The Swedish monetary experiment faces the decline of both cash and house prices

It is time to take a look again at the policies of the world’s oldest central bank as we remain in the Baltic region. From the Riksbank of Sweden.

In 1668, the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, decided to found Riksens Ständers Bank (the Estates of the Realm Bank), which in 1867 received the name Sveriges Riksbank. The Riksbank is thus the world’s oldest central bank. In 2018, the Riksbank will celebrate its 350th anniversary.

Yesterday brought news which will cheer the Swedish government as it received something of a windfall from this creation mostly due to a revaluation of its gold reserves. It has some 125.7 tonnes much of which is in London ( or not if you believe the conspiracy theories).

The General Council proposes that SEK 2.3 billion be transferred to the Treasury.

However the last bit of the 350 years has seen the Riksbank break new ground proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

In light of this, the Executive Board has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent.

This was announced last week and technically applies from tomorrow although of course it is a case of what might be called masterly inaction. We see that the world of negative interest-rates not only arrived in Sweden but continues and in fact if we look deeper we see that it has an interest-rate of -1.25% on bank reserves which is the lowest to be found anywhere.

Also we see that the Riksbank surged into the world of Quantitative Easing bond buying.

The Riksbank’s net purchases of government bonds amount to just over SEK 310 billion, expressed as a nominal amount. Until further notice, redemptions and coupon
payments will be reinvested in the bond portfolio.

As you can see policy is now set to maintain the stock of QE with any maturing bonds reinvested. So our old dog learnt two new tricks which does provide food for thought when we note a 350 year history after all why was it not necessary before. Also as we look ahead we see signs of a third new trick.

Economic outlook

This seems set fair.

Indicators for the fourth quarter suggest that GDP growth
picked up at the end of last year………Monthly indicators for demand and output also indicate that GDP growth at the end of last year was stronger 
than normal. Both industrial and services production have increased………. 
The model forecasts indicate GDP growth of 3.9 per cent during the fourth quarter, compared with the previous quarter and
calculated at an annual rate.

So economic growth has been good as this would be added to this.

 GDP increased 2.9 percent, working-day adjusted and compared to the third quarter of 2016.

If we look back we see that GDP is around 16% larger than at the pre credit crunch peak of the last quarter of 2007. Looking ahead the Riksbank expects economic growth of the order of 3% annualised at the opening of 2018 with growth slowing a little in subsequent years.


As you might expect with strong economic growth seen the situation here has been positive too.

Last year, the number of redundancy notices reported to
Arbetsförmedlingen (the Swedish public employment agency) was at the lowest level since 2007 and the level of 
newly reported vacant positions was very high . The strong demand meant that both the employment 
rate and the labour force participation rate reached historically high levels.

Yet in spite of other signs of what has been in the past come under the category of overheating ( resource allocation is at its highest ever) we seem something very familiar.

 Estimates indicate that the definitive outcome for short‐term wages in the economy as a whole for the full year 2017 will, on average, increase by 2.5 per cent, 
which entails a downward revision compared with the forecast in December.

These days wage growth nearly everywhere we look in what we consider to be the first world is around 2% and seems to have completely disconnected itself from many factors which used to drive it. Is this another side effect of the QE era? In Sweden we see that businesses seem reluctant to pay more.

the preliminary rate of wage increase is significantly higher in the public sector than in the business sector. 
recent outcomes indicate that wage increases at the start of 2018 will also be lower than in the Riksbank’s 
assessment from December.


The overall rate of unemployment has fallen less than you might think due to this.

The large increase in the labour force led to

Which is further explained here as we wonder what “weaker connection to the labour market” means.

 Unemployment has not fallen further among those born abroad 
partly because the inflow of labour in this group has been large, 
but also primarily because people born outside Europe, on average,
 have a lower education and a weaker connection to the labour market.

So in reality there are two labour markets here where the Swedish born one is at what was considered to be full employment. Bringing them both together gives us this for January.

Smoothed and seasonally adjusted data shows an increase in the employment rate and a decrease in the unemployment rate, which was 6.5 percent.


This morning’s update from Sweden Statistics told us this.

The inflation rate according to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) was 1.6 percent in January 2018, down from 1.7 percent in December 2017. The HICP decreased by 0.9 percent from December to January.

The inflation number above is using the same methodology as in Europe and the UK and as you can see there is not a lot of inflation for an “overheating” economy. The Swedish measure called CPIF fell from 1.9% to 1.7% leading some to seemingly lose contact with reality.

Is Sweden’s inflation shortfall – short-term core trend below 1% versus 2% target – a serious concern? ( SRSV )

Not for Swedish consumers nor for workers as we note that in the past at least Sweden can have inflation.

The CPI for January 2018 was 322.51 (1980=100).

Those who follow my specialist interest in inflation measurement may have a wry smile at the cause of the fall.

 In January 2018, the basket effect contributed -0.2 percentage point to the monthly change in the CPI, which is close to the historical average.


There is a lot to consider here and the first is a familiar one of how will the Riksbank exit from its negative interest-rates and QE? It was promising interest-rate rises later this year but we have seen those before and the dip in the inflation rate puts it between a rock and a hard place which is before we get to this. From Bloomberg last month

Data released on Monday showed that home prices continued to slide in December, dropping 2 percent in the month, according to the Nasdaq OMX Valueguard-KTH Housing Index, HOX Sweden. The three-month drop was 7.8 percent, the steepest decline since late 2008. Prices were down 2.5 percent from a year earlier, the biggest drop since March 2012.

This may be a response to new rules that have been imposed in recent times on interest-only mortgages in response to this reported by Reuters.

Currently, around 70 percent of Swedish home owners have interest-only mortgages, meaning they do not pay off any of the principal of the loan they have borrowed.

Care is needed with the house price data as the official numbers show rises continuing but as 2018 progresses it too should be picking up ch-ch-changes. This leaves the Riksbank in something of a pickle of its own making as many of its members from the last 350 years would recognise but not apparently those in charge now. Especially as the economic growth in the credit crunch era does not look quite so good when we note the population has increased by around 9%.

