2017 is seeing the return of the inflation monster

As we nearly reach the third month of 2017 we find ourselves observing a situation where an old friend is back although of course it is more accurate to describe it as an enemy. This is the return of consumer inflation which was dormant for a couple of years as it was pushed lower by falls particularly in the price of crude oil but also by other commodity prices. That windfall for western economies boosted real wages and led to gains in retail sales in the UK, Spain and Ireland in particular. Of course it was a bad period yet again for mainstream economists who listened to the chattering in the  Ivory Towers about “deflation” as they sung along to “the end of the world as we know it” by REM. Thus we found all sorts of downward spirals described for economies which ignored the fact that the oil price would eventually find a bottom and also the fact that it ignored the evidence from Japan which has seen 0% inflation for quite some time.

A quite different song was playing on here as I pointed out that in many places inflation had remained in the service-sector. Not many countries are as inflation prone as my own the UK but it rarely saw service-sector inflation dip below 2% but the Euro area for example had it at 1.2% a year ago in February 2016 when the headline was -0.2%, Looking into the detail there was confirmation of the energy price effect as it pulled the index down by 0.8%. Once the oil price stopped falling the whole picture changed and let us take a moment to mull how negative interest-rates and QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond buying influenced that? They simply did not. Now we were expecting the rise to come but quite what the ordinary person must think after all the deflation paranoia from the “deflation nutters” I do not know.

Spain

January saw quite a rise in consumer inflation in Spain if we look at the annual number and according to this morning’s release it carried on this month. Via Google Translate.

The leading indicator of the CPI puts its annual variation at 3.0% In February, the same as in January
The annual rate of the leading indicator of the HICP is 3.0%.

Just for clarity it is the HICP version which is the European standard which is called CPI in the UK. It can be like alphabetti spaghetti at times as the same letters get rearranged. We do not get a lot of detail but we have been told that the impact of the rise in electricity prices faded which means something else took its place in the annual rate. Also we got some hints as to what is coming over the horizon from last week’s producer price data.

The annual rate of the General Industrial Price Index (IPRI) for the month of January is 7.5%, more than four and a half points higher than in December and the highest since July 2011.

It would appear that the rises in energy prices affected businesses as much as they did domestic consumers.

Energy, whose annual variation stands at 26.6%, more than 18 points above that of December and the highest since July 2008. In this evolution, Prices of Production, transportation and distribution of electrical energy and Oil Refining,
Compared to the declines recorded in January 2016.

In fact the rise seen is mostly a result of rising commodity prices as we see below.

Behavior is a consequence of the rise in prices of Product Manufacturing Basic iron and steel and ferroalloys and the production of basic chemicals, Nitrogen compounds, fertilizers, plastics and synthetic rubber in primary forms.

The Euro will have had a small impact too as it is a little over 3% lower versus the US Dollar than it was a year ago.

Belgium

The land of beer and chocolate has also been seeing something of an inflationary episode.

Belgium’s inflation rate based on the European harmonised index of consumer prices was running at 3.1% in January compared to 2.2% in December.

The drivers were mostly rather familiar.

The sub-indices with the largest upward effect on inflation were domestic heating oil, motor fuels, electricity, telecommunication and tobacco.

These two are the inflation outliers at this stage but the chart below shows a more general trend in the major economies of the Euro area.

The United States

In the middle of this month the US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the trend.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.

This poses some questions of its own in the way that it confirmed that the strong US Dollar had not in fact protected the US economy from inflation all that much. The detail was as you might expect.

The January increase was the largest seasonally adjusted all items increase since February 2013. A sharp rise in the gasoline index accounted for nearly half the increase,

Egypt

A currency plummet of the sort seen by the Egyptian Pound has led to this being reported by Arab News.

Inflation reached almost 30 percent in January, up 5 percent over the previous month, driven by the floatation of the Egyptian pound and slashing of fuel subsidies enacted by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in November.

Ouch although of course central bankers will say “move along now……nothing to see here” after observing that the major drivers are what they call non-core.

Food and drinks have seen some of the largest increases, costing nearly 40 percent more since the floatation, figures from the statistics agency show. Some meat prices have leaped nearly 50 percent.

Comment

There is much to consider here and inflation is indeed back in the style of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However some care is needed as it will be driven at first by the oil price and the annual effect of that will fade as 2017 progresses. What I mean by that is that if we look back to 2016 the price of Brent Crude oil fell below US $30 per barrel in mid-January and then rose so if the oil price remains around here then its inflationary impact will fade.

However even a burst of moderate inflation will pose problems as we look at real wages and real returns for savers. If we look at the Euro area with its -0.4% official ECB deposit rate and wide range of negative bond yields there is an obvious crunch coming. It poses a particular problem for those rushing to buy the German 2 year bond as with a yield of 0.94% then they are facing a real loss of around 5/6% if it is held to maturity. You must be pretty desperate and/or afraid to do that don’t you think?

Meanwhile so far Japan seems immune to this, of course there will eventually be an impact but it is a reminder of how different it really is from us.

UK National Statistician John Pullinger

Thank you to John and to the Royal Statistical Society for his speech on Friday on the planned changes to UK inflation measurement next month. Sadly it looks as if he intends to continue with the use of alternative facts in inflation measurement by the use of rents to measure owner-occupied housing costs. These rents have to be imputed because they do not actually  exist as opposed to house prices and mortgage costs which not only exist in the real world but are also widely understood.

