Ironically falling UK car registrations are impacting on French manufacturers

Yesterday afternoon saw some good news for my topic of the day. It came from a sector of the UK economy which over the past decade has seen an extraordinary boom which is premiership football. From the BBC.

Crystal Palace’s chairman has unveiled plans to increase Selhurst Park’s capacity to more than 34,000.

Steve Parish said the expansion, expected to cost between £75m-£100m, would be an “icon” for south London.

The full revamp is expected to take three years to complete, and work could begin “within 12 months”.

KSS, the architects behind the project, have previously redeveloped sporting venues including Anfield, Twickenham and Wimbledon.

If you travel past the ground then without wishing to upset Eagles fans it is to put it politely in sore need of redevelopment. But as well as a boost and if you make the usually safe assumption that it ends up costing the higher end of the estimate we see that each extra seat costs something of the order of £12,500. Is that another sign of inflation in the UK or good value.?

If we continue on the inflation beat then this morning has bought grim news for railway commuters as the BBC points out.

Train fares in Britain will go up by an average of 3.4% from 2 January.

The increase, the biggest since 2013, covers regulated fares, which includes season tickets, and unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets.

The Rail Delivery Group admitted it was a “significant” rise, but said that more than 97% of fare income went back into improving and running the railway.

A passenger group said the rise was “a chill wind” and the RMT union called it a “kick in the teeth” for travellers.

The rise in regulated fares had already been capped at July’s Retail Prices Index inflation rate of 3.6%.

We see a clear example of my theme that the UK is prone to institutionalised inflation in the way that the rises are capped at the highest inflation measure they could find. Suddenly the “not a national statistic” Retail Prices Index or RPI is useful when it can be used for something the ordinary person is paying in the same way it applies to student loans. Whereas when it is something that we receive or the government pays then the lower ( ~1% per annum) Consumer Prices Index or CPI is used.

The rail industry is an unusual one where booming business is a problem.

Here’s some examples. Passenger numbers on routes into King’s Cross have rocketed by 70% in the past 14 years. On Southern trains, passenger numbers coming into London have doubled in 12 years…….There is a push to bring in new trains, stations and better lines, but it’s difficult to upgrade things while keeping them open and it’s seriously expensive.

Ah inflation again! Of course railways suffer from fixed costs due to their nature but we never seem to get to the stage where maximising use reduces costs do we?

The economic outlook

If we look at the business surveys from Markit ( PMIs) we see that the UK economy continues to grow at a steady pace with according to the surveys construction and particularly manufacturing doing well.

On its current course, manufacturing production is rising at a quarterly rate approaching 2%, providing a real boost to the pace of broader economic expansion…….

This morning has brought the services data which you might think would be good following them but of course things are often contrary.

November data pointed to a setback for the UK
service sector, with business activity growth easing
from the six-month peak seen in October. Volumes
of new work also increased at a slower pace, while
the rate of staff hiring was the joint-slowest since
March.

So growth continued but at a slower rate as the reading fell to 53.8 in November from 55.6 in October. Also there were inflation concerns being reported.

Sharp and accelerated rise in prices charged by
service providers.

This is very different to the official data although it only covers the period to September.

The annual inflation rate in the latest quarter was above the average for the period, at 1.3%.

The average is for the credit crunch era.

This means that according to the business surveys the UK economy is doing this.

The survey data are so far consistent with the economy growing at a quarterly rate of 0.45% in the closing months of 2017.

I did challenge the spurious accuracy here and got this in response from their chief economist Chris Williamson.

Hi Shaun – October UK PMI was consistent with +0.5% GDP while November signalled +0.4%. Seemed sensible to split the difference!

Car Trouble

Regular readers will be aware that the boom in this sector has faded and perhaps turned to dust in 2017. This morning the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported this.

The UK new car market declined for an eighth consecutive month in November, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). 163,541 vehicles were registered, down -11.2% year-on-year, driven by a significant fall in diesel demand.

The fall was led by businesses.

Business, fleet and private registrations all fell in the month, down -33.6%, -14.4% and -5.1% respectively. Registrations fell across all body types except specialist sports, which grew 6.7%. The biggest declines were seen in the executive and mini segments, which decreased -22.2% and -19.8% respectively, while demand in the supermini segment contracted by -15.4%.

This means that the state of play for the year so far is this.

Overall, registrations have declined -5.0% in the eleven months in 2017, with 2,388,144 cars hitting British roads so far this year.

Hitting the roads? Well hopefully not but the economic consequences are ironically being felt abroad as much as in the UK. From the UK point of view there is a fall in consumption and to the extent of some business use a fall in investment. But we mostly import our cars so in terms of a production impact it will mostly be felt abroad. As it turns out the major impact will be felt in France as so far this year we see registrations have fallen by 18% for Citroen, 16% for Peugeot and 17% for Renault totalling around 38,000 cars for the sector. Individually the worst hit of the main manufacturers seems to be Vauxhall which is down 22% this year.

As to the type of car that has been worst hit then I am sure you have already guessed it.

heavy losses for diesel, falling -30.6%.

On that subject the SMMT seems lost in its own land of confusion.

Diesel remains the right choice for many drivers, not least because of its fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.

That ( and the tax advantages) persuaded me to get what I thought was a new green and clean diesel only to discover that instead I have been poisoning the air for myself and other Londoners. So I guess more than a few are singing along to the Who these days.

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

We await to see how this impacts on all the car loans and note that the UK is not alone in this if the Irish Motor Industry is any guide.

