Will the rally in the Turkish Lira last?

This week has brought a pretty much text book example of what can happen when a currency is in distress as well as a reminder of perspective. Let me start with the trigger for some changes which came last weekend.

The shock departure of finance minister Berat Albayrak, who is President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, and central bank chief Murat Uysal over the weekend gave the lira its best day in over two years on Monday.

Investors hope their successors will deliver another of the country’s pirouettes, where long-suppressed interest rates are lifted dramatically, providing the currency with some much-needed relief. ( Reuters)

There is a lot going on there. But let’s start with a possible end or at least reduction in cronyism. There we have an unusual mention of a Lira rally followed by a curious mention of “long-suppressed interest-rates”. That depends on your perspective because in these times the rate below is rather extraordinary as it is.

keep the policy rate (one-week repo auction rate) constant at 10.25 percent,

Back on October 12th we noted a change in swap rates to 11.75% to try and support the Lira but in what may seem extraordinary a 1.5% move in these circumstances is not much. The real issue when an interest-rate is trying to support a currency is the gap between it and others. This week we have looked at an interest-rate maybe reaching 1% in the US ( ten-year bond yield) and Japan where we are around 0% so there is quite a gap. Even those are high relative to the -0.5% of the Euro and the around -0.5% of the German ten-year yield and of course there is a lot of trade between the Euro area and Turkey.

The textbook

Put mostly simply a currency is helped by an interest-rate advantage as investors include it in their calculations of expected capital gains. The problem in practice is that in times of real distress the expected currency falls are much larger than any likely interest-rate increase. I provided an example of this back on the 12th of October.

Because of the economic links the exchange-rate with the Euro is significant. Indeed some Euro area banks must be mulling their lending to Turkish borrowers as well as Euro area exporters struggling with an exchange-rate of 9.32. That is some 43% lower than a year ago.

So even with a pick-up of the order of 11% you have lost 32% over the past 12 months.

However this can change rapidly because the moment there is any sort of stability the carry is suddenly rather attractive. After all you can get more in the Turkish Lira in a month than most places in a year and in some cases you can do that in a week. This leads to the situation suddenly reversing and giving us this.

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s lira firmed on Friday to its strongest level in seven weeks, notching a weekly gain of some 12%, after President Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to adopt a new economic model raised expectations of a sharp rate hike from the central bank.

So we have seen a jump higher in the Lira with expectations now of this.

The central bank is seen raising its policy rate next week to 15% from 10.25%, a Reuters poll showed. Erdogan’s speech was viewed as implying he would condone such a hike.

So the expected carry is even higher and for once there is a capital gain. Some will like this although I have to confess if I had been long the Lira this week I would be considering the advice of the Steve Miller Band.

Hoo-hoo-hoo, go on, take the money and run
Go on, take the money and run
Hoo-hoo-hoo, go on, take the money and run
Go on, take the money and run

As whilst there may be changes there are icebergs waiting for this particular Titanic.

In contrast to previous episodes of lira turmoil, the central bank is estimated to have burnt through more than $100 billion of reserves this year, leaving it effectively around $36 billion overdrawn on those reserves, according to UBS.

The central bank has not commented on analysis suggesting its reserves are ‘net’ negative, though it has said its buffers fluctuate naturally in times of stress. ( Reuters)

So “buffers fluctuate in times of stress” can be added to my financial lexicon for these times.

The economy

There has been some better economic news this morning especially from consumption.

There was better news for retail sales in the country on Friday. The volume of goods purchased by consumers increased by an annual 7.8 percent in September after 6 percent growth in August, the statistics institute said. The monthly increase was 2.8 percent, more than three times the August figure of 0.9 percent. ( Ahval)

Also industrial production rose although Ahval is rather downbeat about it.

Industrial output in the country expanded at the slowest pace on a monthly basis since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March, official data published on Friday showed. Production increased by 1.7 percent month-on-month in September compared with 3.4 percent in August and 8.4 percent in July……..Manufacturing of non-durable goods in the country grew by just 0.6 percent month-on-month in September, the Turkish Statistical Institute said. Production of intermediate goods expanded by 0.7 percent.

There is a catch though in that the better retail sales news rather collides with one of the ongoing economic problems which is the trade deficit.On Wednesday the central bank ( CBRT) updated us about this.

The current account posted USD 2,364 million deficit compared to USD 2,828 million surplus observed in the same month of 2019, bringing the 12-month rolling deficit to USD 27,539 million.

So the passing twelve months have brought a switch from a monthly surplus to deficit and we see that the annual picture is the same. The driving forces of this are below.

This development is mainly driven by the net outflow of USD 3,709 million in the goods item increasing by USD 3,044 million, as well as the net inflow of USD 1,692 million in services item decreasing by USD 2,869 million compared to the same month of the previous year.

One of the issues of economic theory is applying theory to practice. But the expected J-Curve improvement in the trade balance has collided with another currency plunge starting the clock all over again. It has created quite a mess as one clear impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been on a strength for Turkey which is tourism. Back on October the 12th I noted the numbers for this.

 If we look at the year so far we see this is confirmed by a surplus of US $4.15 billion as opposed to one of US $19.17 billion in the same period in 2019. Another way of looking at this is that 3,225,033 visitors are recorded as opposed to 13,349,256 last year.

Next at a time of currency crisis comes inflation as imports become more expensive.

