What next from the war on cash?

This morning the BBC has posted an article on a subject I was mulling last Wednesday.  As I walked into an appointment for some treatment for my knee the person before me was paying for his appointment by using his phone and transferring the money directly. I by contrast had put some cash in my pocket so I could pay in that fashion. If we move on from me suddenly feeling rather stone age and he being much more cutting edge there was one work related issue on my mind. What does paying by phone do to the money supply? It reminds us that the money supply also includes the ability to borrow and whilst everyone obsesses about banks also reminds us that it can now come from other sources. Or perhaps I should correct that to their being more potential routes these days.

Paying by phone

Here is an example quoted by the BBC.

Nikki Hesford, 32, is a convert to person-to-person payment (P2P) apps, using PayPal to pay for services and Venmo to pay back friends.

“The only time in the last year I’ve drawn out cash is for the school fete cake stall and to pay my manicurist,” says Ms Hesford, who runs her own marketing support company for small businesses.

“If I go for a meal with friends I can’t be bothered messing about with two, three or four cards,” she says.

“One person will pay on a card and the others will transfer through an app. It takes seconds rather than minutes fussing around with who owes what.”

PayPal has been around for some time but the likes of Venmo seems a real change and I can see the attraction. Who has not been out to eat with a group and been in a situation where the money collected in is short but everyone claims to have paid? For all our thoughts that millennials and Generation Z have it tough they may have stolen a bit of a march on the rest of us here. Venmo will by its very nature record each transfer and provide a type of audit trail.

In terms of scale then the position is building.

Zelle, one of the most popular payment apps in the US backed by 150 banks, launched in June 2017, but has already processed more than 320 million transactions valued at $94bn (£72bn).

A recent report by Zion market research suggested that the global mobile-wallet market in general is expected to top $3bn by 2022, up from nearly $600m in 2016.

The argument in favour is that it is quick and convenient,

Rachna Ahlawat, co-founder of Ondot Systems, a payment services platform, perceives a marked change in consumer behaviour.

“We want transactions to happen in an instant and at the click of a button,” she says. “Consumers not only want to operate in real-time, but they are looking for technology that allows them to play a more active role in how they control their payments, and are finding new ways of managing their financial lives.”

Financial Crime

The official and establishment view is that cash is a curse and the high priest of such thoughts Kenneth Rogoff wants this.

Why not just get rid of paper currency?

His opening argument is that cash is a source of crime.

First, making it more difficult to engage in recurrent, large, and anonymous payments would likely have a significant
impact on discouraging tax evasion and crime; even a relatively modest impact could potentially justify getting rid of most paper currency.

Yet we discover that even the new white heat world of person to person payments has you guessed it found that the criminal fraternity are very inventive.

“Malware injections and reverse engineering attacks can be used by hackers to understand the app’s code and silently trick you, going undetected by the typical security measures.”  ( Pedro Fortuna from JScrambler )

The truth is that whatever financial area we move into we take the criminals with us and sometimes there are already there waiting for us to make a mistake.

“With the increasing number of apps all requiring some form of authentication, it’s all too tempting to reuse passwords across multiple services. This increases the risk of your data being hacked.”  ( Sam Devaney from CGI UK ).

The banks

There is a very inconvenient reality for the likes of Kenneth Rogoff which is that so much financial crime is to be found at the heart of the system “the precious”.

Banks in Denmark, the Netherlands, Latvia and Malta have all been linked to criminal inflows from countries including Russia and North Korea. The EU has moved to centralize banking supervision, but money laundering has remained a national responsibility.

At the moment the European Union seems to be the weakest link in this area although of course it is far from unique. As an example the situation at Danske bank was so bad it even found itself being trolled by Deutsche Bank which claimed it was only accepting one in ten of past Danske bank clients. According to the Wall Street Journal around US $150 billion of transactions are being investigated according to Reuters the bank itself is discovering large problems.

the Financial Times cited the bank’s own investigation as saying the Danish bank handled up to $30 billion of Russian and ex-Soviet money through non-resident accounts via its Estonian branch in 2013 alone.

The European Union seems to be particularly in the firing zone in this area right now and much of it seems centred in the Baltic nations. That reminds me that back on the 19th of February I looked at the issues facing ABLV in Latvia which developed into a situation where the central bank Governor Ilmārs Rimšēvičs has been charged with taking a bribe.

Whilst the European Union is presently in the firing line we know that banking scandals of this sort occur regularly in most places. Yet the establishment ignore the way that the banks are the major source of financial crime in their rush to implicate cash.