Will the UK taxpayer ever get back the money invested in Royal Bank of Scotland?

Today we find ourselves arriving at what has become an annual event although sadly there is never any money for a party although we are invariably promised that there will be plenty of cash next year. This is of course the announcement of more bad figures from Royal Bank of Scotland as we look back over all the promises made on its behalf which stretch back now to the beginning of the credit crunch. Let us step back in time to the 13th of October 2008.and see what the then Chancellor Alistair Darling told us  in the Guardian.

There is every reason to be confident that, as we go through this, the British taxpayer will get his money back.

The UK taxpayer invested at around £5 per share and this morning’s price is £2.44 so it looks as though Alistair will have to remain confident for quite some time and maybe forever. Also we learn that so-called alternative facts come from official sources as well as unofficial. But as time has passed others have proclaimed triumph only to see disaster.

Here is The International Financing Review from 2012.

In some ways, however, RBS is well ahead of the pack…….RBS was forced to concentrate on what it was good at and should come out of its current (second) restructuring as one of the more efficient banks in the industry.

I am not sure how much more they could have been wrong! But they were not alone as this from a former employer of mine Union Bank of Switzerland proves.

However, with 2013 expected to be the last year of significant restructuring for RBS, it is likely to be one of the first European banks to have dealt with legacy issues.

We can put that as a clear fail as the 2017 figures will show us later as we mull whether RBS will ever be able to sing along with Taylor Swift regarding legacy issues.

Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Along the way we have at least managed a little humour as this from Bluebullet on Twitter from 3 years ago shows.

Dear Dragons Den, I have 80% share. Losses this year are £8 billion. I am paying out £0.5 billion in bonuses. Would you like to invest? #RBS

Today’s data

Chief Executive Ross McEwan told us this only last year.

“I am determined to put the issues of the past behind us and make sure RBS is a stronger, safer bank,” chief executive Ross McEwan said.

 

“We will now continue to move further and faster in 2016 to clean up the bank and improve our core businesses.”

Does he think so? Well according to this in the Guardian he does although you may spot the bit that makes him think so.

“The bottom line loss we have reported today is, of course, disappointing but given the scale of the legacy issues we worked through in 2016, it should not come as a surprise,” said the RBS chief executive, Ross McEwan, who was paid £3.5m for 2016.

Okay so what was the loss declared?

Royal Bank of Scotland has reported losses of £7bn for 2016, taking its losses since its 2008 government bailout to more than £58bn.

 

The taxpayer-backed bank has also admitted that it will not return to profit until 2018, indicating that it will report 10 years of losses before it returns to the black.

There are a litany of issues here as we note yet another large loss. For Mr McEwan there is an awkward trend to explain as losses have gone £1.5 billion then £2 billion and now £7 billion as he has promised improvements. For the UK taxpayer there is the issue that the losses since the bailout are now larger than the funds invested. Next there is the fact that things are apparently so bad even these serial fakers cannot claim a profit is just around the corner!

If we switch to the Financial Times we see two of my themes being deployed as a defensive mechanism. Firstly losses are always described as a one-off which are nine years and rising of them is risible and secondly the way a bit like inflation measure we keep getting them until the “correct answer” is given.

In total, these one-off conduct and restructuring costs amount to £10bn. This pushed down the bank’s capital reserves, with the common equity tier one ratio dropping to 13.4 per cent, from 15.5 per cent a year ago. On a pre-tax basis, RBS reported an operating loss of £4.1bn, compared to a £2.7bn loss a year earlier. Its core business, comprising commercial and retail banking, delivered its eighth successive quarter of £1bn operating profit, stripping out one-off items.

So it made a profit right?

Reform

I have been critical of other countries on such matters so it is now time to apply similar methodology to the UK and the botched efforts with Williams & Glyns should lead to sackings of those involved. From the Financial Times.

This includes the £750m cost for the new Williams & Glyn plan unveiled last week. RBS has spent some £1.8bn over a number of years on attempting to divest Williams & Glyn.

They have splashed the cash and then given up after buying time with our money in a saga rather like Novo Banco in Portugal.

There are also more problems on the horizon as of course RBS was involved in so much miss selling and the issues with small businesses seem to just grow and grow. As to optimism well there does not seem to be much on display here in this from the Financial Times.

Mr McEwan is targeting £750m of cost savings this year, as part of a total £2bn of planned cuts over the four-year period, which is expected to involve hundreds of job losses and branch closures.

Comment

Actually the banking environment is really rather favourable. For example the UK economy returned to solid economic growth nearly four years ago and the Bank of England regularly rustles up a new bank subsidy plan. The latest one called the Term Funding Scheme  has now grown with little public attention to just under £42 billion. On that theme there was this from City AM yesterday.

Mortgage lending hit £18.9bn in January, new figures have shown – two per cent up on the same month last year, and the best January since 2008.

Enough to cheer both a banker’s and a central banker’s heart. Indeed the theme has been reinforced this morning by mortgage approvals rising to above 44,000 in January according to the British Bankers Association. The most similar bank to RBS is Lloyds Banking Group so how did it do this year?

Pre-tax profits increased by 158% to £4.24bn, a level last seen in 2006 before the financial crisis. ( BBC )

Next nearest is Barclays so what about it?

