The unemployment rate in France continues to signal trouble

It is time for us to nip across the Channel or perhaps I should say La Manche and take a look at what is going on in the French economy. This morning has brought news which reminds us of a clear difference between the UK and French economy so let us get straight to the French statistics office.

In Q4 2016, the average ILO unemployment rate in metropolitan France and overseas departments stood at 10.0% of active population, after 10.1% in Q3 2016.

Thus we note immediately that the unemployment rate is still in double-digits albeit only just. Here is some more detail.

In metropolitan France only, the number of unemployed decreased by 31,000 to 2.8 million people unemployed; thus, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage points q-o-q, standing at 9.7% of active population. It decreased among youths and persons aged 50 and over, whereas it increased for those aged 25 to 49. Over a year, the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points.

So unemployment is falling but very slowly and it is higher in the overseas departments. It is also rising in what you might call the peak working group of 25 to 49 year olds. It was only yesterday we noted that the UK unemployment rate was much lower and in fact less than half of that above.

the unemployment rate for people was 4.8%; it has not been lower since July to September 2005

Thus if we were looking for the key to French economic problems it is the continuing high level of unemployment. If we look back to pre credit crunch times we see that it was a little over 7% it then rose to 9.5% but later got pushed as high as 10.5% by the consequences of the Euro area crisis and has only fallen since to 10% if we use the overall rate. Thus we see that there has only been a small recovery which means that another factor is at play here which is time. A lot of people will have been unemployed for long periods with it would appear not a lot of hope of relief or ch-ch-changes for the better.

Among unemployed, 1.2 million were seeking a job for at least one year. The long-term unemployed rate stood at 4.2% of active population in Q4 2016. It decreased by 0.1 percentage points compared to Q3 2016 and Q4 2015.

The long-term unemployment rate is not far off what the total UK unemployment rate was for December (4.6%) which provides a clear difference between the two economies. Here is the UK rate for comparison.

404,000 people who had been unemployed for over 12 months, 86,000 fewer than for a year earlier

It is not so easy to get wages data but the non-farm private-sector rise was 1.2% in the year to the third quarter. So there was some real wage growth but I also note the rate of growth was slowing gently since the peak of 2.3% at the end of 2011 and of course inflation is picking up pretty much everywhere as the US “surprise” yesterday reminded pretty much everyone, well apart from us. Unless French wage growth picks up it like the UK will be facing real wage falls in 2017.

Productivity

There is an obvious consequence of the UK producing a broadly similar output to France with a lower unemployment rate if we note that productivity these days is in fact labour productivity. There are always caveats in the numbers but the UK Office for National Statistics took a look a year ago.

below that of Italy and France by 14 and 15 percentage points respectively ( Final estimates for 2014 show that UK output per worker was:)

My worry about these numbers has always been Japan which for its faults is a strong exporter and yet its productivity is even worse than the already poor UK.

above that of Japan by 14 percentage points

Economic growth

This remains poor albeit with a flicker of hope at the end of 2016.

In Q4 2016, GDP in volume terms* accelerated: +0.4%, after +0.2% in Q3. On average over the year, GDP kept rising, practically at the same pace: +1.1% after +1.2% in 2015. Without working day adjustment, GDP growth amounts to +1.2 % in 2016, after +1.3 % in 2015.

However the pattern is for these flickers of hope but unlike the UK where economic growth has been fairly steady France sees quite wide swings. For example GDP rose by 0.6% in Q1 so the economy pretty much flatlined in Q2 and Q3 combined. Whether this is a measurement issue or the way it is unclear. We do know however that it seems to come to a fair extent from foreign trade.

All in all, foreign trade balance contributed slightly to GDP growth: +0.1 points after −0.7 points. ( in the last quarter of 2016).

But as we look for perspective we do see an issue as for example 2016 should have seen two major benefits which is the impact of the lower oil price continuing and the extraordinary stimulus of the ECB ( European Central Bank). Yet economic growth in 2015 and 2016 were both weak and show little signs of any great impact. If we switch to the Euro then its trade weighted value peaked at 113.6 in November 2009 and has fallen since with ebbs and flows to 93.5 now so that should have helped overall. In the shorter term the Euro has rotated around its current level.