Some new notes

A sign that there is indeed counterfeiting happen was provided yesterday by the European Central Bank or ECB although it chose to present it another way.

New €100 and €200 banknotes unveiled!

Sadly the excitement captured only a couple of journalists attention but the press release did hint at “trouble,trouble,trouble.”

The new €100 and €200 banknotes make use of new and innovative security features.

I think we know why! But there was another sign.

In addition to the security features that can be seen with the naked eye, euro banknotes also contain machine-readable security features. On the new €100 and €200 banknotes these features have been enhanced, and new ones have been added to enable the notes to be processed and authenticated swiftly.

It makes me wonder how many counterfeit ones are in existence. This seems likely to get Kenneth Rogoff to add those note to the 500 Euro ones he wants banned.


This is a situation which has a paradox within it. We see that technology is providing plenty of ways which provide alternatives to cash and in spite of presenting myself as something of a cash luddite earlier I find them convenient too. Yet we want more cash in the UK the £40 billion mark was passed in 2008 and now we have according to the Bank of England.

There are over 3.6 billion Bank of England notes in circulation worth about 70 billion pounds.

We are far from alone as for example in 2017 the growth rate was 7% for the US and Canada and 4% for the Euro area and Japan. Yet the Bank of England confirms that the medium of exchange case has indeed weakened over time.

Cash accounted for 40% of all payments in 2016, compared to 62% in 2006

The Bank will have something of an itchy collar as it notes that the increased demand for cash will be as a store of value and the rise accompanies its era of QE and low interest-rates. Kenneth Rogoff is much more transparent though.

Although in principle, phasing out cash and invoking negative interest rates are topics that can be studied separately, in reality the two issues are deeply linked. To be precise, it is virtually impossible to think about drastically phasing out currency without recognizing that it opens a door to unrestricted negative rates that central
banks may someday be tempted to walk through.

As Turkish points out in the film Snatch “Who da thunk it?”




Where next for US monetary policy?

So much of the economic news in 2018 has related to developments in the US economy. In particular monetary policy as the world has found itself adjusting to what is called these days a “normalisation” of policy in the United States. To my mind that poses the immediate question of what is normal now? I am sure we can all agree that monetary policy has been abnormal over the past decade or so but along that path it has also begun to feel normal. People up to the age of ten will know no different and if we allow some time to be a child maybe even those at university regard what we have now as normal. After all they will have grown up in a world of low and then negative interest-rates. The media mostly copy and paste the official pronouncements that tell us it has been good for us and “saved” the economy.

I am thinking this because the US Federal Reserve last night gave a hint that it thinks something else may be the new normal.

The staff provided a briefing that summarized its analysis
of the extent to which some of the Committee’s monetary
policy tools could provide adequate policy accommodation
if, in future economic downturns, the policy
rate were again to become constrained by the effective
lower bound (ELB)

This begs various questions of which the first is simply as we have just been through the biggest trial ever of such policies surely they know them as well as they ever will? Next comes another troubling thought which is the rather odd theory that you need to raise interest-rates now so that you have room to cut them later. This is something which is not far off bizarre but seems to be believed by some. Personally I think you should raise interest-rates when you think there are good reasons for doing so as otherwise you are emulating the Grand Old Duke of York. Also there are costs to moving interest-rates so if you put them up to bring them down you have made things worse not better.

You may also note that the Zero Lower Bound or ZLB  has become the ELB with Effective replacing zero. Is there a hint here that the US would be prepared to move to negative interest-rates next time around? After all we exist in a world where in spite of the recorded recovery we still have negative interest-rates in parts of Europe and in Japan. Indeed the -0.4% deposit rate at the ECB has survived what the media have called the “Euroboom”.

Effective Lower Bound

There are some odd statements to note about all of this. For example.

Accordingly,in their view, spells at the ELB could become
more frequent and protracted than in the past, consistent
with the staff’s analysis.

Seeing as we have been there precisely once what does “more frequent” actually mean? Also considering how long we were there the concept of it being even more protracted is not a little chilling if we consider what that implies. Also this next bit is not a little breathtaking when we consider the scale of the application of the policy “toolkit”

They also emphasized that there was considerable uncertainty about the economic effects of these tools. Consistent with that view, a few participants noted that economic researchers had not yet reached a consensus about the effectiveness of unconventional policies.

