The Central Banks can enrich themselves and large equity investors but who else?

We are in a period of heavy central bank action with the US Federal Reserve announcement last night as well as the BCB of Brazil and the Bank of England today. We are also in the speeches season for the European Central Bank or ECB. But they have a problem as shown below.

(Reuters) – London-listed shares tracked declines in Asian stock markets on Thursday as the lack of new stimulus measures by the U.S. Federal Reserve left investors disappointed ahead of a Bank of England policy meeting.

Is their main role to have equity markets singing along with Foster The People?

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You’d better run, better run, faster than my bullet
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You’d better run, better run, outrun my gun

We can continue the theme of central planning for equity markets with this from Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan earlier.

BOJ GOV KURODA: ETF PURCHASES ARE NOT TARGETING SPECIFIC STOCK MARKET LEVELS. ( @FinancialJuice )

In fact he has been in full flow.

BOJ’S GOV. KURODA: I DON’T SEE JAPAN’S STOCK MARKET GAINS AS ABNORMAL.  ( @FinancialJuice)

I suppose so would I if I owned some 34 Trillion Yen of it. We also have an official denial that he is aiming at specific levels. He might like to want to stop buying when it falls then. Some will have gained but in general the economic impact has been small and there are a whole litany of issues as highlighted by ETFStream.

Koll says the sheer weight of BoJ involvement is off-putting for others who might wish to get involved in the market. “When I go around the world, (the size of the BoJ’s holdings is) the single biggest push back about Japan from asset allocators,” he says. “This is the flow in the market.”

As the Bank of Japan approaches 80% of the ETF market I am sure that readers can see the problem here. In essence is there a market at all now? Or as ETFStream put it.

So how can the BoJ extricate itself from the ETF market without crashing the stock market?

Also it is kind of theme to back the long-running junkie culture theme of mine.

As it stands, the market has become as hooked as any addict.

You also have to laugh at this although there is an element of gallows humour about it.

The recent slackening off in ETF buying might be an attempt to end this cycle of dependency,

That was from February and let me remind you that so much of the media plugged the reduction line. Right into the biggest expansion of the scheme! As an example another 80 billion Yen was bought this morning to prevent a larger fall in the market. It was the fourth such purchase this month.

The US Federal Reserve

It has boxed itself in with its switched to average ( 2% per annum) inflation targeting and Chair Powell got himself in quite a mess last night.

Projections from individual members also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023. ( CNBC )

This bit was inevitable as having set such a target he cannot raise interest-rates for quite some time. Of course, we did not expect any increases anyway and this was hardly a surprise.

With inflation running persistently below this longer-run goal, the Committee will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent. The Committee expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these outcomes are achieved. ( Federal Reserve)

So there is no real change but apparently it is this.

Powell, asked if we will get more forward guidance, says today’s update was ‘powerful’, ‘very strong’, ‘durable’ forward guidance. ( @Newsquawk).

He has boxed himself in. He has set interest-rates as his main measure and he cannot raise them for some time and the evidence is that negative interest-rates do not work. So all he can do is the “masterly inaction” of the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Applebym or nothing. Quite how that is powerful is anyone’s guess.

Brazil

The same illogic was on display at the Banco Central do Brasil last night.

Taking into account the baseline scenario, the balance of risks, and the broad array of available information, the Copom unanimously decided to maintain the Selic rate at 2.00% p.a.

They have slashed interest-rates to an extraordinary low level for Brazil and seem to think they are at or near the “lower bound” for them.

The Copom believes that the current economic conditions continue to recommend an unusually strong monetary stimulus but it recognizes that, due to prudential and financial stability reasons, the remaining space for monetary policy stimulus, if it exists, should be small.

But telling people that is a triumph?

To provide the monetary stimulus deemed adequate to meet the inflation target, but maintaining the necessary caution for prudential reasons, the Copom considered adequate to use forward guidance as an additional monetary policy tool.

Seeing as nobody is expecting interest-rate increases telling them there will not be any will achieve precisely nothing. Let’s face it how many will even know about it?

ECB

They too are indulging in some open mouth operations.

ECB’s Rehn: Fed’s New Strategy Will Inevitably Have An Impact On The ECB, “We Are Not Operating In A Vacuum”

Regular readers will recall him from back in the day when he was often telling the Greeks to tighten their belts and that things could only get better. Nobody seems to have told poor Ollie about the last decade.

ECB’s Rehn: There Is A Risk That Inflation Will Continue To Remain Too Low Sees Risk That Euro Zone Will Fall In A Trap Of Slow Growth And Low Inflation For A “Long Time”

So we see more ECB policymakers correcting ECB President Christine Lagarde on the issue of the exchange rate. Also as the news filters around there is this.

Three month Euribor fixes at -0.501% … below the ECB’s deposit rate for the first time! ( StephenSpratt)

He is a little confused as of course this has happened before but whilst it is a very minor move we could see another ECB interest-rate cut. It will not do any good but that has not stopped the before has it?

Bank of England

There is this doing the rounds.

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England is expected to signal on Thursday that it is getting ready to pump yet more stimulus into Britain’s economy as it heads for a jump in unemployment and a possible Brexit shock.

Actually nothing has changed and the Bank of England is at what it has called the lower bound for interest-rates ( 0.1%) and is already doing £4.4 billion of bond buying a week.

Still not everybody is seeing hard times.

Former Bank of England (BoE) governor Mark Carney has joined PIMCO’s global advisory board, which is chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Carney, who was appointed UN Special Envoy on climate action and finance in December 2019, is one of seven members of the global advisory board, alongside former UK Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown, and ex-president of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet. ( investmentweek.co.uk )

As Dobie Gray put it.

I’m in with the in crowd
I go where the in crowd goes
I’m in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows

Comment

We have arrived at a situation I have long feared and warned about. The central bankers have grandly pulled their policy levers and now are confused it has not worked. Indeed they have pulled them beyond what they previously thought was the maximum as for example the Bank of England which established a 0.5% interest-rate as a “lower bound” now has one of 0.1%. Now they are trying to claim that keeping interest-rates here will work when the evidence is that they are doing damage in more than a few areas. In terms of economics it was described as a “liquidity trap” and they have jumped into it.

Now they think they can escape by promising action on the inflation rates that as a generic they have been unable to raise since the credit crunch. Here there is an element of “be careful which you wish for” as they have put enormous effort into keeping the prices they can raise ( assets such as bonds,equities and houses) out of the inflation measures. So whilst they can cut interest-rates further and frankly the Bank of England and US Federal Reserve are likely to do so in any further downtown they have the problem highlighted by Newt in the film Aliens.

It wont make any difference.

That is why I opened with a discussion of equity purchases as it is more QE that is the only game in town now. Sooner or later we will see more bond purchases from the US Federal Reserve above the present US $80 billion a month. Then the only move left will be to buy equities. At which point we will have a policy which President Trump would set although of course he may or may not be President by them.

Oh and I have missed out one constant which is this sort of thing.

ECB Banking Supervision allows significant banks to temporarily exclude their holdings of banknotes, coins and central bank deposits from leverage ratio calculations until 27 June 2021. This will increase banks’ leverage ratios.

The Precious! The Precious!

 

 

 

The rise and rise of negative interest-rates

The modern era has brought something that has been in motion all my career, although there have been spells which did not feel like that. I am discussing bond yields which have been in a secular decline since the 1980s. Regular readers will be aware that back when I was new to this arena I asked Legal and General why they were buying a UK Gilt that yielded 15%? Younger readers please feel free to delete such a number from your memories if it is all too much. But there is another shift as back then the benchmark was 20 years and not 10. However you look at it from that perspective a world in which both the 2 and 5 year UK bond or Gilt yields were around -0.13% would have been considered impossible it not unpossible.