The bank reported a profit before tax of £3.2bn for 2016, up from £1.1bn the year before. ( BBC )

As you can see if they are from Venus RBS looks like it is from Mars. It needs a change and needs to go one way or another. What I mean by that is the taxpayer should fully own it and raise the current stake of around 72% to 100% or it should be sold-off and left to stand on its own. The current half-way house is doing no good at all. The fact that Lloyds is now nearly fully in the private sector ( ~96% of shares) is a guide but maybe not as much as we think as of course the shares were more easily sold off because it was already doing better than RBS.

 

The UK Public Finances are another source of embarrassment for Mark Carney

Today sees the latest data on the UK Public Finances which so far have meandered on in the same not entirely merry way as before the EU leave vote. This is in stark contrast to the modeling provided by HM Treasury.

In the ‘shock scenario’ presented in the short-term analysis, in 2017-18, real GDP would be 2.9% lower than baseline, but potential GDP would have declined by 2.1% compared to the baseline.

Believe it or not this was the more moderate scenario and as we have not entered that fiscal year it could of course happen but so far we have seen nothing like that.Of course we should have done as the UK economy was supposed to immediately shrink by up to 1%. The consequence was that the fiscal or budget deficit would rise by £24 billion in 2017/18 and the more extreme “severe shock” would see it rise by £39 billion.

There is a particularly worrying postscript to this in that it was personally signed off by former Bank of England Deputy Governor Professor Sir Charles Bean who of course made a right charlie of himself. Well he is now at the Office of Budget Responsibility producing more growth and borrowing forecasts. There is a particular irony in the lack of responsibility and indeed the rewards for failure on display here.

The Financial Times brings up forecasts of a dire future almost as quickly as it has to offer mea culpae for the previous ones being wrong.

The EU’s Brexit negotiators expect to spend until Christmas solely discussing Britain’s divorce from the bloc, denying London any trade talks until progress is made on a €60bn exit bill and the rights of expatriate citizens.

The Bank of England

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney is of course familiar with the concept of providing “alternative facts” and he was on that road at this month’s Inflation Report.

First, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement eased fiscal policy over the coming years. This explains about half of our forecast upgrade.

Actually there was an announced change but of course that relies on you believing the forecasts of George Osborne. For example the UK budget was originally supposed to be in surplus right now which of course faded not to the grey of Visage but remained solidly in red ink. So it was the sort of claimed change which probably ends up at the same destination. The flight boards may say a diversion Helsinki but somehow the flight lands at the original destination Copenhagen. At the time of typing this Andrew Tyrie of the Treasury Select Committee is really skewering the Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane on this subject by pointing out that this stimulus is apparently much more stimulative than others of the same size and asking why?

Of course Governor Carney is on the road to changing the UK public finances for the worse in two respects. As we move forwards the inflation he is so keen on “looking through” will raise the cost of financing index-linked bonds. As these are linked to the Retail Price Index which is rising at an annual rate of 2.6% the bill is on its way. Also part of the “Sledgehammer” of policy action last August was the Term Funding Scheme which has raised the national debt which shows a clear lack of forethought. You need to make your way to Appendix 9 but there it is some £31.37 billion of additional debt so that the Bank of England can subsidise the banks yet again.

Today’s data

We open with the traditional January surplus.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) was in surplus by £9.4 billion in January 2017, a £0.3 billion larger surplus than in January 2016; this is the highest January surplus since 2000.

There was some good news in the receipts column.

Self-assessed Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax receipts increased by £2.0 billion to £19.8 billion in January 2017 compared with January 2016; this is the highest January on record (monthly recording of self-assessed tax receipts began in April 1999).

Of course it should be the best on record as it is inflated by economic growth and of course inflation over time. However the rises in the tax-free Personal Allowance over the past 2 government’s will have dampened this somewhat.

Something familiar

This is the ongoing issue of ch-ch-changes to the methodology stirring up all the grit from the bottom of the pot so that the water goes from clear to murky.

In this month’s bulletin we have introduced a new methodology for the recording of Corporation Tax and Bank Corporation Tax Surcharge receipts.

It is hard not to groan a little although of course it is badged as an improvement.

Previously, we have used cash receipts for these taxes as a proxy for accrued revenue. An improved methodology derives accrued revenue figures by adjusting cash receipts to more accurately reflect the time at which the economic activity relating to the tax receipts took place.

It is in fact a type of seasonal adjustment.

The impact of introducing the new methodology is to distribute the tax revenue more evenly over individual months in the year.

Actually it also makes the amount in recent years higher. Do they not know how much was collected?

A deeper perspective

This is provided by the financial year so far.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £13.6 billion to £49.3 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2016 to January 2017), compared with the same period in the previous financial year;

This is essentially because of a good performance on the revenue front.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £553.7 billion in income; including £416.8 billion in taxes. This was around 5% more than in the previous financial year-to-date.

Also contrary to the hints of a fiscal boost we received last autumn and still be trumpeted by the Bank of England this morning there has been some restraint in public expenditure.

Over the same period, central government spent £581.2 billion; around 2% more than in the previous financial year-to-date.