A rise in general index was realized in CPI (2003=100) on the previous month by 2.13%, on December of the previous year by 10.64%, on same month of the previous year by 11.89% and on the twelve months moving averages basis by 11.74% in October 2020. ( Turkey Statistics)

That may look bad enough but there are two additional kickers. The first is that this is on the back of previous inflation and the second is that far from responding wages have gone the other way putting quite a squeeze on living-standards.

Gross wages-salaries index including industry, construction, trade-services sectors decreased by 8.4% in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same quarter of the previous year. When sub-sectors are examined; industrial sector decreased by 5.2%, construction sector decreased by 8.6% and trade-services sector decreased by 10.5%. ( Turkey Statistics)

Comment

I promised at the beginning to give some perspective and we get some from looking at the exchange-rate on October 12th which was 7.87 versus the US Dollar and considered a crisis then and the 7.67 as I type this. So better but not by a lot as the rally memes are compared to the 8.58 of last Friday. Thus we have a move for financial markets but for the real economy not so much. It can be looked at in terms of what used to be described as the Misery Index where you add inflation to the unemployment rate which gives you a number around 25% or very bad.

The CBRT looks to have rather boxed itself in on an increase in interest-rates to 15% next week. But whilst it may provide some currency support for a time these are Catch-22 style moves. Because such an interest-rate will provide yet another brake to the domestic economy just at a time it can least afford it. After all whilst a vaccine provides hope for the return of mass tourism in the summer of 2021 that is a while away and is still just a hope, albeit a welcome one. Then there is the vaccine hopium of this week as we mull how much of this week’s Lira rise was due to it?

 

 

A curious treatment of inflation has knocked more than 3% off UK GDP

This morning has brought us up to date on the UK economy in the third quarter of this year. These days we get the numbers with a bit more of a delay than in the past and in this confused pandemic period our official statisticians must be grateful for it. It gives them more time to check matters and collect a fuller set of quarterly data.

Following two consecutive quarters of contraction, UK gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have grown by a record 15.5% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020. This is the largest quarterly expansion in the UK economy since Office for National Statistics (ONS) quarterly records began in 1955.

So we see quite a bounce back, but it is also true that momentum was lost.

The monthly path of GDP in Quarter 3 2020 reveals that there has been a slowdown of growth in August and September as momentum has eased through the quarter. GDP increased by 6.3% in July, driven by accommodation and food services as lockdown restrictions were eased.

That was the peak followed by this.

GDP grew by 2.2% in August, driven by accommodation and food services because of the combined impact of easing lockdown restrictions and the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, as well as growth in the accommodation industry as international travel restrictions boosted domestic “staycations”.

Of course, there is a different perspective to the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme as we mull how much it contributed to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and thus reduced GDP later on. Fortunately we continued to grow in September as some thought we might not.

In September, GDP further slowed to 1.1% where professional, scientific and technical activities had the largest contribution and legal activities, accounting and advertising saw strong growth after a muted August.

Actually September saw a swing back in something I drew attention to in the second quarter data where the UK statisticians treated education in a really rather odd way. From August 12th.

The implied deflator strengthened in the second quarter, increasing by 6.2%. This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which increased by 32.7% in Quarter 2 2020.

That as I pointed out at the time was really quite bizarre and led to around 5% being subtracted from UK GDP. This time around they put some of it back as I note this in the September detail.

Education also had a large positive contribution in September as schools made further advances in returning to a level of teaching similar to before the lockdown started on 23 March 2020, primarily through increased attendance.

The state sector in GDP

This has long been a problem in GDP numbers which rely on prices and therefore hit trouble in areas where you do not have them.With much of UK education and health provision being state provided there is not a price mechanism and instead we see all sorts of often dubious assumptions. As a reminder I recall Pete Comley telling me that he had looked into the inflation measure for this sector ( called a deflator), when I provided some technical advice for his book on inflation  and felt they simply made the numbers up. Well in that vein remember the deflator which surged by 32.7%, well in Question of Sport style what happened next? We get a hint from the nominal data.

Nominal GDP increased by 12.6% in Quarter 3 2020, its largest quarterly expansion on record

So a 2.9% gap between it and the real GDP number with this causing it.

The implied deflator fell by 2.5% in the third quarter, the first quarterly decline since Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2015. This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which fell by 7.0% in Quarter 3 2020.

So we got a bit under a quarter of it back. The explanation would have been described by the Alan Parsons Project as Psychobabble.

This decrease occurred because the volume of government activity in the third quarter increased at a much greater rate than nominal government expenditure. This is partly because of the unwinding in some of the movements that occurred in the second quarter, which saw a fall in the volume of government activity at the same time as an increase in government expenditure in nominal terms.

This really is a bit of a dog’s dinner.

 In education, the large fall in the volume of education activity in the second quarter followed by the large increase in the third quarter help explain the most recent quarterly movement in the implied deflator.

The same happened to health.

In the third quarter, nominal spending on health was largely unchanged, while volumes increased, which has impacted upon the growth rate of the implied deflator in the third quarter.

Applying normal metrics to abnormal times has them singing along with Kylie Minogue.

I’m spinning around, move out of my way
I know you’re feeling me ’cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down, I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me ’cause you like it like this.

We can compare this with others to see the scale of what has happened here. We do not have numbers for the full Euro area but Germany for example saw its deflator rise by 0.5% in the second quarter and then returned to a slightly lower level in the third quarter. So very different. France saw more of a move with its deflator rising by 2.4% but has now reduced it to below the previous level. Spain saw barely any change at all

A Trade Surplus

The UK finds itself maybe not quite in unknown territory but along the way.

In the 12 months to September 2020, the total trade balance, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, increased by £35.9 billion to a surplus of £5.2 billion.

