Has the Bank of England fed yet more subprime lending troubles?

One of the main drivers of the UK public finance data which arrives later is the state of the UK economy. There we find that the solid GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) growth of recent years has been replaced by slower more marginal growth in 2017 so far. Also the attempts of the Bank of England to boost the economy via its extra monetary easing of last August are hitting the problems described by former HM Treasury Permanent Secretary Nick Macpherson like this yesterday.

QE like heroin: need ever increasing fixes to create a high. Meanwhile, negative side effects increase. Time to move on.

It raises a wry smile to see a latter-day Sir Humphrey agree with me although Nick did in fact move higher in establishment terms as he is now a Lord. Also it is easy to say  it now after the damage has been done it would have been much braver to say it against the establishment consensus at the time.

Car Loans

One of the areas where stresses in the UK economy are being seen are in the car and car loan markets. As I wrote only on Friday these were fed by the way that the finance subsidiaries of the car manufacturers have been able to step into the market via what are rental deals dressed up as purchases. This will have been oiled by the Bank of England £435 billion of QE and £80.3 billion of its Term Funding Scheme. Whilst the latter specifically helped banks and building societies the aim was ” to support additional lending to the real economy,” Was it a further push for the car market?

The problem after the boom for the car market is that you pump it up so much that you then get a bust. On Friday I pointed out that incentive schemes and subsidies being provided by the manufacturers are a sign of trouble ahead and today the BBC is reporting this. From the BBC.

Ford is the latest car company to launch an incentive for UK consumers to trade in cars over seven years old, by offering £2,000 off some new models.

Unlike schemes by BMW and Mercedes, which are only for diesels, Ford will also accept petrol cars.

All of the part-exchanged vehicles will be scrapped, Ford said, which would have an “immediate positive effect on air quality”.

Old cars, from any manufacturer, can be exchanged until the end of December.

There is of course an addition for my financial lexicon for these times as we discover a price cut is in fact a “positive effect on air quality”.

Provident Financial

I have regularly pointed out the dangers of the surge in unsecured lending in the UK that was also fed by the Bank of England “Sledgehammer” QE and Bank Rate cut of last August. One of the places you would look for trouble is in the area of subprime lending where Provident Financial has released quite a tale of woe this morning. Let us go back only a month.

The group has continued to exercise strong discipline around credit and not observed changes in customer behaviour in relation to either demand for credit or credit performance.

And this morning.

Collections performance is currently running at 57% versus 90% in 2016 and sales at some £9m per week lower than the comparative weeks in 2016. ………….The pre-exceptional loss of the business is now likely to be in a range of between £80m and £120m.

That is a bit different to a pre exceptional profit of £60 million. How much can you lose in a month? This is the sort of Forward Guidance we associate with central banks. Yet again we see a banking organisation which chooses to be “economical with the truth” to coin a phrase and try to drip feed or manage bad news. It has not gone well today with the Chief Executive gone, the dividend scrapped, and a FSA investigation into one of the subsidiaries. The share price is not for the faint hearted because as I type this it is £6.78 or down some £10.67 on the day.

I do hope that someone will ask Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane about this as he undertakes his UK tour which if the FT coverage is any guide seems to be part of an effort to make him the next Governor. After all it was entirely predictable ( please look at my past updates on here) that unsecured lending would boom and lead to trouble just like it has in the past. Andy’s “Sledgehammer” QE lit the blue touch-paper.

A Fiscal Stimulus?

I ask this on several fronts. Let me open with this from former Chancellor George Osborne on BBC Radio 4 Today earlier. From the BBC.

Former Chancellor George Osborne has urged the government to build high-speed rail lines across the north of England, from Liverpool to Hull.

Mr Osborne, who launched the “Northern Powerhouse” initiative when in government,

The so-called HS3 railway project seems a much better idea than HS2 but then almost anything is. A weak minority government is always likely to succumb to such ideas and I was thinking of that as I noted this in this morning’s public finance release.

Over the same period, central government spent £245.9 billion; around 5% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

Actually some £4.1 billion of this is extra debt interest. An awkward number when you consider we have such low yields as we mull a fiscal stimulus to holders of UK Gilts! What is happening here is the consequence of the rise in inflation as index-linked Gilts use the Retail Price Index which rose in July at an annual rate of 3.6%.

Revenue is not bad

Whilst it was eclipsed by the spending growth revenues did beat the official inflation data comfortably.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £226.6 billion in income; including £168.1 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

Indeed if we look at July specifically there was some hopeful news from the self-assessment numbers.

This month, receipts from self-assessed Income Tax increased by £0.8 billion to £8.0 billion, compared with July 2016. This is the highest level of July self-assessed Income Tax receipts on record (records began in 1999).

This meant we had a small surplus in July but that the fiscal year so far saw an extra £1.9 billion of borrowing compared to last year.

Comment

There are two ironies today. The first is that on a day when I was thinking about public sector debt we get a reminder of the troubles in private debt via the unsecured sector and subprime in particular. Next is a timing irony as this from Ann Pettifor hints at.