New car sales year to date (2017)131,200 (2016) 146,215 -10%

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider so let us start with the car market. Whilst there is an impact on consumption and perhaps a small impact on production ironically the impact on our trade and current account position will be beneficial as explained by this from HM Parliament.

The value of exports totalled £31.5 billion in 2016, but imports totalled £40.3 billion, so a trade deficit of £8.8 billion was recorded.

So the impact on UK GDP is not as clear as you might think especially if we continue to export well.

UK car manufacturing rises 3.5% in October with 157,056 cars rolling off production lines.Exports up 5.0% – but domestic demand falls -2.9% as lower consumer confidence continues to impact market.

The main problem for the UK would be if the current inflation surge continues so let us cross our fingers that it is fading. Otherwise 2017 has been remarkably stable in terms of economic growth driven by two factors which are the lower Pound £ and the fact that the world economy is having a better year.

Meanwhile I will leave the central bankers and their acolytes to explain why a development like this is bad news. From Bloomberg.

Among the coconut plantations and beaches of South India, a factory the size of 35 football fields is preparing to churn out billions of generic pills for HIV patients and flood the U.S. market with the low-cost copycat medicines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is the UK construction sector in a recession?

So far 2017 has been a year of steady but unspectacular growth for the UK economy. However one sector has stood out on the downside and that is construction. Of course this is the opposite of what the unwary might think as we are regularly assailed with official claims that house building in particular is a triumph. But the pattern of the official data series is certainly not a triumph.

Construction output contracted by 0.9% in the three-month on three-month series in September 2017…….This fall of 0.9% for Quarter 3 (July to September) follows a decline of 0.5% in Quarter 2 (April to June), representing the first consecutive quarter-on-quarter decline in current estimates of construction output since Quarter 3 2012.

Whilst our official statisticians avoid saying it this is the criteria for a recession with two quarterly falls in a row and in fact they had revised it a bit deeper.

The estimate for construction growth in Quarter 3 2017 has been revised down 0.2 percentage points from negative 0.7% in the preliminary estimate of gross domestic product (GDP), which has no impact on quarterly GDP growth to one decimal place.

The last month in that sequence which was September showed little or no sign of any improvement.

Construction output fell 1.6% month-on-month in September 2017, stemming from falls of 2.1% in repair and maintenance and 1.3% in all new work.

September detail

Here is an idea of the scale of output.

Total all work decreased to £12,628 million in September 2017. This fall stems from decreases in both all new work, which fell to £8,209 million, and total repair and maintenance, which fell to £4,419 million.

And here are the declines.

Construction output fell by £361 million in September 2017. This fall stems predominantly from a £236 million decrease in private commercial new work, as well as a fall of £165 million from total housing repair and maintenance.

There may be some logic in new commercial work being slow but the fall in repair and maintenance seems odd to say the least. The issues for the former might be that there has been so much building in parts of London combined with uncertainty looking ahead in terms of slower economic growth and what the Brexit deal may look like.

Maybe we are seeing some growth in new house building if we look at the longer trend.

Elsewhere, the strongest positive contributions to three-month on three-month output came from housing new work, with private housing growing £138 million and public housing expanding by £65 million.

Boom Boom

This weaker episode followed what had been a very strong phase for the UK construction industry. The nadir for it if we use 2015 as 100 was 85.3 in October 2012 as opposed to the 105.9 of September this year.  Over this period it has been even stronger than the services sector which has risen from 93.7 to 104.4 over the same period. Of course at 6.1% of the UK economy as opposed to 79.3% the total impact is far smaller but relatively it has been the fastest growing of the main UK economic categories in recent times.

If we look back to possible factors at play in the turnaround it is hard not to think yet again of the Funding for Lending Scheme of the Bank of England which was launched in the summer of 2012. There is a clear link in terms of private housing in terms of the way it lowered mortgage rates by more than 1% and the data here makes me wonder if some of the funding flowed into the commercial building sector as well. At this point we do see something of an irony as of course the FLS was supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses but sadly many of those in the construction sector were wiped out by the onset of the credit crunch.However this from the TSB suggests an impact.

As part of our participation in the Funding for Lending Scheme*, we have reduced the interest rate by 1% on all approved business loan and commercial mortgage applications.

Indeed some loans were made although as Co Star reported in January 2013 maybe not that many.

The Lloyds FLS-funded senior loan funded last Friday. Kier said the “competitively-priced” £30m loan will be used in connection with its infrastructure and related projects.

This is understood to be only the second commercial real estate loan drawn by Lloyds’ Commercial Banking division under the FLS scheme, after the bank drew down a further £2bn under the scheme before Christmas, taking its total capacity to £3bn.

The issue is complex as the Bank of England itself was worried about the state of play in 2014.

 The majority of the aggregate fall in net lending in 2014 Q1 was accounted for by a continued decline in lending to businesses in the real estate sector (Chart 2).

One area that I think clearly did see growth but is pretty much impossible to pick out of the data is lending to what are effectively buy-to let businesses.

Looking ahead

There has been a flicker of winter sunshine this morning from the Markit PMI business survey.

November data pointed to a moderate rebound in
UK construction output, with business activity rising
at the strongest rate since June. New orders and
employment numbers also increased to the greatest
extent in five months.

Indeed in an example of the phrase “there is a first time for everything” the government may this time be telling the truth about house building.

House building projects were again the primary
growth engine for construction activity. Survey
respondents suggested that resilient demand and a
supportive policy backdrop had driven the robust and
accelerated upturn in residential work.