Yes you did see the word surplus which is a rare beast for annual data for the UK and we can continue the theme.

The UK total trade surplus, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, decreased £3.4 billion to £4.2 billion in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020, as imports grew by £17.3 billion and exports grew by a lesser £13.8 billion.

However the theme does hit rougher water with the latest monthly data.

The total trade balance for September 2020, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, decreased by £3.6 billion to a deficit of £0.6 billion; imports increased by £3.6 billion while exports remained flat.

Comment

The pandemic has created all sorts of issues but in terms of economics we find ourselves here, or rather this is where we were at the end of the third quarter.

the level of GDP in the UK is still 9.7% below where it was at the end of 2019. Compared with the same quarter a year ago, the UK economy fell by 9.6%.

In spite of the media obsession with recessions this is a depression and we should call it such. Looking ahead we know that things will be depressed by the four week lockdown we are presently in meaning the economy looks set to shrink again in this quarter. There are some newer official surveys for October which suggest we had lost more growth momentum as restrictions began again.

BICs for 5-18 October 2020, found that of businesses currently trading, 45% reported their turnover had decreased below what is normally expected for October, compared to 48% reporting decreases in September……While it is not clear exactly how strong a relationship there is between GDP and BICs, the business survey data suggests the outlook has improved only modestly, if at all, as we moved into October. ( @jathers_ONS )

However if we return to the overall pattern for 2020 we see that a decision by the Office for National Statistics has depressed the way it records UK GDP and that it is ongoing with less than a quarter being reversed. This makes international comparisons very difficult especially for those unaware of the situation. We need I think to add at least 3% to the UK number when we try to compare internationally.

On a statistical level I regularly find the ONS justifying things on the basis of “international standards” so it needs in my opinion to explain why it has taken such a different path this time.

 

 

 

 

 

What are the consequences of bond yields rising further?

This week has brought an unusual development for the credit crunch era. Let me illustrate with an example of the reverse and indeed what we have come to regard as the new normal from last week.

AMSTERDAM, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Italy’s five-year bond yield turned negative for the first time on Thursday as uncertainty from the U.S. election supported government bonds in Europe.

Prima facie that seems insane but of course as I will explain later it is more complicated than that. That is for best when we add in this from Marketwatch on Monday.

Investors now pay Greece for the privilege of owning its debt, an incredible turnaround from its securities being the source of global financial instability a decade ago.

Greece’s three-year debt turned negative on Friday, and then the country received more good news after the surprise decision by Moody’s Investors Service on Friday night to upgrade the nation’s debt. The upgrade, from Ba3 from B1 previously, still leaves Greek debt in junk market territory, and three notches away from becoming investment grade.

The yield on Greek 10-year debt TMBMKGR-10Y, 0.834% fell 4 basis points to 0.77%. In 2012, the yield on Greek 10-year debt surpassed 35%.

Amazing in its own way and well done to investors who got their timing right in these markets. Although a large Grazie is due to Mario Draghi who set things in motion.

US Treasury Bonds

However there has been something of a contrary signal from the US bond market. There was a hint of something going on in what is called the Long Bond which is the thirty-year maturity. Some of you may recall at the height of the pandemic panic in financial markets in March the yield here dipped below 1%. This was driven by two factors.The first was a move to a perceived safe haven in times of trouble and US Treasury Bonds are AAA rated as well as being in the world’s reserve currency. Also there would have been some front-running of the expected bond buying or QE from the US Federal Reserve. It did indeed charge in like the US Cavalry with purchases at the peak of US $75 billion per day.

But around 2 weeks ago the mood music was rather different as the debate was then about whether the yield would break above the 1.6% level that market traders felt was significant. As the election results began to come in it did so and now we find it at 1.75%.

If we switch to the benchmark ten-year ( called the Treasury Note) we see a slightly delayed pattern but also a move higher. In fact it gave us a head fake as the initial response to the election was a rally leading to lower yields and we noted it at 0.72%. But there were ch-ch-changes on the way and now we see it is 0.96%. So perhaps on the cusp of what is called a big figure change should it make 1%.

Why does this matter?

The first reason is for the US economy itself and there is a direct line in from mortgage rates.

Over the course of the past few days, 10yr yields are up roughly 0.2%.  This time around, the mortgage market hasn’t been able to avoid taking its lumps with the average lender now quoting 30yr fixed rates that are 0.125% higher compared to last Thursday.    ( Mortgage Daily News)

The housing market has been juiced by ever lower and indeed record low mortgage rates up until now. The change will feed into other personal and corporate borrowing as well.

Next comes its role as the world’s biggest bond market with some US $21.1 billion and of course rising at play here. I will come back to the domestic issues but there is a worldwide role here.For example back in my days in the UK Gilt ( bond) market the beginning of the day was checking what the US market had done overnight before pricing in any UK changes. That theme will be in play around the world and in fact on spite of the Italian and Greek moves above we have seen it.

For the US there is the domestic issue of debt costs. These have been a pack of dogs that have not barked but with the increases in the size of the bond market and hence higher levels of borrowing and refinancing smaller moves now matter. We know that President Elect Biden wants to spend more and looked at this on the 5th of this month although there remains doubt over how much of it he will be able to get through what looks likely to be a Republican controlled Senate. Even before this here are the projections of the Congressional Budget Office.

Debt. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public is projected to rise sharply, to 98 percent of GDP in 2020, compared with 79 percent at the end of 2019 and 35 percent in 2007, before the start of the previous recession. It would exceed 100 percent in 2021 and increase to 107 percent in 2023, the highest in the nation’s history.