Meanwhile we have yet another fail for economics 101 as I note this from Bloomberg earlier.

Last year, the amount of cash in circulation in Sweden dropped to the lowest level since 1990 and is more than 40 percent below its 2007 peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record.

With negative interest-rates one might have expected cash demand to rise but it has not returning me to me theme as yet untested that around 1.5% will be the crucial level. Still if nothing else Kenneth Rogoff will be delighted at the sight of Swedes waging their own war on cash. What could go wrong?


What is happening to the banking sector in Latvia?

This morning has brought yet more news on what appears to be a growing issue which is the banking sector of Latvia. It has been around a decade since Latvia made the economic news as a type of test case for a joint IMF ( International Monetary Fund) and European Union bailout which was caused by this.

Despite the bailout, Latvia suffered the largest decline in economic output of anywhere in the world between 2007 and 2009 – a 24% drop in GDP. Unemployment quadrupled; and that doesn’t include the estimated one in 10 of the workforce who left the country to look for a better life somewhere else. ( The Guardian).

Since then (2014) Latvia abandoned its own currency the Lat and adopted the Euro although it had pegged its currency to the Euro.

This morning has seen the ECB ( European Central Bank) take action.

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

It is that word “temporarily” again as we note that until further notice was sufficient on its own. So how did we get here?

In recent days, there has been a sharp deterioration of the bank’s financial position. This follows an announcement on 13 February by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to propose a measure naming ABLV bank an institution of primary money laundering concern pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

ABLV has been accused by the US of being linked to North Korea.  As to the scale of the issue there is this.

ABLV Bank has been supervised by the ECB since November 2014, by virtue of the bank being one of the three largest credit institutions in Latvia, as measured by total assets

The ECB may be forgiven for perhaps wishing it was not the supervisor here. Those who hold the ABLV bank bonds totalling US $95 million that mature on Thursday may be forgiven some nervousness too.


Meanwhile as you might expect ABLV itself has found credit hard to come by meaning that the central bank is providing assistance. From the Baltic Times.

“Based on the request from ABLV Bank and a supporting opinion from the Finance and Capital Market Commission, the Bank of Latvia has decided to grant a EUR 97.5 million loan to ABLV Bank against a reliable pledge of highly liquid securities,” the Bank of Latvia said, stressing that the value of the pledge was much higher that the loan amount.

The last bit may be regretted if you think about it and more seems to be on the way.

As reported, ABLV Bank has decided to pledge some securities, asking in return a loan of up to EUR 480 million from the Bank of Latvia, order to stabilize its situation.

Bank of Latvia

This has its own problems as this headline from it yesterday implies.

Latvijas Banka continues its business as usual.

Why announce this and especially on a Sunday? Well it has its own problems.

 during the absence of the Governor, his duties are performed by the Deputy Governor.

Why is he absent? Bloomberg explains.

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

Officials including Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola called on Rimsevics, 52, to recuse himself from his duties as the Baltic state’s anti-corruption office pursued an investigation against him.

This is awkward to say the least as he is unable to lead the rescue effort for ABLV because not only is he under investigation he has been detained, The whole issue of money laundering and corruption is a live one in Latvia partly due to its close connections with Russia. A bit like the Cypriot banking sector we see that one needs to take great care when accepting Russian private money and to this we can add apparent involvement with North Korea which is unlikely to improve anything.

What about the economy?

The latest Bank of Latvia Monthly Development report brought good news.

GDP growth has been very strong in 2017, exceeding forecasts. In the second quarter, GDP grew by 1.4% quarter-on-quarter (according to seasonally adjusted data) but in the third quarter of 2017 – by 1.5%. Thus, annual GDP growth reached 5.8% in the third quarter of 2017 (according to seasonally adjusted data – 6.2%).

Thus there was quite a surge helped by various factors such as the better economic performance of the Euro area and in particular the other Baltic states. Also there was this giving a helping hand.

As Russia’s economic growth was stabilising, Latvia’s exports of goods to Russia grew by 36.6% year-on-year in the first ten months of 2017. The expansion of exports was largely supported by an increase in exports of beverages, machinery and electrical equipment and
pharmaceutical products.


I have given the good side of the coin but here is the ying to that yang.

In the first ten months of 2017, imports of goods grew by 16.0% year-on-year……..The value of imported goods rises at a more rapid pace than that of exported goods, thus
increasing the foreign trade deficit in goods.

Although in a small country particular care is needed with the data.

a significant contribution to the increase in imports of goods came from purchasing Bombardier CS300 aircrafts. Earlier in 2017, the JSC Air Baltic Corporation purchased
seven aircrafts and by the end of 2017 it had eight aircrafts of this kind.

Also there was this.

According to the data provided by real estate enterprises, price hikes of standard apartments displayed no trend toward acceleration in August and September, and the annual rate of increase remained close to 10%.

Prices moving like that make us look at the credit figures where we see this.

In six months of 2017, i.e. from May to October, new loans to households exceeded the respective indicator of 2016 by 7.0%, including loans for house purchase and consumer
credits which increased by 9.5% and 8.8% respectively. Meanwhile, new loans to nonfinancial corporations posted a 15.3% decrease year-on-year.

So plenty of credit for housing but in a familiar development none for business. Also UK readers especially will wonder about housing affordability when we see what could be described as a Latvian Help To Buy.

Moreover, the state aid programme for families with children to purchase housing, implemented by the JSC “Attīstības finanšu institūcija Altum”, will be expanded from 2018. It is envisaged that about 1 000 young specialists up to 35 years of age could receive aid
for house purchase in 2018.


Our trip to the Baltics and Latvia gives us food for thought. An economy growing strongly and expected to put up another strong (4.1%) performance this year. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7% although employment has remained pretty stable as we wonder if some joined the migration abroad that has been seen.

