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/

 

 

 

 

 

The rocky upwards ride of Bitcoin continues

One of the features of 2017 has been the extraordinary price volatility exhibited by Bitcoin. This has of course come at a time when many have been mulling exactly the reverse in equity markets although of course the current rhetoric over and from North Korea may well change that. For some perspective let us look back to the 29th of December.

“When I signed off before Christmas I ended with this.

The average price of Bitcoin across all exchanges is 910.16 USD

As you can take the boy out of the city but it is much harder to take the city out of the boy I had noted that it had been further on the move this week and now I note this.

Bid: $972.27 Ask: $972.28

So there has been a push higher and of course we are reminded of two things. The first is simply a factor of the way that we count in base ten meaning that the threshold of US $1000 is on the near horizon and the second is the Bitcoin surge of a bit more than a couple of years ago.”

Back then I pointed out two things. Firstly the chart pattern was of a “bowl” formation so that the price would need to keep rushing higher or it would end up like one of those cartoon characters who run over the edge of a cliff and briefly levitate before the inevitable happens. The next was that it was approaching the price of gold in individual units although later we looked at the fact that as an aggregate it was a long way away as there is much more gold.

What was driving things?

There were various influences. One generic was fear of what plans central banks have for fiat countries in an era of low and indeed negative interest-rates. Partly linked with this was the specific issue of demonetisation in India where some bank notes were withdrawn. Added to this was the continuing demand from wealthy Chinese to move some of their money abroad and the efforts of the authorities to block this so at times Bitcoin gets used.

The surge

Here is Fortune to bring us up to date.

Bitcoin was worth less than $590 a year ago. Then early Tuesday, the cryptocurrency surged to yet another all-time high above $3,500, as investors likely pulled their funds from the new Bitcoin spinoff, Bitcoin Cash or “Bcash,” to invest it in Bitcoin.

Bitcoin pulled back slightly by mid-day, trading at $3,430.

CNBC returned to the comparison with the price of gold although to be fair they did offer some perspective.

That’s nearly three times the price of gold, which settled at $1,262.60 an ounce, up nearly 10 percent for 2017…….That said, the gold market is worth trillions while bitcoin’s market capitalization is only about $57 billion…..Lee pointed out that the overall size of the gold market at about $7.5 trillion dwarfs that of bitcoin.

It didn’t take long from approaching the price of gold to nearly triple it did it? Bloomberg has decided to give us a comparison which will upset central bankers everywhere.

It has increased more than threefold this year, compared with a doubling in the value of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the best performer in the S&P 500 Index.

At least they didn’t point out that it has gone up (much) more than house prices as there is only so much a central banker can take in one go! Still they were not finished with comparisons.

Here’s some other stuff you could buy for the price of one bitcoin, including but not limited to 100 22-pound boxes of Hass avocados.

 Actually that don’t impress me much to coin a phrase as a PC user who is not especially keen on living solely on avocados and facing the consequences of setting up a stall to sell them all. But we get the idea.

Splitting the atom

The cryptocurrencies have a problem around growth and change and here is the FT Alphaville view on the fork at the opening of this month.

In the next 24 hours, the trust in the bitcoin system is going to be even more severely tested than usual. The community of miners, nodes and developers is initiating a so-called hard fork which hopes to expand the network’s processing capacity, allowing it to scale more effectively. In the process bitcoin will be split in half, and two new systems will emerge.

The hope is that faith will be channelled into the newly evolved, expanded and improved chain, while the old chain will be abandoned. But anyone and everyone who has a bitcoin will via the process suddenly be endowed with two assets instead of one, with a free option to support one and render the other useless. If the effective split makes people feel twice as enriched, it’s worth asking, why they shouldn’t feel inclined to keep hold of both of them? And that too will be an option.

It would appear that investors have sold the new Bitcoin cash to buy more of the existing Bitcoin. It would be amusing if they are rejecting change wouldn’t it? On a more serious note is this how money will be created in the future? We only have a very short time frame to consider but as we stand there has been both money and wealth creation here. Perhaps the central banks are in charge after all……

The only way is up baby

Business Insider seems rather keen.

Arthur Hayes, CEO of BitMEX, a bitcoin derivative exchange, thinks SegWit marks an important milestone for bitcoin’s future.

“At long last, the solution touted to solve bitcoin’s scaling problems, Segwit, is activated,” Hayes said.

“With Segwit implemented, I believe $5,000 Bitcoin is within striking distance,” he concluded.