Germany

These have been the leaders of the pack in terms of negative bond yields. Last week Germany sold a benchmark 10 year bond with no coupon at all. We should take a moment to consider this as a bond is in theory something with a yield or coupon so as it does not have one we are merely left with money being borrowed and then repaid. Except there was a catch there too as not all of it will be repaid. The price paid was 105.13 on average and you will only get 100 back. Or if you prefer a negative yield of the order of 0.5% per year.

This year has brought something that in the past would have ended the situation as this.

The German Federal Government intends to issue fixed income Government securities with an aggregate volume of € 210 billion in 2020 to finance
the Federal Government budget and its special funds.

Became this.

The auction volume in the first two quarters of the current year amounted to € 97 billion for nominal capital market instruments (planned at the beginning of the year: € 78 billion) and € 87.5 billion for money market instruments (planned at the beginning of the year: € 31 billion)…….Due to the adjustments, the third quarter auction volume for nominal capital market instruments will total € 74 billion (planned at the beginning of the year: € 41 billion).

As you can see there were considerably more bonds on offer but it has made little or no difference to investors willingness to accept a maturity loss or negative yield. Oh and maybe even more bonds are on the way.

In non-regular reopenings on 1 and 16 April, a total amount of € 142 billion of already existing Federal securities was issued directly into the Federal government’s own holdings. These transactions created the possibility to react flexibly to short-term liquidity requirements.

So we learn that the previous reality that Germany was benefiting from its austere approach to public finances was not much of an influence. Previously it has been running a fiscal surplus and repaying debt.

Switzerland

The benchmark yield is very similar here as the 10 year yield is -0.49%. There are many similarities in the situation between Germany and Switzerland but one crucial difference which is that Switzerland has its own currency. The Swiss Franc remains very strong in spite of an interest-rate of -0.75% that has begun to look ever more permanent which is an irony as the 1.20 exchange-rate barrier with the Euro was supposed to be that. The reality is that the exchange-rate over five years after the abandonment of that is stronger at just below 1.08.

So a factor in what we might call early mover status is a strong currency. This also includes the Euro to some extent as we note ECB President Lagarde was on the wires over the weekend.

ECB Lagarde Says Euro Gains Have Blunted Stimulus Boost to Inflation … BBG

This allows us to bring in Japan as well as the Yen has remained strong in spite of all the bond buying of the Bank of Japan.

Safe Haven

The ECB issued a working paper on this subject in January.

There is growing academic and policy interest in so called “safe assets”, that is assets that have stable nominal payoffs, are highly liquid and carry minimal credit risk.

Notice the two swerves which are the use of “stable nominal payoffs” and “minimal credit risk”. The latter is especially noticeable for a place like the ECB which insisted there was no credit risk for Greece, which was true for the ECB but not everyone else.

Anyway it continues.

After the global financial crisis, the demand for safe assets has increased well beyond its supply, leading to an increase in the convenience yield and therefore to the interest that these assets pay. High demand for safe assets has important macroeconomic consequences. The equilibrium safe real interest rate may in fact decline well below zero.

They also note a feature we have been looking at for the best part of a decade now.

In this situation, one of the adjustment mechanisms is the appreciation of the currency of issuance of the safe asset, the so called paradox of the reserve currency.

Quantitative Easing

The problem for the theory above is that the central banks who love to push such theories ( as it absolves them of blame) are of course chomping on safe assets like they are their favourite sweets. Indeed there is a new entrant only this morning, or more accurately an expansion from an existing player.

The Executive Board of the Riksbank has decided to initiate purchases of corporate bonds in the week beginning 14 September 2020. The purchases will keep
companies’ funding costs down and reinforce the Riksbank’s capacity to act if the credit supply to companies were to deteriorate further as a result of the corona pandemic. On 30 June 2020, the Executive Board decided that, within its programme for bond purchases, the Riksbank would offer to purchase corporate bonds to a
nominal amount of SEK 10 billion between 1 September 2020 and 30 June 2021.

There are all sorts of issues with that but for today’s purpose it is simply that the push towards negative interest-rates will be added to. Or more specifically it will increasingly spread to higher risk assets. We can be sure however that should some of these implode it will be nobody’s fault as it could not possibly have been predicted.

Meanwhile ordinary purchases around the world continue including in my home country as the Bank of England buys another £1.45 billion of UK bonds or Gilts.

Comment

There are other factors in play. The first is that we need to try to look beyond the present situation as we note this from The Market Ear.

the feedback loop…”the more governments borrow, the less it seems to cost – giving rise to calls for still more borrowing and spending”. ( Citibank)

That misses out the scale of all the central bank buying which has been enormous and gets even larger if we factor in expected purchases. The US Federal Reserve is buying US $80 billion per month of US Treasuries but with its announcement of average inflation targeting seems likely to buy many more

Also the same Market Ear piece notes this.

The scalability of modern technology means that stimulus is going into asset price inflation, not CPI

Just no. What it means is that consumer inflation measures have been manipulated to avoid showing inflation in certain areas. Thus via Goodhart’s Law and/or the Lucas Critique we get economic policy based on boosting prices in these areas and claiming they are Wealth Effects when for many they are inflation.

We get another shift because if we introduce the issue of capital we see that up to know bond holders will not care much about negative yields as they have been having quite a party. Prices have soared beyond many’s wildest dreams. The rub as Shakespeare would put it is that going forwards we face existing high prices and low or negative yields. It used to be the job of central banks to take the punch bowl away when the party gets going but these days they pour more alcohol in the bowl.

Meanwhile from Friday.

UK SELLS 6-MONTH TREASURY BILL WITH NEGATIVE YIELD AT TENDER, FIRST TIME 6-MONTH BILL SOLD AT NEGATIVE YIELD ( @fiquant )

Podcast

 

 

 

 

Trouble mounts for the ECB and Christine Lagarde

Today is ECB ( European Central Bank ) day where we get the results of their latest deliberations. We may get a minor move but essentially it is one for what we have come to call open mouth operations. This is more than a little awkward when the President has already established a reputation for putting her Hermes shod foot in her mouth. Who can forget this from March 12th?

Lagarde: We are not here to close spreads, there are other tools and other actors to deal with these issues.

If you are ever not sure of the date just take a look at a chart of the Italian government bond market as it is the time when the benchmark ten-year yield doubled. As many put it the ECB had gone from “Whatever it takes” to “Whatever.”

This issue has continued and these days President Lagarde reads from a script written for her which begs the issue of whether the questions from the press corps are known in advance? It also begs the issue of who is actually in charge? This is all very different from when prompted by an admiring Financial Time representative she was able to describe herself as a “wise owl” like her brooch. Whoever was in charge got her to change her tune substantially on CNBC later and got a correcting footnote in the minutes.

I am fully committed to avoid any fragmentation in a difficult moment for the euro area. High spreads due to the coronavirus impair the transmission of monetary policy. We will use the flexibility embedded in the asset purchase programme, including within the public sector purchase programme. The package approved today can be used flexibly to avoid dislocations in bond markets, and we are ready to use the necessary determination and strength.

Next comes her promise to unify the ECB Governing Council and have it singing from the same hymn sheet, unlike the term of her predecessor Mario Draghi. This has been crumbling over the past day or two as we have received reports of better economic expectations from some ECB members. This has been solidified by this in Eurofi magazine today.

Now that we have moved past the impact phase of the shock, we can shift our attention toward the recovery phase. Recently, forward looking confidence indicators look robust, while high frequency data suggest that mobility is recovering. These developments solidify the confidence in our baseline projection with a more favorable balance-of-risks. However, even if no further setbacks materialize
economic activity will only approach pre-corona levels at the end of 2022.