Former chairman of Northern Rock given a platform by to opine about “principles” shows how corrupt is the British establishment.

So a former chairman of a past subprime lender gets a media soapbox on a day new subprime fears see signs of a coming to fruition? The phrase credit crunch has many meanings but a flicker of it seems likely to be added to by the fact that official restrictions on outward investment from China seem to be biting. From City-AM.

Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda has ditched plans to buy London’s Nine Elms Square, it was announced this morning.

Meanwhile the Bank of England and its Governor Mark Carney are “Vigilant.”

 

 

What is the state of play in the UK car loan market?

One of the features of the last few years has been the boom in car finance in the UK. This has led to a subsequent rise in car sales leading to something of a boom for the UK automotive sector.  the rate of annual UK car registrations dipped to below 2 million in 2011 and much of 2012 but then accelerated such that the SMMT ( Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) reported this in January last year.

UK new car registrations for 2015 beat 2.6 million units for the first time, sealing four years of consecutive growth. The market has posted increases in all bar one of the past 46 months ………Overall, the market rose 6.3% in 2015 to 2,633,503 units – exceeding forecast and outperforming the last record year in 2003 when 2,579,050 new cars left the UK’s showrooms.

So volumes surged as we note the official explanation of why.

Buyers took advantage of attractive finance deals and low inflation to secure some of the most innovative, high tech and fuel efficient vehicles ever produced.

The “attractive finance deals” attracts my attention as it feeds into one of my themes. This is that the Bank of England loosened up credit availability with its Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2013. This flowed into the mortgage market but increasingly looks as if it flowed into the car finance market as well leading to what are described as “attractive finance deals”. This was added to by the Term Funding Scheme ( £80.4 billion and rising) of last August when the Bank of England wanted a “Sledgehammer” of support for lending. We know from past experience that such actions lead to the funds going to all sorts of places that no doubt will be officially denied, or disintermediation. But the car finance industry has exploded to now be 86% of the new car market. Of course the Bank will also describe itself as being “vigilant” about credit risks.

Bank Underground

This is the blog of the staff of the Bank of England rather than the London Underground station to which I commuted for quite a few years. They point out that the car market is now slowing.

Private demand for new cars slowed in 2016 (Chart 2). New car registrations spiked higher in 2017 Q1 — mostly due to changes in vehicle excise duty — but fell back sharply thereafter. The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) forecasts registrations declining by 2½% in 2017 and by a further 4% in 2018.

I know that this is being described as a consequence of the EU leave vote but whilst the fall in real wages may have added to it a fall was on its way for a saturated market. How many cars can we all drive on what are often very congested roads? Also the bit about “high-tech” I quoted from the SMMT last January has not worn the passage of time well. Although to be fair the emissions cheating software on many diesels was indeed high-tech. The consequence of that episode has also affected the market as I am sure some are waiting to see if the diesel scrappage scheme that was promised actually appears.

So we had a monetary effort to create a Keynesian effect which is that what was badged as “credit easing” did what it says on the tin. Car manufacturers and others used it to offer loans and contracts which shifted car demand forwards. But the catch is what happened next? The future is supposed to be ready for us to pick up that poor battered can which was kicked forwards but increasingly it does not turn out like that.

What about the finance market?

According to the Bank of England it has responded and below is one of the changes.

Providers are increasingly retailing contracts where consumers have no option to purchase the car at the end.  This avoids some risks associated with voluntary terminations, but it creates new risks around resale value.

Are they avoiding a problem now being creating one at the end of the contract? Anyway that issue is added to by the familiar response of a credit market to signs of trouble which can be described as “extend and pretend”

finance providers have responded by lengthening loan terms and increasing balloon payments rather than upping monthly repayments.

Actually there are a variety of efforts going on in addition to lengthening the loan term.

Manufacturers typically set the GMFV ( Guaranteed Minimum Future Value) at around 90% of the projected second-hand value at the end of the contract, in order to build a safety margin into their calculations. Tweaking the proportion can have a material impact on the cost of car finance. Switching the GMFV from 90% to 95% would likely reduce the consumer’s monthly payment.

Reducing the safety margin at the first sign of trouble is of course covered by one of the Nutty Boys biggest hits.

Madness, they call it Madness

Also there is a switch to PCH or Personal Contract Hire finance where the consumer does not have the option to buy the car. This is presumably to avoid what for them will be a worrying development.

So-called voluntary terminations are increasing, and usually result in losses to the finance houses.

However this comes with quite a price.

Greater use of PCH has certain risks attached for car finance houses. The primary risk inherent in PCP finance (ie the car’s uncertain market value when returned at the end of the contract) is at least as great under PCH. And a business model of increasingly relying on volatile and lower-margin wholesale markets to sell cars adds to the risk.

Oh and when all else fails there is of course ouvert price cuts.