Care is needed here but this is quite close to the current official inflation measure ( CPI 1.8%), the same as what next month will be the new measure at the top of the release ( CPIH 2%), and below the number used for index-linking for that sector of the UK Gilt market ( RPI 2.6%). Of course much of the period here was  where inflation was lower but its rise may well tighten policy in real terms. This would be consistent with what we are hearing from the NHS and councils although the former always needs more money.

The National Debt

If he was still Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne would be shouting this from the rooftops.

Public sector net debt (excluding both public sector banks and Bank of England) was £1,589.2 billion at the end of January 2017, equivalent to 80.5% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £43.6 billion (or a decrease of 0.6 % points as a ratio of GDP) since January 2016.

He was so keen to be able to declare the latter part of that quote but sadly for him he was the past before it arrived. Poor George, although if we look at his fees for speeches maybe not so poor George. The more eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted the “improvement” which helped.

Public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) was £1,682.8 billion at the end of January 2017, equivalent to 85.3% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £91.7 billion (or 1.9 % points as a ratio of GDP) since January 2016.

Actually the internationally comparable figure was 87.6% of GDP as of last March.

Comment

As ever much is going on. If we start with the Bank of England then it has not so much moved the goalposts as built its Ivory Tower on the wrong pitch. As the Ivory Tower is fixed in the ground then reality has to change so it has spent so much of this morning talking about a theoretical concept called U* unemployment which does some of the trick. They were discomfited trouble when Andrew Tyrie simply asked them when this had happened before? I did not expect Mark Carney to know as of course the UK did not exist before June 2013 but the blank embarrassed faces of the others were a sight to behold. Sadly nobody asked about why so many female members were leaving the Monetary Policy Committee this year?

The public finances continue to improve albeit more slowly than we would have hoped. There are dangers ahead from the cost of index-linked Gilts as inflation continues to rise and the impact of this inflation on the wider economy. But there are other issues as for example an area near to me in Battersea Park often becomes a trailer park in the search for more revenue, although sadly I understand that the benefit goes more to a private company ( Enable ) than the council itself.

 

 

 

 

 

Of UK Retail Sales and a 5% cut in real interest-rates

A feature of my career and time working with and analysing finance and economics has been the fall in interest-rates and yields. This of course has ended up with us now facing a period where more than a few interest-rates and bond yields are in fact in negative territory. My subject of yesterday France has a central bank ( ECB) with a deposit and current account of -0.4% and its 2 year bond yield is -0.5%. But let me give you some perspective from the Bank Underground blog of the Bank of England.

Real interest rates have fallen by around 5 percentage points since the 1980s.

Eye-catching is it not? Just to break this down they were 0% in the 1970s, 4.7% in the 1980s, then 1.9% up to the credit crunch and since 2009 have been -1.3%, Oh and that is 6% and not 5% by the way. For clarity this is for the United States one year yield minus how inflation turned out to be in that year.

So in the period since the 1980s we have seen, as I have pointed out quite a few times before quite a stimulus applied to the world economy and of course a fair bit of this has come in the credit crunch era. We then face a rather awkward conundrum because the supposed cure of lower interest-rates and yields is in response at least in part to the problems created by lower interest-rates and yields! A sort of doubling the dose response to an addiction. How does that usually work out?

Of course some want ever more as I note individuals like Kenneth Rogoff who want to ban as much cash as they can as they fear that they will not be able to repeat the “cure” next time around. This plainly means interest-rates going even more negative and more places seeing them. For example the UK now has a Bank Rate of 0.25% after over 3 years of pretty solid economic growth so what happens when the next recession turns up? Such thoughts have the problem of why a cure needs to be repeated so often at ever higher dosages and with ever more side-effects?

As to the causes of this the Bank Underground tries to dismiss fears over secular stagnation by pointing out this.

In the late 1930s, Alvin Hansen developed the term “secular stagnation” to describe his concerns that structural factors such as stagnant technological development and weaker population growth prospects would weigh on growth permanently.  We know now that these concerns over secular trends proved misplaced, and played little role in weaker growth.

Rather ominously that was really only changed by the second world war which is hardly a hopeful precedent! The author hopes that things will get better so lets join him in that but the truth is we are much less sure and there is a sort of unmentioned sword of Damocles hanging all over this which is Japan where the lost decade has become the lost decades.

Although the author would not put it like this there is quite a critique of current Bank of England policy tucked away in the blog.

When agents assign a low probability to the central bank remaining hawkish towards inflation, real rates must rise by a significantly larger amount in response to a given shock to stabilise inflation.  The required response decreases as credibility improves.

So as the credibility of Forward Guidance is only for the credulous now and the Bank of England plans to “look through” rising inflation then the logic applied there suggests real rates will have to rise substantially. Awkward.

Retail Sales

Speaking of rising inflation there was this in the data released this morning.

Average store prices (including fuel) increased by 1.9% on the year, the largest contribution to this increase came from petrol stations, where year-on-year average prices were estimated to have risen by 16.1%.

Regular readers will be aware that I was ahead of the pick-up in retail sales in the UK and quite a few other places by explaining that the lower inflation driven mostly be lower crude oil prices would raise consumption via a boost to real wages. So we are now beginning to see the mirror image of that relationship. It was only on Wednesday that I pointed out the real wage growth was fading and on some inflation measures had now gone negative. The price rise was just not from fuel as this from the food sector shows.

In January 2017, prices increased by 0.5% compared with December 2016, the largest month-on-month rise since April 2013, while the year-on-year increase of 0.2% is the highest since June 2014,

Thus the numbers today are not the surprise they have been presented as.