That is from Klass Knot the head of the DNB or Netherlands central bank and any doubts about his view are further expunged below.

Relying too heavily on monetary policy to get the job done might have contributed to perceptions of a “central bank put” in the recovery from the euro area debt crisis, where the ECB bore all of the downside risk to the economy.

Might?!

Also it was only a week ago we were getting reports ( more “sauces” ) that the ECB wanted to get the Euro exchange-rate lower. Whereas so far on announcement day it has talked it up.

The Economy

There are several issues here of which the first was exemplified by Eurostat on Tuesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic also had a strong impact on GDP levels. Based on seasonally adjusted figures, GDP
volumes were significantly lower than the highest levels of the fourth quarter of 2019 (-15.1% in the euro area and
-14.3% in the EU). This corresponds to the lowest levels since the the first quarter of 2005 for the euro area.

Such a lurch downwards has these days a duo fold response. What I mean by that os that central banks have got themselves into the trap of responding to individual events which they can do nothing about. The real issue is where the economy will be by the time the policy response ( more QE and a -1% interest-rate for banks) can actually take effect. I still recall an ECB paper which suggested response times had got longer and not shorter as some try to claim.

Accordingly I can only completely disagree with those who say this should be an influence.

In August 2020, a month in which COVID-19 containment measures continued to be lifted, Euro area annual
inflation is expected to be -0.2%, down from 0.4% in July according to a flash estimate from Eurostat,

For a start there are ongoing measurement issues and anyway the boat has sailed. The more thoughtful might wonder how this can happen with all the effort to raise recorded inflation? But they are usually ignored.

Next the new optimism rather collides with this from a week ago.

In July 2020, a month marked by some relaxation of COVID-19 containment measures in many Member States, the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade decreased by 1.3% in the euro area and by 0.8% in the EU, compared
with June 2020, according to estimates from Eurostat.

That is for July so in these times a while ago but we also face the prospect of more restrictions and maybe more lock downs. If we look at the news from France earlier production was better in July but still well below February.

 Compared to February (the last month before the start of the general lockdown), output declined in the manufacturing industry (−7.9%), as well as in the whole industry (−7.1%).

Italy has different numbers but a similar pattern.

In July 2020 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index increased by 7.4% compared with the previous month. The change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three months was 15.0%.

The calendar adjusted industrial production index decreased by 8.0% compared with July 2019 (calendar working days in July 2020 being the same as in July 2019).

The unadjusted industrial production index decreased by 8.0% compared with July 2019.

Comment

We start with two issues which are that some of the ECB are singing along with D:Ream.

Things can only get better
Can only get better if we see it through
That means me and I mean you too.

That is a little awkward if you want to talk the currency down as we note the FT has a claimed scoop which catches up with us from a week ago.

Scoop: For the first time in more than two years, the
@ECB  is expected to include a reference to the exchange rate in today’s “introductory statement” – here’s four things to watch for as the euro’s strength raises alarms at the central bank.

Then there is the background issue that Mario Draghi who knows Christine Lagarde well thought he was setting monetary policy for her last autumn when the Deposit Rate was cut to -0.5% and a reintroduction of QE was announced. So she would have a year or more to bed in and read up on monetary policy. What could go wrong?

This is a contentious area so let me be clear.Appointing a woman to the role was in fact overdue. The problem is that diversity is supposed to bring new talent of which there are many whereas the establishment only picks ones from their club. In this instance there were two steps backwards. The first is simply Christine Lagarde’s track record which includes a conviction for negligence. Next is the fact that the ECB is now headed by two politicians as the reverse takeover completes and it can set about helping current politicians by keeping debt costs low and sometimes negative. The irony is that if you go back to the beginning of this post Christine Lagarde seems to have failed to grasp even that.

The Investing Channel

France decides to Spend! Spend! Spend!

Yesterday brought something that was both new and familiar from France. The new part is a substantial extra fiscal stimulus. The familiar is that France as regular readers will be aware had been pushing the boundaries of the Euro area fiscal rules anyway, This is something which has led to friction with Italy which has come under fire for its fiscal position. Whereas France pretty much escaped it in spite of having its nose pressed against the Growth and Stability Pact limit of 3% of Gross Domestic Product for the fiscal deficit. Actually that Pact already feels as if it is from a lifetime ago although those who have argued that it gets abandoned when it suits France and Germany are no doubt having a wry smile.

The Details

Here is a translation of President Macron’s words.

We are now entering a new phase: that of recovery and reconstruction. To overcome the most important in our modern history, to prevent the cancer of mass unemployment from setting in, which unfortunately our country has suffered too long, today we decide to invest massively. 100 billion, of which 40 billion comes from financing obtained hard from the European Union, will thus be injected into the economy in the coming months. It is an unprecedented amount which, in relation to our national wealth, makes the French plan one of the most ambitious.

So the headline is 100 billion Euros which is a tidy sum even in these inflated times for such matters. Also you will no doubt have spotted that he is trying to present something of a windfall from the European Union which is nothing of the sort. The money will simply be borrowed collectively rather than individually. So it is something of a sleight of hand. One thing we can agree on is the French enthusiasm for fiscal policy, although of course they have been rather less enthusiatic in the past about such policies from some of their Euro area partners.

There are three components to this.

Out of 100 billion euros, 30 billion are intended to finance the ecological transition.

As well as a green agenda there is a plan to boost business which involves 35 billion Euros of which the main component is below.

As part of the recovery plan, production taxes will be reduced by € 10bn from January 1, 2021, and by sustainable way. It is therefore € 20bn in tax cuts of production over 2021–2022.

That is an interesting strategy at a time of a soaring fiscal deficit to day the least. So far we have ecology and competitiveness which seems to favour big business. Those who have followed French history may enjoy this reference from Le Monde.

With an approach that smacks of industrial Colbertism

The remaining 35 billion Euros is to go into what is described as public cohesion which is supporting jobs and health. In fact the jobs target is ambitious.

According to the French government, the plan will help the economy make up for the coronavirus-related loss of GDP by the end of 2022, and help create 160,000 new jobs next year.  ( MarketWatch)

Is it necessary?

PARIS (Reuters) – French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire believes that the French economy could perform better than currently forecast this year, he said on Friday.

“I think we will do better in 2020 than the 11% recession forecast at the moment,” Le Maire told BFM TV.

I suspect Monsieur Le Maire is a Beatles fan and of this in particular.

It’s getting better
Since you’ve been mine
Getting so much better all the time!

Of course things have got worse as he has told us they have got better. Something he may have repeated this morning.

August PMI® data pointed to the sharpest contraction in French construction activity for three months……….At the sub-sector level, the decrease in activity was broad based. Work undertaken on commercial projects fell at the
quickest pace since May, and there was a fresh decline in civil engineering activity after signs of recovery in June and July. Home building activity contracted for the sixth month running, although the rate of decrease was softer than in July. ( Markit)

We have lost a lot of faith in PMi numbers but even so there is an issue as I do not know if there is a French equivalent of “shovel ready”? But construction is a tap that fiscal policy can influence relatively quickly and there seems to be no sign of that at all.

Indeed the total PMI picture was disappointing.

“The latest PMI data came as a disappointment
following the sharp rise in private sector activity seen
during July, which had spurred hopes that the French
economy could undergo a swift recovery towards precoronavirus levels of output. However, with activity
growth easing considerably in the latest survey period,
those hopes have been dashed…”

So the data seems to be more in line with the view expressed below.

It is designed to try to “avoid an economic collapse,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday. ( MarketWatch)

Where are the Public Finances?

According to the Trading Economics this is this mornings update.

