would predict that bond markets would be surging and yields falling right now. But we have learnt that things are much more complex than that. Let me illustrate with the US ten-year Treasury Note. You might expect some sort of boost from the expansion of the balance sheet and the purchases of Treasury Bills. But no, the futures contact which nearly made 132 early last month is at 128 and a half now. At one point yesterday the yield looked like it might make 2% as there was quite a rout but some calm returned and it is 1.91% as I type this.

As an aside this is another reminder of the relative impotence of interest-rate cuts these days as if anything a trigger for yields rising was the US interest-rate cut last week. The Ivory Towers will be lost in the clouds yest again.

The situation is even more pronounced in the Euro area where actual purchases have been ongoing for a week now. However in line with our buy the rumour and sell the fact theme we see that the German bond market has fallen a fair bit. In mid-August the benchmark ten-year yield went below -0.7% whereas now it is -0.26%. So Germany is still being paid to borrow at that maturity but considerably less. Indeed at the thirty-year maturity they do have to pay something albeit not very much ( 0.24%).

The UK

There have been a couple of consequences in the UK. The first I spotted in yesterday’s output from the Bank of England.

Mortgage rates and personal loan rates remain near
historical lows, with the rates on some fixed-rate mortgages continuing to fall over the past few months (Table 2.B).
Interest rates on credit cards have increased, although the effective rate paid by the average borrower has remained
stable, in part because of the past lengthening of interest-free periods.

Whilst this is true, if you are going to parade the knowledge of the absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent about foreign exchange options then you should be aware that as Todd Terry put it.

Something’s goin’ on

The five-year Gilt yield has risen from a nadir of 0.22% to 0.52% so the ultra-low period of mortgage rates is on its way out should we stay here.

If we move to the fiscal policy space in the UK then we see that the message that we can borrow cheaply has arrived in the general election campaign.

Although debt stocks are high in many developed countries, debt service ratios are very low. The UK gross debt stock has doubled from 42 per cent of GDP in 1985 to 84 per cent of GDP today, yet debt interest service has halved, from 4 per cent of GDP to below 2 per cent over the same period. It has rarely been lower. A rule using the debt stock would argue for fiscal consolidation, whereas a debt service metric suggests there is ample room for fiscal expansion. Especially as market interest rates are extraordinarily low. (  FT Alphaville)

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2019/11/06/1573068343000/Is-it-time-for-a-shift-in-fiscal-rules–/

I have avoided the political promises which peak I think with the Greens suggestion of an extra £100 billion a year. But the Toby Nangle and Neville Hill proposal above has strengths and has similarities to what I have suggested here for some time. But I think it needs to come with some way of locking the debt costs in, so if you borrow more because it is cheap you borrow for fifty years and not five. It reinforces my suggestion of the 27th of June that the UK should issue some 100 year Gilts.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here and let me start with the borrow whilst it is still cheap theme. There are issues as highlighted by this from Francine Lacqua of Bloomberg.

London’s Elizabeth line has been delayed by a year, and will require extra funding, according to TfL

For those unaware this was called Crossrail ( renaming is often a warning sign) which will be a welcome addition to the London transport infrastructure combing elements of The Tube with the railways. But it gets ever later and more expensive.

There was also some irony as regards the Bank of England as in response to the sole decent question at its presser yesterday (from Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC) Governor Carney effectively suggested the next rate move would be down not up. Yet Gilt yields rose.

Next comes the issue of whether this is a sea-change or just part of the normal ebb and flow of financial markets? We will find out more this afternoon as we wait to see if there were more than just singed fingers in the German bond market for example or whether some were stopped out? After all reporting you had taken negative yield and a capital loss poses more than a few questions about your competence. Even the most credulous will now know it is not a one-way bet but on the other hand if you are expecting QE4 to come down the New York slipway then you can place your bets at much better levels than before.

Where will Christine Lagarde lead the ECB?