Whilst the overall growth was not rapid at 53.1 ( where 50 in unchanged) at least we seem to have some and it was reassuring to have another confirmation of my theme that the 2016 fall in the UK Pound £ is wearing off.

However, cost inflation eased to its least marked for 14 months, with some firms reporting signs that exchange-rate driven price rises had started to lose intensity.

Comment

So the overall picture is of a boom which then saw a recession and hopefully of the latest surveys are correct a short shallow one. However not everyone is entirely on board with the recession story as this from Construction News last month points out.

Industry activity continued to grow between July and September, according to a new survey by the Construction Products Association.

The official data series in the UK for construction has been troubled to put it politely. The official version is this.

The Office for Statistics Regulation has put out a request for feedback and comments from users of these statistics, as part of the process for re-assessing the National Statistic status for Construction statistics: output, new orders and price indices.

In essence you cannot say what real output is until you have some sort of grip on the price level. Also  the excellent Brickonomics pointed out several years ago that some of the improvement in the data was via simply transferring a large business from services to construction. Solved at the stroke of a pen? Also this year there were large revisions to last year which is not entirely reassuring.

The annual growth rate for 2016 has been revised from 2.4% to 3.8%.

If that error was systemic then this years recession could easily be revised away. The truth is that there is way too much uncertainty about this which is surprising in the sense that the industry relies on physical products many of which are large. A few weeks back I counted the number of cranes along Nine Elms ( 24) for example in response to a question asked in the comments.

So we had a boom ( maybe) followed by a recession (maybe) and are now recovering (maybe). Hardly a triumph for the information era…..

Some Music

Here is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear Donald Trump as a Talking Head.

 

 

Can the economy of Italy awake from its coma?

A pleasant feature of 2017 has been the way that the economy of Italy has at least seen a decent patch.  Although sadly the number this morning has been revised lower.

In the third quarter of 2017 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.4 per cent with respect to the second quarter of 2017 and by 1.7 per cent in comparison with the third quarter of 2016

The improved economic outlook for the Euro area has pulled Italy with it although you may note that even with it the numbers are only a little better than the UK so far in annual terms and we of course are in a weaker patch or an economic disaster depending what you read. In fact if you look at annual growth Italy has been improving since the beginning of 2014 but for quite some time it was oh so slow such that the annual rate of growth did not reach 1% until the latter part of 2015 and it is only this year that it has pushed ahead a bit more. Back in 2014 there was a lot of proclaiming an Italian economic recovery whereas in fact the economy simply stopped shrinking.

Girlfriend in a coma

This means that in spite of the better news Italy looks set in 2017 to reach where it was in terms of economic output between 2003 and 2004. This girlfriend in a coma style result has been driven by two factors. First is the fact that the initial impact of the credit crunch was added to by the Euro area crisis such that annual economic output as measured by GDP fell by 8.5% between 2007 and 2014. The second is the weak recovery phase since then which has not boosted it much although of course it is now doing a little better.

If we look ahead a not dissimilar problem seems to emerge. From the Monthly Economic Outlook.

In 2017 GDP is expected to increase by 1.5 percent in real terms.The domestic demand will provide a
contribution of 1.5 percentage points while foreign demand will account for a negative 0.1 percentage
point conterbalaced by the contribution of inventories (0.1 pp). In 2018 GDP is estimated to increase
by 1.4 percent in real terms driven by the contribution of domestic demand (1.5 percentage points)
associated to a negative contribution of the foreign demand (-0.1 percentage points).

When ECB President Mario Draghi made his “everything it takes ( to save the Euro)” speech back in 2012 he might have hoped for a bit more economic zest from his home country.  Even now with the Euro area economy displaying something of a full head of steam Italy does not seem to be doing much better than its long-term average which is to grow at around 1% per annum. That is in the good times and as we noted earlier it gets hit hard in the bad times.

The girlfriend in a come theme builds up if we recall this from the 4th of July.

If we move to a measure which looks at the individual experience which is GDP per capita we see that it has fallen by around 5% over that time frame as the same output is divided by a population which has grown.

There will have been an improvement from the growth in the third quarter but we are still noting a fall in GDP per capita of over 4% in Italy in the Euro era. So more than a lost decade on that measure. As I have pointed out before Italy has seen positive migration which helps with future demographic issues but does not seem to have helped the economy much in the Euro area. For example net immigration was a bit under half a million in 2007 and whilst it has fallen presumably because of the economic difficulties it is still a factor.

During 2016, the international net migration grew by more than 10,000, reaching 144,000 (+8% compared to
2015). The immigration flow was equal to nearly 301,000 (+7% compared to 2015).

Putting it another way the population of Italy was 56.9 million when it joined the Euro and at the opening of 2017 it was 60.6 million. So more people mostly by immigration as the birth rate is falling have produced via little extra output according to the official statistics.

The labour market

If we switch to the labour market we see a reflection of the problem with output and GDP.

In October 2017, 23.082 million persons were employed, unchanged over September 2017. Unemployed
were 2.879 million, -0.1% over the previous month.

So only a small improvement but the pattern below begs more than a few questions.

Employment rate was 58.1%, unemployment rate was 11.1% and inactivity rate was 34.5%, all unchanged
over September 2017.

There are of course issues with a double-digit unemployment which has as part of its make-up an ongoing problem with youth unemployment.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 34.7%, -0.7 percentage points over the previous month

If UB40 did a song for youth unemployment in Italy it would have to be the one in three ( and a bit) not the one in ten

Also the employment rate is internationally low which is mostly reflected in a high inactivity rate. The unemployment rate in Italy is not far from where it was when it joined the Euro.