France’s government budget deficit widened to EUR 151 billion in the first seven months of 2020 from EUR 109.7 billion a year earlier, amid efforts to support the economy hit by the coronavirus crisis. Government spending jumped 10.4 percent from a year earlier to EUR 269.3 billion, while revenues went down 6.3 percent to EUR 142.25 billion

I think their definition of spending has missed out debt costs.

As of the end of June the public debt was 1.992 trillion Euros.

Comment

I have avoided being to specific about the size of the contraction of the economy and hence numbers like debt to GDP. There are several reasons for this. One is simply that we do not know them and also we do not know how much of the contraction will be temporary and how much permanent? We return to part of yesterday’s post and France will be saying Merci Madame Lagarde with passion. The various QE bond purchase programmes mean that France has a benchmark ten-year yield of -0.18% and even long-term borrowing is cheap as it estimates it will pay 0.57% for some 40 year debt on Monday. That’s what you get when you buy 473 billion Euros of something and that is just the original emergency programme or PSPP and not the new emergency programme or PEPP. On that road the European Union fund is pure PR as it ends up at the ECB anyway.

The Bank of France has looked at the chances of a rebound and if we look at unemployment and it looks rather ominous.

However, the speed of the recovery in the coming months and years is more uncertain, as is the peak in the unemployment rate, which the Banque de France forecasts at 11.8% in mid-2021 for France……….Chart 1 shows that in France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, once the unemployment rate peaked, it fell at a rate that was fairly similar from one crisis to the next: on average 0.55 percentage point (pp) per year in France and Italy, 0.7 pp in Germany, and 0.63 pp in the United States.

There is not much cheer there and they seem to have overlooked that unemployment rates have been much higher in the Euro area than the US. But we can see how this might have triggered the French fiscal response especially at these bond yields.

But Giulia Sestieri is likely to find that her conclusion about fiscal policy is likely to see the Bank of France croissant and espresso trolley also contain the finest brandy as it arrives at her desk.

Ceteris paribus, the lessons of economic literature suggest potentially large fiscal multipliers during the post-Covid19 recovery phase

Mind you that is a lot of caveats for one solitary sentence.

The ECB would do well to leave the Euro exchange-rate alone.

Over the past 24 hours we have seen something of a currency wars vibe return. This has other links as we mull whether for example negative interest-rates can boost currencies via the impact of the Carry Trade? In which case economics 101 is like poor old HAL 9000 in the film 2001. As so often is the case the Euro is at the heart of much of it and the Financial Times has taken a break from being the house paper of the Bank of England to take up the role for the ECB.

The euro’s rise is worrying top policymakers at the European Central Bank, who warn that if the currency keeps appreciating it will weigh on exports, drag down prices and intensify pressure for more monetary stimulus. Several members of the ECB’s governing council told the Financial Times that the euro’s rise against the US dollar and many other currencies risks holding back the eurozone’s economic recovery. The council meets next week to discuss monetary policy.

There are a range of issues here. The first is that we are seeing an example of what have become called ECB “sauces” rather then sources leak suggestions to the press to see the impact. Next we are left mulling if the ECB actually has any “top policymakers” as the FT indulges in some flattery. Especially as we then head to a perversion of monetary policy as shown below where lower prices are presented as a bad thing.

drag down prices

So they wish to make workers and consumers worse off ( denying them lower prices) whilst that the economy will be boosted bu some version of a wish fairy. Actually the sentence covers a fair bit of economic theory and modern reality so let us examine it.

The Draghi Rule

Back in 2014 ECB President Draghi gave us his view of the impact of the Euro on inflation.

Now, as a rule of thumb, each 10% permanent effective exchange rate appreciation lowers inflation by around 40 to 50 basis points.

There is a problem with the use of the word “permanent” as exchange-rate moves are usually anything but, However since the nadir in February when the Euro fell to 95.6 it has risen to 101.9 or 6.3 points. Thus we have a disinflationary impact of a bit under 0.3%. That is really fine-tuning things and feels that the ECB has been spooked by this.

In August 2020, a month in which COVID-19 containment measures continued to be lifted, Euro area annual
inflation is expected to be -0.2%, down from 0.4% in July……..

Perhaps nobody has told them they are supposed to be looking a couple of year ahead! This is reinforced by the detail as the inflation fall has been mostly driven by the same energy prices which Mario Draghi argued should be ignored as they are outside the ECB’s control.

Looking at the main components of euro area inflation, food, alcohol & tobacco is expected to have the highest
annual rate in August (1.7%, compared with 2.0% in July), followed by services (0.7%, compared with 0.9% in
July), non-energy industrial goods (-0.1%, compared with 1.6% in July) and energy (-7.8%, compared with -8.4% in
July).

The Carry Trade

This is the next problem for the “top policymakers” who appear to have missed it. Perhaps economics 101 is the only analysis allowed in the Frankfurt Ivory Tower, which misses the reality that interest-rate cuts can strengthen a currency. Newer readers may like to look up my articles on why the Swiss Franc surged as well as the Japanese Yen. But in simple terms investors borrow a currency because it terms of interest-rate (carry) it is cheaper. With an official deposit rate of -0.5% and many negative bond yields Euro borrowing is cheap. So some will borrow in it and cutting interest-rates just makes it cheaper and thereby even more attractive.

As an aside you may have spotted that a potential fix is for others to cut their interest-rates which has happened in many places. But with margins thin these days I suspect investors are playing with smaller numbers. You may note that this is both dangerous and a consequence of the QE era so you can expect some official denials to be floating around.

The Euro as a reserve currency

This is a case of be careful what you wish for! I doubt the current ECB President Christine Lagarde know what she was really saying when she put her name to this back in June.

On the one hand, the euro’s share in outstanding international loans increased significantly.

Carry Trade anyone? In fact you did not need to look a lot deeper to see a confession.

Low interest rates in the euro area continued to support the use of the euro as a funding currency – even after adjusting for the cost of swapping euro proceeds into other currencies, such as the US dollar.

The ECB has wanted the Euro to be more of a reserve currency so it is hard for it then to complain about the consequences of that which will be more demand and a higher price. Perhaps they did not think it through and they are now singing along with John Lennon.

Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Strange days indeed — strange days indeed

Economic Output

Mario Draghi was more reticent about the impact of a higher Euro on economic output which is revealing about the ECB inflation obsession. But back in 2014 when there were concerns about the Euro CaixaBank noted some 2008 research.

Since January 2013, the euro’s nominal effective exchange rate has appreciated by approximately 5.0%. Based on a study by the ECB,an increase of this size reduces exports by 0.6 p.p. in the first year and by close to 1.0 p.p. cumulative in the long term.

With trade being weaker I would expect the impact right now to be weaker as well. Indeed the Reserve Bank of Australia has pretty much implied that recently with the way it has looked at a higher Aussie Dollar which can’t impact tourism as much as usual for example, because there is less of it right now.

Comment

One context of this is that a decade after the “currency wars” speech from the Brazilian Finance Minister we see that we are still there. This is a particular issue for the Euro area because as a net exporter with its trade and balance of payments surplus you could argue it should have a higher currency as a type of correction mechanism. After all it was such sustained imbalances that contributed to the credit crunch and if you apply purchasing power parity to the situation then according to the OECD the exchange rate to the US Dollar should be 1.42 so a fair bit higher. There are always issues with the precision of such calculations but much higher is the answer. Thus reducing the value of the Euro from here would be seeking a competitive advantage and punishing others.

Next comes the way that this illustrates the control freakery of central bankers these days who in spite of intervening on an extraordinary scale want to intervene more. It never seems to occur to them that the problems are increasingly caused by their past actions.