In 2000, Latvia’s population stood at 2.38 million. At the start of this year, it was 1.95 million. No other country has had a more precipitous fall in population — 18.2 percent according to U.N. statistics. ( )

Maybe now some will return although the current banking crisis will hardly provide much encouragement and nor will house prices. One thing we do know is that in banking crises the truth is invariably the first casualty.


The economy of Italy has yet to awaken from its “Girlfriend in a coma” past

The subject of Italy and its economy has been a regular feature on here as we have observed not only its troubled path in the credit crunch era but also they way that has struggled during its membership of the Euro. This will no doubt be an issue in next month’s election but the present period is one which should be a better phase for Italy. Firstly the Euro area economy is doing well overall and that should help the economy via improved exports.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.6% in both the euro area (EA19) and in the EU28 during the fourth quarter of
2017, compared with the previous quarter……..Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 2.7% in the euro area and
by 2.6% in the EU28 in the fourth quarter of 2017…….Over the whole year 2017, GDP grew by 2.5% in both zones.

The impact on the economy of Italy

If we switch now to the Italian economy we find that there has been a boost to the economy from the better economic environment. From the monthly economic report.

Italian exports keep increasing with a positive trend following world trade expansion…….Over the period September-November, foreign trade kept a positive trend
driven by the exports (+2.9%), while the imports increased at a lower pace (+0.6%).

However the breakdown was not as might be expected.

Sales to the non-EU area (+4.6%) contributed positively to the favorable trend in exports and more than the sales to the EU area (+1.5%). In 2017, trade with non-EU countries increased both exports (+8.2%) and imports (+10.8%).

So the export-led growth is stronger outside the Euro area than in it which is not what we might expect as we observe the way that the Euro has been strong as a currency. Effects in this area can be lagged so it is possible via factors such as the J-Curve that the new higher phase for the Euro has yet to kick in in terms of its impact on trade, so we will have to watch this space.


There was some good news on this front in December as the previous analysis had been this.

Taking the average values of September-November, shows that production decreased compared to the previous quarter (-0.2%, ). In the same period all the main industrial groupings recorded a decrease except durable consumer goods (+2.7% compared to the previous quarter).

As you can see that is not what might have been expected but last weeks’ data for December was more upbeat.

In December 2017 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index increased by 1.6% compared with the previous month. The percentage change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three months was +0.8.

This meant that the position for the year overall looked much better than the downbeat assessment above.

in the period January-December 2017 the percentage change was +3.0 compared with the same period of

If we move to the outlook for 2018 then the Markit business survey or PMI could not be much more upbeat.

Italy’s manufacturing sector enjoyed a strong start
to 2018, registering the highest growth in output
since early 2011 and one of the greatest rises in
new orders of the past 18 years.

In addition domestic demand was seen adding to the party.

but January data pointed to a growing contribution from within Italy itself.

This leads to hopes for improvement in one of the Achilles heels of the Italian economy.

The response from many manufacturers was to
bolster employment numbers, and January’s survey
indicated the second-strongest rise of employment
in the survey history.

Unemployment and the labour market

At first glance the latest data does not look entirely impressive.

In December 2017, 23.067 million persons were employed, -0.3% over November 2017. Unemployed were
2.791 million, -1.7% over the previous month.

There is a welcome fall in unemployment but employment which these days is often a leading indicator for the economy has dipped too.

Employment rate was 58.0%, -0.2 percentage points over the previous month, unemployment rate was
10.8% -0.1 percentage points over November 2017 and inactivity rate was 34.8%, +0.3 percentage points in
a month.

However if we look back we see that over the past year 173,000 more Italians have been employed and the level of unemployment has fallen by 273,000.  What we are still waiting for however is a clear drop in the unemployment rate which has been stuck around 11% for a while. We are told it has dropped to 10.8% but there has been a recent habit of revising the rate back up to 11% at a later date meaning we have been told more than a few times that it has fallen below it. Sadly much of the unemployment is concentrated at the younger end of the age spectrum.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 32.2%, -0.2 percentage points over the previous month.

So better than Greece but isn’t pretty much everywhere as we again wonder how many of these have never had a job and even more concerning, how many never will?

Sometimes we are told that higher unemployment rates are a consequence of better wages. But is we look at wages growth there does not seem to be much going on here.

The labor market outlook is characterized by the wage
moderation: in 2017 both the index of contractual wages per employee and that of hourly wages increased by +0.6% y-o-y.

On a nominal level that is a fair bit below even the UK but of course the main issue is in real or inflation adjusted terms.

In January 2018, according to preliminary estimates, the Italian consumer price index for the whole nation (NIC) increased by 0.2% on monthly basis and by 0.8% compared with January 2017 (it was +0.9% in December 2017).

So there was in fact a small fall in real wages in 2017 which we need to file away on two fronts. Firstly there is the apparent fact that better economic conditions in Italy are not being accompanied by real wage growth and in fact a small fall. Secondly we need to add that rather familiar message to our global database.

The banks

This is a long running story of how the banking sector carried on pretty much regardless after the credit crunch and built up a large store of non-performing assets or if you prefer bad loans. This has meant that many Italian banks are handicapped in terms of lending to help the economy and some have become zombified. From Bloomberg earlier.

Even after making reductions last year, Italian banks are still weighed down by more than 270 billion euros ($330 billion) of non-performing loans. Struggling households account for almost a fifth of that total, according to the Bank of Italy.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at a proposed solution.

The Bank of Italy says an improvement in the country’s real estate market is helping to reduce the risks for banks.

Whether that will do much good for what has become the symbol of the problem I doubt but here is the new cleaner bailed out Monte Paschi. From Bloomberg on Monday.

The bank, which is cutting about a fifth of its workforce, eliminating branches and plans to sell 28.6 billion euros of bad loans by 2021, posted 501.6 million-euro net loss in the last three months of the year.

How is the bailout going?