Manufacturers often vary the amount of cash support to car dealers in order to meet sales targets — sometimes referred to as variable marketing programmes….. Our intelligence suggests that dealership incentives have increased over the past year.

So my financial lexicon for these times needs to add “cash support” and “dealership incentives” to its definition of price cuts. As it happens an advert for SEAT came on the radio as I was typing this I looked up the details. This is for an Ibiza SE.

One year’s Free Insurance (from 18 yrs)^

  • £1,500 deposit contribution**
  • 5.9% APR Representative**
  • Plus an extra £500 off when you take a test drive*

Comment

It is hard not to look across the Atlantic and see increasingly worrying signs about the car loans market. There are differences as for example the falling car prices seen in the consumer inflation data are not really being repeated in the UK so far. I checked the July data earlier this week and whilst used car prices fell by 1.1% new car prices rose by 1.3% although of course we wonder if the new offers are reflected in that? However the move towards “extend and pretend” and the use of the word “innovative” is troubling as we know where that mostly ends up. Or if you prefer here is it via the Bank of England private coded language.

That is partly because car manufacturers and their finance houses are increasingly stimulating private demand by offering cheaper (and new) forms of car finance. As amounts of consumer credit increase, so do the risks to the finance providers. Most car finance is provided by non-banks, which are not subject to prudential regulation in the way that banks are. These developments make the industry increasingly vulnerable  to shocks.

Barca

My deepest sympathies go out to those caught up in the terrorist attacks in and around Barcelona yesterday.

 

 

 

Is housing a better investment than equities?

As you can imagine articles on long-term real interest-rates attract me perhaps like a moth to a flame. Thank you to FT Alphaville for drawing my attention to an NBER paper called The Rate of Return on Everything,but not for the reason they wrote about as you see on the day we get UK Retail Sales data we get a long-term analysis of one of its drivers. This is of course house prices and let us take a look at what their research from 16 countries tells us.

Notably, housing wealth is on average roughly one half of national wealth in a typical economy, and can fluctuate significantly over time (Piketty, 2014). But there is no previous rate of return database which contains any information on housing returns. Here we build on prior work on housing prices (Knoll, Schularick, and Steger, 2016) and new data on rents (Knoll, 2016) to offer an augmented database which can track returns on this important component of national wealth.

They look at a wide range of countries and end up telling us this.

Over the long run of nearly 150 years, we find that advanced economy risky assets have performed strongly. The average total real rate of return is approximately 7% per year for equities and 8% for housing. The average total real rate of return for safe assets has been much lower, 2.5% for bonds and 1% for bills.

If you look at the bit below there may well be food for thought as to why what we might call the bible of equity investment seems to have overlooked this and the emphasis is mine.

These average rates of return are strikingly consistent over different subsamples, and they hold true whether or not one calculates these averages using GDP-weighted portfolios. Housing returns exceed or match equity returns, but with considerably lower volatility—a challenge to the conventional wisdom of investing in equities for the long-run.

Higher returns and safer? That seems to be something of a win-win double to me. Here is more detail from the research paper.

Although returns on housing and equities are similar, the volatility of housing returns is substantially lower, as Table 3 shows. Returns on the two asset classes are in the same ballpark (7.9% for housing and 7.0% for equities), but the standard deviation of housing returns is substantially smaller than that of equities (10% for housing versus 22% for equities). Predictably, with thinner tails, the compounded return (using the geometric average) is vastly better for housing than for equities—7.5% for housing versus 4.7% for equities. This finding appears to contradict one of the basic assumptions of modern valuation models: higher risks should come with higher rewards.

Also if you think that inflation is on the horizon you should switch from equities to housing.

The top-right panel of Figure 6 shows that equity co-moved negatively with inflation in the 1970s, while housing provided a more robust hedge against rising consumer prices. In fact, apart from the interwar period when the world was gripped by a general deflationary bias, equity returns have co-moved negatively with inflation in almost all eras.

A (Space) Oddity

Let me start with something you might confidently expect. We only get figures for five countries where an analysis of investable assets was done at the end of 2015 but guess who led the list? Yes the UK at 27.5% followed by France ( 23.2%), Germany ( 22.2%) the US ( 13.3%) and then Japan ( 10.9%).

I have written before that the French and UK economies are nearer to each other than the conventional view. Also it would be interesting to see Japan at the end of the 1980s as its surge ended and the lost decades began wouldn’t it? Indeed if we are to coin a phrase “Turning Japanese” then this paper saying housing is a great investment could be at something of a peak as we remind ourselves that it is the future we are interested as looking at the past can hinder as well as help.

The oddity is that in pure returns the UK is one of the countries where equities have out performed housing returns. If we look at since 1950 the returns are 9.02% per year and 7.21% respectively. Whereas Norway and France see housing returns some 4% per annum higher than equities. So the cunning plan was to invest in French housing? Maybe but care is needed as one of the factors here is low equity returns in France.

Adjusted Returns

There is better news for UK housing bulls as our researchers try to adjust returns for the risks involved.