The irony of course is that the elephant in the room which is the US Dollar mat have seen a nadir with the US Federal Reserve averaging inflation announcement. If so we learn two things of which the first is that the ECB may work as an (inadvertent) market indicator. The second is that central banks may do well to leave this topic alone as it is a sea bed with plenty of minefields in it. After all with a trade-weighted value of 101.53 you can argue it is pretty much where it started.

 

 

 

 

How do the negative interest-rates of the ECB fit with a surging money supply?

Today brings an opportunity for us to combine the latest analysis from the European Central Bank with this morning’s money supply and credit data. The speech is from Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel who is apparently not much of a fan of Denmark or Sweden.

In June 2014, the ECB was the first major central bank to lower one of its key interest rates into negative territory.

Of course the effect of the Euro was a major factor in those countries feeling the need for negativity but our Isabel is not someone who would admit something like that. We do however get a confession that the ECB did not know what the consequences would be.

As experience with negative interest rates was scant, the ECB proceeded cautiously over time, lowering the deposit facility rate (DFR) in small increments of 10 basis points, until it reached -0.5% in September 2019. While negative interest rates have, over time, become a standard instrument in the ECB’s toolkit, they remain controversial, both in central banking circles and academia.

Unfortuately for Isabel she has been much more revealing here than she intended. In addition to admitting it was new territory there is a confession the Euro area economy has been weak as otherwise why did they feel the need to keep cutting the official interest-rate? Then the “standard instrument” bit is a confession that they are here to stay.

In spite of the problems she has just confessed to Isabel thinks she can get away with this.

In my remarks today, I will review the ECB’s experience with its negative interest rate policy (NIRP). I will argue that the transmission of negative rates has worked smoothly and that, in combination with other policy measures, they have been effective in stimulating the economy and raising inflation.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic that was simply untrue. You do not have to take me word for it because below is the policy announcement from the ECB on the 12th of September last year. They did not so that because things were going well did they?

The interest rate on the deposit facility will be decreased by 10 basis points to -0.50%…….Net purchases will be restarted under the Governing Council’s asset purchase programme (APP) at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November.

The accompanying statement included a complete contradiction of what Isabel is trying to claim now.

Today’s decisions were taken in response to the continued shortfall of inflation with respect to our aim. In fact, incoming information since the last Governing Council meeting indicates a more protracted weakness of the euro area economy, the persistence of prominent downside risks and muted inflationary pressures.

I wonder if anyone challenged Isabel on this?

Fantasy Time

Some would argue that this represents a policy failure but not our Isabel.

In other words, the ECB had succeeded in shifting the perceived lower bound on interest rates firmly into negative territory, supported by forward guidance that left the door open for the possibility of further rate cuts.

It is no great surprise that for Isabel it is all about “The Precious! The Precious!”

The ECB, for its part, tailored its non-standard measures to the structure of the euro area economy, where banks play a significant role in credit intermediation. In essence, this meant providing ample liquidity for a much longer period than under the ECB’s standard operations.

Yet even this has turned out to be something of a fantasy.

In spite of these positive effects on the effectiveness of monetary policy, the NIRP has often been criticised for its potential side effects, particularly on the banking sector……..In the extreme, the effect could be such that banks charge higher interest rates on their lending activities, thereby reversing the intended accommodative effect of monetary policy.

The text books which Professor Schabel has read and written contained nothing like this. We all know that if something is not in an Ivory Tower text book it cannot happen right?

Money Supply

This morning’s data showed a consequence of the Philosophy described above.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.5% in July from 12.6% in June.

This is the fastest rate of monetary expansion the Euro area has seen in absolute terms. There was a faster rate of expansion in percentage terms in its first month ( January 1999) of 14.7% but the numbers are so much larger now. Also contrary to so much official and media rhetoric cash is in demand as in July it totalled some 1.31 trillion Euros as opposed to 1.19 trillion a year before. This is out of the 9.78 trillion Euros.

As we try to analyse this there is the issue that it is simple with cash as 0% is attractive compared to -0.5% but then deposits should be fading due to the charge on them. Except we know that the major part of deposits do not have negative interest-rates because the banks are terrified of the potential consequences.

We can now switch to broad money and we are already expecting a rise due to the narrow money data.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 10.2% in July 2020 from 9.2% in June, averaging 9.5% in the three months up to July.

Below is the break down.

 

The components of M3 showed the following developments. The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.5% in July from 12.6% in June. The annual growth rate of short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) increased to 1.4% in July from 0.8% in June. The annual growth rate of marketable instruments (M3-M2) increased to 12.8% in July from 9.2% in June.

Putting it that way is somewhat misleading because the M1 change of 158 billion dwarfs the 33 billion of marketable instruments although the growth rates are not far apart.

 

Comment

Let me now put this into context in ordinary times we would expect the narrow money or M1 surge to start impacting about six months ahead. So it should begin towards the end of this year. Although it will be especially hard to interpret as some of the slow down was voluntary as in we chose to shut parts of the economy down. Has monetary policy ever responded to a voluntary slow down in this way before?

Also if we switch to broad money we see that the push has seen M3 pass the 14 trillion Euros barrier. Again in ordinary times we should see nominal GDP surge in response to that in around 2 years with the debate being the split between inflation and real growth. Except of course we do not know where either are right now! We have some clues via the surges in bond and equity markets seen but of course the Ivory Tpwers that Professor Schabel represents come equipped with blacked out windows for those areas.

Actually the good Professor and I can at least partly agree on something as I spotted this in her speech.

With the start of negative rates, we have observed a steady increase in the growth rate of loans extended by euro area monetary financial institutions.

They did although that does not mean the policies she supported caused this and in fact the growth rate of loans to the private-sector is now falling.

She somehow seems to have missed the numbers which further support my theme that her role is to make sure government borrowing is cheap ( in fact sometimes free or even for a profit) is in play.

The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 15.5% in July from 13.6% in June,

We now wait to see if the famous quote from Milton Friedman which is doing the rounds will be right one more time.

Inflation is just like alcoholism, in both cases when you start drinking or when you start printing to much money, the good effects come first the bad effects come later.

Or Neil Diamond.

Money talks
But it can’t sing and dance and it can’t walk

 

 

Even if this quarter sees economic growth of 7% Germany has gone back in time to 2015

Today has brought the economic engine of the Euro ares into focus as we digest a barrage of data from and about Germany. We find that the second effort at producing economic output figures for the second quarter has produced a small improvement.

WIESBADEN – The gross domestic product (GDP) fell sharply by 9.7% in the 2nd quarter of 2020 on the 1st quarter of 2020 after adjustment for price, seasonal and calendar variations. According to the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the GDP drop in the 2nd quarter of 2020 was not quite as steep as reported in the first release of 30 July 2020 (-10.1%).

This means that the comparison with last year improved as well.

11.3% on the same quarter a year earlier (price-adjusted)

The last figure is revealing in that it reminds us that the German economy had been in something of a go-slow even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Also we note that the hit was in broad terms double that of the credit crunch.

The slump in the German economy was thus much larger than during the financial and economic crisis of 2008/2009 (-4.7% in the 1st quarter of 2009) and the sharpest decline since quarterly GDP calculations for Germany started in 1970.

The Details

With a lockdown in place for a fair bit of the quarter this was hardly a surprise.

As a consequence of the ongoing corona pandemic and the restrictions related with it, household final consumption expenditure fell sharply by 10.9% in the 2nd quarter of 2020.

What is normally considered to be a German strength fell off the edge of a cliff as investment plunged.

Gross fixed capital formation in machinery and equipment even dropped by as much as 19.6%.

Which made the annual picture this.

 Gross fixed capital formation in machinery and equipment fell sharply by 27.9% after already dropped considerably by 9.5% in the 1st quarter.