The shares were down 2.8 percent at 3.72 euros as of 9:55 a.m. The stock, which returned to trading Oct. 25 after an 10-month suspension, is now valued more than 43 percent below the 6.49 euros apiece paid by Italy for the rescue.

This morning it is 3.44 Euros so the beat goes on especially as we note that pre credit crunch and the various bailouts the equivalent price peak was over 8800.


This issue continues to be ongoing.

The population at 1st January 2018 is estimated to be 60,494,000; the decrease on the previous year was
around 100,000 units (-1.6 per thousand).

Driven by this.

The number of live births dropped to 464 thousand, 2% less than in 2016 and new minimun level ever.

We have seen on the news so often that there is considerable migration to Italy and if we look into the detail we see that not only is it so there is something tucked away in it.

The net international migration in 2017 amounted to +184 thousand, recording a consistent increase on the
previous year (+40 thousand).

Yet Italians themselves continued to leave in net terms as 45,000 returned but 112,000 left which is a little surprising in the circumstances. As to the demographics well here they are.

At 1 January 2018, 22.6% of the population was aged 65 or over, 64.1% was aged between 15 and 64, while
only 13.4% was under 15 years of age. The mean age of the population exceeded 45 years.

The theme is that the natural change has got worse over the past decade rising from pretty much zero to the 183,000 of 2017 but contrary to the news bulletins net immigration is lower as it approached half a million in 2007.


This morning has brought news which will be very familiar to readers of my work which is an Italian economy which seems to struggle to grow at more than around 1% per annum for any sustained period.

In the fourth quarter of 2017 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.3 per cent with respect to the third quarter of 2017 and by 1.6 per
cent in comparison with the fourth quarter of 2016.

As we note a negative official interest-rate ( -0.4%) and a large amount of balance sheet expansion from the European Central Bank the monetary taps could not be much more open. Italy’s government in particular benefits directly by being able to borrow very cheaply ( ten-year yield 2.05%) when you consider it has a national debt to annual GDP ratio of 134.1%. Thanks Mario!

Thus we return on Valentines Day to the “Girlfriend in a Coma” theme of Bill Emmott which is a shame as Italy is a lovely country. Can it change? Let us hope so and maybe the undeclared economy can be brought to task. Meanwhile if you want to take the Matrix style blue pill here is Bloomberg.

ITALY: GDP expanded by 0.3% in 4Q, a bit less than expected. Still, 2017 was the best growth year (+1.5%) since 2010. Shows how broad-based the euro-area recovery has become. A rising tide lifts all boats





Is Greece growing more quickly than the UK?

Today we return to a long running and grim saga which is the story of Greece and its economic crisis. However Bloomberg has put a new spin on it as follows.

Greece is growing faster than Britain and is outperforming it in financial markets.

Okay so let us take a deeper look at what they are saying. Matthew Winkler who is the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Bloomberg News, whatever that means, goes on to tell us this.

In a role reversal not even the most prescient dared to anticipate, Greece is growing faster than the U.K. and outperforming it in financial markets. ……..Now that Europe is leading the developed world in growth, productivity and job creation after the euro gained 14.2 percent last year — the most among 16 major currencies and the strongest appreciation since 2003 — Greece is the biggest beneficiary and Britain is the new sick man of Europe.

This is really quite extraordinary stuff isn’t it? Let me just mark that the author seems to be looking entirely through the prism of financial markets and look at what else he has to say.

In the bond market, Greece is the king of total return (income plus appreciation), handing investors 60 percent since the Brexit vote. U.K. debt securities lost 3 percent, and similar bonds sold by euro-zone countries gained 7 percent during the same period, according to the Bloomberg Barclays indexes measured in dollars. Since March 1, 2012, when the crisis of confidence over Greece was at its peak and its debt was trading at 30 cents on the dollar, Greek bonds have returned 429 percent, dwarfing the 19 percent for euro bonds and 10 percent for the U.K., Bloomberg data show.

Also money is flowing into the Greek stock market.

ETF flows to Europe gained 15 percent and 13 percent to the U.K. during the same period. The Global X MSCI Greece ETF, the largest U.S.-based exchange-traded fund investing in Greek companies, is benefiting from a 35 percent increase in net inflows since the 2016 Brexit vote.

Finally we do actually get something based on the real economy.

The same analysts also forecast that Greece will overtake Britain in GDP growth. They expect Greece to see its GDP rise 2.15 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2019 as the U.K. grows 1.4 percent and 1.5 percent.

Many of you will have spotted that the Greece is growing faster than the UK has suddenly morphed into people forecasting it will grow quicker than it! This poses a particular problem where Greece is concerned and can be illustrated by the year 2012. Back then we had been assured by the Troika that the Greek economy would grow by 2% on its way to an economic recovery and the UK was back then enmeshed in “triple-dip” fears. Actually there was no UK triple dip and the Greek economy shrank by around 7% on the year before.

GDP growth

According to the Greek statistics office these are the latest figures.

The available seasonally adjusted data
indicate that in the 3rd quarter of 2017 the Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 0.3% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2017, while in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2016, it increased by 1.3%.

Thus we see that if we move from forecasts and rhetoric to reality Greece has some economic growth which we should welcome but not only is that slower than the UK in context it is really poor if we look at its record. After the severe economic depression it has been through the economy should be rebounding rather than edging forwards. I have written many times that it should be seeing sharp “V Shaped” growth rather than this “L Shaped” effort.

If we look back the GDP at market prices peaked in Greece in 2008 at 231.9 billion Euros but in 2016 it was only 175.9 billion giving a decline of the order of 24% or 56 billion Euros. That is why it should be racing forwards now to recover at least part of the lost ground but sadly as I have predicted many times it is not. Even if the forecasts presented as a triumph above come true it will be a long long time before Greece gets back to 2008 levels. Whereas the UK economy is a bit under 11% larger and to be frank we think that has been rather a poor period.