Best I think to take that as a broad sweep as there are a lot of moving parts in the equations used.

Yield Curve Control

This is, as you can see, not going so well! We have looked at the Japanese experience as recently as Monday and in the US it would be a case of recycling a wartime policy.

In early 1942, shortly after the United States declared war, the Fed effectively abdicated its responsibility for monetary policy despite its concern about inflation and focused instead on helping the Treasury finance the conflict. After a series of negotiations with the Treasury, the Fed agreed to peg the Treasury-bill yield at 0.375 percent, to cap the critical long-term government bond yield at 2.5 percent, and to limit all other government securities’ yields in a consistent manner.  ( Cleveland Fed)

The Long Bond yield is still quite some distance from the 2.5% of back then but as I have already explained the situation is I think more exposed now.

Oh and there was a concerning consequence to this.

The Treasury, however, did not wish to relinquish its control over Fed monetary policy and only acquiesced to small increases in short-term interest rates starting in July 1947, after inflation had been hovering around 18 percent for a year. The Treasury believed that it could not possibly finance its unprecedented levels of public debt at reasonable interest rates without the Fed’s continued participation in the government-securities market; in its view, only unrealistically high interest rates could coax enough private-sector savings to finance the debt.

Comment

Let me now switch to what we might expect if we had free markets. The extra borrowing we have looked at would be pushing yields higher. Another influence would be the fact the real ( after inflation) bond yields are heavily negative unless you think US inflation will be less than 1% per year for the next ten years. Even then it is not much of a return, especially compared to the 5% in one day some equity markets have just provided. The reality is that bond markets provide the prospect of capital gains rather than interest right now.

Also the modern era provides something very different from free markets as the US Federal Reserve will be thinking at what point will it intervene? Or to be more precise at what point will it do so on a larger scale as it is already buying some US $80 billion per month of US treasury bonds. It was not so long ago that such amounts were considered to be a lot. The path to Yield Curve Control may be via bond yield rises now followed by its response. So the real question is what level will they think is too much? This quickly becomes an estimate of what they think the US government can afford? As they have become an agent of fiscal policy again.

 

UK hours worked have fallen 12% since the Covid-19 pandemic began

This morning has brought the focus back on the UK and the labour market release has brought some better news. Sadly the unemployment numbers are meaningless right now so we need to switch to the hours worked data for any realistic view.

Between April to June 2020 and July to September 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK saw a record increase of 83.1 million, or 9.9%, to 925.0 million hours.

Average actual weekly hours worked saw a record increase of 2.7 hours on the quarter to 28.5 hours.

This is our first real look at a fullish set of data for the third quarter as we do not get the Gross Domestic Product or GDP numbers until Thursday. Will they also show a bounce of around 10%? Our official statisticians seem to have lost a bit of faith in their own figures as they quote the Markit PMI as back up.

The IHS Markit states that the recovery in business activity, which continued across the manufacturing and service sectors in September 2020, reflects the record increase in total hours worked on the quarter to September.

Perhaps they are unaware of the reduction in credibility for that series. However we can sweep this section up by noting that whilst we have much better news we are in a situation described by Foreigner.

But I’m a long, long way from home

That is because the numbers are still 12% below the pre pandemic peak of 1,052.2 million hours.

Redundancies

We had feared a rise in these, and sadly they have been coming.

Redundancies increased in July to September 2020 by 195,000 on the year, and a record 181,000 on the quarter, to a record high of 314,000 (Figure 3). The annual increase was the largest since February to April 2009.

In terms of what they tell us? We have an issue because we were seeing rises ahead of the further wind down and then end of the Furlough scheme which then saw a U-Turn extension to March. So much for another form of Forward Guidance. So the real message here is somewhat confused.

Using the tax system

This is a new innovation designed to give more timely data and to that extent it helps as we get a signal for October.

Early estimates for October 2020 indicate that the number of payrolled employees fell by 2.6% compared with October 2019, which is a fall of 763,000 employees……..In October 2020, 33,000 fewer people were in payrolled employment when compared with September 2020 and 782,000 fewer people were in payrolled employment when compared with March 2020.

These numbers have proved useful for a direction of travel but again due to the furlough scheme are much too low in scale. Also the wages numbers are best filed in the recycling bin.

Early estimates for October 2020 indicate that median monthly pay increased by 4.6%, compared with the same period of the previous year.

What they are most likely telling us in that job losses have been concentrated in the lower paid which has skewed the series.

Unemployment

Sadly the BBC seems not to be aware that these numbers are way of the mark and so are actively misleading.

The UK’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, up from 4.5%, as coronavirus continued to hit the jobs market.

The reason for that is the furlough scheme.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks show that the number of people temporarily away from work rose to around 7.9 million people in April 2020 but has fallen to around 3.9 million people in September 2020. There were also around 210,000 people away from work because of the pandemic and receiving no pay in September 2020; this has fallen from around 658,000 in April 2020.

Following international guidelines has led us up the garden path.

Under this definition, employment includes both those who are in work during the reference period and those who are temporarily away from a job.

Wages

We can now switch to the price of labour where according to out official statisticians there has also been some better news.

Annual growth in employee pay continued to strengthen as more employees returned to work from furlough, but pay growth was still subdued as some workers remained furloughed and employers were paying less in bonuses…..Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) among employees for the three months July to September 2020 increased to 1.3%, and growth in regular pay (excluding bonuses) increased to 1.9%.

As you can see below there were hard times still for some sectors.