Also a platoon of PhD’s from the ECB will be on their way to work out what has gone on here?

Gross fixed capital formation in construction also declined markedly (-4.2%) in the 2nd quarter, which was due in particular to the exceptionally strong 1st quarter (+5.1%).

The ECB PhD’s may be able to write a working paper describing what their bosses would consider a triumph. Or at least, something described as a triumph on the crib sheet provided to ECB President Christine Lagarde.

Gross fixed capital formation in construction, which was 1.4% higher than in the 2nd quarter of 2019, also had a supporting effect year on year.

Looking at the annual comparison it has not been a good year for net exporters.

Foreign trade fell dramatically also compared with a year earlier. Exports of goods and services fell by 22.2% (price-adjusted) in the 2nd quarter of 2020 year on year. Imports did not drop as strongly (-17.3%) over that period.

Something else which you might reasonably consider to be not very Germanic has been in play.

Only final consumption expenditure of general government had a stabilising effect; it was 1.5% higher than in the previous quarter and prevented an even larger GDP decrease………( and the annual data)  In contrast, an additional 3.8% in government final consumption expenditure prevented the economy from crashing even more.

We know that the unemployment numbers have been actively misleading in the pandemic but I note that the hours worked data gives a similar picture to GDP.

The labour volume of the overall economy, which is the total number of hours worked by all persons in employment, declined even more sharply by 10.0% over the same period.

This had an inevitable consequence for productivity.

Labour productivity per person in employment slumped by as much as 10.2% compared with the 2nd quarter of 2019.

Savings

I thought I would pick this out as it is a clear development in the Covid era.

The relatively stable incomes, on the one hand, and consumer reticence, on the other, resulted in a substantial rise in household saving. According to provisional calculations, the savings ratio nearly doubled to 20.1% in the 2nd quarter of 2020 year on year (2nd quarter 2019: 10.2%).

Looking Ahead

This morning’s IFO release tells us this.

Sentiment among German business leaders is continuing to improve. The ifo Business Climate Index rose from 90.4 points (seasonally adjusted)  in July  to 92.6 points in August. Companies assessed their current business situation markedly more positively than last month. Their expectations were also slightly more optimistic. The German economy is on the road to recovery.

Although a somewhat different context was provided by this.

In manufacturing, the business climate improved considerably. Companies’ assessments of their current situation jumped higher. Nevertheless, many industrial companies still consider their current business to be poor. The outlook for the coming months was again more optimistic. Order books are filling once more.

That showed a welcome improvement but only to a level considered to be poor so it is hardly surprising they are optimistic relative to that. Indeed trade seems to have engaged reverse gear.

In trade, the upward trend in the business climate flattened noticeably. Companies were somewhat more satisfied with their current situation. However, their pessimism regarding the coming months was almost unchanged. In wholesale, the business climate in fact fell back.

Perhaps they are getting a little more like us in the UK as the services sector seems to be on the road to recovery.

In the service sector, the Business Climate Index rose strongly. Service providers were decidedly happier with their current business situation. Their outlook for the coming six months also improved further.

Considering the GDP numbers you might think that construction would be more upbeat.

In construction, the business climate continues to improve. Construction companies were again happier with their current situation. However, their expectations are still pessimistic, albeit less so than last month.

Comment

If we take the example below where would that leave Germany?

Germany IFO expects GDP growth of around 7% in Q3 ( DailyFX.com )

If we take the unadjusted figure of 93.46 for the second quarter then we will rise to 100 or if you prefer we will have stepped back in time to 2015. So the “Euro boom” and all the ECB backslapping will have been wiped out. The 7% economic growth recorded over the period will be ground that will have to be re-taken. That will be not so easy as we see renewed but hopefully more minor Covid-19 outbreaks in other parts of the Euro area.

I am a little unclear how @Economist_Kat gets to this.

#Germany: #ifo survey results for August are consistent with the economy moving into Boom territory.

Perhaps too much kool-aid. According to a @LiveSquawk the official view is that things can only get better.

German FinMin Scholz: Economy Developing Better Than Expected

Meanwhile official policy has the pedal to the metal with an official interest-rate for banks at -1% and two QE bond buying schemes running at once. We also have fiscal policy being deployed on a grand scale, especially for Germany. There is little scope for it to do more.

 

 

 

 

 

The economic problems of Greece are multiplying

Today is a case of hello darkness my old friend, I have come to talk to you again, as we look at Greece. Yet again we find a case of promised economic recovery turning into another decline although on this occasion it is at least nit the fault of the “rescue” party. The promised recovery was described by the Governor of the Bank of Greece back in February.

According to the Bank of Greece estimates, the Greek economy grew at a rate of 2.2% in 2019 while projections point to growth accelerating to 2.5% in 2020 and 2021, as the catching-up effect, after a long period of recession, through rises in investment and disposable income is projected to counterbalance the effect of the global and euro area slowdown.

Apart from the differences in the years used that could have been written back in 2010 and pretty much was. Maybe no-one should ever forecast 2% or so economic growth for Greece as each time the economy then collapses!

Also Governor Stournaras told us this.

The main causes of the crisis, namely the very large “twin” deficits (i.e. the general government and current account deficits) have been eliminated,

So let us take a look.

Balance of Payments

This morning’s release tells us this.

In June 2020, the current account balance showed a deficit of €1.4 billion, against a surplus of €805 million in June 2019.

So the Governor as grand statements like that tend to do found a turning point except the wrong way. Anyone with any knowledge of 2020 will not be surprised at the cause of this.

This development is mainly attributable to a deterioration in the travel balance and, therefore, the services balance, which was partly offset by an improvement in the balance of goods, as imports of goods decreased more than the respective exports. The primary and the secondary income accounts did not show any significant change.

Let us get straight to the tourism numbers.

The travel surplus narrowed, as non-residents’ arrivals and the corresponding receipts decreased by 93.8% and 97.5%, respectively. Moreover, travel payments dropped by 81.3%. The transport balance also declined, by 39.7%, due to a deterioration in the sea and air transport balances.

Nobody will be especially surprised about this falling off a cliff although maybe with restrictions being eased from mid June the numbers may not have been quite so bad. Also there is the kicker of the impact on Greece’s shipping companies.

Switching to the half-year we see this.

In the first half of 2020, the current account deficit came to €7.0 billion, up by €2.9 billion year-on-year, as the deteriorating services balance and secondary income account more than offset an improvement in the balance of goods and the primary income account.

That is awkward for out good Governor as we note a deficit last year but for our purposes there is something ominous in the goods balance improvement.

The deficit of the balance of goods fell, as imports decreased at a faster pace than exports.

Whilst some of that was the oil trade which was affected by the price fall there was also this.

Non-oil exports of goods declined by 3.9% at current prices (-3.4% at constant prices), while the corresponding imports fell by 10.1% (‑9.5% at constant prices).

Which suggests via the relative import slow down that we have a possible echo of what happened in 2010.

Government Deficit

This was the benchmark set by the Euro area authorities and the IMF. Back in the day they were called the Troika and then the Institutions which provides its own script for events. After all successes do not change their names do they? As for now we see this.

In January-July 2020, the central government cash balance recorded a deficit of €12,767 million, compared to a deficit of €2,432 million in the same period of 2019.

Unsurprisingly revenues are down and expenditure up.

During this period, ordinary budget revenue amounted to €22,283 million, compared to €25,871 million in the corresponding period of last year. Ordinary budget expenditure amounted to €32,423 million, from €29,870 million in January-July 2019.

That does not add up as we note the weasel word “ordinary” which apparently excludes public investment which is over 2.5 billion higher so far this year. Also debt costs are about 700 million higher mostly to “The Institutions”. That looks a little awkward but it seems they have decided to give it back.