Job creation

You may note that there was a shift to Europe leading the world on job creation as opposed to Greece so let us investigate the numbers.

The number of employed persons increased by 94,071 persons compared with November 2016 (a 2.6% rate of increase) and decreased by 9,659 persons compared with October 2017 (a 0.3% rate of decrease).

I am pleased to see that the trend is for higher employment albeit there has been a monthly dip. Actually if we look further the last 3 months have seen a fall so let us hope we are not seeing another false dawn. Further perspective is provided by these numbers.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in November 2017 was 20.9% compared to the upward revised 23.3% in November 2016 and the upward revised 20.9% in October 2017. The number of employed in November 2017 amounted to 3,761,452 persons. The number of unemployed amounted to 995,899 while the number of inactive to 3,242,383.

The first issue is the level of unemployment which has improved but still has the power to shock due to its level. The largest shock comes from a youth unemployment rate of 43.7% which is better than it was but leaves us mulling a lost generation as some seem set to be out of work for years to come and maybe for good. Or perhaps as Richard Hell and the Voidoids put it.

I belong to the Blank Generation, and
I can take it or leave it each time.

Before I move on I would just like to mark the level of inactivity in Greece which flatters the numbers more than a little.

Bond Markets

Last week there was a fair bit of cheerleading for this. From the Financial Times.

Greece has wrapped up the sale of a seven-year bond after a 48-hour delay blamed on international market turbulence, raising €3bn at a yield of 3.5 per cent. The issue marked the first time since 2014 that the country has raised new money. A five-year bond issue last July raised €3bn, about half of which involved swapping existing debt for longer-dated paper.

The problem is in the interest-rate as Greece has got the opportunity to borrow at a much higher rate than it has been doing! Let me hand you over to the European Stability Mechanism or ESM.

The loans, at very low-interest rates with long maturities, are giving Greece fiscal breathing space to bring its public finances in order……..Moreover, the EFSF and ESM loans lead to substantially lower financing costs for the country. That is because the two institutions can borrow cash much more cheaply than Greece itself, and offer a long period for repayment.

As you can see the two narratives are contradictory as we note Greece is now choosing to issue more expensively at a considerably higher interest-rate or yield. This matters a lot due to its circumstances.

They point to the debt-to-GDP ratio, which stands at more than 180%.


I would be more than happy if the Greek economy was set to grow more quickly than the UK as frankly it not only needs to be growing much faster it should be doing so for the reason I explained earlier. As someone who has consistently made the case for it needing a default and devaluation I find it stunning that the Bloomberg article claims this is a success for Greece.

 the euro gained 14.2 percent last year — the most among 16 major currencies and the strongest appreciation since 2003

After all the set backs for Greece and its people what they do not need is a higher exchange rate. Finally the better prospects for the Euro area offer some hope of better days but they will be braked somewhat by the higher currency.

The confused narrative seems to also involve claiming that paying more on your debt is a good thing. Awkward in the circumstances to be making the case for sovereignty! But the real issue is to get out of this sort of situation which is sucking demand out of the economy. From Kathimerini.

 It is no coincidence that the “increased post-bailout monitoring” is expected to end in 2022, when the obligation for high primary surpluses of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product expires.

So in conclusion there is a lot to consider here as we wish Greece well for 2018. It badly needs a much better year but frankly also more considered and thoughtful analysis as those who have suffered through this deserve much better. The ordinary Greek was mostly unaware of what their establishment was doing as it fiddled the data and let the oligarchs slip slide away from paying their taxes.


How is the economy of France doing?

It is time for us once again to nip across the Channel of if you prefer La Manche and see what is happening in the French economy. One of the oddities of the credit crunch era is how the UK and French economies have been so out of concert and rhythm. Yes both were hit by the initial impact but then France began to recover whilst the UK struggled. But then the Euro area crisis dragged France down whilst the UK pushed ahead from around 2013 . Now we may be experiencing another switch over so let us take a look.

France GDP

If we start with the economic output as measured by Gross Domestic Product or GDP then Insee told us this on Tuesday.

In Q4 2017, GDP in volume terms* increased again: +0.6%, after +0.5% in Q3. On average over the year, GDP accelerated markedly: +1.9% after +1.1% in 2016.

We can quickly see that it was both a better quarter and a better second half to the year meaning that 2017 was a fair bit better than 2016. This matters in itself but also because France had previously looked like it had got what you might call the Portuguese or Italian disease where so often even in what should be good years the economy only manages to grow by around 1%. Or if we one of the phrases of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney France had looked nowhere near “escape velocity” but now is building up speed.

Economists will like a break-down which includes both higher investment and what used to be badged as export-led growth.

Total gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) accelerated
slightly (+1.1% after +0.9%) while household consumption
expenditure slowed down (+0.3% after +0.6%)…….Foreign trade balance contributed positively to GDP
growth (+0.6 points after −0.5 points): exports accelerated
markedly (+2.6% after +1.1%) while imports slowed down
sharply (+0.7% after +2.4%).

A feature of this has been something we have also seen in the UK which is an improvement in the manufacturing sector.

In Q4 2017, total production accelerated slightly in Q4
(+0.8% after +0.7%), mainly due to manufactury industry
(+1.5% after +0.8%)……..On average over the year, total production sped up (+2.3% after +0.9%), in particular in manufacturing industry (+2.0% after +0.8%) and in construction.

A difference is to be seen in the construction sector which grew by 2.4% in France in 2017 whereas the UK construction sector has seen a 9 month recession. There is a hint of slowing in France as unlike the overall economy the construction sector slowed but it continued to grow.

Before we move on we need to note that the trade position for the year was not as good as the last quarter because of rising imports.

On average over the year, exports considerably accelerated
(+3.5% after +1.9% in 2016) while imports progressed
virtually at the same pace than in 2016 (+4.3%
after +4.2%).

Looking ahead

The various business surveys are positive with this morning’s being especially so.