Comment

Let us look at the functions of money and start with a unit of account. Many people will know of Bitcoin but how many will account in it? Not much I would suggest. The price surge will mean that so far it has performed really rather well as a store of value and indeed quite an accumulator of it but we also need to note that along the way there have been sharp drops. There has been progress in it being a medium of exchange as more places accept it but it is still a very long way away from anything like universal acceptance.

However in continues to survive and in more than a few ways thrive. Fears of central banks blocking bank accounts continue to feed its growth. Frankly the rumours that Euro area bank deposits could be frozen in a banking collapse would have been cunning if started by a Bitcoin fan. There are loads of risks just like there are in any new venture but also care is needed as this from Gadfly of Bloomberg indicates.

There are also fears that big traders are having an undue influence on the price of Bitcoin, with one blogger flagging the actions of “Spoofy” — a nickname for traders who apparently place million-dollar orders without actually executing them. Bitcoin is essentially unregulated, so risks are abundant.

I love the idea that regulation has pretty much fixed risk, what could go wrong? But even more importantly many ordinary or dare I say it regulated markets are being spoofed these days and if the reports that reach me are any guide the regulators seem to have both a tin ear and a blind eye. Along that road we may well find a reality where for some Bitcoin looks rather like a safe haven although these days we need to add the caveat whatever that is?

Also finance regularly provides us with curiousities. Today’s comes from the land of the rising sun as we note that it is clearly in the firing line from North Korea and yet the Yen has strengthened through 110 versus the US Dollar.

The ECB faces the problem of what to do next?

Later this month ECB President Mario Draghi will talk at the Jackson Hole monetary conference with speculation suggesting he will hint at the next moves of the ECB ( European Central Bank). For the moment it is in something of a summer lull in policy making terms although of course past decisions carry on and markets move. Whilst there is increasing talk about the US equity market being becalmed others take the opportunity of the holiday period to make their move.

The Euro

This is a market which has been on the move in recent weeks and months as we have seen a strengthening of the Euro. It has pushed the UK Pound £ back to below 1.11 after the downbeat Inflation Report of the Bank of England last week saw a weakening of the £.  More important has been the move against the US Dollar where the Euro has rallied to above 1.18 accompanied on its way by a wave of reversals of view from banks who were previously predicting parity such as my old employer Deutsche Bank. If we switch to the effective or trade weighted index we see that since mid April it has risen from the low 93s at which it spent much of the early part of 2017 to 99.16 yesterday.

So there has been a tightening of monetary policy via this route as we see in particular an anti inflationary impact from the rise against the US Dollar because of the way that commodities are usually priced in it. I note that I have not been the only person mulling this.

Such thoughts are based on the “Draghi Rule” from March 2014.

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

Some think the effect is stronger but let us move on noting that whilst the Euro area consumer and worker will welcome this the ECB is more split. Yes there is a tightening of policy without it making an explicit move but on the other side of the coin it is already below its inflation target.

Monetary policy

Rather oddly the ECB choose to tweet a reminder of this yesterday.

In the euro area, the European Central Bank’s most important decision in this respect normally relates to the key interest rates…….In times of prolonged low inflation and low interest rates, central banks may also adopt non-standard monetary policy measures, such as asset purchase programmes.

Perhaps the summer habit of handing over social media feeds to interns has spread to the ECB as the main conversation is about this.

Public sector assets cumulatively purchased and settled as at 04/08/2017 €1,670,986 (31/07/2017: €1,658,988) mln

It continues to chomp away on Euro area government debt for which governments should be grateful as of course it lowers debt costs. Intriguingly there has been a shift towards French and Italian debt. Some of this is no doubt due to the fact that for example in the case of German sovereign debt it is running short of debt to buy. But I have wondered in the past as to whether Mario Draghi might find a way of helping out the problems of the Italian banks and his own association with them.

is the main story this month the overweighting of purchases of rising again to +2.3% in July (+1.8% in June) ( h/t @liukzilla ).

With rumours of yet more heavy losses at Monte Paschi perhaps the Italian banks are taking profits on Italian bonds ( BTPs) and selling to the ECB. Although of course it is also true that it is rare for there to be a shortage of Italian bonds to buy!.

Also much less publicised are the other ongoing QE programmes. For example Mario Draghi made a big deal of this and yet in terms of scale it has been relatively minor.