During the early summer months, the industry sectors accommodation and food services and construction had seen the largest falls in pay, down more than 10% in April to June; in July to September, both recovered some loss although their average total pay growth remained down, at negative 1.8% and negative 3.9% respectively.

Actually the construction numbers seem curious as in my part of London it all seems to have got going again, but as ever London may not be a good guide.

We can see who is doing relatively well by switching to the most recent single month numbers which are for September. Here we see public-sector total pay was up 4.4% on a year ago. Also that the services sector has risen to 3,5%. Switching to manufacturing we see that annual growth has finally become positive but is at a mere 0.6%.

The improvement has followed through into the real wages data at least according to the Office for National Statistics.

In real terms, total pay in July to September grew at a faster rate than inflation, at positive 0.5%, and regular pay growth in real terms was also positive, at 1.2%.

In terms of actual pay those numbers mean this.

For September 2020, average total pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at £553 per week in nominal terms. When expressed in real terms (constant 2015 prices), the figure in September 2020 was £509 per week, notably higher than the £488 per week estimated in June 2020.

It may be notably higher than June but is still below the pre credit crunch peak of £522 for the constant price series from February 2008. Actually that number looks a bit of a freak or more formally an outlier but even if we discount it we are still below some of the others from around then.

Comment

We find ourselves again mulling the way that conventional economic metrics have failed us. To be specific we see that underemployment measures are much more useful that unemployment ones as a 12% fall in hours worked gives a much more realistic picture than a 4.8% unemployment rate. In the short-term the improvement in the situation will clash with the November lock down and thus get worse. Although with the Hopium provided by the positive vaccine news from Pfizer there are now more realistic hopes for a better 2021.

Switching to the wages numbers I think there is a compositional effect making them also unreliable or rather more unreliable than usual. We even have an official denial to confirm this.

 that is, if the profile (percentage within each industry) of employee jobs had not changed between July to September 2019 and July to September 2020, the estimates of growth in total pay and regular pay would have been 0.1% lower than reported in this bulletin.

In my opinion the numbers are not accurate enough to claim that. So we know more but much less than some try to claim.

By the way those pushing the 4.8%  unemployment rate ( and thereby believing it) surely they should be pushing for the Bank of England to raise interest-rates as it is well below the levels it was supposed to?

 

It is party time at The Tokyo Whale as the Japanese stock market surges

Sometimes you have to wait for things and be patient and this morning has seen an example of that. If we look east to the and of the rising sun we see that it has been a while since it was at the level below.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index closed on Friday at its highest level since November 1991 as individual investors bought up the shares of blue-chip companies at the expense of smaller, more speculative groups. The benchmark, which has been described by some analysts as a “barbarous relic” but remains the favourite yardstick of Japanese retail investors, was propelled to its 29-year high by resurgent stocks like Sony, SoftBank and Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing.

That is from the Financial Times over the weekend and its Japanese owners will no doubt be pointing out that it should be covering this morning’s further rally.

Investing.com – Japan stocks were higher after the close on Monday, as gains in the Paper & PulpRailway & Bus and Real Estate sectors led shares higher.

At the close in Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 rose 2.12% to hit a new 5-year high.

Curiously Investing.com does not seem to have spotted that we have not been here for much longer than 5 years. The market even challenged 25,000 but did not quite make it.

There was something familiar about this but also something new as the FT explained.

Mizuho Securities chief equity strategist Masatoshi Kikuchi said that the Nikkei’s move was driven by individual investors using leverage to magnify their potential returns and losses — a much larger and more active group since the Covid-19 pandemic restricted millions to their homes and prompted many to open online trading accounts.

The Japanese are savers and investors hence the Mrs. Watanabe stereotype but the gearing here reminds us of the Robinhood style investors in the US as well.

The Tokyo Whale

As ever if we look below the surface there has been much more going on and we can start at the Bank of Japan which regular readers will be aware has been buying equities for a while now.Also it increased its purchases in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in two ways. It did not just buy on down days and it also increased its clip size.

For the time being, it would actively purchase ETFs and J-REITs so that their amounts outstanding would increase
at annual paces with the upper limit of about 12 trillion yen and about 180 billion yen, respectively. ( Bank of Japan Minutes)

In October it bought 70 billion Yen’s worth on six occasions and on three days in a row from the 28th. If we recall that world stock markets were falling back then we find ourselves noting the most extreme version of a central bank put option for equity markets we have seen so far. Indeed this is confirmed in the Minutes.

With a view to lowering risk premia of asset prices in an appropriate manner, the Bank might increase or
decrease the amount of purchases, depending on market conditions.

What is appropriate and how do they decide? This morning’s summary of opinions release suggests that some at the Bank of Japan are troubled by all of this. The emphasis is mine.

It is necessary to continue with active purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and Japan real estate investment trusts (J-REITs) for the time being. However, given that monetary easing is expected to be prolonged, the Bank should further look for ways to enhance sustainability of the policy measure so that it will not face difficulty in conducting such purchases when a lowering of risk premia of asset prices is absolutely necessary.

As “monetary easing” has been going on for around 3 decades now it has already been very prolonged. I wonder on what grounds they would regard it as “absolutely necessary” to reduce the value of its large equity holdings. As of the end of October it had bought some 34,771,759,339,000 Yen of it.

Rather curiously the Bank of Japan share price has not responded to the rise in value of its equity holdings. Yes it was up 1.9% today to 26,780 but that is a long way short of the 220,000 or so of November 1991.

The Bank is a juridical person established based on the Bank of Japan Act. Its stated capital is 100 million yen. The issued share capital is owned by the government (55 percent) and the private sector (45 percent).