I do not know about you but perhaps they might have given that a bit more thought before they expanded the Federal Reserve balance sheet to above 4 trillion dollars! As to possible consequences let me link two different parts of their analysis which would give me sleepless nights if I had implemented such policies.

A number of participants indicated that there might be significant costs associated with the use of unconventional policies……….. That decline was viewed as likely driven by various factors, including slower trend growth of the labor force and productivity as well as increased demand for safe assets.

Policy Now

This is the state of play for interest-rates.

The Committee expects that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity,

How far? Well Robert Kaplan of the Dallas Fed gave a road map on Tuesday.

With the current fed funds rate at 1.75 to 2 percent, it would take approximately three or four more federal funds rate increases of a quarter of a percent to get into the range of this estimated neutral level.

At this stage, I believe the Federal Reserve should be gradually raising the fed funds rate until we reach this neutral level.

So circa 2.5% is the target and that seems to have been accepted by the bond market as we see the ten-year Treasury Note yield at 2.82% and the thirty-year Treasury Bond yield at 2.98%. When you read about the “yield curve” and in particular reports of it being flattish this is what they mean as we have a difference of a bit over 1% between the official interest-rate and the thirty-year bond.

There has been a lot of discussion about what this means but to my mind it simply means that the bond market has figured out where the US Federal Reserve intends to send interest-rates and has set prices in response. It will have noted the problems abroad that the interest-rate rises have contributed too and the discussions about possible future cuts and adjusted yields downwards. Whether that turns out to be right or wrong is a matter of opinion but to my mind whilst we have QT now ( the Federal Reserve balance sheet is being shrunk albeit relatively slowly) regular readers will be aware I think there are scenarios where interest-rates go up and the QE purchases begin again. Some such thoughts were perhaps on the mind of Robert Kaplan on Tuesday.

Despite the fact that the current economic expansion is the second longest in the postwar period, U.S. government debt held by the public now stands at 75.8 percent of GDP, and the present value of unfunded entitlements is estimated at approximately $54 trillion. The recent tax legislation and bipartisan budget compromise legislation are likely to exacerbate these issues. As a consequence of this level of debt, the U.S. is much less likely to have the fiscal capacity to fight the next recession.

Notice the reference to US debt held by the public which of course omits the holdings by the Fed itself.


There is a fair bit to consider here and so far I have left out two factors. The first is the Donald who has expressed a dislike for interest-rate rises but so far on a much more minor scale than say President Erdogan in Turkey. Next is the issue of the Dollar which is two-fold as in its exchange-rate and how many of them there are to go around. As to the dollar exchange rate then stormy times for the US President seem to have capped it for the short-term. But as to quantity the era of QT seems unsurprisingly to have reduced the supply around the world and therefore contributed to troubles in places which relied on there being plenty of them.

This brings us to the Jackson Hole symposium which starts today where central bankers gather to discuss what to do next. For example back in 2012 Micheal Woodford gave a speech about Forward Guidance which has now become an accepted part of the “toolkit”. Central bankers seem to inhabit a world where it is not a laughing-stock and instead is avidly received and listened to by an expectant population. This time around the official story is of “normalisation” as even the unreliable boyfriend has raised interest-rates albeit only a nervous once. Also the Swedes are again promising to reduce their negativity although that has become something of a hardy perennial.

But in the backrooms I suspect the conversation will shift to “what do we do next time?” when the next recession hits and for the market aware that may be added to by the recent price behaviour of Dr,Copper. On such a road the normalisation debate may suddenly become an Outkast.

I’m sorry, Ms. Jackson, I am for real
Never meant to make your daughter cry
I apologize a trillion times

The economic impact of the King Dollar in the summer of 2018

One of the problems of currency analysis is the way that when you are in the melee it is hard to tell the short-term fluctuation from the longer-term trend. It gets worse should you run into a crisis as Argentina found earlier this year as it raised interest-rates to 40% and still found itself calling for help from the International Monetary Fund. The reality was that it found itself caught out by a change in trend as the US Dollar stopped falling and began to rally. If we switch to the DXY index we see that the 88.6 of the middle of February has been replaced by 95.38 as I type this. At first it mostly trod water but since the middle of April it has been on the up.


If we ask the same question as Carly Simon did some years back then a partial answer comes from this from the testimony of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell yesterday.

Over the first half of 2018 the FOMC has continued to gradually reduce monetary policy accommodation. In other words, we have continued to dial back the extra boost that was needed to help the economy recover from the financial crisis and recession. Specifically, we raised the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/4 percentage point at both our March and June meetings, bringing the target to its current range of 1-3/4 to 2 percent.