Asset-backed securities cumulatively purchased and settled as at 04/08/2017 €24,719 (31/07/2017: €24,661)

Also where would a central bank be these days without a subsidy for the banks?

Covered bonds cumulatively purchased and settled as at 04/08/2017 €225,580 (31/07/2017: €225,040) mln

 

This gets very little publicity for two reasons. We start with it not being understood as two versions of it had been tried well before some claimed the ECB had started QE and secondly I wonder if the fact that the banks are of course large spenders on advertising influences the media.

Before we move on I should mention for completeness that 103.4 billion has been spent on corporate bonds. This leaves us with two thoughts. The opening one is that general industry seems to be about half as important as the banks followed by the fact that such schemes have anesthetized us to some extent to the very large numbers and scale of all of this.

QE and the exchange rate

The economics 101 view was that QE would lead to exchange rate falls. Yet as we have noted above the current stock of QE and the extra 60 billion Euros a month of purchases by the ECB have been accompanied for a while by a static-ish Euro and since the spring by a rising one. Thus the picture is more nuanced. You could for example that on a trade weighted basis the Euro is back where it began.

My opinion is that there is an expectations effect where ahead of the anticipated move the currency falls. This is awkward as it means you have an effect in period T-1 from something in period T .Usually the announcement itself leads to a sharp fall but in the case of the Euro it was only around 3 months later it bottomed and slowly edged higher until recently when the speed of the rise increased. So we see that the main player is human expectations and to some extent emotions rather than a formula where X of QE leads to Y currency fall. Thus we see falls from the anticipation and announcement but that’s mostly it. As opposed to the continuous falls suggested by the Ivory Towers.

As ever the picture is complex as we do not know what would have happened otherwise and it is not unreasonable to argue there is some upwards pressure on the Euro from news like this. From Destatis in Germany this morning.

In calendar and seasonally adjusted terms, the foreign trade balance recorded a surplus of 21.2 billion euros in June 2017.

Comment

There is plenty of good news around for the ECB.

Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 2.1% in the euro area ……The euro area (EA19) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 9.1% in June 2017, down from 9.2% in May 2017 and down from 10.1% in June 2016.

So whilst we can debate its role in this the news is better and the summer espresso’s and glasses of Chianti for President Draghi will be taken with more of a smile. But there is something of a self-inflicted wound by aiming at an annual inflation target of 2% and in particular specifying 1.97% as the former ECB President Trichet did. Because with inflation at 1.3% there are expectations of continued easing into what by credit crunch era standards is most certainly a boom. Personally I would welcome it being low.

Let me sweep up a subject I have left until last which is the official deposit rate of -0.4% as I note that we have become rather used to the concept of negative interest-rates as well as yields. If I was on the ECB I would be more than keen to get that back to 0% for a start. Otherwise what does it do when the boom fades or the next recession turns up? In reality we all suspect that such moves will have to wait until the election season is over but the rub as Shakespeare would put it is that if we allow for a monetary policy lag of 18 months then we are looking at 2019/20. Does anybody have much of a clue as to what things will be like then?

 

When will real wages finally rise?

One of the main features of the credit crunch era has been weak and at times negative real wage growth. This was hardly a surprise when the employment situation deteriorated but many countries have seen strong employment gains over the past few years and in some employment is now at a record high. Yet wage growth has been much lower than would have been expected in the past. As so often the leader of the pack in a race nobody wants to win has been Japan although there has been claim after claim that this is about to turn around as this from Bloomberg in May indicates.

It’s not making headlines yet, but wages in Japan are rising the fastest in decades, in a shift that’s poised to divide the nation’s companies — and their stocks — into winners and losers, according to Morgan Stanley.

No doubt this was based on the very strong quantity numbers for the Japanese economy which if we move forwards in time to now show an unemployment rate of 2.8% and a jobs per applicant ratio summarised below by Japan Macro Advisers.

Japan’s job offers to applicant ratio rose to 1.51 in June from 1.49 in May. The ratio is the highest in the last 43 years since 1974. While the number of job offers continue to rise along with the expansion in the economy, the number of job applicants are falling. With the shrinking population, Japan simply does not have a resource to meet the demand for labor.

I can almost feel the wind of the Ivory Towers rushing past to predict a rise in wages in such a situation. They will be encouraged by this from the Nikkei Asian Review on Friday.

The labor shortage created by stronger economic growth has prompted many companies to raise wages. Tokyo Electron, a semiconductor production equipment manufacturer, is a good example.