However, although aggregate returns on equities exceed aggregate returns on housing for certain countries and time periods, equities do not outperform housing in simple risk-adjusted terms……… Housing provides a higher return per unit of risk in each of the 16 countries in our sample, and almost double that of equities.

Fixed Exchange Rates

We get a sign of the danger of any correlation style analysis from this below as you see this.

Interestingly, the period of high risk premiums coincided with a remarkably low-frequency of systemic banking crises. In fact, not a single such crisis occurred in our advanced-economy sample between 1946 and 1973.

You see those dates leapt of the page at me as being pretty much the period of fixed(ish) exchange-rates of the Bretton Woods period.

Comment

There is a whole litany of issues here. Whilst we can look back at real interest-rates it is not far off impossible to say what they are going forwards. After all forecasts of inflation as so often wrong especially the official ones. Even worse the advent of low yields has driven investors into index-linked Gilts in the UK as they do offer more income than their conventional peers and thus they now do not really represent what they say on the tin. Added to this we now know that there is no such thing as a safe asset more a range of risks for all assets. We do however know that the risk is invariably higher around the time there are public proclamations of safety.

Moving onto the conclusion that housing is a better investment than equities then there are plenty of caveats around the data and the assumptions used. What may surprise some is the fact that equities did not win clearly as after all we are told this so often. If your grandmother told you to buy property then it seems she was onto something! As to my home country the UK it seems that the Chinese think the prospects for property are bright. From Simon Ting.

From 2017-5-11 90 days, Chinese buyers (incl HK) spent 3.6 bln GBP in London real estate.
Anyway, Chinese is the #1 London property buyer.

Perhaps the Bitcoin ( US $4456 as I type this) London property spread looks good. Oh and as one of the few people who is on the Imputed Rent trail I noted this in the NBER paper.

Measured as a ratio to GDP, rental income has been growing, as Rognlie (2015) argues.

Meanwhile as in a way appropriately INXS remind us here is the view of equity investors on this.

Mystify
Mystify me
Mystify
Mystify me

UK Retail Sales

There is a link between UK house prices and retail sales as we note that both have slowed this year.

The quantity bought increased by 1.3% compared with July 2016; the 51st consecutive year-on-year increase in retail sales since April 2013.

 

 

 

 

UK employment remains incredibly strong with even a flicker from real wages

Yesterday brought good news in that UK inflation is looking like it will be a little more subdued than our worst fears. However even so today we move onto comparing it with wage growth which is in a phase where it is below the inflation target measure of the Bank of England ( CPI 2.6% ) and even more so compared to the Retail Price Index at 3.6%. We started the week with some ominous news on the wages front as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development or CIPD released this survey on Monday.

basic pay award expectations for the next 12 months remain at just 1%

That was a downgrade from the circa 2% that we seem to be rumbling forwards at. According to the CIPD the reasons for this are as follows.

Against the backdrop of poor productivity growth, the report points to an increase in labour supply over the past year as a key factor behind the modest pay projection. This is driven by relatively sharp increases in the number of non-UK nationals from the EU, ex-welfare claimants and 50-64 year olds; although the report is keen to stress the future migration trends appear highly uncertain.

I do not know about you but I was not expecting to see a rise in employment based migration from the European Union being reported! This seems to be predominantly for lower-skilled jobs.

Employers report a median number of 24 applicants for the last low-skilled vacancy they tried to fill, compared with 19 candidates for the last medium-skilled vacancy and eight applicants for the last high-skilled vacancy they were seeking to fill.

This is fascinating in an economics concept and of course yet more dreadful news for the Ivory Tower theorists who face yet again the prospect of explaining why 2+2=5. Labour supply is supposed to have shrunk as EU citizens leave adding to the output gap which means wages will surge. We got something on those lines from Ben Broadbent of the Bank of England a week or two ago. The same Bank of England that makes this mistake every year.

The good news was that labour demand was reported as strong.

the long-term unemployed are finding work more quickly and the amount of workers aged 50-64 who are in employment has risen by around 200,000 during the past year……This is reflected in the quarter’s net employment balance – a measure of the difference between the proportion of employers who expect to increase staff levels and those who expect to decrease staff levels in Q3 2017 – which shows an increase from +20 to +27 during the past three months.

Bank of England Agents

They were more upbeat perhaps indicating that bonus pay is on the rise.

Recruitment difficulties had edged higher, and were gradually broadening across sectors and skill areas. Despite this, labour cost growth had been modest, with pay awards clustered around 2%–3%.

Today’s data

Employment

There is continuing evidence that labour demand continues its long climb in the UK.

There were 32.07 million people in work, 125,000 more than for January to March 2017 and 338,000 more than for a year earlier…….The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 75.1%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

This backs up the CIPD view that labour demand remains strong and poses yet again a conundrum that was in vogue around 4 years ago. This is that the employment figures look stronger than the economic output ( GDP ) ones. Last time around it was the employment figures which were the leading indicator so let us cross our fingers. Also there was another piece of news hinting at a stronger jobs market.