So the heat is on and looks set to be turned up a notch or two further.

 the FOMC believes that–for now–the best way forward is to keep gradually raising the federal funds rate.

One nuance of this is the way that it has impacted at the shorter end of the US yield curve. For example the two-year Treasury Bond yield has more than doubled since early last September and is now 2.61%. This means two things. Firstly if we stay in the US it is approaching the ten-year Treasury Note yield which is 2.89%. If you read about a flat yield curve that is what is meant although not yet literally as the word relatively is invariably omitted. Also that there is now a very wide gap at this maturity with other nations with Japan at -0.13% and Germany at -0.64% for example.

At this point you may be wondering why two-year yields matter so much? I think that the financial media is still reflecting a consequence of the policies of the ECB which pushed things in that direction as the impact of the Securities Markets Programme for example and negative interest-rates.


QT or quantitative tightening is also likely to be a factor in the renewed Dollar strength but it represents something unusual. What I mean by that is we lack any sort of benchmark here for a quantity rather than a price change. Also attempts in the past were invariably implicit rather than explicit as interest-rates were raised to get banks to lend less to reduce the supply of Dollars or more realistically reduce the rate of growth of the supply. Now we have an explicit reduction and it has shifted to narrow ( the central banks balance sheet) money from broad money.

 In addition, last October we started gradually reducing the Federal Reserve’s holdings of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. That process has been running smoothly.  ( Jerome Powell).

You can’t always get what you want

It may also be true that you can’t get what you need either which brings us to my article from March the 22nd on the apparent shortage of US Dollars. This is an awkward one as of course market liquidity in the US Dollar is very high but it is not stretching things to say that it is not enough for this.

Non-US banks collectively hold $12.6 trillion of dollar-denominated assets – almost as much as US banks…….Dollar funding stress of non-US banks was at the center of the GFC. ( GFC= Global Financial Crisis). ( BIS)

The issue faded for a bit but seems to be on the rise again as the Libor-OIS spread dipped but more recently has risen to 0.52 according to Morgan Stanley. What measure you use is a moving target especially as the Federal Reserve shifts the way it operates in interest-rate markets but they kept these for a reason.

In October 2013, the Federal Reserve and these central banks announced that their liquidity swap arrangements would be converted to standing arrangements that will remain in place until further notice.

Impact on the US economy

The situation here was explained by Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer back in November 2015.

To gauge the quantitative effects on exports, the thick blue line in figure 2 shows the response of U.S. real exports to a 10 percent dollar appreciation that is derived from a large econometric model of U.S. trade maintained by the Federal Reserve Board staff. Real exports fall about 3 percent after a year and more than 7 percent after three years.

Imports are affected but by less.

The low exchange rate pass-through helps account for the more modest estimated response of U.S. real imports to a 10 percent exchange rate appreciation shown by the thin red line in figure 2, which indicates that real imports rise only about 3-3/4 percent after three years.

And via both routes GDP

The staff’s model indicates that the direct effects on GDP through net exports are large, with GDP falling over 1-1/2 percent below baseline after three years.

The impact is slow to arrive meaning we are likely to be seeing the impact of a currency fall when it is rising and vice versa raising the danger of tripping over our own feet in analysis terms.

What happens to everyone else?

As the US Dollar remains the reserve currency if it rises everyone else will fall and so they will experience inflation in the price of commodities and oil. This is likely to have a recessionary effect via for example the impact on real wages especially as nominal wage growth seems to be even more sticky than it used to be.


Responses to the situation above will vary for example the Bank of Japan will no doubt be saying the equivalent of “Party on” as it will welcome the weakening of the Yen to around 113 to the US Dollar. The ECB is probably neutral as a weakening for the Euro offsets some of its past rise as it celebrates actually hitting its 2% inflation target which will send it off for its summer break in good spirits. The unreliable boyfriend at the Bank of England is however rather typically likely to be unsure. Whilst all Governors seem to morph into lower Pound mode of course it also means that people do not believe his interest-rate hints and promises. Meanwhile many emerging economies have been hit hard such as Argentina and Turkey.

In terms of headlines the UK Pound £ is generating some as it gyrates around US $1.30 which it dipped below earlier. In some ways it is remarkably stable as we observe all the political shenanigans. I think a human emotion is at play and foreign exchange markets have got bored with it all.