Month-on-month the quantity bought is estimated to have fallen by 0.3%.

If we look for more perspective we see this.

The underlying pattern as suggested by the 3 month on 3 month movement decreased by 0.4%; the first fall since December 2013.

In annual terms there is still growth but it has faded substantially for the heady days of late 2016.

In January 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry is estimated to have increased by 1.5% compared with January 2016, the lowest growth since November 2013.

Actually so much of the change can be found in the sector where prices have risen the most.

The year-on-year increase in fuel stores is the largest rise since September 2011, contributing to the strong growth seen in the amount spent in fuel stores on the year. However, the quantity bought has decreased following the rise in fuel prices, suggesting that consumers are more cautious with spending in this sector.

Have readers noticed less traffic on the roads?

Tourism

There was some good news here albeit with an odd kicker.

Overseas residents made 9.2 million visits to the UK in the 3 months to December 2016. This was 6% higher than the same 3 months in 2015. The amount spent on these visits was unchanged at £5.3 billion.

It is no great surprise that the lower UK Pound £ has led to more visitors but I am curious that they spent no more. For a start how do we know? Does someone follow them into every shop? Also this goes against the argument made by some that past retail sales growth in the UK was added to by foreign purchasers using lower price for them.

Whatever the state of play there we do seem to be seeing more US tourists as we wonder if Trump fears are higher than Brexit ones?

Visits from North America increased by 15% in the 3 months to December 2016, when compared with the same 3 months in 2015.

Comment

We see that we have been living our lives in an extraordinarily favourable interest-rate environment. Many reading this will have lived their whole lives in it. The catch is that it has ended up being associated with trouble on two fronts. Firstly it did not avert a credit crunch and in fact ended up contributing to it and secondly if it was a cure we would not be where we are. Although care is needed as there were plenty of economic gains back in the day. As for now well some old fears have reappeared.

More Americans fell behind on their car loan payments in the fourth quarter, bringing auto delinquencies to their highest since the height of the financial crisis, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data released on Thursday showed…….

In the fourth quarter, $142 billion in car loans were generated, giving 2016 the most auto loan originations in the 18-year history of the data, the New York Fed said.

Auto debt hit $1.16 trillion, with a $93 billion rise over the year.

Sub-prime car loans anyone?

If we move to the UK then the consumer surge is fading. The numbers are erratic and influenced by the rise in the price of fuel but even taking that out annual growth fell to 2.6%. It remains a shame that the Bank of England last summer contributed to the inflation rise via the way that their rhetoric and Bank Rate cut and QE pushed the UK Pound £ lower. Before this is over I expect what was badged as a stimulus to turn out to be the reverse via its impact on real wages.

UK Real Wage growth has gone negative if you use the RPI

Today we arrive at the latest data on the UK labour market and in particular on what is the number one statistic which is wage growth. From this we can look at real or inflation adjusted wages and get an idea of the likely trajectory for consumer spending in the UK economy. What we do know is that inflation is beginning a march higher and is now in an area where real wage growth has faded substantially if you use the official CPI measure at 1.8% or now gone if you use the RPI at 2.6%. If we look at the February report from the Bank of England Agents then actual wage growth may be fading as well.

Indeed, the average pay settlement was expected to ease in 2017 to 2.2% from 2.7% in 2016 (Chart C), with the number of pay awards between 3% and 4% expected to fall significantly. Settlements were expected to moderate in all sectors, with the largest decline anticipated in consumer services,

Inflation up and wage growth down is not auspicious for real wages.

Executive pay

An awkward topic for the Financial Times as it considers both its readership and its advertisers. But there is an obvious issue here.

The average blue-chip CEO in the UK earned £4.3m in 2015. The average national wage was £28,000.

The size of the pay packets indicate greed and there are examples of how that is affecting how companies are run.

LTIPs pay out handsomely if certain targets are hit. But they have proved open to abuse. CEOs are suspected of prioritising share repurchases or debt-fuelled takeovers — with little regard for long-term value creation — to manipulate earnings per share, a common LTIP target. (LTIP is Long Term Incentive Plan).

There have been more than a few criticisms of this sort of thing.

There is also a compelling macroeconomic argument for change, put forward by Andrew Smithers and others, which posits that poorly designed bonus schemes have held back investment and productivity growth.

Pensioners

Much has been going on with pensioner incomes in the credit crunch era as the Resolution Foundation reports.

median pensioner income has been playing catch up with non-pensioner incomes for many years and, from 2011-12 onwards, the living standards of the typical pensioner after housing costs have actually been higher than those of the typical non-pensioner. Having been £70 a week lower than typical working-age incomes in 2001-02, typical pensioner households now have incomes that are £20 a week higher than their working-age counterparts.

Quite a shift isn’t it? Actually some care is needed as we see here.

Instead, each year new individuals reach pension age (usually with higher incomes than the average existing pensioner) while others of course die (usually with lower than average incomes).

So we have a compositional issue where we have a pensioner body which seems to be not doing so well but the median income of the overall number is being pulled higher as younger pensioners are better off. A clear if extreme example would be people retiring like Baron King of Lothbury with his circa £8 million pension pot from the Bank of England or Professor Sir Charlie Bean. Of course they also get new jobs from the establishment they served. In fact they are examples of a growing trend albeit they are of course highly rewarded.