Tokyo Electron introduced a new personnel system on July 1 in which salaries reflect the roles and responsibilities of employees. Under the new system salaries will rise, primarily for junior and midlevel employees. The change will raise the total wages paid to the company’s 7,000 employees in Japan by about 2 billion yen ($18.1 million) annually.

This is something we see regularly where the media presents a company that is toeing the official line and raising wages. But I note that it is doing particularly well and expecting record profits so is unlikely to be typical. By contrast I note that there is another way of dealing with a labour shortage.

In April, Lumine, a shopping center operator, responded to an employee shortage among its tenants by closing 30 minutes earlier at 12 locations, or 80% of its stores. The risk was that shorter operating hours would cut revenue, but Lumine sales held steady in the April-June quarter.

Awkward that in many ways as for example productivity has just been raised with total wages cut.

What about the official data?

I will let The Japan Times take up the story.

Japan’s June real wages decreased 0.8 percent from a year before in the first fall in three months, labor ministry data showed Friday.
Nominal wages including bonuses fell 0.4 percent to ¥429,686 ($3,880), the first drop in 13 months, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in a preliminary report.

Up is the new down one more time. Also the official story that bonuses are leading growth due to a strong economy met this.

due mainly to a 1.5 percent decrease in bonuses and other special payments.

There is one quirk however which is that part-time wages are doing much better and rising at an annual rate of 3.1%. The catch is that you would not leave a regular job in Japan because those wages are lower and to some extent are catching up. How very credit crunch that to get wage growth you have to take a pay cut! Indeed to get work people had to take pay cuts. From the Nikkei Asian Review.

Japanese companies hired more relatively low paid nonregular employees during the prolonged period of deflation.

Now we find ourselves reviewing two apparently contradictory pieces of data.

 The number of workers in Japan increased by 1.85 million between 2012 and 2016……….Japan’s wage bill was 7% lower in May than at the end of 1997 — before deflation took hold.

Australia

You might not think that there would be issues here as of course the commodity price boom driven by Chinese demand has led to a boon for what we sometimes call the South China Territories. Indeed this from @YuanTalks will have looked good from Perth this morning.

The rally in industrial continues in . rebar limit up, surging over 6%

Yet according to the Sydney Morning Herald this is the state of play for wages.

But since 2012 and 2013, Australian workers have felt stuck in a holding pattern of slow wages growth. Wages for the whole economy increased by 1.9 per cent in the year to March just in line with inflation.

There are familiar issues on the over side of the balance sheet.

Families are also wrestling with rising electricity prices, skyrocketing property prices and high demand for accommodation has also forced up rents.

Even the professional sector has been hit.

When Sahar Khalili started work as a casual pharmacist eight years ago, she was paid $35 an hour. Over the years that has fallen to as low as $30 while her rent has more than doubled.

Actually there is something rather disturbing if we drill into the detail as productivity has done quite well in Australia ( presumably aided by the commodity boom) but wages have not followed it leading to this.

The typical Australian family takes home less today than it did in 2009, according to the latest Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey released this week.

These surveys are invariably a couple of years behind where we are but there are questions to say the least. Oh and the shrinkflation saga has not escaped what might be called a stereotypically Australian perspective.

“My beers are getting smaller,” he says.

The USA

Friday brought us the labour market or non farm payroll numbers. In it we saw that wage growth ( average hourly earnings) was at an annual rate of 2.5% which is getting to be a familiar number. There is a little real wage growth but not much which is provoking ever more food for thought as employment rises and unemployment falls. Indeed more and more are concentrating on developments like this reported by Forbes.

Starting pay at the Amazon warehouse, carved out of a large lot with a new road called Innovation Way designed for Amazon-bound trucks, is at $12.75, no degree required. For inventory managers with warehousing experience, the pay is $14.70 an hour and requires a bachelor’s degree.

The new warehouse offers 30 hour a week jobs because they slip under the state legislation on provision of benefits. In some parts of America they would qualify under the food stamp programme. No wonder that as of May some 41.5 million still qualified.

Yet the Wall Street Journal describes it thus.

a vastly improved labor market

Comment

This is a situation we have looked at many times and there is much that is familiar. Firstly the Ivory Towers have invented their own paradise where wages rise due to a falling output gap and when reality fails to match that they simply project it forwards in time. The media tends to repeat that. But if we consider the dangers of us turning Japanese we see that wages there are lower than 20 years ago in spite of very low unemployment levels. Over the past 4 years or so this has been always just about to turn around as Abenomics impacts.