The banks

It was only last week I looked at the ongoing problems of the Italian banks and whilst they have had many self-inflicted problems it is also true that they have suffered from a weak Italian economy this century. So they have suffered something of a double whammy which means Banca Carige is trying to raise 560 million Euros with the state of play being this according to Ansa.

Out of the main basket Carige, closed the trading of rights to raise capital, it remains at 0.01 euros.

A share price of one Euro cent speaks rather eloquently for itself. If you go for the third capital increase in four years what do you expect?

National Debt

Italy is not especially fiscally profligate but the consequence of so many years of economic struggles means that the relative size of the national debt has grown. From it statistics office.

The government deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 2.6% in 2015 to 2.5% in 2016. The primary surplus as a percentage of GDP, equal to 1.5% in 2016, remained unchanged compared to 2015.

The government debt to GDP ratio was 132.0% at the end of 2016, up by 0.5 percentage points with respect to the end of 2015.

For those who recall the early days of the crisis in Greece the benchmark of a national debt to GDP ratio was set at 120% so as not to embarrass Italy (and Portugal). As you can see it misfired.

Italy has particular reason to be grateful for the QE bond buying of the ECB which has kept its debt costs low otherwise it would be in real trouble right now.

Although on the other side of the coin Italians are savers on a personal or household level.

The gross saving rate of Consumer households (defined as gross saving divided by gross disposable
income, the latter being adjusted for the change in the net equity of households in pension funds reserves)
was 7.5%, compared with 7.7% in the previous quarter and 9.0% in the second quarter of 2016.

Comment

The issue with the Italian economy is that the current improvement is only a thin veneer on the problems of the past. It may awake from the coma but then doesn’t seem to do that much before it goes back to sleep. The current economic forecasts seem to confirm more of the same as we fear what might happen in the next down turn.

One part of the economy that is doing much better is the manufacturing sector according to this morning’s survey released by Markit.

Italy’s manufacturing industry continued to soar in
November as strong external demand, especially
for capital goods, continued to underpin surging
levels of output in the sector.
“Capacity subsequently came under pressure, as
evidenced by the strongest recorded rise in
backlogs of the series history. Companies again
added to their staffing levels as a result.

Let us hope that this carries as we again wonder how much of the economic malaise suffered by Italy is caused by output switching to the unregistered sector.

Me on CoreTV Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/unsecured-credit-improving/

http://www.corelondon.tv/bitcoin-cryptocurrency-smashing-10000/

The UK Student Loan problem is going from bad to worse

Sometimes developments flow naturally together and we see a clear example of this today. It was only yesterday that I pointed out that the Bank of England puts its telescope to its blind eye on the subject of student loans.

 In addition students will be wondering why what are likely to appear large debt burdens to them are ignored for these purposes?

Excluding student debt, the aggregate household debt to income ratio is 18 percentage points below its 2008
peak.

This is particularly material as we know that student debt has been growing quickly in the UK due to factors such as the rises in tuition fees.

Losses mount

I am often critical of the Financial Times but this time Thomas Hale deserves praise for this investigation.

The UK government is set to book a loss of almost £1bn from its largest privatisation of student loans, raising questions over the valuation of tens of billions of pounds of remaining graduate debt.

The most obvious question is why are we privatising these loans at a loss? It was of course the banking sector which saw privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses as fears will no doubt rise that this could be the other way around in terms of timing.

As we look at the detail the news gets even more troubling.

The controversial sale of a batch of student loans this week is expected to raise around £1.7bn, according to a Financial Times analysis of deal documentation. The loans, which had a face value of £3.7bn last year, are part of a total of £43bn in loans made to students up to 2012, which are currently on government books valued at just under £30bn, according to the Department of Education’s latest published accounts, as of the end of March this year.

As you can see not only are those loans not alone but they are being sold at a level below previous mark downs in value. The £3.7 billion face value had already been marked down to £2.5 billion and now we see this.

The deal will raise around £1.7bn in cash through the securitisation process, where assets are packaged together and sold off as bonds to investors. The process is a common feature of financing for student borrowing in the US but has rarely been used in the UK.

This seems odd as why would the UK taxpayer want to capitalise his/her losses?

The government’s loan book sale is dependent on passing a “value for money” test, which is designed to ensure that public assets are not sold too cheaply. The details of the test will not be made public but it is expected to provide a different, lower valuation for the loans compared to those on the DfE accounts.

The sale of the loans is part of a wider government effort to sell public assets “in a way that secures good value for money for taxpayers”, according to a statement on the student loans company website. The government aims to raise a total of £12bn through selling an unspecified amount of pre-2012 student loans over the next five years.

This brings us to a combination of Yes Prime Minister and George Orwell. Whilst it is possible that selling something at half its original value is sensible it needs to be checked carefully especially if it is public money . Also if it is a good deal for the new investors why not keep it?

What has happened to these loans?

Essentially these are loans from the previous decade which only have a rump left and guess which rump?

The transaction is made up of loans issued between 2002 and 2006, on which repayments are linked to income. Around half of students who borrowed during that period had already paid off their loans by the end of the 2015-16 financial year, meaning the pool of debt included in the deal is likely to be of a lower credit quality. Of those graduates with outstanding loans, only 60 per cent made a repayment in the same financial year.