Abenomics

There is something of an irony in this landmark being reached after Prime Minister Abe has left office. Because as well as the explicit equity buying effort above there were a lot of implicit boosts for the equity market from what became called Abenomics. Back in November 2012 I put it like this.

Also the Japanese stock market has had a good couple of days in response to this and has got back above the 9000 level on the Nikkei 225 at a time when other stock markets have fallen.

As you can see the market has been singing along to Chic in the Abenomics era.

Good times, these are the good times
Leave your cares behind, these are the good times
Good times, these are the good times
Our new state of mind, these are the good times
Happy days are here again
The time is right for makin’ friends.

We have seen interest-rates reduced into negative territory and the Bank of Japan gorge itself on Japanese Government Bonds both of which make any equity dividends more attractive. Also there was the Abenomics “arrow” designed to reduce the value of the Japanese Yen and make Japan’s exporters more competitive. Often the Japanese stock market is the reverse of that day’s move in the Yen but in reverse so Yen down means stick market up.

The latter gave things quite a push at first as the exchange-rate to the US Dollar went from 78 into the mid 120s for a while. However in more recent times the Yen has been mimicking The Terminator by saying “I’ll be back” and is at 103.60 as I type this. There is a lot of food for thought here on the impact of QE on a currency but for our purposes today we see that the currency is weaker but by much less than one might have thought.

Comment

The Japanese stock market has recently received boost from other influences. For example what is becoming called the “Biden Bounce” has seen the Nikkei 225 rally by around 8% in a week. Also this morning’s data with the leading indicator for September rising to 92.9 will have helped. But also we have seen an extraordinary effort by the Japanese state to get the market up over the past 8 years. In itself it has been a success but it does raise problems.

The first is that Japan’s economic problems have not gone away as a result of this. Even if we out the Covid pandemic to one side the economy was struggling in response to the Consumption Tax rise of last autumn. The official objective of raising the inflation rate has got no nearer and the “lost decade” rumbles on. The 0.1% have got a lot wealthier though.

Then there is the issue of an exit strategy, because if The Tokyo Whale stops buying and the market drops there are two problems. First for the value of the Bank of Japan’s holdings and next for the economy itself. So as so often we find ourselves singing along with Elvis Presley.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Meanwhile on a personal level I recall these days as I worked for Barings pre collapse.

Baring Nikkei options in the money now! ( @WildboyMarkets)

Indeed I had an indirect role as there were 4 of us on the futures and options desk and we feared trouble and left. So they promoted Nick Leeson from the back office and what happened next became famous even leading to a film.

Podcast

 

The UK house price boom is facing higher mortgage rates

This morning will have brought sounds of high excitement and smiles to the Bank of England. It would have been too early to raid its excellent wine cellar but a liveried flunkey will have brought its best coffee to Governor Andrew Bailey as he peruses the latest news from the Halifax on UK house prices.

The average UK house price now tops a quarter of a million pounds (£250,547) for the first time in history, as annual
house price inflation rose to 7.5% in October, its highest rate since mid-2016. Underlying the pace of recent price
growth in the market is the 5.3% gain over the past four months, the strongest since 2006.

Governor Bailey will no doubt issue a satisfied smile and may mimic the end of the television series Frasier which had an “I did that” at the end. He may even be pleased that he has helped to do this without getting a mention from the Halifax.

This level of price inflation is underpinned by unusually high levels of demand, with latest industry figures showing
home-buyer mortgage approvals at their highest level since 2007, as transaction levels continue to be supercharged
by pent-up demand as a result of the spring/summer lockdown, as well as the Chancellor’s waiver on stamp duty for properties up to £500,000.

I find the “pent-up demand” bit curious as surely there will also have been pent-up supply? Bur we do see signs of a an active market.

HMRC Monthly property transactions data shows a fifth consecutive monthly rise in UK home sales
in September. UK seasonally adjusted residential transactions in September 2020 were 98,010 – up by
21.3% from August. The latest quarterly transactions (July-September 2020) were approximately 63.6%
higher than the preceding three months (April-June 2020). Year on year, transactions were 0.7% lower than
September 2019 (2.4% higher on a non seasonally adjusted basis). (Source: HMRC, seasonally-adjusted
figures)

Although I do note that whilst we have seen high rates of monthly growth it only brings us back to around what were last years levels. The picture on mortgage approvals is more clear-cut.

Mortgage approvals rose in September to the highest level seen in 13 years. The latest Bank of England figures show the number of mortgages approved to finance house purchases, rose by 7% from August to 91,454, down from a rise of 27% reported in August. Year-on-year, the September figure was 39% above September 2019.

Monetary Policy

We can now switch to what I call the Talking Heads question. From Once In A Lifetime.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

The Bank of England’s role in us getting here started with the interest-rate cuts in response to the credit crunch. Then as they realised how interest-rates actually worked they added on bond buying in the form of what is called QE to reduce longer-term interest-rates too. It is easy to forget now but this did not do the trick for house prices so in the summer of 2012 we got what the then Chancellor George Osborne called credit easing. This was the Funding for Lending Scheme where the Bank of England channeled cheap cash ( Bank Rate was 0.5%) to the banks so that they did not have to indulge in the no doubt tiresome business of competing for depositors.

This was a crucial change in 2 respects. The first is access to funds at Bank Rate but in many ways more crucial is the access to large amounts of funds. So a quantity issue. This allowed banks to reduce mortgage-rates and I recall pointing out that mortgage-rates fell by 0.9% quite quickly and the Bank of England later claimed they fell by up to 2%.