Another factor here is that events can happen before the reasons for them. What I mean by that was that the main US Dollar rise was in late 2014 which anticipated I think a shift in US monetary policy that of course was yet to come. As adjustments to that view have developed we have seen all sorts of phases and we need to remember it was only on January 25th we were noting this.

The recent peak was at just over 103 as 2016 ended so we have seen a fall of a bit under 14%

Back then the status quo was

Down down deeper and down

Whereas the summer song so far is from Aloe Blacc

I need a dollar, dollar
Dollar that’s what I need
Well I need a dollar, dollar
Dollar that’s what I need

Me on Core Finance




What is driving bond yields these days?

Yesterday brought us an example of how the military dictum of the best place to hide something is to put it in full view has seeped into economics. Let me show you what I mean with this from @LiveSquawk.

HSBC Cuts German 10-Year Bond Yield Forecast To 0.40% By End-2018 From 0.75% Previously, Cites Growth Worries, German Political Tensions Among Reasons – RTRS

Apart from the obvious humour element as these forecasts come and go like tumbleweed on a windy day there is the issue of how low this is. Actually if we move from fantasy forecasts to reality we find an even lower number as the ten-year yield is in fact 0.34% as I type this. This poses an issue to me on a basic level as we have gone through a period of extreme instability and yet this yield implies exactly the reverse.

Another way of looking at this is to apply the metrics that in my past have been used to measure such matters. For example you could look at economic growth.

Economic Growth

The German economy continued to grow also at the beginning of the year, though at a slower pace……. the gross domestic product (GDP) increased 0.3% – upon price, seasonal and calendar adjustment – in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the fourth quarter of 2017. This is the 15th quarter-on-quarter growth in a row, contributing to the longest upswing phase since 1991. Last year, GDP growth rates were higher (+0.7% in the third quarter and +0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2017). ( Destatis)

If we look at the situation we see that the economy is growing so that is not the issue and furthermore it has been growing for a sustained period so that drops out as a cause too. Yes economic growth has slowed but even if you assume that for the year you get ~1.2% and it has been 2.3% over the past year. Thus if you could you would invest any funds you had in an economic growth feature which no doubt the Ivory Towers are packed with! Of course it is not so easy in the real world.

So we move on with an uncomfortable feeling and not just be cause we are abandoning and old metric. There is the issue that we may be missing something. Was the credit crunch such a shock that we have yet to recover? Putting it another way if Forbin’s Rule is right and 2% recorded growth is in fact 0% for the ordinary person things fall back towards being in line.


Another route is to use inflation to give us a real yield. This is much more difficult in practice than theory but let us set off.

 The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be 2.1% in June 2018. ( Destatis)

So on a basic look we have a negative real yield of the order of -1.7% which again implies an expectation of bad news and frankly more than just a recession. Much more awkward is trying to figure out what inflation will be for the next ten years.

This assessment is also broadly reflected in the June 2018 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area, which foresee annual HICP inflation at 1.7% in 2018, 2019 and 2020.  ( ECB President Draghi)

That still leaves us quite a few years short and after its poor track record who has any faith that the ECB forecast above will be correct? The credit crunch era has been unpredictable in this area too with the exception of asset prices. But barring an oil price shock or the like real yields look set to be heavily negative for some time to come. This was sort of confirmed by Peter Praet of the ECB on Tuesday although central bankers always tell us this right up to and sometimes including the point at which it is obviously ridiculous.

well-anchored, longer-term inflation expectations,


The sum of short-term interest-rates

In many ways this seems too good to be true as an explanation as what will short-term interest-rates be in 2024 for example? But actually maybe it is the best answer of all. If like me you believe that President Draghi has no intention at all of raising interest-rates on his watch then we are looking at a -0.4% deposit rate until the autumn of 2019 as a minimum. Here we get a drag on bond yields for the forseeable future and what if there was a recession and another cut?


This has been a large player and with all the recent rumours or as they are called now “sauces” about a European Operation Twist it will continue. For newer readers this involves the ECB slowing and then stopping new purchases but maintaining the existing stock of bonds. As the stock of German Bunds is just under 492 billion Euros that is a tidy sum especially if we note that Germany has been running a fiscal surplus reducing the potential supply. But as Bunds mature the ECB will be along to roll its share of the maturity into new bonds. Whilst it is far from the only  player I do wonder if markets are happy to let it pay an inflated price for its purchases.