French manufacturing sector growth remained
elevated at the start of 2018, pulling back only
marginally from December’s near 17-and-a-half
year peak. ( Markit PMI )

Even the higher value for the Euro on the foreign exchanges has done little so far to reduce the upbeat view.

Goods-producers continued to benefit from strong
demand conditions in both domestic and foreign
markets, with the rates of expansion in total new
orders and new export orders among the sharpest
in the survey history.

Also there was good news for a still troubling issue.

In turn, firms took on additional workers to enhance operating capacity and boost output.

This added to the picture provided in the latter part of January for the overall economy.

The French private sector economy started 2018
where it left off last year, with the headline flash
composite output PMI figure remaining among the
highest recorded in the survey’s near 20-year

Also more hopeful news for the unemployed.

A sharp pick-up in client demand – indeed the
strongest recorded by the PMI in over six-and-ahalf
years – encouraged a further sharp round of
job creation.

As you can see the official forecast for the early part of 2018 is upbeat too.

In January 2018, the business climate has faltered slightly after having reached its highest level for ten years last December. The composite indicator, compiled from the answers of business managers in the main sectors, has lost two points. Nevertheless, at 110, it is still well above its long-term mean (100).

Another type of boost?

From the International Business Times.

France will include sales of illegal drugs in its gross domestic product (GDP) calculations.

The Insee statistics agency made the announcement as part of a pan-European effort for nation states to include the sales of drugs in their economic growth figures.

So er higher and higher but France will not walk this way so far at least.

Unlike the Dutch, France has ruled out including prostitution in the figures, saying that it cannot always be verified whether a sex worker has provided consent.

True I guess but a more fundamental issue is whether we have any real idea of the numbers as let’s face it these are areas where people are perhaps most likely to not tell the truth.

As to how much? There is this.

The head of Insee’s national accounts, Ronan Mahieu, downplayed the impact that the new calculations could have on French GDP figures.

He told the Local that France’s current GDP of €2.2tn (£1.9tn) would only increase by “a few billion euros”.

I have to confess that this bit was a little mind-boggling.

French revenues for illegal drug use will be based upon figures that are provided to Insee’s economics department by specialists.

Should they ever have to advertise for such “specialists” the internet may break!

Labour market

Here there have been improvements as in the year to December the unemployment rate had fallen from 9.9% to 9.2%. The catch was that it is still above the Euro area average of 8.7% and well above the 7.3% of the European Union.

If we switch to employment we see that whilst things are continuing to improve as of the last data set the state of play is not as positive from this leading indicator as the ones above.

In Q3 2017, net payroll job creation reached 44,500,
that is an increase of +0.2% after an increase of +0.4%
in the previous quarter. The payroll employment
increased by 49,900 in the private sector while it
decreased by 5,400 in the public sector.


As we make our journey through the French economy it is nice to be able to record better times. How much good news that provides to the UK I am not so sure as whilst it should be helpful to us via trade we have been out of phase with each other for a while now. A burst of economic growth will help France with this issue.

At the end of Q3 2017, the Maastricht debt reached €2,226.1 billion, a €5.5 billion decrease in comparison to Q2 2017. It accounted for 98.1% of gross domestic product (GDP), 1.0 point lower than last quarter. The net public debt declined more slightly (€ −1.5 billion).

But the major difference with the UK is the way that the employment and unemployment situations have diverged. Much of the difference but not all has been in lower paid jobs but jobs none the less. Meanwhile there is an area where the French seem to be getting more like the British.

In Q3 2017, the rise of prices of second-hand dwellings amplified: +1.6% compared to the previous quarter (provisional seasonally adjusted results), after +0.7%. As observed since the end of 2016, the increase is more important for flats (+1.9%) than for houses (+1.4%).

Over a year, the increase in prices continued to accelerate: +3.9% compared to Q3 2016, after +3.1% the quarter before.

If there is a catch it is around the need for such an expansionary monetary policy with negative interest-rates and ongoing QE at a time of accelerating growth.

Why have house prices in Italy continued to fall?

One of the features of these times is that economic policy is pretty much invariably house price friendly. Not only have central banks around the world slashed official interest-rates thereby reducing variable mortgage rates but many followed this up with Quantitative Easing bond buying which pushed fixed-rate mortgages (even) lower as well. If that was not enough some of the liquidity created by the QE era was invested in capital cities around the globe by investors looking to spread their risks. In addition we saw various credit easing programmes which were designed to refloat even zombie banks and get them back lending again. In my country this type of credit easing was called the Funding for Lending Scheme which did so by claiming to boost business lending but in reality boosted the mortgage market. Looked at like that we see policies which could not have been much more house price friendly.

If we switch to the Euro area we see that this went as far as the ECB declaring a negative deposit rate ( -0.4%) which it still has in spite of these better economic times and a balance sheet totaling 4.5 trillion Euros. This has led to house price recoveries and in particular in two of the countries which had symbolised a troubled housing market which were of course Ireland and Spain. But intriguingly one country has missed out as we were reminded of only yesterday.

The Italian Difference

Yesterday morning the official statistics body Istat told us this.

According to preliminary estimates, in the third quarter of 2017: the House Price Index (see Italian IPAB) decreased by 0.5% compared with the previous quarter and by
0.8% in comparison to the same quarter of the previous year (it was -0.2% in the second quarter of 2017);

The breakdown shows a small nudge higher for new properties that in aggregate is weaker than the fall in price for exisiting properties.

prices of new dwellings increased by 0.3% compared to the previous quarter and by 0.6% with respect to
the third quarter of 2016 (up from +0.3% observed in the second quarter); prices of existing dwellings
decreased by 0.7% compared to the previous quarter and by 1.3% with respect to the same quarter of the
previous year.

Property owners in Italy may be a little jealous of those in Amsterdam who have just seen a 13.5% rise in house prices in the past year.