(Luxembourg) – The Board of Directors of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) decided today to reduce to zero the step-up margin accrued by Greece for the period between 1 January 2020 and 17 June 2020, as part of the medium-term debt relief measures agreed for the country in 2018. The value of the reduction amounts to €103.64 million.

Additionally, as part of the debt relief measures, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), acting as an agent for the euro area member states and after their approval, will make a transfer to Greece amounting to €644.42 million, equivalent to the income earned on SMP/ANFA holdings.

The air of unreality about this was added to by ESM and EFSF head Klaus Regling who seems to think the Greek economy is recovering.

This is necessary to further support the economic recovery, improve the resilience of the economy and improve the country’s long-term economic potential.

What is he smoking?

ECB

It has stepped in to help with the Greek finances as these days Greece is issuing its own debt again. The ECB is running two QE programmes and the “emergency” PEPP one ( as opposed to the now apparently ordinary PSPP) had at the end of July bought some 10 billion Euros of Greek government bonds,

There was always an implicit gain from ECB QE for Greece in that its bonds would be made to look relatively attractive now it is explicit with the ECB purchases. Indeed it has so far bought more than Greece issued last year.

During 2019, the Hellenic Republic has successfully tapped the international debt capital markets through 4 market
transactions: 3 new bond series (5Y, 7Y, 10Y new issue + tap) for a total amount of € 9bn have been issued, ( Greece PDMA)

Greece was also grateful for the lower borrowing costs.

The average cost of funding for 10-year bonds has decreased from c. 4.4% to c.1.5%, while yields on 3m and 6m T-bills
have recently reached negative values

But I have never heard the ECB being called an insurance and pension fiund before, although it is in line with my “To Infinity! And Beyond! ” theme maybe the longest of long-term investors..

The investor base for Greece Government Bonds (GGBs) has significantly strengthened and broadened with an
increased share of long-term investors, notably insurance and pensions funds.

Just for clarity the PEPP purchases had not begun but the PSPP had.

Debt

The numbers here apparently have changed little but that is because Greece borrowed extra to give itself a cash buffer. So if we allow for that another 7.4 billion Euros were added to the debt pile in the second quarter of this year.

Comment

The saddest part of this is that the present pandemic has added to what was already a Great Depression in Greece. At current prices a GDP of 242 billion Euros in 2008 was replaced by one of 187.5 billion last year. At this point the casual observer might be wondering how a central bank Governor could be talking about a recovery?

But there is more as Greece arrived at the pandemic under another depressionary influence as it planned to run a fiscal surplus and I recall 3.5% of GDP being a target. Now you may notice that the same group of Euro area authorities seem rather keen on fiscal deficits as they have been taking advice from Kylie it would appear.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way

To my mind the issue revolves around out other main indicator which is the balance of payments. This used to be the role of the IMF before it had French leaders. At the moment the Greek numbers have been hit hard by something it can do nothing about via the impact of lockdown on tourism. Sadly with the rise in cases of Covid-19 elements of that may return, although one of my friends is out there right now doing her best to keep the economy going. We will never know how much better that trajectory of the Greek economy would have been if the focus had been on reform and trade rather than debt and punishment, but we do know it would have been better and maybe a lot better.

 

The fraudsters want to raise the US inflation target

Today brings us a new variation on an old theme. This is the issue of what is the right level for an inflation target and sometimes we go as far as to whether there should be one at all? This begins with something of a fluke or happenstance. This is the reality that inflation targets are usually set at 2% per annum following the lead set by New Zealand back in the day. This has become something of a Holy Grail for central banksters in spite of the fact that it had no theoretical backing as this from the Riksbank of Sweden explains.

There was no relevant academic research from which to draw support; instead, the New Zealand authorities had to launch the new regime more or less as an “experiment” and quite simply see how well it worked in practice.

In fact it was as we see so often a case of trying to fit later theory to earlier practice.

This shows that it does not seem to be until the mid-1990s, i.e. about five years after its introduction in practice, that inflation targeting began to attract any significant interest in the academic research.

Basocally it was from a different world where inflation was higher and they wanted something of an anchor and an achievable objective.

Also there is another swerve as other time the central bankster preference for theory over reality has led to claims that it provides price stability when it does not. Let me illustrate from the European Central Bank or ECB.

 The ECB has defined price stability as a year-on-year increase in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%.

The truth is in some ways in the “as defined” bit because if we return to the real world it simply isn’t. Also the inflation measure ignores owner-occupied housing an area where we often find inflation. It was relative price stability when inflation was higher but was never updated with the times leaving central bankers aping first world war generals and fighting the previous war.

What about now?

Here is CNBC from earlier this month.

Recent statements from Fed officials and analysis from market veterans and economists point to a move to “average inflation” targeting in which inflation above the central bank’s usual 2% target would be tolerated and even desired.

Actually then CNBC became refreshingly honest.

To achieve that goal, officials would pledge not to raise interest rates until both the inflation and employment targets are hit. With inflation now closer to 1% and the jobless rate higher than it’s been since the Great Depression, the likelihood is that the Fed could need years to hit its targets.

Not fully honest though because we only need to look back to yesterday and the Japanese experience which has gone on for (lost) decades. This theme was added to last week by an Economic Letter from the San Francisco Fed.

Average-inflation targeting is one approach policymakers could use to help address these challenges. Taking into account previous periods of below-target inflation, average-inflation targeting overshoots to bring the average rate back to target over time. If the public perceives it to be credible, average-inflation targeting can help solidify inflation expectations at the 2% inflation target by providing a better inflation anchor and thus maintain space for potential interest rate cuts. It importantly can help lessen the constraint from the effective lower bound in recessions by inducing policymakers to overshoot the inflation target and provide more accommodation in the future.

I have helped out by highlighting the bits which exhibit extreme Ivory Tower style thinking. In general people think inflation is under recorded and would be more sure of this id they knew that housing inflation is either ignored or in the case of the US fantasy rents which are never paid are used to estimate it. It turns into something the Arctic Monkeys dang about.

Fake tales of San Francisco
Echo through the room

Yesterday Bloomberg suggested such a policy was on its way but got itself in something of a mess.

But the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation has consistently fallen short, averaging just 1.4% since the target’s introduction.

The preferred measure PCE ( Personal Consumption Expenditure) was chosen because it gives a lower reading than the more commonly known CPI in the US. This is a familiar tactic by central banksters and if we add in the gap which is often around 0.4% we see things change. Next apparently things move in response to what the Fed is thinking as opposed to the interest-rate cuts, bond buying and credit easing.

“Rising inflation expectations are, in part, indicative of the market beginning to price in the Fed’s shift,” said Bill Merz, senior portfolio strategist and head of fixed-income research at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.

Rising inflation expectations are presented as a good thing whereas back in the real world the old concept of “sticky wages” is back and in more than a few cases involves wage cuts.

Comment

There is an air of unreality about this which is extreme even for the Ivory Towers of economic theory. After all the last decade has given them everything they could dream of in terms of zero and sometimes negative interest-rates and bond buying on a scale they could not have even dreamt of. If we go back a decade they believed it would work and by that I mean hit the 2% inflation target and rescue the economy. But they have turned out to be the equivalent of snake-oil sales(wo)man where the next bottle will always cure you and even has “Drink Me” written on it in big friendly letters.

But it did not work and even worse like a poor general they left a flank open which is that by having no exit strategy they were exposed to any future downturn. So the Covid pandemic was unlucky in severity but not the event itself as something was always going to come along. To my mind the policy failure has been that central banksters got caught up in the here and now and forgot they had defined a fair bit of inflation away. So they did not realise the  real choice was to lower the target to 1.5% or 1% or to put in a measure of housing inflation that represents inflation reality rather than a non-existent fantasy.