Exchange Rate

This is a factor that usually applies to foreign investors. They mostly buy foreign bonds because they think the exchange rate will rise and in the past the wheels were oiled by the yield from the bond. Of course the latter is a moot point in the German bond market as for quite a few years out you pay rather than receive and even ten-years out you get very little.

Another category is where investors pile into perceived safe havens and like London property the German bond market has been one of this. If you are running from a perceived calamity then security really matters and in this instance getting a piece of paper from the German Treasury can be seen as supplying that need. In an irony considering the security aspect this is rather unstable to say the least but in practice it has worked at least so far.


We find that expectations of short-term interest-rates seem to be the main and at times the only player in town. An example of this has been provided in my country the UK only 30 minutes or so ago.

Britain’s economic strength shows a need for higher interest rates, Mark Carney says. ( Bloomberg)

Mark Carney prepares ground for August interest rate hike from Bank of England with ‘confident’ economic view ( The Independent).

The problem for the unreliable boyfriend who cried wolf is that he was at this game as recently as May and has been consistently doing so since June 2014. Thus we find that with the UK Gilt future unchanged on the day that such jawboning is treated with a yawn and the ten-year yield is 1.28%. If you look at the UK inflation trajectory and performance than remains solidly in negative territory. So the view here is that even if he does do something which would be quite a change after 4 years of hot air he would be as likely to reverse it as do any more.

The theory has some success in the US as well. We have seen rises in the official interest-rate and more seem to be on the way. The intriguing part of the response is that US yields seem to be giving us a cap of around 3% for all of this. Even the reality of the Trump tax cuts and fiscal expansionism does not seem to have changed this.

Is everything based on the short-term now?

As to why this all matters well they are what drive the cost of fixed-rate mortgages and longer term business lending as well as what is costs governments to borrow.



Trade Wars what are they good for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking ahead

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

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

Which means this.

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



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

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

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

Trade what is it good for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much?

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

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

Actually there were further gains too.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Rising inflation trends are putting a squeeze on central banks

Sometimes events have their own natural flow and after noting yesterday that the winds of change in UK inflation are reversing we have been reminded twice already today that the heat is on. First from a land down under where inflation expectations have done this according to Trading Economics.

Inflation Expectations in Australia increased to 4.20 percent in June from 3.70 percent in May of 2018.

This is significant in several respects. Firstly the message is expect higher inflation and if we look at the Reserve Bank of Australia this is the highest number in the series ( since March 2013). Next  if we stay with the RBA it poses clear questions as inflation at 1.9% is below target ( 2.5%) but f these expectations are any guide then an interest-rate of 1.5% seems well behind the curve.

Indeed the RBA is between a rock and a hard place as we observe this from Reuters.

Australia’s central bank governor said on Wednesday the current slowdown in the housing market isn’t a cause for concern but flagged the need for policy to remain at record lows for the foreseeable future with wage growth and inflation still weak.

Home prices across Australia’s major cities have fallen for successive months since late last year as tighter lending standards at banks cooled demand in Sydney and Melbourne – the two biggest markets.

You know something is bad when we are told it is not a concern!

If we move to much cooler Sweden I note this from its statistics authority.

The inflation rate according to the CPI with a fixed interest rate (CPIF) was 2.1 percent in May 2018, up from 1.9 percent in April 2018. The CPIF increased by 0.3 percent from April to May.

So Mission Accomplished!

The Riksbank’s target is to hold inflation in terms of the CPIF around 2 per cent a year.

Yet we find that having hit it and via higher oil prices the pressure being upwards it is doing this.

The Executive Board has therefore decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent and assesses that the rate will begin to be raised towards the end of the year, which is somewhat later than previously forecast.

Care is needed here as you see the Riksbank has been forecasting an interest-rate rise for some years now but like the Unreliable Boyfriend somehow it keeps forgetting to actually do it.

I keep forgettin’ things will never be the same again
I keep forgettin’ how you made that so clear
I keep forgettin’ ( Michael McDonald )

Anyway it is a case of watch this space as even they have real food for thought right now as they face the situation below with negative interest-rates.

Economic activity in Sweden is still strong and inflation has been close to the target for the past year.

US Inflation

The situation here is part of an increasingly familiar trend.

The all items index rose 2.8 percent for the 12 months ending May, continuing its upward trend since the beginning of the year. The index for all items less food and
energy rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending May. The food index increased 1.2 percent, and the energy index rose 11.7 percent.