Production

With its more dirigiste approach you might expect the French economy to have done better here but as I have pointed out before that is not really so. If we look at manufacturing France saw growth in 2016 but we see a hint of trouble in the index for it being 103 at the end of 2016 on an index based at 100 in 2010. So overall rather weak and poor growth. Well it is all rather British as we note the previous peak was 118.5 in April 2008. Actually with its 13% decline that is a lot worse than the UK.

manufacturing (was) 4.7% lower when compared with the pre-downturn peak in February 2008.

Of course there are also links as the proposed purchase of Opel ( Vauxhall in the UK) by Peugeot reminds us.

Oh and those mulling the de-industrialisation of the West might want to note that the French manufacturing index was 120.9 back in December 2000.

Debt and deficits

This has received some publicity as Presidential candidate Fillon said this only yesterday. From Bloomberg.

Reviving a statement he made after becoming prime minister in 2007, Fillon said France is essentially bankrupt and warned that it can face situations comparable to those of Greece, Portugal and Italy. “You think it can’t happen here but it can,” he said.

As to the figures the fiscal deficit at 3.5% of GDP is better than the UK but of course does fall foul of the Euro area 3% limit. The national debt to GDP ratio is 97.5% and has been rising. On the 7th of this month I pointed out that France could still borrow very cheaply due to the ECB QE program but that relative to its peers it was slipping. That has been reinforced this week as for the first time for quite a while the Irish ten-year yield fell to French levels.  It may seem odd to point this out on a day when France has been paid to issue some short-tern debt but the situation has gone from ultra cheap to very cheap overall and there is a cost there.

Comment

I pointed out back on the 2nd of November last year that there were more similarities between the UK and French economies than we are often told but that there are some clear differences. We have looked at the labour market today in detail but there is also this.

There is much to consider here as we note that for France the new economic growth norm seems to be 1% rather than the 2% we somewhat disappointedly recognise for ourselves. Over time if that persists the power of compounding will make it a big deal.

Oh and of course house prices if we look at the UK boom which began in the middle of 2013 we see that France has in fact seen house prices stagnate since then as the index was 103.03 ( Q2 2013) back then compared to 102.82 in the third quarter of 2016

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

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

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

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

Executive pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pensioners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s data

The quantity numbers remain very good as we see here.

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

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

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

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

What about wages?

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

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

Here is the official view of the real wages position.

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s data

Let me first open with an alternative universe.

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

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

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

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

What are house prices doing?

Here are the numbers.

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

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

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

Let us look at this month’s number.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What drove things this month?

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

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

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

What is coming over the hill?

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

Seer of the year

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

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

And the Greek statistics authority today.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

ECB deposit facility usage €495.763 billion.

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

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

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

Co-op Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonds,Bonds Bonds

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

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

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

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

The official view is quite different as the BBC explains.

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

As to the individuals concerned there is this.

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

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

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

 

 

 

Good news for the UK economy and GDP

Today we embark on a raft of UK economic data but before we even reach it the Financial Times has returned to the most familiar theme in UK economic life.

There is a very cool-looking apartment on sale across the street from Harrods in London. It has three bedrooms, beautiful high ceilings, striking contemporary art on the walls (not included in the sale) and a roomy kitchen done out in glossy white wood and chrome. It is not cheap at £7.25m, but it is an awful lot cheaper than it was last year.

The flat was first listed on March 1 2016 for £8.25m. In July, about three weeks after the EU referendum, its price was cut; then it was cut again in December. Today it is available for about 12 per cent — or a full £1m — less than the original asking price.

Actually that looks like a PR puff piece or indeed advertising dressed up as journalism. But we do move onto an area where the FT has caught up with us in here which is the fact that house prices have been seeing falls in central London.

A quick glance at the property website Zoopla reveals that reductions of 15 to 20 per cent for London homes priced above £1m are not uncommon. According to its research department, more than a third of homes on sale in Kensington and Chelsea have had their asking prices reduced by an average of 7.97 per cent.

The FT typically tries to blame Brexit but then finds someone who thinks it has provided a boost! That comes from this.

After the result was announced, and the pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar for 31 years, the spending power of those buyers with dollars in their pockets escalated wildly. Up about 11 per cent on the currency play alone.

Which means overall we see this.

However, once you factor in the decline in London house prices over the intervening six months, you are looking at some serious markdowns indeed. Knight Frank calculates an effective dollar discount of 22 per cent, between December 2015 and December 2016.

So there you have it the message from the Financial Times is to sing along with the band Middle of the Road about central London property.