In fact, almost one in five pensioner families now have at least one person in work.

There are clearly things to welcome here. The waves of better off pensioners are helping with the issue of pensioner poverty although of course some may welcome continuing working but some may have to. Also home owning pensioners will have benefited in paper wealth terms at least from the rise in house prices.

However looking ahead there appears to be much less bright prospects for millennials.

With millennials struggling not just in the labour market but also in relation to asset building – particularly in terms of housing – there is a growing sense that the current generation of young adults is facing a new set of living standards challenges which require fresh thinking if the generational progress that once seemed inevitable is to be restarted.

A consequence of the monetary easing and QE (Quantitative Easing) of the Bank of England of which there will be another £775 million today. Only yesterday we learned that house prices were rising at an annual rate of 7.2% putting them ever further out of reach of most millennials leaving us to mull this.

However, this generation-on-generation progress appears to have stalled in the 21st Century.

Today’s data

The quantity numbers remain very good as we see here.

There were 31.84 million people in work, 37,000 more than for July to September 2016 and 302,000 more than for a year earlier……For the latest time period, October to December 2016, the employment rate for people was 74.6%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

So the record on people in work is a success reinforced by the fact that we are seeing more gains in full-time than part-time work at least according to the official data. This has helped the situation with regards to unemployment.

There were 1.60 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), little changed compared with July to September 2016 but 97,000 fewer than for a year earlier……..The unemployment rate was 4.8%, down from 5.1% for a year earlier. It has not been lower since July to September 2005.

Actually if we move to the single month rate for December we see that the unemployment rate fell to 4.6% which bodes well going forwards.

What about wages?

Between October to December 2015 and October to December 2016, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.6%, lower than the growth rate between September to November 2015 and September to November 2016 (2.8%).

So solid for these times anyway but the sort of dip forecast by the Bank of England Agents.

Here is the official view of the real wages position.

Comparing the 3 months to December 2016 with the same period in 2015, real AWE (total pay) grew by 1.4%, which was 0.5 percentage points smaller than the growth seen in the 3 months to November.

Care is needed with this 3 month average in a period of rising inflation as it is already out of date. We know that inflation is higher now and of course if we look for inflation indices which do not ignore owner occupied hosuing costs we know they give a higher inflation reading. For example inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index is usually around 1% higher in annual terms than the official measure.

If we look at the single month of December whilst it was good for unemployment it was not good for wages growth as it fell to 1.9%. So real wage growth was 0.3% on the official measure or -0.6% if you use the RPI.

Comment

The drumbeat of the UK economic recovery such as it is has been the rise in employment where there has been the sort of performance that economists have long called for. In a nutshell we wanted to be more like the German model which of course has its ironies in a post EU leave vote world. Now that we have that we are worried about a Germanic style level of wage increases. Oh well!

However looking forwards for 2017 we will see real wages fall and the truth is they already are if we allow for the leads and lags in the statistics. This poses a problem when we look at what real wages have been doing in the credit crunch era.

If we use RPI the situation is of course even worse than that.

With UK inflation heading above target why are we getting more Bank of England QE?

Today we arrive at the latest UK inflation data series and the Bank of England will be facing a situation it has not been in for a while. This is that consumer inflation is now quite near to its official target as the CPI ( Consumer Prices Index) gets near to 2%. This poses yet another question about its policy as we see that the Bank of England is buying another £775 million of UK Gilts today. Even worse these are longs and ultra longs as it will be making offers out into the 2060s. So it will be creating a problem for our children and grandchildren all in the name of boosting an economy which has so far down well and boosting inflation which is now pretty much on target.

Of course the Bank of England thinks that inflation will rise further in 2016 as it explained at its Inflation Report earlier this month.

Beyond that, inflation is expected to increase further, peaking around 2.8% at the start of 2018, before falling gradually back to 2.4% in three years’ time. This overshoot is entirely because of sterling’s fall, which itself is the product of the market’s view of the consequences of Brexit.

The Sterling fall was exacerbated by the policy easing from the Bank of England which drove it lower when the UK economy was already getting a substantial boost. To be specific it was expectations of easing which drove it lower after Governor Carney’s rhetoric promised it and ignored the fact that there are 8 other voting members.

As an aside I await the views of the inflationolholics who want a 4% inflation target such as Professor Tony Yates and Professor Wren-Lewis. No doubt their Ivory Tower models love the inflation rise as their economic models tell them that wages will rise in response although of course the real world is apt to remain so inconvenient and inconsiderate. Of course I suppose Professor Yates has a model which shows he was right when he and I debated monetary policy last September on BBC Radio 4’s Moneybox whereas of course the real world shows exactly the reverse.

Today’s data

Let me first open with an alternative universe.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 2.9%, up from 2.7% last month.

So this has gone even further above its old target of 2.5% and would now be signalling that it was time for the Bank of England to consider reducing all its monetary stimulus rather than adding to it. No wonder it was scrapped! However we do learn something by looking at the new measure.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.8%, up from 1.6% in December.

So we immediately learn two things the first is that there is a gap of 1.1% between two measures which are supposed to both measure UK inflation. You will no doubt not be surprised that the lower number has got the official nod or we have seen an “improvement”. But there is the secondary issue of the fact that the target was only changed by 0.5% or less than half. So there was a monetary policy easing that gets little publicity. Some of the difference is that in spite of the fact that mortgage costs are excluded RPIX still has an influence from owner occupied housing costs which the official CPI turns its blind eye to.