There were 883,000 people (not seasonally adjusted) in employment on “zero-hours contracts” in their main job, 20,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

Also the numbers employed had something that you might not have thought was true if you read the mainstream media. From Andy Verity of the BBC.

In year to end of June, the number of UK born people working in the UK increased by 88,000. Non-UK born people working increased by 262,000.

I thought everyone was leaving? If we look at the sector mostly likely to be affected EU nationals there has still been growth mostly driven by Bulgarians and Romanians but slower growth than before.

Unemployment

There was further good news here.

There were 1.48 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 57,000 fewer than for January to March 2017 and 157,000 fewer than for a year earlier……The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.4%, down from 4.9% for a year earlier and the lowest since 1975.

For newer readers higher employment mostly means lower unemployment but does not have to as there are other factors such as size of the labour force. The good news extends to the news on underemployment. We only get quarterly hints on this but in the 3 months to June the rate was 0.5% lower than last year at 7.7%. So relatively good but if we look back for some perspective then we see that it was pre credit crunch mostly in the mid 6% range.

Wages

There was some better news here which is welcome to say the least.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.1%, both including and excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

This means that real wages fell by a little less than the trend predicted.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) fell by 0.5%, both including and excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Actually if we drill down into the monthly detail we see that in terms of official calculations real wages nudged a little higher in June as annual wage growth was 2.8%. This was due to two factors one is that bonus payments were strong and that weekly wages fell by £1 last June so sadly it seems set to drift away. Also for those of us who still look at the RPI inflation figures even this better number still gives a negative answer for real wages.

Comment

There is some genuinely good news here as we see that the employment picture remains very strong a year after the EU leave vote ( as the numbers stretch to June). Unemployment is hitting lifetime lows for an ever higher percentage of the population and even wage growth has nudged higher. Yet as ever we need to ask if this is an example of “tractor production is higher?”

As we do so then we need to note that the underemployment numbers are higher giving a rate a bit more than 1% higher than in the pre credit crunch era. So more jobs but perhaps not quite as much more work as one might think. This is a partial explanation of what are wages growth numbers less than half of Ivory Tower output gap style explanations and expectations.

As to the wages numbers themselves we need to remind ourselves that they exclude the self-employed which means that we are likely to need to subtract something. But there is another factor heading the other way which is that we have created more lower paid jobs which seem to have weak wage growth and may be influencing the numbers or what is called compositional change. As ever the numbers let us down or as the TV series Soap reminded us.

Confused? You will be…..

 

 

 

Expensive times are ahead for UK railway travellers and commuters

Before we even get to the latest UK inflation data some worrying data has emerged. What I mean by this is that Sweden has announced its inflation data which makes its monetary policy even more mind-boggling.

The inflation rate according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 2.2 percent in July 2017, up from 1.7 percent in June. The Swedish Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 0.5 percent from June to July 2017

If we look back to the July Minutes we see that the forecasting skills of the Riksbank are unchanged.

several board members emphasised that it was not sufficient for inflation to temporarily touch the 2 per cent mark.

Actually they are considering a switch of target but in fact that poses even more of a problem.

The inflation rate according to the CPI with a fixed interest rate (CPIF) was 2.4 percent in July, up from 1.9 percent in June. The CPIF rose by 0.6 percent from June to July 2017.

So let us leave the Riksbank to explain why it has an interest-rate of -0.5% and is adding to its QE bond purchases with inflation as above and the economy growing at an annual rate of 4%? This inflation rise added to the rise in India yesterday and in terms of detail was driven by package holiday (0.3%) and air fare ( 0.2%) price rises. Transport costs rises are a little ominous on the day that we find out how much UK rail fares will rise next January.

CPIH

This is the new UK inflation measure and is described thus.

CPIH is our lead measure of inflation and offers the most comprehensive picture of how prices are changing in the economy.

As it uses imputed rents for the housing sector I have challenged them on the use of “comprehensive” so far without much success but you may note the use of “lead” where I have had more success. Efforts to call it “headline” or “preferred” have been extinguished. Meanwhile this happened at the end of July.

On behalf of the Board of the Statistics Authority, I am pleased to confirm the re-designation of CPIH as a National Statistics.

I wish to challenge this by concentrating on the issue of rents. There are two issues here the first is the fantasy economics  that owner-occupiers rent out their homes and the second is the measurement of rents has problems.

  1. There is an issue over the spilt between new lets and existing ones which matters as new let prices tend to rise more quickly.
  2. There is an issue over lags in the data which has been kept under wraps but is suspected to be as long as 18 months so today’s data for July is actually last year’s.
  3. There is the issue that we are being reassured about numbers they confess to not actually knowing.