We find ourselves in a new era for monetary policy in the Euro area and it comes in two forms. The first is the way that the pause in adding to expansionary monetary policy which lasted for all of ten months is now over. It has been replaced by an extra 20 billion Euros a month of QE bond purchases and tiering of interest-rates for the banking sector. The next is the way that technocrats have been replaced by politicians as we note that not only is the President Christine Lagarde the former Finance Minister of France the Vice-President Luis de Guindos is the former Economy Minister of Spain. So much for the much vaunted independence!

Monetary Policy

In addition to the new deposit rate of -0.5% Mario Draghi’s last policy move was this.

The Governing Council decided to restart net purchases under each constituent programme of the asset purchase programme (APP), i.e. the public sector purchase programme (PSPP), the asset-backed securities purchase programme (ABSPP), the third covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3) and the corporate sector purchase programme (CSPP), at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November 2019.

It is the online equivalent of a bit of a mouthful and has had a by now familiar effect in financial markets. Regular readers will recall mt pointing out that the main impact comes before it happens and we have seen that again. If we use the German ten-year yield as our measure we saw it fall below -0.7% in August and September as hopes/expectations of QE rose but the reality of it now sees the yield at -0.3%. So bond markets have retreated after the pre-announcement hype.

As to reducing the deposit rate from -0.4% to -0.5% was hardly going to have much impact so let us move into the tiering which is a way of helping the banks as described by @fwred of Bank Pictet.

reduces the cost of negative rates from €8.7bn to €5.0bn (though it will increase in 2020) – creates €35bn in arbitrage opportunities for Italian banks – no signs of major disruption in repo, so far.

Oh and there will be another liquidity effort or TLTRO-III but that will be in December.

There is of course ebb and flow in financial markets but as we stand things have gone backwards except for the banks.

The Euro

If we switch to that we need to note first that the economics 101 theory that QE leads to currency depreciation has had at best a patchy credit crunch era. But over this phase we see that the Euro has weakened as its trade weighted index was 98.7 in mid-August compared to the 96.9 of yesterday. As ever the issue is complex because for example my home country the UK has seen a better phase for the UK Pound £ moving from 0.93 in early August to 0.86 now if we quote it the financial market way.

The Economy

The economic growth situation has been this.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in the euro area (EA19…….Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 1.1% in the euro area in the third quarter of 2019 ( Eurostat)

As you can see annual economic growth has weakened and if we update to this morning we were told this by the Markit PMI business survey.

The IHS Markit Eurozone PMI® Composite
Output Index improved during October, but
remained close to the crucial 50.0 no-change mark.
The index recorded 50.6, up from 50.1 in
September and slightly better than the earlier flash
reading of 50.2, but still signalling a rate of growth
that was amongst the weakest seen in the past six and-a-half years.

As you can see there was a small improvement but that relies on you believing that the measure is accurate to 0.5 in reality. The Markit conclusion was this.

The euro area remained close to stagnation in
October, with falling order books suggesting that
risks are currently tilted towards contraction in the
fourth quarter. While the October PMI is consistent
with quarterly GDP rising by 0.1%, the forward looking data points to a possible decline in economic output in the fourth quarter.

As you can see this is not entirely hopeful because the possible 0.1% GDP growth looks set to disappear raising the risk of a contraction.

I doubt anyone will be surprised to see the sectoral breakdown.

There remained a divergence between the
manufacturing and service sectors during October.
Whereas manufacturing firms recorded a ninth
successive month of declining production, service
sector companies indicated further growth, albeit at
the second-weakest rate since January.

Retail Sales

According to Eurostat there was some good news here.

In September 2019 compared with August 2019, the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade increased by 0.1% in the euro area (EA19). In September 2019 compared with September 2018, the calendar adjusted retail sales index increased by 3.1% in the euro area .

The geographical position is rather widespread from the 5.2% annual growth of Ireland to the -2.7% of Slovakia. This is an area which has been influenced by the better money supply growth figures of 2019. This has been an awkward area as they have often been a really good indicator but have been swamped this year by the trade and motor industry problems which are outside their orbit. Also the better picture may now be fading.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, decreased to 7.9% in September from 8.5% in August.

In theory it should rally due to the monthly QE but in reality it is far from that simple as M1 growth picked up after the last phase of QE stopped.