Take a ride in the sky, on our ship fantasii
All your dreams will come true, right away ( Earth Wind & Fire)

Thus they have ended up on a road to nowhere where in their land of confusion they have ended up financing government deficits. This rather than inflation targeting is the new role. Next up they look to support the economy but the truth is that we see another area where they have seen failure. Keynes explained that well I think in that you can shift expectations or trick people for a while but in the end Kelis was right.

Seen it in your one to many times
Said you might trick me once
I won’t let you trick me twice.

So whether they end up targeting average inflation or simply raise the target does not matter in the way it once did. The real issue now is getting politicians weaned off central banks financing their deficits for them. Good luck with that…….

The Investing Channel

What else could go wrong for the Banks of Italy?

We are overdue a look at the state of play for an old and familiar friend. Except it is the sort of friend written about by Paul Simon.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again

It has been like a game of snakes and ladders except without the ladders. Ironically the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Italy chose March 18th as the day to rebut this. Yes the day central bankers around the world were crossing their fingers that the US Federal Reserve was going to step in and rescue the world financial system. That was in line with the time when Prime Minister Renzi told investors that shares in Monte Paschi would be a good investment. Anyway let me hand you over to Deputy Governor Luigi Federico Signorini who wrote to the New York Times to say.

Plenty of evidence points to a substantial strengthening of Italian banks in the recent years.

The collapses? The bailouts? The share price falls?

I must credit him in one regard as it takes a lot of chutzpah to mention “Asset Quality” when discussing the Italian banks. Also the sharper-eyed maybe be wondering where the problem was moved too?

The share of NPLs in banks’ total loans continues to fall, also thanks to large-scale disposals made by a large number of banks.

That game of pass the parcel must have seen the music stop.

Also the ECB had to buy off someone and it is still a lot.

Sovereign exposures. At the end of January banks’ holdings of sovereign bonds amounted to €316 billion, or 9.8 per cent of total assets; in early 2015 they peaked at €403 billion.

Is it rude to point out that with the surge in the Italian bond market ( the ten-year is 1.1%) that the banks have been partially deprived of the one area where they could have made some money?

Profitability. In 2019 the profitability of Italian banks was broadly in line with that of European peers

That bad eh?

The next bit has been highlighted by me in parts.

While the annualized ROE, at 5.0 per cent net of extraordinary components, is still below the estimated cost of equity, benefits are expected from ongoing restructuring and consolidation. The process is especially string among small cooperative banks, and the new framework is expected to strengthen their capacity to attract investors.

As the whole sector is extraordinary I am not sure what excluding it leaves you. Also we have been expecting benefits from “restructuring and consolidation” for a decade now. Finally their ability to attract investors could hardly get much worse…..

Bringing it up to date

On Tuesday the ratings agency DBRS Morningstar took a look. How are the profits our Deputy Governor was so keen on doing?

In H1 2020, Italian banks (UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo, Banco BPM, Banca MPS, UBI Banca, Credito
Valtellinese, and BP Sondrio) reported an aggregate net loss of EUR 464 million compared to a net profit
of EUR 6.2 billion in the same period of 2019.

Next we find something really rather familiar from the overall banking saga.

For the time being, the bulk of LLPs ( Loan Loss Provisions ) is still related to Stage 1 and Stage 2 loans, as the relief measures currently in place have been preventing the build-up of new NPLs. However, when these support
measures began to ease, we would expect a more significant migration of Stage 1 loans into Stage 2
(i.e. credit risk has increased significantly since initial recognition) and Stage 3 loans.

So bad loans become sour loans, NPLs and now LLPs. That is revealing in itself. The process leaves the ratings agency worried about next year.

When comparing with some European peers with higher provisioning levels, we consider it
possible that larger provisions may be required for Italian banks, should default rates from performing
loans increase more than expected.

So that’s a yes then.

The situation is complicated as we wait for the government Covid response plays to wind down.

Based on the latest data released by the Bank of Italy, as of July 24, the applications for a debt
moratorium from households and companies reached 2.7 million, up from around 660,000 requests
reported in early April, but not significantly changed compared to end-May and mid-June . The outstanding loans under moratoria amounted to EUR 297 billion, equivalent to around 15% of the total
performing loans at end-2019.

Plus this.

In contrast, we have observed the requests for loans backed by a State guarantee surging remarkably in
the same period. As of August 4, the requests for State-guaranteed loans amounted to over 944,000,
corresponding to a total consideration of around EUR 77 billion, or approximately 4% of the total net
customer loans at end-2019.

I know there are elements of stereotyping here so apologies for that, but can anyone genuinely say that they are not wondering how many of these loans are fraudulent? Like the way the Mafia took control of the extra virgin olive oil market, basically if you bought some from Italy your chances of actually getting it were 50/50.

Here is the explicit view on what is expected to happen next.

Whilst the combination of moratoria and State guaranteed loans represent strong relief measures in the
near term, we still believe that the currently challenging scenario will result in a rise in NPLs starting
from 2021, once the moratoria have expired. We note that in Q2 2020 some of loans under moratoria
moved to Stage 2 from Stage 1.

The Financial Times

It produced a long read on banking and seemed to try to avoid Italy but from time to time it popped up.

Centuries-old national champions Barclays (€17.4bn), Deutsche Bank (€15.6bn) and Italy’s UniCredit (€17.2bn) are collectively worth less than Zoom, the $72bn (€61bn) videoconferencing company founded in 2011.

Unicredit had been presented as a type of national champion and there was also a rather familiar development.

 In July, Italy’s largest retail lender Intesa Sanpaolo succeeded in a €4.2bn hostile takeover of local rival UBI Banca, marking the largest European banking deal since the financial crisis.

Which financial crisis please?

Comment

Let us take a look at what Queen might describe as “you’re my best friend” in this saga which is Monte Paschi. According to Johannes Borgen it plans this.

1) Sell defaulted loans to AMCO (with the EC’s blessing, hum.)

2) Take a capital hit and risk being below cap requirement. 3) But that’s ok, because there will be less loan losses because of the sale of defaulted loans to AMCO

Please hold fire on the issue of there being yet another rescue vehicle for the Italian banks for now and stay with Monte Paschi.

Sounds good? Well, there’s a slight problem here. In H1 2020, Monte took a total 520m€ of loan losses. Of the 520m, only 95m were from defaulted loans. Can anyone explain how the sale to AMCO will significantly reduce provisions? Because I’m missing something here.

In a nurshell that is the Monte Paschi saga because if you go through the numbers you are always missing something and sometimes quite a lot.

Now let me return to the subject of rescue vehicles. Here is a @gianluca1 describing one effort.

In 2016 Ita banks created a fund (Atlante) to help few bad banks clean their loan book from NPLs It was funded by all banks pro rata

Result: catastrophic risk of 2/3 banks was extended to all good banks due to perceived unlimited underwriting of risk of bad banks.

Then there was Atlante2 as well. More recently as he points out there has been Amco.

few years ago…it is the former SGA used to liquidate Banco di Napoli NPL

Fitch Ratings looked at Amco at the end of May and I think we have found someone with a sense of humour.

AMCO is a debt purchaser and servicer with nearly EUR25 billion of assets under management and a leading position in the unlikely-to-pay (UTP) loans sector.

Also.

Support Incentives: Government incentives supporting AMCO are underpinned by the fact that AMCO’s viability is central to its “patient approach” to the management of non-performing loans.

Patient approach sums up the whole episode really……Or to put it another way the can they kicked landed in the middle of the next crisis. I guess it would be like some sort of time warp meaning Apollo 13 landed in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.