Ooh-We, Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep
Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep, Chirp
Let’s go now

If we move on from what in some cases is the equivalent of specific property pimping there are issues here. One is simply the price as we mull if even if a one bedroom property is in Covent Garden it can be considered cheap. Also we need to compare the recent falls which estate agents emphasis with the previous rises which they do not. Next comes the issue that the flipside of a lower £ is that existing owners have lost money in their own currency. Also looking forwards the real issue for many is what you expect the UK Pound £ to do next as the future of course matters much more than the past in that regard.
There is much for me to mull on my next cycle ride into the City as once I pass Battersea Dogs Home then here I am.

Some units at Nine Elms, a new residential development in Battersea, are being marketed at about £1,300 per sq ft, after already being given sizeable reductions, according to Zoopla. For £1,300 per sq ft, you could buy a historic apartment overlooking the Duomo in Florence, or a glossy new-build apartment in Miami Beach.

Is that cheaply expensive or expensively cheap?

Boom Boom UK

It is nice to end the week with some really good news for the UK economy so let us get straight to it.

In December 2016, total production was estimated to have increased by 1.1% compared with November 2016; the only contribution to the increase came from manufacturing……manufacturing provided all the growth, increasing by 2.1%.

So an upwards push to production from manufacturing which did this.

The increase in total production was due to broad-based increases in manufacturing. Pharmaceuticals (which can be highly erratic) provided the largest contribution to the growth, increasing by 8.3%. Other large contributions to the increase came from basic metals and other manufacturing and repair not elsewhere classified, which increased by 4.5% and 3.7% respectively.

So in an, if I may put it this way Trumpton era we find that we are en vogue by boosting manufacturing? We need to dig a little deeper though as pharmaceuticals have had a good 2016 but via a volatile path.

in December 2016 compared with December 2015, total production output increased by 4.3%. All main sectors increased, with the largest contribution provided by manufacturing

They seem a little shy of telling us that manufacturing rose by 4% so let me help out. That was driven by pharmaceuticals being up by 19.1% which illustrates their volatility. This left us with positive numbers for 2016 for both production (1.2%) and manufacturing (0.7%).

If we continue with the good news theme then we have some hope of a further upwards revision to UK GDP for last year. This is the reply I received from our statisticians in what was an excellent service.

IOP and Construction combined have an impact of 0.04%. This is nearly all from IOP. ( @StatsKate )

For newer readers I have little or no faith in the official construction numbers which in the words of Taylor Swift have seen “trouble, trouble,trouble” but for completeness here they are.

Compared with December 2015, construction output increased by 0.6%, the main contribution to this growth came from new housing work.

Trade

Even these had a good news tinge to them this morning.

The UK’s deficit on trade in goods and services was £3.3 billion in December 2016, a narrowing of £0.3 billion, which is contributing to the narrowing in Quarter 4 2016.

So let us look further.

The UK trade deficit on goods and services narrowed to £8.6 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016, following a sharp widening of the deficit in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016; this narrowing was predominantly due to an increase in exports of goods to non-EU countries.

Have UK industry and businesses got the new post EU leave vote vibe? I think that it is too pat a conclusion but we did see this.

there was a much higher quarter-on-quarter growth in exports to non-EU countries in Quarter 4 2016, following a fall in Quarter 3…….Exports of goods to non-EU countries rose by 17.3% to £43.8 billion between Quarter 3 2016 and Quarter 4 2016.

So some of it was a simple rebound.

Comment

Today has seen some rather good news for the UK economy as in spite of a drag from the continuing maintenance of the Buzzard oil field production was pushed higher by strong manufacturing data driven by the pharmaceutical industry. Added to this construction at least did not fall and on a quarterly basis the trade figures were better. So there is upwards pressure on the preliminary GDP report although we cannot say exactly how much yet.

There are two main clouds in our silver lining. These are simply  that we have yet another trade deficit in an extremely long series and some perspective on production.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have steadily risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 by 7.6% and 4.2% respectively.

A Bank of England for the 0.0000000000000000000001%

Yesterday saw the announcement that Charlotte Hogg was to be promoted to Deputy Governor and it raised this issue.

Dear Mark Carney does promoting a daughter of a Viscount and a Baroness come under the Bank of England Diversity banner?