Comment

As you can see there are a lot of challenges on the horizon for the ECB just at the time its leadership is most ill-equipped to deal with them. A sign of that was this from President Lagarde back in September.

“The ECB is supporting the development of such a taxonomy,” Lagarde said. “Once it is agreed, in my view it will facilitate the incorporation of environmental considerations in central bank portfolios.” ( Politico EU)

Fans of climate change policies should be upset if they look at the success record of central banks and indeed Madame Lagarde. More prosaically the ECB would be like a bull in a China shop assuming it can define them in the first place.

More recently President Lagarde made what even for her was an extraordinary speech.

There are few who have done so much for Europe, over so long a period, as you, Wolfgang.

This was for the former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. Was it the ongoing German current account surplus she was cheering or the heading towards a fiscal one as well? Perhaps the punishment regime for Greece?

As to the banks there were some odd rumours circulating yesterday about Deutsche Bank. We know it has a long list of problems but as far as I can tell it was no more bankrupt yesterday than a month ago. Yet there was this.

Mind you perhaps this is why Germany seems to be warming towards a European banking union…..

The success story of Spain faces new as well as old challenges

Back in the Euro area crisis the Spanish economy looked in serious trouble. The housing boom and bust had fit the banking sector mostly via the cajas and the combination saw both unemployment and bond yields soar. It seems hard to believe now that the benchmark bond yield was of the order of 7% but it posed a risk of the bond vigilantes making Spain look insolvent. That was added to by an unemployment rate that peaked at just under 27%. The response was threefold as the ECB bought Spanish bonds under the Securities Markets Programme to reduce the cost of debt. There was also this.

In June 2012, the Spanish government made an official request for financial assistance for its banking system to the Eurogroup for a loan of up to €100 billion. It was designed to cover a capital shortfall identified in a number of Spanish banks, with an additional safety margin.

In December 2012 and January 2013, the ESM disbursed a total of €41.3 billion, in the form of ESM notes, to the Fondo de Restructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB), the bank recapitalisation fund of the Spanish government. ( ESM)

Finally there was the implementation of the “internal competitiveness” model and austerity.

What about now?

Things are very different as Spain has been in a good run. From last week.

Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.4% in the third quarter of 2019 compared to to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that recorded in the
second trimester.The interannual growth of GDP stands at 2.0%, similar to the previous quarter.

There are two ways of looking at this in the round. The first is that for an advanced economy that is a good growth rate for these times, and the second is that it will be especially welcome on the Euro area. Combining Spain with its neighbour France means that any minor contraction in Germany does not pull the whole area in negative economic growth.

However there is a catch for the ECB as Spain has slowed to this rate of economic growth and had thus exceeded the “speed limit” of 1.5% per annum for quite a while now. That will keep its Ivory Tower busy manipulating, excuse me analysing output gaps and the like. In fact once the dog days of the Euro area crisis were over Spain’s economy surged forwards with annual economic growth peaking at 4.2% in the latter part of 2015 and then in general terms slowing to where we are now. As to why the ESM explanation is below.

 Strong job creation followed the economic expansion, and employment has recovered by more than 2.5 million. Structural reforms have been paying off: competitiveness gains have supported economic rebalancing towards tradable sectors, and exports of goods and services have stabilised at historical highs (above 30% of GDP). The large and persistent current account deficit, which had reached 9.6% of GDP in 2007, has turned into a surplus averaging 1.5% of GDP in 2014-18.

Actually the IMF must be disappointed it did not join the party as turning around trade problems used to be its job before it came under French management. But Spain certainly rebounded in economic terms.and has been a strength of the Euro area.

Looking at the broader economy, Spain returned to economic growth in 2014 and continues to perform above the euro area average in that category

Over the past six months external trade has continued to boost the economy in spite of conditions being difficult.

On the other hand, the demand external presents a contribution of 0.2 points, eight tenths lower than the quarter past.

The impact of all this has improved the employment situation considerably.

In interannual terms, employment increases at a rate of 1.8%, rate seven tenths
lower than the second quarter, which represents an increase of 332 thousand jobs
( full time equivalents) in one year.