So 40% of the remaining loans are seeing no repayments at present and the pricing here suggests that this will continue. One fear is that the buyers of the loans may try to pressurise students to repay even if they cannot afford to. Also there is the issue of what looks like around 20% of the students from over a decade ago still do not earn more than the £17,775 threshold ( confusingly more recent students seem to have a £21,000 threshold).

The rationale

Carly Simon poses the apposite question

Why?…. Don’t know why?

This is what it is all about. Yet again a wheeze for the national debt numbers.

Part of the motive for the sale is to reduce public debt. The cash generated from the transaction will go towards reducing public sector net debt, which was £1.79tn at the end of October. Unlike cash, student loan assets do not count towards the calculation of public sector net debt.

Comment

This is in my opinion a disaster on a national scale. Let me open with an issue which regular readers will be aware of but newer ones may not. This is the cost or interest on these loans and you may like to note that the most the UK would pay on issuing government debt is ~1.5%. From MoneySavingExpert (MSE ).

The rate used is the previous March’s RPI inflation rate. March 2017’s RPI inflation rate was 3.1% meaning interest charged on student loans for the 2017/18 academic year is between 3.1% and 6.1% depending on whether you’re studying or graduated, and how much you earn.

So at least double and maybe quadruple the alternative which speaks for itself. On this subject I both agree and disagree with MSE. He thinks for some it does not matter than much of this will never be repaid and is in that sense “free.” But you see along the way it matters as there is not only the psychological effect of say a £50k debt but it is also it affects mortgage calculations now. Recently reports have arisen of younger people not joining the NHS pension scheme and I wonder if that is linked to the fact that nurses now have student debts and feel burdened.

Back on the first of August 2016 I explained the problem like this.

We move onto the next problem which is that ever more of this debt will never be repaid which poses the question of what is the point of it? It feels ever more like a rentier society where someone collects all the interest and the takes the loan capital but we then forget that. Another type of borrowing from the future.

It would be much simpler I think to abandon the whole system and go back to providing tuition fees and grants. Also as this reply to the FT from safeside implies perhaps some of the weaker universities should be trimmed.

It would be interesting to see which universities produce graduates who are sub inv grade

It is tempting to suggest we should also write the whole lot off as let’s face it we are writing most of it off along the way anyway. The only major issue I think is how to treat fairly those who have already repaid their loans either in part or in full. It would also end the shambolic way the loans are collected. We seem to have replaced a system which worked with one based on more than few fantasies and if we continue to follow the American way then as I pointed out in August 2016 students can presumable expect this.

It’s 9 p.m. and your phone chimes. You’re among the one in eight Americans carrying a student loan—debts that collectively total nearly $1.4 trillion—and you’ve started to fall behind on your payments.

You know the drill: round-the-clock robocalls demanding immediate payment. You wince and pick up.

 

The Bank of England has a credit problem

There is a lot to consider already today as I note that my subject of Monday Bitcoin is in the news as it has passed US $10,000 overnight. The Bank of England must be relieved that something at least is rising faster than unsecured credit in the UK! Sir John Cunliffe has already been on the case.

. Sir JohnCunliffe says cryptocurrencies not a threat to financial stability – but says it is not an official currency and urges investors to be cautious  ( h/t Dominic O’Connell )

It is probably a bit late for caution for many Bitcoin investors to say the least. However if we return to home territory we see an area where the Bank of England itself was not cautious. This was when it opened the UK monetary taps in August 2016 with its Bank Rate cut to 0.25%, £60 billion of extra Quantitative Easing and the £91.4 billion and rising of the Term Funding Scheme. This has continued the house price boom and inflated consumer credit such that the annual rate of growth has run at about 10% per annum since then.

The credit problem

As well as the banking stress tests yesterday the Financial Stability Report was published and it spread a message of calm and not a little complacency.

The overall stock of outstanding private non-financial sector debt in the real economy has fallen since prior to the crisis,though it remains high by historical standards, at 150% of GDP.

There are two immediate problems here. The credit crunch was driven by debt problems so using it as a benchmark is plainly flawed. Secondly many of those making this assessment are responsible for pushing UK credit growth higher with their monetary policy decisions so there is a clear moral hazard. In addition students will be wondering why what are likely to appear large debt burdens to them are ignored for these purposes?

Excluding student debt, the aggregate household
debt to income ratio is 18 percentage points below its 2008
peak.

This is particularly material as we know that student debt has been growing quickly in the UK due to factors such as the rises in tuition fees. From HM Parliament in June.

Currently more than £13 billion is loaned to students each year. This is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years and the Government expects the value of outstanding loans to reach over £100 billion (2014 15 prices) in 2018 and continue to increase in real terms to around £330 billion (2014 15 prices) by the middle of this century.

Pretty much anything would be under control if you exclude things which are rising fast! On that logic thinks are okay especially if use inflation to help you out.

Credit growth is, in aggregate, only a little above nominal GDP growth. In the year to 2017 Q2, outstanding borrowing by households and non-financial businesses increased by 5.1%; in that same period, nominal GDP increased by 3.7%.

They have used inflation ( currently of course above target ) to make the numbers seem nearer than they are. This used to be the common way for looking at such matters but that was a world where wage growth was invariably positive not as it is now. If we switch to real GDP growth which was 1.7% back then or wages growth which this year has been mostly a bit over 2% in nominal terms things do not look so rosy.

If we apply the logic applied by the Bank of England above then this below is a sign of what Elvis Presley called “we’re caught in a trap”

The cost of servicing debt for households and businesses is
currently low. The aggregate household
debt-servicing ratio — defined as interest payments plus regular mortgage principal repayments as a share of household disposable income — is 7.7%, below its average since 1987 of 9%.