It certainly comes under the minority banner as I am no expect on Debretts but do wonder if she is in to coin a phrase, a class of one? Oh and it appears that Kristin Forbes is singing along to “We gotta get out of this place” by Blue Oyster Cult.

So if you hint at an interest-rate rise your current lifespan at the Bank of England appears to be 48 hours!

What do the UK self-employed actually earn?

One of the features of the credit crunch era in the UK has been the rise or growth if you prefer in the numbers of people who are self-employed. This has led to a debate as to whether it has been a voluntary choice or people have felt forced to do it or more likely a combination of the two. The overall effect from it has been to be one of the driving forces behind this recorded by the UK Office for National Statistics.

For September to November 2016, 74.5% of people aged from 16 to 64 were in work, the joint highest employment rate since comparable records began in 1971.

In terms of numbers the situation is as shown below.

self-employed people increased by 133,000 to 4.77 million (15.0% of all people in work)

If we start with the increase in latest figures we see that the rise in self-employment is only just shy of the rise in employees (144,000) . If we look back over the credit crunch era and start from the beginning of 2008 we see that self-employment has risen from 3.847 million to 4.775 million. Putting that another way the rise of 928,000 is some 44% of the overall rise in employment of 2,118,000. Thus the UK “jobs miracle” has seen self employment at the heart of it.

Putting it another way the numbers of self-employed look on their way to pass the numbers of people in public-sector employment.

There were 5.44 million people employed in the public sector for September 2016. This was: 12,000 more than for June 2016: 10,000 fewer than for a year earlier

So we may yet see a cross-over with the only issue being all the changes around how public-sector employment is defined and measured.

The sex issue

There is another quirk in the numbers which goes as follows. In relative terms men are more likely to be self-employed as in there are more than twice as many whereas total employment is only 13% higher. But in the credit crunch era the increase in female self-employment has been higher than the increase in male self-employment meaning that the proportionate increase is much higher. I would be interested in readers thoughts as to why there has been such a shift towards women and girls becoming self-employed?

Pay and wages

This is an issue because the official wages ( strictly average weekly earnings) data omits the self-employed entirely. Actually it also omits smaller businesses as the threshold last time I checked was 20 staff. This poses all sorts of problems especially as the number of selr-employed has been growing.

AWE is based solely on the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS), which covers employees working in businesses with 20 or more employees in all industrial sectors in Great Britain (an adjustment is made for smaller businesses).

Is adjustment the new word for imputed? Anyway this was all reviewed by someone who pops up on here from time to time which is Dr. Martin Weale who if you recall regularly flip-flopped when he was at the Bank of England. The lack of self-employment data did not seem to get a mention from the good Dr. who is now a fellow of the Office for National Statistics in a Yes Minister style move.

New Information

As we lack official data we need to dig and mine for what we can and the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts Manufactures and Commerce has been on the case. It gives us a bleak house style opening.

Bleak headlines such as ‘80% of self-employed people in Britain live in poverty’, and ‘Self-employment used to be the dream. Now it’s a nightmare’ are increasingly common.

Fortunately they decide that for many the outlook is in fact much brighter.

Previous polling by the RSA found that just 19 percent of the self-employed started up in business to escape unemployment — a finding that is repeated across multiple studies.

If we look at the earnings of the self-employed we again start with a troubling view.

A recent study by the Resolution Foundation found that the average pay packet of the self-employed has barely moved in 20 years, while research by the Social Market Foundation shows that half the self-employed now earn below the National Living Wage. The Family Resources Survey appears to corroborate these findings, showing that the median full-time self-employed worker earns a third less than the typical employee,

But there is again a response in that this may be how many want it.

According to the Understanding Society Survey, the self-employed are nearly just as likely as employees to say they are satisfied with their income

The Financial Times points out that it looks like self-employment earnings are indeed lower than otherwise for some at least if this is any guide.

A new report by the RSA (the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) confirms this has come with a price tag for the public purse: 18.8 per cent of the self-employed are in receipt of tax credits — payments to low-income working households — versus 10.6 per cent of employees.

The FT takes this further.

One in seven workers is now self-employed but their typical weekly earnings are only about £240 a week, less than they were 20 years ago after adjusting for inflation.

So about half of the official average weekly earnings figure.The Resolution Foundation put it like this last October.

The recovery in earnings over the last year means that they are almost back to levels last seen in the late-1990s at around £240 a week, though this is still 15 per cent down on 1994-95 returns.