    “. I acknowledge the efforts by ONS staff to provide reassurance around the quality of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) private rents microdata, which are currently unavailable to ONS. “

There are alternatives which dissidents like me are pressing such as Household Costs Index designed originally by John Astin and Jill Leyland under the auspices of the Royal Statistical Society. This aims to measure what households experience in terms of inflation and thereby includes both house prices and interest-rates rather than fantasy calculations such as imputed rents. Officially it is in progress whereas in practice an effort is underway to neuter this such as the suggestion from the Office for National Statistics ( ONS) it would only be produced annually.

Why does this matter? Well look at the numbers and below is the housing section from CPIH.

The OOH component annual rate is 2.0%, unchanged from last month.  ( OOH = Owner Occupied Housing costs)

Now here are the ONS house price numbers also released today.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.9% in the year to June 2017 (down from 5.0% in the year to May 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly around 5% during 2017.

As you can see they are quite different in spite of the slow down in house price rises. Also we took the CPI numbers to align ourselves with Europe which is using house prices in its own plans for a new measure. This is a familiar theme where rationales are pressed and pressed but then dropped when inconvenient a bit like the RPIJ inflation measure.

Today’s data

We learnt something today I think.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.6%, unchanged from last month…….The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.6%, unchanged from last month.

Firstly we have detached a little from the recent international trend which may well be because we have been seeing higher inflation here. Also you may note that the fanfare of CPIH is currently rather pointless as it is giving the same result! Added to this there is a completely different picture to Sweden.

Transport, in particular motor fuels. Fuel prices fell by 1.3% between June and July 2017, the fifth successive month of price decreases. This contrasts with the same period last year, when fuel prices rose by 0.7%.

I checked air fares too and they fell.

Looking Ahead

There was a continuation of the good news on this front from the producer price indices.

The annual rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate slowed for the third time this year, mainly as a result of 2016 price movements dropping out of the annual comparison.

Much of the effect here comes from the change in the exchange rate where the post EU leave vote is beginning now to drop out of the annual data comparisons. Below are the latest numbers.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 3.2% on the year to July 2017, from 3.3% in June 2017, which is a 0.5 percentage points decline from their recent peak of 3.7% in February and March 2017……Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 6.5% on the year to July 2017, from 10% in June 2017; as per factory gate prices, the drop in July’s rate is due to 2016 price movements dropping out of the annual comparison.

In the detail there is something which will only be welcomed by farmers and central bankers ( who for newer readers consider food and energy inflation to be non-core)

Food production continued to be the main source of upward contributions to input and output price inflation fuelled by rising prices for home food materials and food products respectively.

We get a little more detail but not much.

Within home food materials the largest upward contribution came from crop and animal production, with prices rising 12.3% on the year to July 2017.

Comment

We see a welcome development in that the pressure for UK inflation rises has faded a bit. But commuters and rail travellers will be noting that my theme that the UK is a country with administered inflation is in play here.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.6%, up from 3.5% last month.

You see the “Not a National Statistic” Retail Prices Index is suddenly useful when setting things like rail fares or mobile phone contracts. A rough summary is that the ordinary person pays using the higher RPI but only receives ( pensions, tax allowances indexation) the lower CPI. This reminds me that the gap is 1% which gets little publicity. Indeed the gap between our old inflation measure and the new one continues to be much wider than the change in the target.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 3.9%, up from 3.8% last month.

As a final note UK new car prices edged higher as used car prices nudged lower. I mention this because there are falling prices in the US leading to worries about the car loans situation.

 

Whatever happened to savers and the savings ratio?

A feature of the credit crunch era has been the fall and some would say plummet in quite a range of interest-rates and bond yields. This opened with central banks cutting official short-term interest-rates heavily in response to the initial impact with the Bank of England for example trimming around 4% off its Bank Rate to reduce it to 0.5%. If we go to market rates the drop was even larger because it is often forgotten now that one-year interest-rates in the UK rose to 7% for around a year or so as the credit crunch built up in what was a last hurrah of sorts for savers. Next central banks moved to reduce bond yields via purchases of sovereign bonds via QE ( Quantitative Easing) programmes. In the UK this was followed by some Bank of England rhetoric heading towards the First World War pictures of Lord Kitchener saying your country needs you.

Here is Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean from September 2010.

“What we’re trying to do by our policy is encourage more spending. Ideally we’d like to see that in the form of more business spending, but part of the mechanism … is having more household spending, so in the short-term we want to see households not saving more but spending more’.

Our Charlie was keen to point out that this was a temporary situation.

“It’s very much swings and roundabouts. At the current juncture, savers might be suffering as a result of bank rate being at low levels, but there will be times in the future — as there have been times in the past — when they will be doing very well.

Mr.Bean was displaying his usual forecasting accuracy here as of course savers have seen only swings and no roundabouts as the Bank Rate got cut even further to 0.25% and the £79.6 billion of the Term Funding Scheme means that banks rarely have to compete for their deposits. This next bit may put savers teeth on edge.

“Savers shouldn’t see themselves as being uniquely hit by this. A lot of people are suffering during this downturn … Savers shouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to live just off their income in times when interest rates are low. It may make sense for them to eat into their capital a bit.”