My fear is that unless something changes fundamentally ( cold fusion, far superior battery technology etc..) real wages may flat line for some time yet. All the monetary easing in the world has had no impact here.

 

 

 

The problems of the boy who keeps crying wolf

Yesterday saw the policy announcement of the Bank of England with quite a few familiar traits on display. However we did see something rather familiar in the press conference from its Governor Mark Carney.

The Committee judges that, given the assumptions underlying its projections, including the closure of drawdown period of the TFS and the recent prudential decisions of the FPC and PRA, some tightening of monetary policy would be required in order to achieve a sustainable
return of inflation to target.

Yes he is giving us Forward Guidance about an interest-rate rise again. In fact there was more of this later.

Specifically, if the economy follows a path broadly consistent with the August central projection, then monetary policy could need to be tightened by a somewhat greater extent over the forecast period than the path implied by the yield curve underlying those projections.

Yep not only is he promising an interest-rate rise but he is suggesting that there will be several of them. Actually that is more hype than substance because you see even if you look out to the ten-year Gilt yield you only get to 1.16% and the five-year is only 0.54% so exceeding that is really rather easy. Also as I have pointed out before Governor Carney covers all the bases by contradicting himself in the same speech.

Any increases in Bank Rate would be expected to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent

So more suddenly becomes less or something like that.

Just like deja vu all over again

If we follow the advice of Kylie and step back in time to the Mansion House speech of 2014 we heard this from Governor Carney.

This has implications for the timing, pace and degree of Bank Rate increases.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming more balanced.

It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

The print on the screen does not convey how this was received as such statements are taken as being from a coded language especially if you add in this bit.

Growth has been much stronger and unemployment has fallen much faster than either we or anyone else expected at last year’s Mansion House dinner.

Markets heard that growth had been better and that the Bank of England was planning a Bank Rate rise in the near future followed by a series of them. Tucked away was something which has become ever more familiar.

 we expect that eventual increases in Bank Rate will be gradual and limited

Although to be fair this bit was kind of right.

The MPC has rightly stressed that the timing of the first Bank Rate increase is less important than the path thereafter

Indeed the first Bank Rate increase was so unimportant it never took place.

Ben Broadbent

he has reinforced the new Forward Guidance this morning. Here is the Financial Times view of what he said on BBC Radio 5 live.

“There may be some possibility for interest rates to go up a little,” said Mr Broadbent.

It sounds as though Deputy Governor Broadbent is hardly convinced. This is in spite of the fact he repeated a line from the Governor that is so extraordinary the press corps should be ashamed they did not challenge it.

adding the economy was now better placed to withstand its first interest rate rise since the financial crisis…….Speaking to BBC radio, Mr Broadbent said the UK was able to handle a rate rise “a little bit” better as the economy is still growing, unemployment is at a more than 40-year low, and wages are forecast to rise.

Sadly for Ben he is acting like the absent-minded professor he so resembles. After all on that score he should have raised interest-rates last summer when growth was a fair bit higher than now.Sadly for Ben he voted to cut them! In addition to this there is a much more fundamental point which is if we are in better shape for rate rises why do we have one which is below the 0.5% that was supposed to be an emergency rate and of course was called the “lower bound” by Governor Carney?

Forecasting failures

These are in addition to the Forward Guidance debacle but if we look at the labour market we see a major cause. Although he tried to cover it in a form of Brexit wrap there was something very familiar yesterday from Governor Carney. From the Guardian.

 

We are picking up across the country that there is an element of Brexit uncertainty that is affecting wage bargaining.
Some firms, potentially a material number of firms, are less willing to give bigger pay rises given it’s not as clear what their market access will be over the next few years.

Actually the Bank of England has been over optimistic on wages time and time again including before more than a few really believed there would be a Brexit vote. This is linked to its forecasting failures on the quantity labour market numbers. Remember phase one of Forward Guidance where an unemployment rate of 7% was considered significant? That lasted about six months as the rate in a welcome move quickly dropped below it. This meant that the Ivory Tower theorists at the Bank of England immediately plugged this into their creaking antiquated models and decided that wages would rise in response. They didn’t and history since has involved the equivalent of any of us pressing repeat on our MP3 players or I-pods. As we get according to the Four Tops.

It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning

Number Crunching

This was reported across the media with what would have been described in the Yes Minister stories and TV series as the “utmost seriousness”. From the BBC.