Also the RSA point out that as we have discussed on here many times the self-employed are a very diverse bunch to say the least. They identify some 6 sub-groupings or if you prefer they have four more tribes than Frankie goes to Hollywood. They are Visionaries (22%), locals (13%), classicals (11%), survivors (24%), independents (19%) and dabblers (11%).

If we move beyond pay there are of course other differences with the employed.

There is no access to Statutory Maternity Pay should they become pregnant, nor is there recourse to Statutory Sick Pay should they fall ill at work. Recent government moves to establish a National Living Wage and to auto-enrol workers onto a private pension scheme have passed them by. Insecurity is inherent across all the above tribes and is as much a problem for the high-skilled as it is for the low-skilled.

Comment

Back on the 14th of December I looked at the situation of the self-employed via what has become called the gig economy.

In total I did five shifts, and earned an average of £8.10 per hour. The London living wage is supposed to be £9.75, according to London authorities. The national required living wage is £7.20 but goes to £7.50 in April next year.

This was Izabella Kaminska of the FT and as it is often necessary to be critical of that media organisation let us today look at its good side which is research and writing like this. Indeed as today’s self-employment article is by Sarah O’Connor it is a case of lets hear it for the girls (of the FT). But as the RSA reminds us the gig economy is only one sector of the issue although it gets media prominence. We learn that overall the self-employed earn less than the employed often quite a bit less as we wonder if that is why Dr.Weale and others omitted them from the official data series. However we need to add that some prefer it that way although of course some will not.

Oh and the official wage data also omits smaller companies as I pointed out earlier. How is that going? From the RSA.

Equally impressive has been the growth in the number of micro businesses, defined as firms with zero to nine employees. In 2000 there were 3.5m micro businesses in the UK. Today there are closer to 5.2m. While much of the expansion has been driven by one-person firms, the number of micro businesses with employees has also increased. 8.5 million people in the UK now own or are employed in a micro business.

Oh dear…….

Is the Bank of England really giving us Forward Guidance for an interest-rate rise again?

Yesterday saw a potential element of Groundhog Day or perhaps some truth in the words of the great Yogi Berra.

It’s deja vu all over again

Kristin Forbes of the Bank of England gave a speech in Leeds and the crucial sentence is below.

In my view, if the real economy remains solid and the pickup in the nominal data continues, this could soon suggest an increase in Bank Rate.

This of course reminds us of the period where the Bank of England gave us Forward Guidance when it hinted and sometimes strongly hinted at a Bank Rate rise. An example of this was provided by Governor Mark Carney at Mansion House in the summer of 2014.

The MPC’s current guidance makes clear that we will set monetary policy to meet the inflation target while using up that spare capacity. 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.

That last sentence sent markets into a frenzy as they adjusted to expectations of an interest-rate rise that year. Of course that was misguidance but that did not deter Governor Carney from hammering out the same old song in March 2015.

The Bank expects to return inflation to target within two years and to make limited and gradual increases in Bank Rate over the next three years in order to achieve that in a sustainable manner.

In January of last year he was hinting again albeit in a weaker manner perhaps affected by the accusations that he had been like an “unreliable boyfriend”

That means we’ll do the right thing at the right time on rates……….The journey to monetary policy normalisation is still young.

Actually the journey never started as of course last August the Bank of England folded like a deck chair and not only cut Bank Rate but embarked on more Quantitative Easing including that of Corporate Bonds.

Why does Kristin Forbes think this?

She claims that she expected a stronger economy.

I have consistently voiced concerns about whether the economy would prove stronger than in earlier MPC forecasts – largely due to a scepticism (based on the evidence discussed above) that heightened uncertainty would have as large a drag on growth as predicted in the short-term. But I also could not dismiss the arguments made for why the economy could slow by as much as in the best collective forecast.

Although as you may well have already noted this is classic on the one hand but on the other hand stuff. A bit like at the Inflation Report last week when Governor Carney informed us that interest-rates might go up or down! But in essence the case for an interest-rate rise is based on inflation trends.

On the other side, annual CPI inflation is expected to increase to 2.8% in the second quarter of 2018, and remain elevated so that it still averages 2.5% over 2019. This persistent overshoot of inflation above the 2% target, in and of itself, might provide a basis to tighten monetary policy

She goes further here.