In May 2014 Charlie was at the same game according to the Financial Times.

BoE’s Charlie Bean expects 3% interest rate within 5 years

There is little sign of that so far although of course Sir Charlie is unlikely to be bothered much with his index-linked pension worth around £4 million if I recall correctly plus his role at the Office for Budget Responsibility.

House prices

I add this in because the UK saw an establishment move to get them back into buying houses. This involved subsidies such as the Bank of England starting the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2013 to reduce mortgage rates ( by around 1% initially then up to 2%) which continues with the Term Funding Scheme. Also there was the Help to Buy Scheme of the government. I raise these because why would you save when all you have to do is buy a house and the price accelerates into the stratosphere?

The picture on saving gets complex here. Some may save for a deposit but of course the official pressure for larger deposits soon faded. Also the net worth gains are the equivalent of saving in theoretical terms at least but only apply to some and make first time buyers poorer. Also care is needed with net worth gains as people can hardly withdraw them en masse and what goes up can come down. Furthermore there are regional differences here as for example the gains are by far the largest in London which leads to a clear irony as official regional policy is supposed to be spreading wealth, funds and money out of London.

There is also the issue of rents as those affected here have no house price gains to give them theoretical wealth. However the impact of the fact that real wages are still below the credit crunch peak has meant that rents have increasingly become reported as a burden. So the chance to save may be treated with a wry smile by those in Generation rent especially if they are repaying Student Loans.

Share Prices

This is a by now familiar situation. If we skip for a moment the issue of whether it involves an investment or saving as it is mostly both we find yet another side effect of central bank action. In spite of the recent impact of the North Korea situation stock markets are mostly at or near all time highs. The UK FTSE 100 is still around 7300 which is good for existing shareholders but perhaps not so good for those planning to save.

Number Crunching

There are various ways of looking at the state of play or rather as to what the state of play was as we are at best usually a few months behind events. From the Financial Times at the end of June.

UK households have responded to a tight squeeze on incomes from rising inflation, taxes and falling wages by saving less than at any time in at least 50 years. According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, 1.7 per cent of income was left unspent in the first quarter of 2017, the lowest savings ratio since comparable records began in 1963.

This compares to what?

The savings ratio has averaged 9.2 per cent of disposable income over the past 54 years,

Some of the move was supposed to be temporary which poses its own question but if we move onto July was added to by this.

In Quarter 1 2017, the households and NPISH saving ratio on a cash basis fell to negative 4.8%, which implies that households and NPISH spent more than they earned in income during the quarter.

The above number is a new one which excludes “imputed” numbers a trend I hope will spread further across our official statistics. It also came with a troubling reminder.

This is the lowest quarterly saving ratio on a cash basis since Quarter 1 2008, when it was negative 6.7%.

As they say on the BBC’s Question of Sport television programme, what happened next?

The United States

We in the UK are not entirely alone as this from the Financial Times Alphaville section a week ago points out.

Newly revised data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that American consumers have spent the past two years embracing option 2. The average American now saves about 35 per cent less than in 2015……….Not since the beginning of 2008 have Americans saved so little — and that’s before accounting for inflation.

Comment

One of the features of the credit crunch was that central banks changed balance between savers and debtors massively in the latter’s favour. Measure after measure has been applied and along this road the claims of “temporary” have looked ever more permanent. Therefore it is hardly a surprise that savings seem to be out of favour just as it is really no surprise that unsecured credit has been booming. It is after all official policy albeit one which is only confessed to in back corridors and in the shadows. After all look at the central bank panic when inflation fell to ~0% and gave savers some relief relative to inflation. If we consider inflation there has been another campaign going on as measures exclude the asset prices that central banks try to push higher. Fears of bank deposits being confiscated will only add to all of this.

Meanwhile as we find so often the numbers are unreliable. In addition to the revisions above from the US I note that yesterday Ireland revised its savings ratio lower and the UK reshuffled its definitions a couple of years or so ago. I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the view that the changed would boost the numbers?! I doubt the ch-ch-changes are entirely a statistical illusion but the scale may be, aren’t you glad that is clear? We are left mulling what is saving? What is investment?

But we travel a road where many cheerleaders for central bank actions now want us to panic over an entirely predictable consequence. Or to put it another way that poor battered can that was kicked into the future trips us up every now and then.

 

 

 

As UK house price growth fades so has the economy

Today has opened with news that is in tune with my expectations for 2017. This is my view that house price growth will slow and that it may also go negative. Such an event would make a change in the UK’s inflation dynamics as that would mean that official consumer inflation would exceed asset or house price inflation and of course would send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England. Here is the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The headline price growth gauge slipped from +7% to +1% (suggesting prices were unchanged over the period), representing the softest reading since early 2013.

The date will echo around the walls of the Bank of England as its house price push or Funding for Lending Scheme began in the summer of 2013. Also the immediate prospects look none too bright.