In terms of a broad picture GDP in Spain peaked at 104.4 in the latter part of 2007 then had a double-dip to 94.3 in the autumn of 2013 and now is at 110.9. So it has recovered and moved ahead albeit over the 12 years not made much net progress.

Problems?

According to the ESM the banks remain a major issue.

Several legacy problems also remain in the banking sector. These include larger and more persistent-than-expected losses of SAREB, which pose a contingent liability to the state. Banks have adequate capital buffers, but should further strengthen them towards the euro area average to withstand any future risks. In addition, the privatisation of Bankia and the reform of cajas need to be completed.

Of course banking reform has been just around the corner on a Roman road in so many places. Also the balance sheet of the Spanish banks has received what Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder would call a “nice little earner”.

Housing prices rise 1.2% compared to the previous quarter.The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index has decreased 1.5 points to 5.3%,

Annual house price growth returned in the spring of 2014 which the banks will welcome. The index based in 2015 is now at 124.2.

However not all ECB policies are welcomed by the banks.

Finally, banks still face pressure on profitability due to the low interest rate environment, and potentially from a price correction in financial assets if the macro environment deteriorates. ( ESM )

An official deposit rate of -0.5% does that to banking profitability. I do not recall seeing signs of the Spanish banks passing this on in the way that Deutsche Bank announced yesterday but the heat is on. I see that the ESM is covering its bases should house prices fall again.

If we look at mortgage-rates then they are falling again as the Bank of Spain records them as 1.83% in September which looks as though it may be an all time low but we do not have the full data set.

Comment

The new phase of economic growth has brought better news on another problem area as the Bank of Spain reports.

Indeed, the non-financial private sector debt ratio
relative to GDP stood at 132%, 5 pp down on a year earlier and 4 pp below the euro area average.

The ratio of the national debt to GDP has fallen to this.

Also, in June 2019 the public debt/GDP ratio stood at 98.9%, a level still 13 pp higher than the euro area average.

 

and these days it is much cheaper to finance as the 7% yields of the Euro area crisis have been replaced by some negative yields and even the benchmark ten-year being a mere 0.31%.

On the other side of the coin first-time buyers will not welcome the new higher house prices and there are areas of trouble.

In this respect, consumer credit grew in June 2019 at a year-on-year rate of around 12%, and non-performing consumer loans at 26%, raising the NPL ratio slightly to 5.6% ( Bank of Spain)

What could go wrong?

Another signal is the way that the growth in employment has improved things considerably but Spain still has an unemployment rate that has only just nudged under 14%.So there is still much to do just as we fear the next downturn may be in play.

A fifth successive monthly deterioration in Spanish
manufacturing operating conditions was signalled in October as a challenging business climate negatively impacted on sales and output……At 46.8, down from 47.7 in September, the index also posted its lowest level for six-and-half years.   ( Markiteconomics )

 

How will Italy cope if its economy shrinks again?

Over the past few says the Standard and Poors ratings agency has been running its slide rule over Italy and yesterday in his final press conference Mario Draghi of the ECB indulged in some trolling.

No, of course not. Things have changed completely and frankly, everybody now in Italy said and stated that the euro is irreversible. So while there may have been hypothetical doubts in one part of the governance of the country, there aren’t any more, so it’s been accepted.

I am not sure if that was a promise or a type of threat! The problem with this sort of rhetoric though had already been highlighted by Mario himself.

 Incoming economic data and survey information continue to point to moderate but positive growth in the second half of this year.

It was in the bit where he felt the need to point out that growth would be positive and was perhaps a response to this from Markit earlier that day.

The eurozone economy started the fourth quarter
mired close to stagnation, with the flash PMI
pointing to a quarterly GDP growth rate of just
under 0.1%………Optimism about future prospects deteriorated further in October to the lowest for over six years,

They had even dragged Mario into it.

The survey indicates that Mario Draghi’s tenure at
the helm of the ECB ends on a note of near-stalled
GDP, slower jobs growth, near-stagnant prices and
growing pessimism about the outlook.

As you can see they gave a different picture which was of marginal/no growth that looked set to deteriorate. Actually Mario was worried about that too if we look further down his speech.

The risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook remain on the downside. In particular, these risks pertain to the prolonged presence of uncertainties, related to geopolitical factors, rising protectionism and vulnerabilities in emerging markets.

Also whilst Markit did not give specific detail for Italy this was troubling.

The rest of the euro area saw a near-stalling of
growth, with output rising at the weakest pace since
the current upturn began in August 2013

What about Italy?

This reminds me of something from the French statistics office that I quoted on Wednesday.

Italian economic growth has remained almost non-existent for more than a year (0.0% in Q2 after +0.1% in Q1).

If you are already not growing and things are getting worse that has a clear implication and it takes us back to our “Girfriend in a coma” theme for Italy. This is where it does not fully participate in economic upswings but sadly does in downswings.

If we look at the area that causes the most concern around the world right now the Italian statistics office told us this earlier this month.

In August 2019 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index increased by 0.3% compared with the
previous month. The change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three
months was -0.3%.  The calendar adjusted industrial production index decreased by 1.8% compared with August 2018 (calendar working days being 21 versus 22 days in August 2018).

The manufacturing sector declined by 2.8% on a year ago and the manufacture of transport equipment fell by 6.9%.

So the pattern here was of recovery in 2015 followed by growth in 2016 and 17 but the growth slowed at the beginning of 2018 and has turned into declines. The underlying index is at 104.9 where 2015=100 so we see that the growth spurt is slip-sliding away.

The problem is that there is another catch.

The unadjusted industrial new orders index decreased by 10.0% with respect to the same month of the previous year (-4.0% in domestic market and -16.3% in non-domestic market).

This meant that the seasonal adjustment needed to do some quite heavy lifting to get us to this.

The seasonally adjusted industrial new orders index increased by 1.1% compared to July (+1.1% in domestic market and +1.0% in non-domestic market); the average of the last three months decreased by 1.6% compared to the previous three ones.

The Banks

If Italy is to change its economic path then it needs a reformed banking sector but as this from Reuters highlights we are back to the same old problems.

 Italy wants to shield Monte dei Paschi (BMPS.MI) from bad loan losses as it prepares the bailed-out bank for a sale, but faces resistance from European Union competition authorities, two sources close to the matter said.

Yep we are back to the world’s oldest bank which to link to the start of this story has operated much of this century under what are called the Draghi Laws. As ever the can is being kicked via a Special Purpose Vehicle or SPV.

Sources have told Reuters the Treasury wants to lower the impaired debt ratio to 5% by spinning off some 10 billion euros in problem loans that would be merged with the assets of Treasury-owned bad loan manager AMCO.

We find ourselves taking a trip into a type of fantasy land yet again.

Monte dei Paschi values debts unlikely to be repaid in full at just over half their nominal value and its worst performing loans at 38%.

That compares with an estimated average price of 27% of nominal value for soured loan transactions in Italy this year, a Banca IFIS report states.

How much? Well here is another way of putting it.

One of the sources said a sale would imply a 1.5 billion euro loss for Monte dei Paschi, hurting the bank’s minority shareholders but not the Treasury, which would benefit from the lower transfer price since its controls 100% of AMCO.

This is a situation that we have observed time and time again in the Italian banking crisis. This is where fantasy numbers are used to fudge the situation but sooner or later they end up facing reality. In this case it is minority shareholders in Monte Paschi who would take the punishment and remember they may well recall being told by Prime Minister Renzi that the bank was a good investment.

Fiscal Position

On Monday we got a reminder that it is not the fiscal deficits that are a problem for Italy.

The government deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 2.4% in 2017 to 2.2% in 2018. The primary surplus as a percentage of GDP was 1.5% in 2018, up by 0.2 percentage points with respect to 2017.

The government debt to GDP ratio was 134.8% at the end of 2018, up by 0.7 percentage points with respect to the end of 2017.

We have had a lot of political rhetoric about it borrowing more but overall Italy has not. The picture has been confused by Eurostat’s inability to produce seasonally adjusted numbers for Italy but the unadjusted ones are if anything lower than in 2018.