It edged this year’s growth forecast down to 1.7% from its previous forecast of 1.9% made in May. It also cut its forecast for 2018 from 1.7% to 1.6%.

Now does anybody actually believe that the Bank of England can forecast GDP growth to 0.1%? For a start GDP in truth cannot be measured to that form of accuracy but an organisation which as I explained earlier has continuously got both wages and unemployment wrong should be near the bottom of the list as something we should rely on.

Comment

There is something else to consider about Governor Carney. I have suggested in the past that in the end Bank of England Governors have a sort of fall back position which involves a lower level for the UK Pound £. What happened after his announcements yesterday?

Sterling is now trading at just €1.106, down from €1.20 this morning, as traders respond to the Bank of England’s downgraded forecasts for growth and wages…..The pound has also dropped further against the US dollar to $1.3127, more than a cent below this morning’s eight-month high.

They got a bit excited with the Euro rate which of course had been just below 1.12 and not 1.20 but the principle of a Bank of England talking down the Pound has yet another tick in any measurement column. Somewhere Baron King of Lothbury would no doubt have been heard to chuckle. There is a particular irony in this with Deputy Governor Broadbent telling Radio 5 listeners this earlier.

BoE Broadbent: Faster Inflation Fuelled By Pound Weakness ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

Oh and I did say this was on permanent repeat.

BoE Broadbent: Expects UK Wage Growth To Pick Up In Coming Years ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

 

Oh and as someone pointed out in yesterdays comments there has been yet another Forward Guidance failure. If you look back to the first quote there is a mention of the TFS which regular readers will recognise as the Term Funding Scheme. Here are the relevant excerpts from the letter from Governor Carney to Chancellor Hammond.

I noted when the TFS was announced that total drawings would be determined by actual usage of the scheme, and could reach £100bn………. Consistent with this, I am requesting that you authorise an increase in the total size of the APF of £15bn to £560bn, in order to accommodate expected usage of the TFS by the end of the drawdown period.

Who could have possibly expected that the banks would want more of a subsidy?! Oh and the disinformation goes on as apparently they need more of it because of a “stronger economy”.

Also this seems to be something of a boys club again as my title suggests. We have had something of what Yes Minister might call a “woman overboard” problem at the Bank of England.

 

 

 

What evidence is there for a bond market bubble?

There is a saying that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. I am left wondering about this as I note that the former Chair of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan has posted a warning about bond markets. From Bloomberg.

Equity bears hunting for excess in the stock market might be better off worrying about bond prices, Alan Greenspan says. That’s where the actual bubble is, and when it pops, it’ll be bad for everyone.

Actually that is troubling on two counts. The simplest is the existence of extraordinarily high bond prices and low and in some cases negative yields. The next is that fact that his successors in charge of the various central banks may start pumping more monetary easing into this bubble to stop it deflating and it being “bad for everyone”. Indeed maybe this mornings ECB monthly bulletin is already on the case.

Looking ahead, the Governing Council confirmed that a very substantial degree of monetary accommodation is needed for euro area inflation pressures to gradually build up and support headline inflation developments in the medium term.

Let us look at what he actually said.

“By any measure, real long-term interest rates are much too low and therefore unsustainable,” the former Federal Reserve chairman, 91, said in an interview. “When they move higher they are likely to move reasonably fast. We are experiencing a bubble, not in stock prices but in bond prices. This is not discounted in the marketplace.”

I find it intriguing that he argues that there is no bubble in stock prices which are far higher than when he thought they were the result of “irrational exuberance” . After all low bond yields must be supporting the share prices of pretty much any stock with a solid dividend in a world where investors are so yield hungry that even index-linked Gilts have been used as such.

What is a bubble?

This is hard to define but involves extreme price rises which are then hard to justify with past metrics or measurement techniques. With convenient timing we have seen a clear demonstration of one only this week as something extraordinary develops. From Sky Sports News.

Sky sources: Neymar agrees 5-year-deal at PSG worth £450m, earning £515,000-a-week after tax. More on SSN.

One sign that we are in the “bubbilicious” zone is that no-one is sure of the exact price as I note others suggesting the deal is £576 million. You could drive the whole London bus fleet through the difference. The next sign is that people immediately assure you that everything is just fine as it is normal. From the BBC.

Mourinho said: “Expensive are the ones who get into a certain level without a certain quality. For £200m, I don’t think [Neymar] is expensive.