Bringing this up to now we have the Term Funding Scheme operating that role and in its original form it has supplied £70.6 billion and the new pandemic era version has supplied some £49.6 billion. So as you can see the Bank of England keeps the banks supplied with cash and these days it can get it as cheap as the present Bank Rate of 0.1%. On this road we see that the cut in Bank Rate is not especially significant in itself these days but comes more into play via the Term Funding Scheme.

Next as more people moved to mortgages with fixed interest-rates ( around 92% of new mortgages last time I checked) QE also came back into play as an influence on mortgage rates via its impact on UK bond or Gilt yields. So this part of yesterday’s announcement matters.

The Committee voted unanimously for the Bank of England to continue with the existing programme of £100 billion of UK government bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, and also for the Bank of England to increase the target stock of purchased UK government bonds by an additional £150 billion, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, to take the total stock of government bond purchases to £875 billion.

There are issues with the stock but for our purposes today in looking at the mortgage market it is the flow ( presently £4.4 billion a week) that matters. It has helped keep my proxy for fixed-rates, which is the five-year bond yield negative since mid June now apart from one brief flicker. As I type this it is -0.06%.

Comment

So the theme starts singing along with Steve Winwood for house prices.

I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again

However all the government and Bank of England pumping has the problem that it means that they are ever more socially distanced from wages and earnings. So many are on 80% wages from the furlough scheme and real wages have been falling. There has to be some sort of reckoning here in the end. As well there are signs that the pumping system is creaking.

As you can see mortgage rates for those with lower amounts of equity or if you prefer high loan to value numbers have risen quite sharply. So the heat is on especially for those with only 5% equity where they have gone above 4% which really rather contradicts all the official rhetoric of low interest-rates.  So I see trouble ahead which to be frank I welcome. I do not wish anyone ill in financial terms but we do need lower house prices to help first-time buyers.

Meanwhile something I have long warned about looks to have come true this week.

The Bank of England is investigating a potential leak of Thursday’s QE announcement ( @fergalob)

I do like the description of it being in The Sun as a “potential leak”……

What are the economic policies of Joe Biden?

We find ourselves in unusual but not completely unfamiliar territory as the US election has yet to declare a result.As we stand Joe Biden looks most likely to win although any such win seems set to go straight to the courts. But we need to address what changes he plans for US economic policy? The first step according to Moodys will be more fiscal expansionism.

Vice President Biden has proposed a wide
range of changes to the tax code and government spending. In total, he is calling for $4.1
trillion in tax increases and an additional $7.3
trillion in government spending over the next
decade.

Moodys have taken the current zeitgeist in favour of fiscal policy and projected this impact from it.

The government’s deficits will be
$3.2 trillion larger on a static basis and $2.6
trillion on a dynamic basis, after accounting
for the benefits to the budget of the stronger
economy resulting from his policies.

Of course the “stronger economy” mentioned is an opinion and we have seen in my time here quite a shift in the establishment view on fiscal policy. A decade ago the views was that a contractionary fiscal policy could expand the economy whereas now we are told an expansionary one will. There has been a shift in the cost of borrowing which I will look at in more detail later, but even so there has been more than a little flip-flopping.

Detailed Proposals

Interestingly the fiscal expansionism comes with tax increases for some.

The largest source of new tax revenue in
the vice president’s plan comes from increasing taxes on corporations. Of the $4.1 trillion
in total tax revenue collected under his plan
over the next decade on a static basis, more
than half comes from higher corporate taxes.
The bulk of this results from an increase from
21% to 28% in the top marginal tax rate paid
by corporations.

So he is reversing half of the Trump tax cuts in this area. Next comes a tax on higher earners.

Another large source of new tax revenue in
Biden’s plan is the 12.6% Social Security payroll tax on annual earnings of more than $400,000.
The current earnings cap subject to the payroll tax is almost $138,000………..This change will put
the Social Security trust fund on much sounder
financial footing, and it will raise close to $1
trillion in revenue over the next decade on a
static basis, about one-third of the total tax
revenue raised under Biden’s plan

The theme is of taxing the rich and wealthy and which continues with what might in the past have been called a soak the rich plan.

The vice president would roll back
the tax cuts that those earning more than
$400,000 received under Trump’s TCJA, tax
capital gains and dividend income like ordinary
income for those making more than $1 million
in total income.

Spending

Here we are looking at a Spend! Spend! Spend! plan where the extra revenue above is spent and then some.

His proposal calls for additional spending of $7.9 trillion on a static basis, including on infrastructure, education, the social safety net, and healthcare, with the bulk of the
spending slated to happen during his term as
president in an effort to generate more jobs

Those who bemoan America’s infrastructure should welcome this effort.

Of all of Biden’s spending initiatives, the
most expansive is on infrastructure. On a
static basis, he would increase such spending
by $2.4 trillion for the decade—all of it to
be spent during his term.

Education too will be a beneficiary.

Biden is also calling for a large increase in
an array of educational initiatives. He proposes
to spend $1.9 trillion over 10 years on a static
basis on pre-K, K-12 and higher education (see
Table 3). Attending a public college or university would be tuition-free for children in families with incomes of less than $125,000.

I find the end to tuition fees for some to be intriguing as it is a reversal of the past direction of travel. Also there is this.

The social safety net would meaningfully
expand under Biden (see Table 4). He would
spend an additional $1.5 trillion over 10 years
on a static basis on various social programs,
with the largest outlays going to workers to
receive paid family and medical leave for up
to 12 weeks…….