In the short-term it remains very cheap for Italy to borrow with its ten-year yield being a mere 1.01%. That is amazingly cheap in the circumstances and can only represent the expectation of being able to sell to the ECB at a higher price as there is a genuine danger of a downwards spiral in an economic slow down.

Comment

We find that the ongoing Italian economic weaknesses such as low growth in the good times and a banking sector full of zombies ready for Halloween leave it exposed to any economic downturns. It is a lovely country and on some viewings has economic strengths as the Bank of Italy reports.

Exports continued to increase in the second quarter, despite the contraction in international trade. The current account surplus rose further, to 2.8 per cent of GDP; foreign sales may have faltered in the following months.

But this leads to another fail for economics 101 as this should lead to economic dynamism except in Italy it never does.

Economic activity in Italy increased only slightly in the second quarter and, in the light of the available data, it could have remained almost stationary in the third……..There is still the risk that the unfavourable developments in industry will be transmitted to the other sectors of the economy.

Any further weakness in economic growth will put even more pressure on this.

The Government estimates net borrowing at 2.2 per cent of GDP this year, the same as in 2018. The debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to rise from 134.8 to 135.7 per cent of GDP.

So whilst I wish Mario Draghi a happy retirement it is also true that his tenure at the ECB has done little for his home country and via the way policy has been tilted towards an increasingly zombified banking sector may in fact have made things worse.

the next fact can be swung several ways.

Since 2015, the resident population has been decreasing, setting up a phase of demographic decline
for the first time in the last 90 years. At 31 December 2018 the population amounted to 60,359,546
residents, over 124 thousand less than the previous year (-0.2%) and over 400 thousand less than four
years earlier.

On the positive  side it helps GDP per person and fewer people must help the green agenda. On the negative side an ageing and shrinking population is less able to deal with the sizeable national debt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worrying signs for the economy of France as the manufacturing downturn bites

Today has opened with some troubling news for the economy of France and the area driving this will not be a surprise. The official confidence survey series has produced this headline.

In October 2019, the business climate has deteriorated in the manufacturing industry

This is a sign that the problems we see in so much of the world have been hitting France and there has been a particularly rapid deterioration this month.

According to the business managers surveyed in October 2019, the business climate in industry has deteriorated compared to September. The composite indicator has lost three points to 99, moving just below its long term average (100).

If we look back at this series we see that it peaked at 113,5 back in February 2018 and is now at 99.4 so quite a decline which has now moved it below its long-term average, This matters as it is a long-running series and of course 100 for manufacturing means relative decline.

If we look for specific areas of weakness we find these.

In the manufacture of equipment goods, the business climate has lost three points and moved below its long-term average (97). In the in the electrical equipment and in the machinery and equipment branches, the balances of opinion have get worse, more sharply than in September, to stand significantly below their average.

And also these.

The business climate has deteriorated in almost all subsectors, particularly in chemicals where the deterioration is the most significant. In this subsector, as in basic metals, the business climate indicator stands largely below its long-term average.

Maybe a little surprisingly this area seems to be hanging in there.

In the manufacture of transport equipment, the business climate indicator has lost two points in October, after a stability in the previous month, and stands slightly below its long-term average.

That is in spite of this.

The climate indicator has decreased again in the automotive industry and has practically returned to the low point of July. The balance of opinion on general production prospects contributes the most sharply to this deterioration.

They do not say it but the motor industry has fallen to 91.

On the other side of the coin the computing and optical sector seems to be improving.

If we bring it all together then there are concerns for other economic measures from this.

Considering employment, the balances opinion on their past variation and perspectives have declined slightly. Both indicators stand however largely above their long-term average.

That does not seem set to last and for what it is worth ( it is volatile) there is also this.

The turning-point indicator has moved down into the area indicating an uncertain economic outlook.

For context the official output series has been telling us this.

In August 2019, output diminished in the manufacturing industry (−0.8%, after +0.4%)……..Over the last three months, output declined in manufacturing industry (−1.2%)……Manufacturing output of the last three months got worse compared to the same three months of 2018 (−0.8%),

That was something of a troika as all three ways of measuring the situation showed falls.