To be fair he pointed out that there would however be consequences.

“I think he’s expensive in the fact that now you are going to have more players at £100m, you are going have more players at £80m and more players at £60m. And I think that’s the problem.”

Of course Jose will be relieved that what was previously perceived as a large sum spent on Paul Pogba now looks relatively cheap. Oh and did I say that the numbers get confused?

PSG’s total outlay across the initial five-year deal will come to £400m.

If Sky are correct the high property prices we look at will be no problem as he will earn in a mere 8 months enough to buy the highest price flat they could find in Paris ( £18 million). The rub if there is one is that the price could easily rise if they know he is the buyer!

The comparison with the previous record does give us another clue because if we look at the Paul Pogba transfer it has taken only one year for the previous record to be doubled. That speed and indeed acceleration was seen in both the South Sea Bubble and the Tulip Mania.

Perhaps there was a prescient sign some years ago when the team who has fans who are especially keen on blowing bubbles was on the case. From SkyKaveh.

West Ham were close to signing Neymar from Santos in 2010. Offered £25m but move collapsed when Santos asked for more money

Back to bonds

If we look at market levels then the warning lights flash especially in places where investors are paying to get bonds. If we look at the Euro area then a brief check saw me note that for 2 years yields are negative in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. For Germany especially investors can go further out in terms of maturity and get a negative yield. Does that define a bubble on its own as they are paying for something which is supposed to pay you?! There are two additional factors to throw in which is that the real yield situation is even worse as over the next two years inflation looks set to be positive at somewhere between 1% and 2%. Also if we look at Spain with economic growth having been ~3% or so a year for a bit why would you buy a bond at anything like these levels?

Another sign of a bubble that has worked pretty well over time is that you find the Japanese buying it. So I noted this earlier from @liukzilla.

“Japanese Almost Triple Foreign Bond Buying in July” exe: buy or + buy => like a double chocolate pie

Here we do get something of a catch as the issue of foreign investors buying involves the currency as well. Whether that is a sign of the Euro peaking I do not know but in a way it shows another form of looking for yield if you can call a profit a yield. Also there is an issue here of Japanese investors buying foreign bonds not only because there is little or no yield to be found at home but also because the Bank of Japan is soaking up the supply of what there is.

Comment

If we survey the situation we see that prices and yields especially in what we consider to be the first world do show “bubbilicious” signs. If we look at my home country of the UK it seemed extraordinary when the ten-year Gilt yield went below 2% and yet it is now around 1.2%. Of course the Bank of England with its “Sledgehammer” QE a year ago blew so much that it fell briefly to 0.5% in an effort which was a type of financial vandalism as we set yet again assets prioritised over the real economy. What we are not seeing is an acceleration unless perhaps we move to real yields which have dropped as inflation has picked up.

So far I have looked at sovereign bonds but this has also spilled over into corporate bonds especially with central banks buying them. We have seen them issued at negative yields as well which makes us wonder how that all works if one of the companies should ever go bust. Yet we also need to remind ourselves that there are geographical issues as we look around as Africa has double-digit yields in many places and according to Bloomberg buying short dated bonds in the Venezuelan state oil company yields 152% although the ride would not be good for your heart rate.

 

 

What is happening with the Swiss Franc?

One of the features of the credit crunch era has been the strength of the Swiss Franc. This has been for two interrelated reasons. The first is simply that Switzerland has been seen as something of a safe haven in these troubled times. The second as we have looked at many times comes from what was called the Carry Trade. This involved people and companies from other parts of the world borrowing in Swiss Francs because in something getting ever harder to believe interest-rates were much higher in their own domestic currencies than they were in the Swissy. In particular those taking out mortgages in some parts of eastern Europe with Hungary and Poland to the fore and also in places like Cyprus took out Swiss Franc mortgages to take advantage of the lower “carry” or interest-rate. The catch was the fact that there was an exchange rate risk which was obscured by the fact that the size of the trade put downwards pressure on the Swiss Franc ( and the Japanese Yen which was its currency twin in this regard). Accordingly it looked as if a financial triumph was on its way where interest-rate gains came with exchange-rate benefits. What could go wrong?

As the credit crunch hit there was a safe haven demand for Swiss Francs accompanied by some beginning to reverse their carry trades and the two reinforced each other. This meant that those who had taken Swiss Franc mortgages in eastern Europe found that the amount owed headed higher in their own currency and as the monthly repayments depended on the amount owed they headed higher too. The same happened to business borrowers. As more cut their losses the pressure was built up even more on those who remained. Meanwhile Switzerland was left feeling like a tennis ball bouncing around on a foreign currency ocean with consequences described the summer of 2011 by the Swiss National Bank like this.