This was repeated at an earlier stage in the inflation cycle as we found out yesterday.

On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index moved up
3.1 percent for the 12 months ended in May, the largest 12-month increase since climbing 3.1 percent in January 2012.

In May, 60 percent of the rise in the index for final demand is attributable to a 1.0-percent advance in prices for final demand goods.

A little care is needed as the US Federal Reserve targets inflation based on PCE or Personal Consumption Expenditures which you may not be surprised to read is usually lower ( circa 0.4%) than CPI. We do not know what it was for May yet but using my rule of thumb it will be on its way from the 2% in April to maybe 2.4%.

What does the Federal Reserve make of this?

Well this best from yesterday evening is clear.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-3/4 to 2 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

If we start with that let me give you a different definition of accommodative which is an interest-rate below the expected inflation rate. Of course that is off the scale in Sweden and perhaps Australia. Next we see a reference to “strong labo(u)r market conditions” which only adds to this. Putting it another way “strong” replaced “moderate” as its view on economic activity.

This is how the New York Times viewed matters.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday and signaled that two additional increases were on the way this year, as officials expressed confidence that the United States economy was strong enough for borrowing costs to rise without choking off economic growth.

Care is needed about borrowing costs as bond yields ignored the move but of course some may pay more. Also we have seen a sort of lost decade in interest-rate terms.

The last time the rate topped 2 percent was in late summer 2008, when the economy was contracting and the Fed was cutting rates toward zero, where they would remain for years after the financial crisis.

Yet there is a clear gap between rhetoric and reality on one area at least as here is the Fed Chair.

The decision you see today is another sign that the U.S. economy is in great shape,” Mr. Powell said after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. “Most people who want to find jobs are finding them.”

Yet I note this too.

At a comparable time of low unemployment, in 2000, “wages were growing at near 4 percent year over year and the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation was 2.5 percent,” both above today’s levels, Tara Sinclair, a senior fellow at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a research note.

So inflation is either there or near but can anyone realistically say that about wages?

Mr. Powell played down concerns about slow wage growth, acknowledging it is “a bit of a puzzle” but suggesting that it would normalize as the economy continued to strengthen.

What is normal now please Mr.Powell?


One of my earliest themes was that central banks would struggle when it comes to reducing all the stimulus because they would be terrified if it caused a slow down. A bit like the ECB moved around 2011 then did a U-Turn. What I did not know then was that the scale of their operations would increase dramatically exacerbating the problem. To be fair to the US Federal Reserve it is attempting the move albeit it would be better to take larger earlier steps in my opinion as opposed to this drip-feed of minor ones.

In some ways the US Federal Reserve is the worlds central bank ( via the role of the US Dollar as the reserve currency) and takes the world with it. But there have been changes here as for example the Bank of England used to move in concert with it in terms of trends if not exact amounts. But these days the Unreliable Boyfriend who is Governor of the Bank of England thinks he knows better than that and continues to dangle future rises like a carrot in front of the reality of a 0.5% Bank Rate.

This afternoon will maybe tell us a little more about Euro area monetary policy. Mario Draghi and the ECB have given Forward Guidance about the end of monthly QE via various hints. But that now faces the reality of a Euro area fading of economic growth. So Mario may be yet another central bank Governor who cannot wait for his term of office to end.



Are interest-rates on the rise now?

As we find ourselves heading into the second decade of the credit crunch era we find ourselves observing an interest-rate environment that few expected when it began. At the time the interest-rate cuts ( for example circa 4% in the UK) were considered extraordinary but the Ivory Towers would have been confident. After all they had been busy telling us that the lower bound for interest-rates was 0% and many were nearly there. Sadly for the Ivory Towers the walls then came tumbling down as Denmark, the Euro area , Sweden, Switzerland and Japan all entered the world of negative official interest-rates.

Even that was not enough for some and central banks also entered into sovereign and then other bond purchases to basically reduce the other interest-rates or yields they could find. Such QE ( Quantitative Easing) purchases reduced sovereign bond yields and debt costs which made politicians very happy especially when they like some official interest-rates went negative. When that did not work either we saw what became called credit easing where direct efforts went into reducing specific interest-rates, In the UK this was called the Funding for Lending Scheme which was supposed to reduce the cost of business lending but somehow found that  instead in the manner of the Infinite Improbability Drive in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy  it reduced mortgage interest-rates initially by around 1% when I checked them and later the Bank of England claimed that some fell by 2%.

What next?