What are house prices doing?

Here are the numbers.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 7.2% in the year to December 2016 (up from 6.1% in the year to November 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

Many of you will no doubt be having a wry smile at the way these were moved out of the headline inflation number (2003) just ahead of a boom in house prices. But the UK establishment is about to claim it is including them whilst not actually doing so. I explained in full detail on the 15th of November last year.

There is another issue which the National Statistician has attempted to fudge by writing “the inclusion of an element of owner occupiers’ housing costs”. How very Sir Humphey Appleby! I have noted that many people have reported that house prices are being included but you see they are not. Instead there is a statistical swerve based on the Imputed Rent methodology where they assume house owners receive a rent and then put growth in that in the numbers. The same rental growth measurement that according to their own missives  they need to “strengthen”.

Let us look at this month’s number.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.0%, up from 1.7% in December.

Lets is start with the good which is that when it becomes the first measure on the statistical bulletin next month it will give a higher number than the one it replaces. The bad is that if you look at  house prices it is still way behind them because the number it makes up or “imputes” tells us this about housing costs.

The OOH component annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.6% last month.

Apologies to any first time buyers who are now choking on their coffee or tea. The ugly is that this made up number is not even a national statistic because of their failures in simply measuring rents. This has led to revisions and an abandonment of the past rental series.

I made these points to the UK National Statistician John Pullinger in late January as I reported on the 31st.

I was pleased to point out that his letter to the Guardian of a week ago made in my opinion a case for using real numbers for owner-occupied housing such as house prices and mortgage-rates as opposed to the intended use of an imputed number such as Rental Equivalence.

What drove things this month?

If we look at the detailed data then it was clothing and footwear which held inflation back.

Overall, prices fell by 4.2% between December 2016 and January 2017, compared with a smaller fall of 3.1% last year

That tugged it back by 0.1% on the annual rate and offset some of the 0.29% rise from transport costs.

What is coming over the hill?

I am sorry to say that our valiant professors will be pleased by this.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 3.5% on the year to January 2017, which is the seventh consecutive period of annual price increases and the highest they have been since December 2011.

So as you can see the heat is on and that is being pushed by prices further up the chain.

Prices for materials and fuels paid by UK manufacturers for processing (input prices) rose 20.5% on the year, which is the fastest rate of annual growth since September 2008.

These only impact on some of the numbers and so get filtered out as well as reaching consumer inflation but they will continue to nudge consumer inflation higher as we move into the spring of this year.

Comment

There is much to consider here as we note that under our old regime inflation would be above target rather than just below it. However where we are poses a serious question for the Bank of England as it is pushing inflation higher with its ongoing monetary easing which even the inflationistas must now question. Indeed even the CPIH measure which next month will be first in the statistical bulletin with its imputed rents would if it had a 2% annual target be on it. I do hope that Governor Carney and Chief Economist Andy Haldane will soon be available to explain why a solidly growing economy with inflation heading above target needs a “Sledgehammer” of monetary easing. Actually Andy has been quiet of late has he been put back in the cellar he has spent most of the last 28 years in? How can he build an Ivory Tower from there?

Meanwhile the rest of us face higher inflation and I fear we will see 3% inflation on the CPI measure and 4% on the RPI measure as 2017 develops. I can say that I will be having more contact with the UK statistics establishment on the subject of their planned changes and will express my views to the best of my ability.

Seer of the year

There are many candidates for this but to be so wrong in only 24 house deserves a special mention. So step forwards European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici only yesterday.

After returning to growth in 2016, economic activity in is expected to expand strongly in 2017-18.

And the Greek statistics authority today.

The available seasonally adjusted data1 indicate that in the 4 th quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.4% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2016,

To coin a phrase Pierre is a specialist in failure. Still he does have a famous song to sing.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

 

Could the Bank of England end up taking over the Co-op Bank?

One of the consequences of the credit crunch and the consequent banking bailouts is the way that the banks dominate financial life. We can in fact take that further because in the same way that British Airways was described as a pension fund with an airline subsidiary can we now be described as a financial sector with a real economy subsidiary? It so often feels like that.

Actually there is some fascinating number-crunching we can do as banks interact with central banks and as so often ECB (European Central Bank) gives us food for thought. Earlier @insidegame pointed out this.

ECB deposit facility usage €495.763 billion.

Interesting that banks are so willing to deposit at an interest-rate of -0.4% is it not? That hardly suggests confidence in the system. Well there is another 955.27 billion Euros held by them in the ECB current account at the same -0.4% interest-rate. Indeed at a time of apparent economic success someone is also borrowing some 590 million from the Marginal Lending Facility.

Marginal lending facility in order to obtain overnight liquidity from the central bank, against the presentation of sufficient eligible assets;

There is more to consider as we note that what is supposed to be a penal interest-rate is a mere 0.25%.

Co-op Bank

This is an institution about which Taylor Swift might well have written “trouble,trouble,trouble” for. This morning the Co-op group has announced this.