More specifically, in my view, an overshoot of inflation to almost 3% was just tolerable when combined with a substantially larger deterioration in unemployment and demand than expected today.

There is of course a confession there that the Bank of England was wrong about the economic prospects for the UK post the EU leave vote or as some would put it scaremongering. Let us go back to the August 2016 Inflation Report.

The vote to leave the European Union is likely to affect GDP growth through a number of channels…… domestic demand growth is likely to slow over the near term as greater uncertainty and lower confidence drag on activity.

Of course it did not and here is the rub. These forecasting errors caused near panic at the Bank of England and we saw it adopt what it called a “Sledgehammer” of easing. What did our doubting warrior Kristin Forbes actually do?

All members of the Committee agreed that policy stimulus was warranted at this time, and that Bank Rate should be reduced to 0.25% and be supported by a TFS.

As you can see she voted for a Bank Rate cut and the bank subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme or TFS. She did vote against the Corporate Bond QE on her own and with 2 other voted against the extra Gilt purchases. How long did that last? Just over a month as the September 2016 Minutes tell us.

However, given the potential costs to the economy of immediately reversing the programme underway, they would not vote against the continuation of that programme for now. For Kristin Forbes, these arguments also applied to the corporate bond purchase programme.

Simply extraordinary! What was that about folding like a deck chair? It left the Bank of England looking like a bunch of Carney’s cronies at a time when there were genuine doubts. For example I pointed out on here and on the media such as BBC Radio 4’s Moneybox that a powerful stimulus had been applied to the economy from the lower UK Pound. Even worse Kristin herself had given speeches on the impact of changes in the value of the UK Pound on the UK economy.

The impact of exchange rate movements is even greater for the more open United Kingdom. Traded goods and services constitute over 60% of the UK economy. Currency movements directly affect the competitiveness of exports and import-competing domestic firms, and therefore production, employment, and profitability in both of these sectors. About 80% of sales by companies in the FTSE 100 are earned overseas.

So she was aware but did not have the courage of her convictions and beliefs.

Oh and this on forecasting records is woeful.

But I will show you that the Bank of England has actually done quite well

Anybody spot the catch which involves rewriting history?

What is most striking is how well forecasts for the six months after the vote have performed for most real variables – that is – forecasts made before the referendum based on a Remain vote.

Comment

I write this today with a tinge of sadness as I have praised the work and intelligence of Kristin Forbes in her time at the Bank of England. However since August she has behaved as if she has forgotten her principles and intellectual ability and if she was a man we would say she lacks cojones. What is the equivalent phrase for a woman?

Even worse the person who wants to give us forward guidance about an interest-rate rise in a speech acted rather differently only last week. From the Bank of England Minutes.

The Committee voted unanimously in favour of all three propositions.

In fact as there was an £11.6 billion Gilt maturity she voted for more QE which if you look at her claimed views is an even worse decision than her folding last September as we now know that the economy did not collapse in the meantime. Accordingly she is giving us forward guidance that looks like a house of cards built on shifting sands.

Even worse I expect this “stimulus” she has voted for to in fact have a contractionary effect on the UK economy. From the Bank of England Agents earlier today.

Indeed, the average pay settlement was expected to ease in 2017 to 2.2% from 2.7% in 2016

As the Bank of England “looks away now” and not only ignores rising inflation but with its policy easing gives it a push then real wages will fall. Thus the same mistake will be made that was made in 2011 where the so-called stimulus turned into a contraction as inflation rose in that instance to ~5%. That is the saddest part which is that a mistake is on its way to being repeated.

Oh and she credited William Phillips ( of the Phillips Curve) with a Nobel prize he never received presumably confusing him with the physicist of the same name. In a sign of low standards that has now been redacted with no acknowledgement.

Maersk

This has reported troubles today. From MSN news.

A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S halved its dividend Wednesday and reported a massive quarterly net loss as the dire conditions in the shipping industry took a further toll on its business, though it said it expects demand to regain strength this year…….The company’s net loss for the quarter ended Dec. 31 was $2.68 billion, compared with a loss of $2.51 billion a year earlier. Revenue fell 2.6% to $8.89 billion

Why is this a Bank of England issue? Well it has bought the corporate bonds of Maersk ignoring this issue.

The Danish shipping-and-oil conglomerate’s

Imagine having to explain to the UK taxpayer that you have lost their money supporting a Danish company in a policy you enacted after they had voted to break away from some European involvement?