The massive overvaluation of the Swiss franc poses a threat to the development of the economy in Switzerland and has further increased the downside risks to price stability.

It was afraid of a pricing out of the Swiss economy as it became less competitive. In September of that year it made something of a ground breaking announcement.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is therefore aiming for a substantial and sustained weakening of the Swiss franc. With immediate effect, it will no longer tolerate a EUR/CHF exchange rate below the minimum rate of CHF 1.20. The SNB will enforce this minimum rate with the utmost determination and is prepared to buy foreign currency in unlimited quantities.

On that road the SNB became an enormous hedge fund with at the time of writing some 724.4 billion Swiss Francs in its foreign currency reserves. An odd consequence of this is that it would have welcomed this news overnight. From Reuters.

Shares in the world’s most valuable company surged 6 percent after-hours to a record of more than $159, taking its market capitalization above $830 billion.

As 20% of its assets are in equities the SNB will be happy and the last number I saw had it holding some 15 million shares in Apple. However even “utmost determination” apparently has its bounds as this told us in January 2015.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is discontinuing the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro. At the same time, it is lowering the interest rate on sight deposit account balances that exceed a given exemption threshold by 0.5 percentage points, to −0.75%.

So the full set had been deployed in terms of monetary policy of foreign exchange intervention and negative interest-rates. But it was not enough and the retreat by the SNB was followed by another Swiss Franc surge causing worries for not only Switzerland but more losses for those who had borrowed in it.

Ch-ch-changes

More recently there has been signs and hints of a possible crack in the dam of Swiss Franc strength. At the end of last week Bloomberg was pointing out that it was at its weakest since the January 2015 announcement and that this was driven by stop-loss buying from Japanese banks. Whilst my career has seen regular episodes of stop-loss buying by Japanese banks across many instruments which begs the question of whether they ever make profits this is an interesting connection between what were the two currency twins. CNBC summarised the situation like this.

The franc fell sharply against the euro in morning deals, trading at 1.13 Swiss francs, a three percent drop on the week. Against the dollar, it hit a month low of 0.9724 Swiss francs.

This morning has seen the Euro rise to 1.143 Swiss Francs as the new beat goes on.

Swiss Cheese

The Financial Times notes that the hole in Swiss cheese production may be in the process of being fixed.

 

Its competitiveness wounded by the strong Swiss franc, Switzerland has imported more cheese than it has exported in some recent months — an unhappy state of affairs for producers of Gruyère and Emmental. “It would be great to get back to a reasonable exchange rate,” says Manuela Sonderegger, of Switzerland Cheese Marketing.

A real world impact of the exchange rate moves although of course it will take a while for the weaker level of the Swiss Franc to have any significant impact.

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here so let us look at what is in play. We cannot rule out that this is a consequence of thin summer markets but it is also true that a weakening has been in play for a few months. One initial driver may have been the strong phase of the US Dollar offering an alternative but the main player now is the Euro area. The better phase for it economically is now being accompanied by a stronger Euro signalled by the way it has moved above 1.18 versus the US Dollar and in a lesser way by the UK Pound £ being just under 1.12.

Thus the SNB will be hoping for a continuation of the stronger Euro and thus has a vested interest in the next move of Mario Draghi and the ECB. It will be hoping that it will withdraw more of its stimulus measures once the summer and indeed elections are over. Of course now the web gets increasingly tangled as the ECB will not be that keen on further rises in the Euro as it moves it reduces its “price stability” target. This particular currency war is now in the world of strength rather than weakness which of course sends another Ivory Tower or two collapsing as we note there is still 60 billion Euros a month of QE from the ECB.

Also if we look wider there will be implications. For example we may hear a sigh of relief from eastern Europe but also what if the rally continues and the SNB gets the chance to trim its reserves. As it has been a factor in driving equity markets higher would it be a sign of a turn? That is a fair way away from here but much more nearby has been the recent disarray in the claimed safe haven of Bitcoin. It makes me wonder if this has impacted the Swiss Franc but am struggling to think of a causal link.

Let me finish with another potential consequence which would be quite a change which would be an interest-rate rise in Switzerland. Could it get away from negative interest-rates before the next downturn strikes or is it trapped there?