As a minority investor in The Co-operative Bank, the Co-op Group is supportive of the plan to find the Bank a new home. We will continue to work with the Bank and other investors through the process. We are focused on finding the best outcome for our members, two million of whom are Bank customers, as well as the members of our shared pension scheme which is well funded and supported by the Group. Our goal is to ensure the continued provision of the type of co-operative banking products our members want.

So the bank is up for sale and my immediate thought is who would buy it and frankly would they pay anything? Only last week Bloomberg put out some concerning analysis.

Co-Operative Bank Plc, the British lender that ceded control to its creditors three years ago, has plunged in value to as little as 45 million pounds ($56 million), according to people familiar with the matter.

The shares are privately owned so prices are not published but we are told this about trading and prices.

Shares in the Manchester, England-based lender, which don’t trade publicly, are quoted between 10 pence and 30 pence by investment banks offering private trading among institutional investors, said the people who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The shares were worth about 3 pounds after the bank was rescued by bondholders in 2013, falling to about 50 pence in September before plummeting in recent weeks amid questions over its financial strength, the people added.

There are two initial issues raised by this. The first is that “worth” is not the same as price and related to that I would say that the £3 price after the 2013 rescue was a combination of a false market and wishful thinking. In a closed private market, how can I put this? You can pretty much price it as you like and wait and see if anyone is silly enough to buy at that price? I think we are clear now that the answer was no! So the fall in the price has in my opinion been more an acquaintance with reality than any real change.

The institution would already have been on the radar of the Bank of England.

Co-Op Bank will probably operate below regulatory capital guidance until at least 2020, the bank said Jan. 26, as it replaces crumbling IT systems and separates its pension fund from its former parent.

One thing that raises a wry smile is that the banks are always described as having “crumbling IT systems”. How can this be when pre credit crunch we were told that they were run by people of such talent that they deserved vast salaries and remuneration packages? Someone should try a case for miss selling there. I believe the Co-op Bank has now outsourced such matters to IBM.

The Prudential Regulation Authority or PRA has been looking into this although its moves are awkward in the sense that they give the Co-op bank another downwards push.

The PRA increased its so-called Pillar 2A capital requirements, financial buffers linked to a lender’s idiosyncratic risks, to 14.1 percent of risk-weighted assets in November. By contrast, the level set for Lloyds Banking Group Plc, Britain’s largest mortgage lender, is 4.5 percent.

Bonds,Bonds Bonds

There is no bull market here indeed we see the reverse as the Co-op Bank’s bonds have seen quite a bear market.

The bank’s 206 million pounds of junior bonds due December 2023 dropped 4 pence to 45 pence on the pound on Wednesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, while 400 million pounds of senior bonds maturing in September this year were little changed at 85 pence, with a yield of 34.5 percent.

In these times of zero and indeed negative interest-rates which we reminded ourselves about at the opening of this article an interest-rate of 34.5% can be described thus.

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

The official view is quite different as the BBC explains.

The bank has four million customers and is well known for its ethical standpoint, which it says makes it “a strong franchise with significant potential” when it comes to a sale.

This seems like a reality was a friend of mine moment, or of course perhaps viewed through the prism of its previous drug-taking chairman Paul Flowers, who pursued the new methods of counting GDP with quite an enthusiasm. Meanwhile the last Fitch Report told a different tale.

Co-op Bank’s relaunch is crucial for it to become a viable business, but losses and capital erosion continue to hamper its progress. We expect Co-op Bank to report losses until at least 2017, and significant investment in new systems could extend losses into the medium term. Profitability should begin to benefit in 2018 when fair value adjustments related to the 2009 acquisition of Britannia Building Society are fully unwound.

Comment

This is a sad, sad story as there is much to recommend mutual organisations although of course much of that disappeared in the 2013 rescue. When the credit crunch hit there were hopes ( including mine) that the mutual system might help but sadly it has done little if any better than the share owned banks. The same greed culture ravaged it and may yet ravage us as taxpayers. This is particularly disappointing from an organisation which has promoted itself ad being based on ethical foundations.

Right now the Bank of England will be trying to encourage and goad someone into buying this. The problem is that the shortlist at the moment has one maybe which is the TSB. The problem in my opinion is that when a bank has trouble the record is simply that so far we have never been told the full truth at the beginning. A bit like the rule that you never buy a share until the third profit warning. After all if the outlook was good the hedge funds would keep it wouldn’t they? So there remains a genuine danger that the Bank of England will end up stepping up and apply its new bank resolution procedure. At such a time it would be on my timeline for such events.

5. The relevant government(s) tell us that they are stepping in to help the bank but the problems are both minor and short-term and are of no public concern.

6. The relevant government(s) tell us that the bank needs taxpayer support but through clever use of special purpose vehicles there will be no cost and indeed a profit is virtually certain.

7.Part-nationalisation of the bank is announced and taxpayers are told that a profit will result from this sound and wise investment.

8. Full nationalisation is announced to the sound of teeth being pulled without any anaesthetic.

As to the individuals concerned there is this.

It is also announced that nobody could possibly have forseen this and that nobody is to blame apart from some irresponsible rumour mongers who are the equivalent of terrorists. A new law is mooted to help stop such financial terrorism from ever happening again.

12. Some members of the press inform us that bank directors were both “able and skilled” and that none of the blame can possibly be put down to them as they get a new highly paid job elsewhere.

13. Former bank directors often leave the new job due to “unforeseen difficulties”.