So not much below but something is a lot below. There are many ways of comparing interest-rates between 1987 and now but the ten-year Gilt yield was just under 10% as opposed to the 1.25% of now. So we cannot afford much higher yields or interest-rates can we?

Consumer credit

The position here is so bad that the Bank of England feels the need to cover itself.

consumer credit has been growing rapidly,
creating a pocket of risk

Still pockets are usually quite small aren’t they? Although the pocket is expanding quite quickly.

The outstanding stock of consumer
credit increased by 9.9% in the year to September 2017

What are the numbers for economic growth and wages growth again? There is quite a gap here but apparently in modern language this is no biggie.

Rapid growth of consumer credit is not, in itself, a material risk to economic growth through its effect on household spending. The flow of new consumer borrowing is equivalent to only 1.4% of consumer spending, and has made almost no contribution to the growth in aggregate consumer spending in the past year.

This is odd on so many levels. For a start on the face of it there is quite a critique here of the “muscular” monetary policy easing of Andy Haldane. Also if the impact was so small the extra 250,000 jobs claimed by Governor Carney seems incredibly inflated. In this parallel world there seems almost no point to it.

Yet if we move into the real world and look at the boom in car finance which supported the car market there must have been quite a strong effect. Of course that has shown signs of waning. Also if you look at what has been going on in the car loans market and the apparent rise of the equivalent of what were called “liar loans” for the mortgage market pre credit crunch then the complacency meter goes almost off the scale with this.

Low arrears rates may
reflect underlying improvement in credit quality

Number crunching

I know many of you like the data set so here it is and please note the in and then out nature of student debt.

The total stock of UK household debt in 2017 Q2 was
£1.6 trillion, comprising mortgage debt (£1.3 trillion),
consumer credit (£0.2 trillion) and student loans (£0.1 trillion).
It is equal to 134% of household incomes (Chart A.9), high by historical standards but below its 2008 peak of 147%.(1)
Excluding student debt, the aggregate household debt to
income ratio is 18 percentage points below its 2008 peak

Most things look contained if you compare them to their peak! Also if we switch to mortgages we get quite a few pages on how macroprudential regulation has been applied then we get told this.

The proportion of households with high mortgage
DTI multiples has increased somewhat recently, although it
remains below peaks observed over the past decade ( DTI = Debt To Income)

Comment

The issue here can be summarised by looking at two things. This is the official view expressed only yesterday.

Lenders responding to the Credit Conditions Survey reported that the availability of unsecured credit fell in both 2017 Q2 and Q3, and they expect a further reduction in Q4.

Here is this morning’s data.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit was broadly unchanged at 9.6% in October

As you can see the availability of credit has been so restricted the annual rate of growth remains near to 10%. The three monthly growth rate accelerated to an annualised 9.6% and the total is now £205.3 billion.

The situation becomes even more like some form of Orwellian scenario when we recall the credit easing ( Funding for Lending Scheme) was supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses. So how is that going?

in October, whilst loans to small and
medium-sized enterprises were -£0.4 billion

There is of course always another perspective and Reuters offer it.

Growth in lending to British consumers cooled again in October to an 18-month low, according to data that may ease concerns among Bank of England officials concerned about the buildup of household debt………The growth rate in unsecured consumer lending slowed to 9.6 percent in the year to October from September’s 9.8 percent, the slowest increase since April 2016.

 

 

 

Stresses abound at the Bank of England

The last 24 hours have seen something of a flurry of activity from the Bank of England. Yesterday Nishkam High School was the latest stop in what was supposed to be a grand tour of the country by its Chief Economist Andy Haldane. The was designed to show that he is a man of the people and combined with the expected ( by him) triumph of his shock and awe Sledgehammer QE and “muscular” monetary easing of August 2016 was supposed to lead for a chorus of calls for him to be the next Governor of the Bank of England. Whereas in fact he ended up revealing that at another school he had been asked this.

“Two questions”, she said. “Who are you? And why are you here?”

According to Andy this is in fact a triumph.

Several hours of introspection (and therapy) later, I now have an answer. The key comes in how you keep score. If in a classroom of 50 kids you reach only 1, what is
your score? Have you lost 49-1? No. You have won 1-0.

Perhaps that is the dreaded counterfactual in action. Could you imagine going to Roman Abramovich and saying that losing 49 games and winning one is a success? Of course you would be long gone by then. Anyway there is one girl at the “Needs Improvement” school who has shown distinct signs of intelligence as we note for later how Andy’s somewhat scrambled view of success might influence the bank stress tests released this morning.

What about monetary policy?

Andy has a real crisis here as of course he pushed so hard for the easing in August 2016 then a year later ( too late for the inflation it encouraged) started to push for a reversal of the bank rate cut and then voted for that earlier this month. Here is how he reflects on that.

The MPC’s policy actions in November were described as “taking its foot off the accelerator” to hold the car
within its “speed limit”. This was intended to convey the sense of monetary policy slowing the economy
slightly, towards its lower potential growth rate, while still propelling it forward overall.

According to Andy such a metaphor is another triumph.

It was a visual narrative. Because most people (from Derry to Doncaster, Dunfermline to Dunvant, Delphi to Delhi) drive cars, it was a local and personal narrative too. The car metaphor was used extensively by UK media.

Some are much less sure about Andy’s enthusiasm for dumbing down.