Is it spreading to other sectors?

So far the services sector is not only ignoring this it is doing rather well.

According to business managers surveyed in October 2019, the business climate in services is stable. At 106, it stands well above its long-term average (100).

The only real flicker is here.

More business managers than in July have reported demand difficulties only.

Construction is apparently continuing the boom which began in 2015.

According to the business managers in the building construction industry surveyed in October 2019, the business climate is stable. The composite indicator stands at 112, its highest level since May 2008, largely above its long-term average (100).

This brings me to the official forecast for economic growth from the beginning of the month.

However, the macroeconomic scenario for France remains virtually unchanged since the June 2019 Conjoncture in France report (with projected growth of +0.3% each quarter through to the end of the year, and +1.3% as an annual average in 2019.

The problems you see are all the fault of whatever is French for Johnny Foreigner.

The international economic environment is deteriorating, due to a combination of several factors: protectionist pressures, uncertainties surrounding Brexit, doubts about the orientation of economic policies in certain countries, etc. Growth forecasts for most of France’s economic partners are therefore revised downwards.

Indeed their statisticians seem to abandon European unity and indulge in some trolling.

These international shocks have had a more negative impact on economic activity in Germany than in France. Indeed, growth in Germany stagnated in the spring (–0.1% after +0.4%), with the weakening of international trade and the slowdown in corporate investment hitting industry much harder than services.

If only German had a word for that. Meanwhile this bit just seems cruel.

Italian economic growth has remained almost non-existent for more than a year (0.0% in Q2 after +0.1% in Q1).

Monetary Policy

Here we go.

the European Central Bank (ECB) extended its highly accommodating monetary policy in September, among other things by lowering the deposit rate and resuming its bond purchases as of November 2019 for a total of €20 billion per month.

I like the way they have cottoned onto my idea that markets mostly respond to QE before it happens and sometimes quite a bit before.

As a result, Eurozone sovereign yields entered negative territory (in the spring for the German ten-year yield and in the summer for the French yield).

Fiscal Policy

There is a clue above that there have been ch-ch-changes. That is represented by the ten-year yield in France being -0.1% as I type this. Borrowing is not a complete freebie as the thirty-year yield is 0.7% but ECB policy ( 420 billion Euros of French government bonds and about to rise) means France can borrow very cheaply.

France is taking more of an advantage of this than my country the UK because it borrowed at an annual rate of 3,5% of GDP in the first quarter of the year and 3.4% in the second. Contrary to much of the official rhetoric we see rises of the order of 1% of GDP here so we can see how domestic demand in the economy has been “resilient”. It is also presumably a response to the Gilet Jaunes issue.

France in debt terns is quite tight on a big figure change and Japan excepted the big figure change as the debt to GDP ratio was 99.6% at the end of June. It will be under pressure from the extra borrowing and thus very dependent on economic growth remaining to stay under 100%.

The number being like that explains why the Governor of the Bank of France diverted us somewhat when he was in New York a week ago.

The euro area has a lower level of public debt (85%) than in the United-States (104 %) or the UK (87%),

Actually the UK is in fact below 85% so it was not his finest hour.

Comment

Today’s journey brings us two main themes. The first is that the French economy has been boosted by some extra government spending. This is in stark contrast to Germany which is running a fiscal surplus. But the ~1% of GDP increase seems to have got a little lost in translation as economic growth has only been ~0.6% so far. However it is a case for counter cyclical fiscal policy as otherwise the French economy may have contracted.

Now we see signs of a downwards turn in the already weakened manufacturing sector which poses a problem with fiscal policy already pushing the boundaries of the Maastricht rules. Also if we look deeper I find this deeply troubling from the Governor of the Bank of France.

Despite this gloomy context, the French economy is resilient, with growth at 1.3% close to its potential.

This is a reference to what is the new central banking standard of annual GDP growth having something of a speed limiter at 1.5%. Let me give you two problems with it. Firstly they seem to get a free pass as to their role in this as one of the biggest changes has been their own actions. Secondly it ignores countries like Spain which may now be slower but have in recent times done much better than this.