A ( space) oddity

The situation gets more curious if we note that as discussed earlier the mortgage market has got more favourable. In terms of credit then there should be more around as at the aggregate level the ECB has expanded its balance sheet and we know that Italian banks took part in this at times on a large scale. Whilst the overall process has been an Italian style shambles there have (finally) been some bank bailouts or rather hybrid bailin/outs.

If we move from credit supply to price we see that mortgage rates have been falling in Italy. The website Statista tells us that the 3.68% of the opening of 2013 was replaced by 2.1% at the half-way point of 2017. The fall was not in a straight line but is a clear fall. Another way of putting this is to use the composite mortgage rate of the Bnak of Italy. When ECB President gave his “Whatever it takes ( to save the Euro speech)” in July 2012 it might also have been save Italian house prices as the mortgage rate fell from 3.95% then to 1.98% as of last November so in essence halved.

So if we apply the play book house prices should been rallying in Italy and maybe strongly.

House Price Slump

Reality is however very different as the data in fact shows annual falls. For example 4.4% in 2014 and 2.6% in 2015 and 0.8% in 2016. Indeed if we look for some perspective in the credit crunch era we see the Financial Times reporting this.

In real terms, Italy’s real house prices have been falling consistently since 2007 and are now 23 per cent lower — a drop that has brought the construction and property sectors to their knees.

If we look back to the credit crunch impact and then the Euro area crisis which then gave Italy a double-whammy hit then we see that lower house prices are covered by Radiohead.

No alarms and no surprises

Although existing property owners may be singing along to the next part of the lyric.

let me out of here

What is more surprising is the fact that the economic improvement has had such a different impact on house prices in Italy compared to its Euro area peers.

Italy was the only country in the EU where house prices contracted in the second quarter of last year, according to the latest figures from Eurostat, the EU statistics agency. In contrast, almost two-thirds of EU countries are reporting house price growth of more than 5 per cent. ( FT )

If we look at the house price index we see that as of the third quarter of last year it was at 98.6 compared to the 100 of 2015. So just as Mario Draghi and the ECB were “pumping up” monetary policy house prices in Italy were doing not much and if anything drifting lower. Looking further back we see that the index was 116.3 in 2010 so it has not been a good period of time for property owners in Italy and that does matter because of this.

and in a country where more than 72 per cent of households own their own home

I have to confess I was not previously aware of what a property owning nation Italy is.

The banks

We have looked many times at the troubled banking sector in Italy and we have seen from the numbers above that the property market and the banking sector have been clutching each other tightly in the credit crunch era. Maybe this is at least part of the reason why the Italian establishment has dithered so much over the banking bailouts required as it waited for a bottom which so far has not arrived. This has left the Italian banking sector with 173.1 billion Euros of bad loans sitting on their balance sheets.

Property now accounts for more corporate bad loans than any other sector: 42 per cent compared with 29 per cent in 2011………And for property-related lending the proportion of loans turning bad has been twice as high as in the manufacturing sector, weighing on banks’ €173bn of bad debts. ( FT)

So something of a death spiral as one zombie sector feeds off another as this reply to me indicates.

The trend is getting better for Italian house market but it is a vicious circle: banks’ sales of repossessed property is also contributing to the prolonged house price contraction. The number of real estate units sold via auction increased 25 % in the last 2 years ( @Raff_Perf )

As The Cranberries would say “Zombie, zombie,zombie”

Disposing of bad property loans has also been slower than for other sectors……… In contrast, banks continue to harbour hopes of greater recovery of secured loans to construction and real estate companies. As a result, this lending has remained in limbo for longer.

Another forward guidance fail?


One way of looking at Italy right now is of a property owning democracy which has had a sustained fall in house prices. This of course adds to the fact that on an individual basis economic output or GDP has fallen in the Euro area as output stagnated but the population rose meaning the net fall must now be around 5%. It is hard not to wonder if the “Whatever it takes” speech of Mario Draghi was not at least partly driven by rising mortgage rates in Italy ( pre his speech they went over 4%) and falling house prices in his home country. Along the way it is not only the banking sector which is affected.

Construction has almost halved from its pre-crisis level. ( FT)

That puts the UK’s construction problem I looked ta yesterday into perspective doesn’t it?

Looking ahead we see a better economic situation for Italy as it has returned to economic growth. What this has done if we look at annual house price numbers is slowed the decline but not yet caused any rises. In some ways this is welcome as first time buyers will no doubt be grateful that they have not seen the rises for example seen in much of my home country but if with all the monetary policy effort the results are what they are what happens when the next recession turns up?

Still if you want the bill pill Matrix style there is this from AURA who call themselves real estate experts.

“I would say it’s a mathematical fact: house prices cannot drop more than 30%. I believe that this drop of values is over and it’s now time to buy”. Stefano Rossini, Ceo for,

Perhaps he has never been to Ireland or more curiously Spain.

Me on Core Finance




What are the economic prospects for Germany?

After looking at the strength of the Euro yesterday it is an interesting counterpoint to look at an economy which would otherwise have a much stronger exchange rate. Whilst the Euro may be in a stronger phase and overall pretty much back to where it began in trade-weighted terms ( 99.26%) it is way lower than where a Deutsche Mark would be. For Germany the Euro has ended up providing quite a competitive advantage as who knows to what level it would have soared as we suspect it would have been as attractive as the Swiss Franc. Rather than an exchange rate of around 1.20 to the US Dollar the equivalent rate would no doubt have been somewhere north of 1.50.

That means that the German economic experience of the credit crunch has seen quite a monetary stimulus if we combine a lower than otherwise exchange rate with the negative interest rate of the ECB ( European Central Bank) and of course the Quantitative Easing purchases of German sovereign bonds. If we look at the latter directly then the purchase of 449 billion Euros of German government bonds must have contributed to the German government being able to borrow more cheaply as we note that the ten-year yield is only 0.46% and that Germany is actually paid to borrow out to the 6 year maturity. This is a factor in Germany running a small but consistent budget surplus in recent times and a national debt which is declining both in absolute terms and in relative terms as at the half-way point of 2017 it had fallen to 66% of annual economic output or GDP. So it may not be too long before it passes the Growth and Stability Pact rules albeit over 20 years late! But let us move on noting a combination of monetary expansionism and fiscal conservatism.