Looking ahead, near term price expectations continue to signal a flat trend over the coming three months at the headline level……..Going forward, respondents are not anticipating activity in the sales market to gain impetus at this point in time, with both three and twelve month expectations series virtually flat.

Actually flat lining on a national scale conceals that there are quite a few regional changes going on.

house prices remain quite firmly on an upward trend in some areas, led by Northern Ireland, the West Midlands and the South West. By way of contrast, prices continue to fall in London…….. the price balance for the South East of England fell further into negative territory, posting the weakest reading for this part of the country since 2011.

We see that price falls are spreading out from our leading indicator of London and wait to see how they ripple out. Northern Ireland is no doubt being influenced by the house price rises south of the border. A cautionary note is that this survey tends to be weighted towards higher house prices and hence London.

The Real Economy

Let us open with the good news which has come from this morning’s production figures.

In June 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.5% compared with May 2017, due mainly to a rise of 4.1% in mining and quarrying as a result of higher oil and gas production.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the fact that something that was supposed to be fading away has boosted the numbers! Of the 0.52% increase some 0.51% was due to it and as well as the impact of a lighter maintenance cycle there was some hopeful news.

In addition, use of the re-developed Schiehallion oil field and use of the new Kraken oil field are contributing to the increase in oil production. Both are expected to increase UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) production over the longer-term.

If we move to manufacturing then the position was flat as a pancake.

Manufacturing monthly growth was flat in June 2017.

However this concealed quite a shift in the detail as we already knew that there has been a slow down in car and vehicle production.

Transport equipment provided the largest downward contribution, falling by 3.6% due mainly to a 6.7% fall in the manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers.

This was mostly offset by increases in the chemical products and pharmaceutical sectors with some seeing quite a boom.

Chemical products provided the largest upward pressure, rising by 6.9% due mainly to an increase of 31.2% within industrial gases, inorganics and fertilisers.

If step back we see that over the past year there has been some growth but frankly not much.

Total production output for June 2017 compared with June 2016 increased by 0.3%, with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, increasing by 0.6%

There is an irony here as a good thing suddenly gets presented as a bad one and of course as ever the weather gets some blame.

energy supply partially offset the increase in total production, decreasing by 4.6% due largely to warmer temperatures.

If we look at other data sources we can say this does not really fit with the Markit PMI business surveys which have shown more manufacturing growth. It may be that they have been sent offside by the fact that the slowing has mostly been in one sector ( vehicles). If the CBI is any guide then the main summer months should be stronger.

Manufacturing firms reported that both their total and export order books had strengthened to multi-decade highs in June, according to the CBI’s latest Industrial Trends Survey.

The overall perspective is that the picture of something of a lost decade has been in play.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2008, by 7.8% and 4.4% respectively in the 3 months to June 2017.

Trade

One of the apparent certainties of life is that the UK will post an overall trade deficit and the beat remains the same.

Between Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017 and Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £0.1 billion to £8.9 billion as increases in imports were closely matched by increases in exports.

So essentially the same as there is no way those numbers are accurate to £100 million. Even the UK establishment implicitly accept this.

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014.

If the problems were minor this would not be ongoing more than 2 years later would it? But if we go with what we have we see that as we stand the lower level for the UK Pound post the EU Leave vote has not made any significant impact.

In comparison with Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 of 2016, the total trade deficit over Quarter 1 and 2 of 2017 has been relatively stable.

This gets more fascinating when we note that prices and indeed inflation have certainly been on the move.

Sterling was 8.7% lower than a year ago, with UK goods export and import prices rising by 8.2% and 7.8% respectively over the period Quarter 2 2016 to Quarter 2 2017.

Construction

This is sadly yet another area where the numbers are “not a National Statistic” and I have written before that I lack confidence in them but for what it is worth they were disappointing.

Construction output fell both month-on-month and 3 month on 3 month, by 0.1% and 1.3% respectively.

This differs from the Markit PMI business survey which has shown growth.

Comment

We are finding that the summer of 2017 is rather a thin period for the UK economy. I do not mean the weaker trajectory for house prices because I feel that it is much more an example of inflation rather than the official view that it is economic growth. Yes existing owners do gain ( but mostly only if they sell) but first time buyers and those “trading up” lose.

Meanwhile our production sector is not far off static. So far the hoped for gains from a lower exchange rate have not arrived as we mull again J-Curve economics. Looking forwards there is some hope from the CBI survey for manufacturing in particular and maybe one day we can get it back to previous peaks. But we find ourselves yet again looking to a sector which appears to be on an inexorable march in terms of importance for the services sector dominates everything now and for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile there is plainly trouble at the UK Office for National Statistics as the rhetoric of data campuses meets a reality of two of today’s main data sets considered to be sub standard.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/bank-england-mpc-confusion/

http://www.corelondon.tv/bitcoin-will-5000-next-level/

http://www.corelondon.tv/ecb-hardcore-operators-inflation-targets/