Andy Haldane cites the MPC’s recent use of the “car metaphor” as a success in attempting to engage the public. Which is fine. But I’d like to hear his thoughts on damage caused by bad/inaccurate metaphors (eg. “maxing out the country’s credit card”) ( Andy Bruce of Reuters )

Also there was a particularly arrogant section on inflation which I think I am the only person to point out.

This unfamiliarity with economic concepts extends to a lack of understanding of these concepts in practice.
For example, the Bank of England regularly surveys the general public to gauge their views on inflation.
When given a small number of options, less than a quarter of the public typically identify the correct range within which the current inflation rate lies. More than 40% simply say that they do not know.

Perhaps they find from their experience that they cannot believe the numbers and once you look at the data the 40% may simply be informed and honest.

Bank stress tests

The true purpose of a central bank stress test is to make it look like you are doing the job thoroughly whilst making sure that if any bank fails it is only a minor one. Also if any extra capital is required it needs to be kept to a minimum.This was illustrated in 2013 by the European Central Bank. From the Financial Times.

The European Central Bank has appointed consultants who said Anglo Irish was the best bank in the world, three years before it had to be nationalised, to advise on a review of lenders. Consultants Oliver Wyman, which made the embarrassing Anglo Irish assessment in 2006 in a “shareholder performance hall of fame”, has since been involved in bank stress tests in Spain last year and Slovenia this year.

To do this you need a certain degree of intellectual flexibility as Oliver Wyman pointed out.

Today one sees that differently.

Today’s results

Here is the scenario deployed by the Bank of England. From its Governor Mark Carney.

The economic scenario in the 2017 stress test is more severe than the deep recession that followed
the global financial crisis. Vulnerabilities in the global economy trigger a 2.4% fall in world GDP
and a 4.7% fall in UK GDP.
In the stress scenario, there is a sudden reduction in investor appetite for UK assets and sterling
falls sharply, as vulnerabilities associated with the UK’s large current account deficit crystallise.
Bank Rate rises sharply to 4.0% and unemployment more than doubles to 9.5%. UK residential
and commercial real estate prices fall by 33% and 40%, respectively.

Everybody at the Bank of England must have required a cup of calming chamomile tea or perhaps something stronger at the thought of all the hard won property “gains” being eroded. But what did this do to the banks? From the Financial Times.

In the BoE exercise, RBS’s capital ratio fell to a low point of 7 per cent – below its 7.4 per cent minimum “systemic reference point”, while Barclays’ capital ratio fell to a low point of 7.4 per cent – below its 7.9 per cent minimum requirement.

Regular readers will not be surprised to see issues at the still accident prone RBS which always appears to be a year away from improvement. Those who have followed the retrenchment of Barclays such as its retreat from Africa will not be shocked either. Students will also be hoping that falling below the minimum requirement will be graded as a pass by their examiners!

One move the Bank of England has made is this.

The FPC is raising the UK countercyclical capital buffer rate from 0.5% to 1%, with binding effect from
28 November 2018.  This will establish a system-wide UK countercyclical capital buffer of £11.4 billion.

This sounds grand and may be reported by some as such but it is in reality only a type of bureaucratic paper shuffling as the banks already had the capital so reality is unchanged. Oh and we cannot move on without noting the appearance of the central bankers favourite word in this area.

Given the tripling of its capital base and marked improvement in funding profiles over the past
decade, the UK banking system is resilient to the potential risks associated with a disorderly
Brexit.

Comment

We see the UK establishment in full cry. No I do not mean the royal marriage as that is not until next year. But we do see on what might be considered “a good day to bury bad news” with the bank stress tests occupying reporters time this from the Financial Conduct Authority.

The independent review found that there had been widespread inappropriate treatment of SME customers by RBS…….The independent review found that some elements of this inappropriate treatment of customers should also be considered systematic

We may end up wondering how independent the review is as we note it has only taken ten years to come to fruition! People who were bankrupted have suffered immensely in that dilatory time frame. Next on the establishment deployment came as I switched on the television earlier whilst doing some knee rehab to see the ex-wife of a cabinet minister Vicky Pryce expounding on the bank stress tests on BBC Breakfast. If only all convicted criminals saw such open-mindedness.

If we return to Andy Haldane then he deserves a little sympathy on the personal level after all it must be grim doing a tour of the UK when the purpose has long gone. It is revealing that his list of supporters has thinned out considerably although most have done so quietly rather than taking the mea culpa road. At what point will the criteria for success or failure that would be applied to you or I be applied to the Chief Economist at the Bank of England?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitcoin both is and is not a store of value

The weekend just gone has seen some extraordinary price moves and yet as I looked through most of the media early this morning there was no mention of it. For example I have just scanned the front page of the online Financial Times and there was not a peep. One mention on Bloomberg seems a little confused.

Bitcoin’s march toward respectability faces another hurdle as hedge-fund platforms reject the overtures of firms trading cryptocurrencies.

I didn’t realise it was marching towards respectability myself and if it was are hedge funds a benchmark? Apparently things are going badly.

It’s the latest blow for a digital currency that’s struggling to break into the financial mainstream.

The next bit I found particularly fascinating.

Joe Vittoria, CEO of the Mirabella platform, said he has doubts over bitcoin’s liquidity and where oversight might come from. There are also suggestions that the digital currency’s valuation should be below where it’s currently trading, he said.

You see that second sentence applies to so many markets right now for example many of the world’s bond markets have been pumped up by central bank buying. Others might be wondering is another example is the online food delivery company Just Eat in the UK which looks set to join the FTSE 100 as it has a larger market capitalisation than the supermarket chain Sainsburys.