The Euro area

Unlike some of the countries we look at and Greece and Italy come to mind particularly the Euro era has been good for the German economy. It opened in 1999 with GDP of 87.7 ( 2010 = 100)  which rose to a peak of 102.6 at the opening of 2008. Like so many countries there was a sharp fall ( 4.5% in the opening quarter of 2009) but the difference is that the economy then recovered strongly to 113.8 in the third quarter of last year. You can add on a bit for the last quarter of 2017 if you like. But the message here is that Germany has recovered pretty strongly from the effect of the credit crunch. Indeed once you start to allow for the fact that some of the economic output in 2008 was false in the sense that otherwise how did we have a bust? You could argue that it has done as well as it did before and maybe better in absolute terms although of course that depends on where you count from. In relative terms the doubt disappears.

Looking Ahead

Yesterday’s Markit PMI business survey could hardly have been much more bullish.

“2017 was a record-breaking year for the German
manufacturing sector: the PMI posted an all-time
high in December, and the current 37-month
sequence of improving business conditions
surpassed the previous record set in the run up to
the financial crisis.

Although there was an ominous tone to the latter part don’t you think?! We have also learnt to be nervous about economic all-time highs. Moving back to the report we see that the German trade surplus seems set to increase further if this is any guide.

Notably, the level of new business received from abroad
rose at the joint-fastest rate in the survey history,
with anecdotal evidence highlighting Asia, the US
and fellow European countries as strong sources of
new orders for German manufacturers.

This morning we saw official data on something that has proved fairly reliable as a leading indicator in the credit crunch era. From Destatis.

In November 2017, roughly 44.7 million persons resident in Germany were in employment according to provisional calculations of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). Compared with November 2016, the number of persons in employment increased by 617,000 or 1.4%.

The rise in employment has been pretty consistent over the past year signalling a “steady as she goes” rate of economic growth. It has also led to a further fall in unemployment which is also welcome.

 Adjusted for seasonal and irregular effects, the number of unemployed stood at 1.57 million. It was down by roughly 14,000 people on the previous month. The adjusted unemployment rate was 3.6% in November 2017.

Much better than the Euro area average and better than the UK and US but not Japan which is the leader of this particular pack.


The next issue is to look at wage growth which as we see so often these days seems to be stuck somewhere around 2% per annum even in countries recording a good economic performance. We have seen plenty of reports of wage growth picking up and maybe you could make a case for it rising from 2% to 2.9% over the past year or so but the catch comes if we look back a quarter as it was 2.9% then!

So real wage growth has been solid for these times in Germany since the opening of 2014 but the truth is that it has been driven by lower inflation rather than any trend to higher wages. In what we consider to be the first world wage growth these days seems to be singing along with Bob Seeger and his Silver Bullet Band.

You’re still the same
Moving game to game
Some things never change
You’re still the same

We therefore find ourselves in another quandary for economics 101 which is that economic improvement no longer seems to be accompanied by any meaningful increase in wage growth. A paradigm shift so far anyway. The official data is only up to the half-way point of last year but according to the Bundesbank “Wage growth remained moderate in the third quarter of 2017” so a good 2017 was accompanied by lower real wage growth as far as we know and this from last week will hardly help.

The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be 1.7% in December 2017. Compared with November 2017, consumer prices are expected to increase by 0.6%. Based on the results available so far, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that, on an annual average, the inflation rate is expected to stand at 1.8% in 2017.

On this road expansionary monetary policy has a contractionary consequence via its impact on real wages and inflation targets should be lowered. Meanwhile it will be party time at the Bundesbank towers as this is quite close to the perfect level of inflation or just below 2%.


Let us welcome the economic good news from 2017 and the apparent immediate prospects for 2018. We can throw in that the Euro era has turned out to be good for Germany overall as the lower exchange rate cushioned the effect of the credit crunch and helped it continue this.

The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 18.9 billion euros in October 2017. In October 2016, the surplus amounted to 18.8 billion euros.

For everyone else there are two problems here. Whilst there are gains from Germany being efficient and producing products which are in worldwide demand a persistent surplus of this kind does drain demand from other countries especially if helped by an exchange rate depreciation of the sort provided by Euro area membership. It was one of the imbalances which fed into the credit crunch and which the establishment told us needed dealing with urgently. So urgent in fact that nothing has happened.

So it looks like Germany will have a good opening to 2017 and first half to the year. But that is as far as we can reasonably see these days and is an answer to those on social media who asked why I did not join the annual forecasts published ( for the UK as it happens) yesterday. If there is to be a cloud in the silver lining then it seems set to come from this.

In the third quarter of 2017, the perceptible expansion
in the broad monetary aggregate M3
continued; the annual growth rate at the end
of the quarter came to 5.1%, remaining at the
level observed over the last two and a half
years ( Bundesbank )

The old rules of thumb may not apply but where is the inflation suggested? Also there is this.

Consumer credit likewise continued to expand
substantially during the period under review,
with its annual growth rate climbing to 6.7%
by the end of September

Those are Euro area figures and the consumer credit growth seems light weight compared to the UK but that is perhaps only because we are an extreme. Moving onto German data there is some specific which seems rather Anglicised.

Once again, loans for house purchase were a
decisive driver of growth in lending to households.
However, their quarterly net increase has
already been relatively constant for several
quarters, meaning that at 3.9%, their annual
growth rate remained unchanged on the year.

The old theories of overheating risks cannot be fully applied because so far at least the wages element has disappeared but that does not mean that some of the other parts have done so. After all procyclical monetary policy usually ends in tears for someone.

The future

With the caveats expressed above this does make one stop and think.