Yesterday brought a reminder that not everywhere is like this so let me hand you over to the Reserve Bank of India.

On the basis of an assessment of the current and evolving macroeconomic situation at its
meeting today, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to:
• increase the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) by 25 basis
points to 6.25 per cent.
Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF stands adjusted to 6.0 per cent, and the
marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate to 6.50 per cent.

There are two clear differences with life in Europe and the first is a rise in interest-rates with the second being that interest-rates are at or above 6% in India. It feels like another universe rather than being on the sub-continent but it does cover some 1.3 billion people. Sometimes we over emphasise the importance of Europe. As to why it raised interest-rates the RBI feels that the economy is going well and that inflation expectations are rising as domestic inflation ( official rents) has risen as well as the oil price.

The US

This has moved away from zero interest-rates and now we face this.

to maintain the federal funds rate in a target range of
1½ to 1¾ percent

It seems set to raise interest-rates again next week by another 0.25% which has provoked Reuters to tell us this.

With inflation still tame, policymakers are aiming for a “neutral” rate that neither slows nor speeds economic growth. But estimates of neutral are imprecise, and as interest rates top inflation and enter positive “real” territory, analysts feel the Fed is at higher risk of going too far and actually crimping the recovery.

Personally I think that they do not understand real interest-rates which are forwards looking. So rather than last months print you should look forwards and if you do then there are factors which look likely to drive it higher. The most obvious is the price of crude oil which if we look at the West Texas Intermediate benchmark is at US $65 per barrel around 35% higher than a year ago. But last month housing or what the US callers shelter inflation was strong too so there seems to be upwards pressure that might make you use more like 2.5% as your inflation forecast for real interest-rates. So on that basis there is scope for several more 0.25% rises before real interest-rates become positive.

One point to make clear is that the US has two different measures of inflation you might use. I have used the one that has the widest publicity or CPI Urban ( yep if you live in the country you get ignored…) but the US Federal Reserve uses one based on Personal Consumption Expenditures or PCE. The latter does not have a fixed relationship with the former but it usually around 0.4% lower. Please do not shoot the piano player as Elton John reminded us.

If we move to bond yields the picture is a little different. The ten-year seems to have settled around 3% or so ( 2.99% as I type this) giving us an estimated cap for official interest-rates. Of course the picture is made more complex by the advent of Quantitative Tightening albeit it is so far on a relatively minor scale.

The Euro area

Here we are finding that the official line has changed as we await next week’s ECB meeting. From Reuters.

Money market investors are now pricing in a roughly 90 percent chance that the European Central Bank will raise interest rates in July 2019, following hawkish comments from the bank’s chief economist on Wednesday.

In terms of language markets are responding to this from Peter Praet yesterday.

Signals showing the convergence of inflation towards our aim have been improving, and both the underlying strength in the euro area economy and the fact that such strength is increasingly affecting wage formation supports our confidence that inflation will reach a level of below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

For newer readers he is saying that in ECB terms nirvana is near and so it will then reduce policy accommodation which is taken to mean ending monthly QE and then after a delay raising interest-rates.

So it could be a present from Mario Draghi to his successor or of course if he fails to find the switch a job he could pass on without ever raising interest-rates in his eight years as President.


Before I give my opinion let me give you a deeper perspective on what has been in some cases all in others some of our lives.

Since 1980, long-term interest rates have declined by about 860 basis points in the United States, 790 basis points in Germany and more than 1,200 basis points in France. ( Peter Praet yesterday)

On this scale even the interest-rate rises likely in the United States seem rather small potatoes. But to answer the question in my title I am expecting them to reach 2% and probably pass it. Once we move to Europe the picture gets more complex as I note this from the speech of Peter Praet.

the underlying strength in the euro area economy

This is not what it was as we observe the 0.4% quarterly growth rate in Euro area GDP confirmed this morning or the monthly and annual fall in manufacturing orders for Germany in April. Looking ahead we know that narrow money growth has also been weakening. Thus the forecasts for an interest-rate rise next June seem to be a bit like the ones for the UK this May to me.

Looking at the UK I expect that whilst Mark Carney is Bank of England Governor we will be always expecting rises which turn out to be a mirage. Unless of course something happens to force his hand.

On a longer perspective I do think the winds of change are blowing in favour of higher interest-rates but it will take time as central bankers have really over committed the other way and are terrified of raising and then seeing an economic slow down. That would run the risk of looking like an Emperor or Empress with no clothes.