For an article posted around 4 hours ago they seem rather behind the times.

While investors have embraced bitcoin, sending it soaring above $8,000.

Last night as I checked how financial markets were starting the week in the far east I noted this and put it on Twitter.

Bitcoin has been on another surge and is US$ 9396 now.

Of course it is soaring above $8000 technically but is behind events. Indeed this morning it has risen again as Reuters point out.

Bitcoin’s vertiginous ascent showed no signs of stopping on Monday, with the cryptocurrency soaring to another record high just a few percent away from $10,000 after gaining more than a fifth in value over the past three days alone.

The digital currency has seen an eye-watering tenfold increase in its value since the start of the year, and has more than doubled in value since the beginning of October.

It BTC=BTSP surged 4.5 percent on the day on Monday to trade at $9,687 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange.

There are different pricing platforms but on the one I look at it reached US $9771 earlier. Although as ever there is a fair bit of volatility as it is US $9606 as I type this sentence.

Jamie Dimon

The Chief Executive of JP Morgan hit the newswires back on the 12th of September.

If a JPMorgan trader began trading in bitcoin, he said, “I’d fire them in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.” ( Bloomberg)

Considering the role of the banking sector in money laundering and financial crime this bit was somewhat breathtaking.

“If you were in Venezuela or Ecuador or North Korea or a bunch of parts like that, or if you were a drug dealer, a murderer, stuff like that, you are better off doing it in bitcoin than U.S. dollars,” he said. “So there may be a market for that, but it’d be a limited market.”

This intervention can be seen two ways. The first is simply expressed by the fact that the price of Bitcoin has more than doubled since then. The second is ironically also that it has doubled as of course that is a building block in determining whether something is a bubble or not.

What has driven this surge?

Back on the 29th of December last year I pointed out the Chinese connection.

There have been signs of creaking from the Chinese monetary system as estimates of the actual outflow of funds from China seem to be around double the official one. Oops!

If we move onto this morning Reuters have been on the case.

By some estimates, China’s overall debt is now as much as three times the size of its economy……..Outstanding household consumer loans have surged close to 30 percent since the middle of last year and reached 30.2 trillion yuan as of October.

This has the government worried.

China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, made global headlines with a warning last month of the risks of a “Minsky moment”, referring to a sudden collapse in asset prices after long periods of growth, sparked by debt or currency pressures.

In such a position Bitcoin investment may seem a lot more sensible than otherwise. If nothing else those caught in the clampdown on the shadow banking sector may think that it is worth a go and the funds involved are so large it would only take a relatively small amount to have a large impact.

It was also be a particular irony if some of the money the Bank of China pumped into the system last week found its way into Bitcoin.

ECB and the war on cash

This is something which must provide some support to Bitcoin which is simply fears over what plans central banks have for cash. This particularly applies to those who have been willing to dip into the icy world of negative interest-rates such as the European Central Bank and I am reminded of this from the 22nd of this month.

The general exception for covered deposits and claims
under investor compensation schemes should be replaced by limited discretionary exemptions to
be granted by the competent authority in order to retain a degree of flexibility. Under that approach,
the competent authority could, for example, allow depositors to withdraw a limited amount of
deposits on a daily basis consistent with the level of protection established under the Deposit
Guarantee Schemes Directive (DGSD)34,

Currently those with most to fear seem to be those with money in Italian banks although just to be clear as we stand now the deposit protection scheme up to 100,000 Euros still operates.

If we look forwards to the next recession it would appear that some central banks will arrive at it with interest-rates still negative so if they apply the usual play-book we will  then see interest-rates negative enough to mean that cash will be very attractive. I have postulated before than somewhere around -1.5% to 2% is the threshold. Then they will have to do something about cash. Perhaps they are on the case.

 

Other fears may come from the way that central banks have expanded balance sheets and thus narrow measures of the money supply. The Bank of Japan explicitly set out to double the monetary base.

Comment

There is a mixture of fear and greed in the price of Bitcoin. The fear comes from those wishing to escape domestic worries in China in particular as well as worries about the next moves of central banks. The greed simply comes from the rise in the price which has been more than ten-fold since I looked at it on December 29th last year. So if you have some well done although of course the real well done comes when you realise the profit. I note others making this point.

Bitcoin’s market cap just passed 150 billion USD. For those who do not know, that is how much money NEW bitcoin “investors” will have to spend, in order for the current bitcoin holders to get the money that they THINK they have.  ( @JorgeStolfi )

That statement is true of pretty much every price although of course some have backing via assets or demand. So often we see a marginal price used to calculate a total based on an average price that is not known. Also with a price that has varied between US $8992 and 9771 today alone I would suggest that this below must have more than a few investors screaming for financial stretcher bearers. From @JosephSkinner74

Long/Short Bitcoin swings with up to 100x Leverage at Bitmex! 💰💰 Enjoy a 10% Fee Discount! 👌🏽

What could go wrong?

This leaves us with the issue of how Bitcoin functions as a store of money which depends on time. Today’s volatility shows that over a 24 hour period it clearly fails and yet if we extend the time period so far at least it has worked rather well as one.

A royal wedding

Firstly congratulations to the hopefully – our royal family has form in this area – happy couple. But fans of the magnificent Yes Prime Minister will already be wondering what it is designed to distract us from and whether Theresa May has turned out to be more effective in this regard than Jim Hacker?!