And healthcare.

The healthcare system would also receive
a significant infusion of funding under a
President Biden primarily via the Affordable
Care Act…….. The 10-year static budget cost of the
proposed changes to the healthcare system
comes to nearly $1.5 trillion.

US Federal Reserve

There are a couple of streams of thought here. The first is that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has called for more fiscal expansionism.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell called Tuesday for continued aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus for an economic recovery that he said still has “a long way to go.”

Noting progress made in job creation, goods consumption and business formation, among other areas, Powell said that now would be the wrong time for policymakers to take their foot off the gas. ( CNBC on the 6th of October)

Thus he would presumably be happy to run policies to help this. He is already in the game.

At its September meeting, the FOMC directed the Desk to increase SOMA holdings of Treasury securities at the current pace, which is the equivalent of approximately $80 billion per month.

Also he has the ability to respond should he wish without a grand announcement as these days smoothing market operations cover quite a few bases.

The Desk is prepared to increase the size and adjust the composition of its purchase operations as needed to sustain the smooth functioning of the Treasury market.

We can now take that forwards to the next perspective because the market seems to have come to its own conclusion.In the past the bond vigilantes would have driven US bond yields higher but in fact the US bond market has risen and yields fallen.I established a marker on the day of the election and the ten-year Treasury Note yield was 0.87% but as I type this it is 0.73%

Comment

The caveat to today’s post is that is by no means certain that Joe Biden will win and even if he does he seems likely to face a Republican Senate. But we do seem set for a more expansionary fiscal policy which would be oiled and polished by the US Federal Reserve.That does link to the news from the Bank of England earlier when it announced an expansion of £150 billion in its purchases of UK bonds as it too is an agent of fiscal policy these days.

Looking at the economic impact we see from Moodys that the multiplier is back.What I mean by that is fiscal spending is assumed to grow the economy which then helps to pay for it. The catch is always when you do not seem much growth ( think Italy) or if the economy contracts over a long period ( think Greece). We do know that the US economy can grow and that it has been doing better than us in Europe in the credit crunch era but whether it will grow by enough is another matter. With the rise in the Covid-19 cases though it may be a while before it gets the chance to demonstrate that and for such calculations when and how long matter.

 

Will the Bank of England give us negative interest-rates?

Later today the members of the Monetary Policy Committee ( MPC) of the Bank of England will cast their votes as to what they think monetary policy will be and as I shall explain this is a live meeting. As in I expect changes today. Unfortunately due to a change made by the previous Governor Mark Carney we will not know the result until tomorrow at midday. Remember when all of this began to be called Super Thursday and then invariably turned out to be anything but?! Tomorrow will be one as we also get the Inflation Report to update us on what is expected for the economy. But the crucial point here is that the preference for bureaucratic convenience means that we are at risk of “some animals being more equal than others” as George Orwell put it so aptly. That risk is added to by the way the ship of state is such a leaky vessel these days.

The economy

The Minutes from the September meeting suggested things were better than expected.

UK GDP in July was around 18½% above its trough in April and around 11½% below its 2019 Q4 level. High-frequency payments data suggest that consumption has continued to recover during the summer and is now at around its start-of-year level in aggregate, stronger than expected in the August Report. Investment intentions have remained very weak and uncertainties among businesses are elevated. For 2020 Q3 as a whole, Bank staff expect GDP to be around 7% below its 2019 Q4 level, less weak than had been expected in the August Report.

Since then some of that has remained true as for example UK Retail Sales have continued to be strong. But as time passed we began to see more and more Covid-19 restrictions applied, first regionally and now including as of midnight all of England.

This morning’s Markit PMI business survey tells us this.

October data indicates that the UK service sector was close
to stalling even before the announcement of lockdown 2
in England, with tighter restrictions on hospitality, travel
and leisure leading to a slump in demand for consumer facing businesses. This was only partly offset by sustained expansion in areas related to digital services, business-to business sales and housing market transactions.

So the existing restrictions had clipped the tails of the service sector. So we are left with a pattern of a manufacturing recovery and very slow services growth followed by an expectation of this.

November’s lockdown in England and a worsening
COVID-19 situation across the rest of Europe means that the UK economy seems on course for a double-dip recession this winter and a far more challenging path to recovery in 2021.

There are issues with the credibility of the PMIs after some misfires but they are relevant because the Bank of England follows them. Some of you may recall Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent guiding us towards sentiment indices like them in the autumn of 2016. The absent-minded professor seems untroubled by the fact that led him up the garden path. Also I am intrigued by them discussing the risk of a double-dip recession when this is in fact a depression with the only issue being how long it will last?

Impact of Lockdown 2

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research or NIESR thinks this.

The second wave of the virus, and newly announced November lockdown, are likely to further increase the fall in 2020 GDP to around 11-12 per cent. This includes a fall of
around 3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020, with additional public borrowing but a slower rise in unemployment due to the extension of the furlough scheme.

Later they refine some of this although we are in the territory of spurious accuracy.

Saturday’s announcement of a further he November lockdown in response to resurgent Covid-19 will push
growth in the fourth quarter negative, to an estimated -3.3 per cent.

So we have a change to what we were expecting because we had our concerns about the end of the furlough scheme and its impact on employment and wages which would have knock-on effects elsewhere in the economy. That now will come in early December (probably as we are not sure when the lockdown will end) but in the meantime the lockdown will push economic output around 3% lower.

Another consideration for the Bank of England will be the labour market explicitly.

Our main case scenario was for unemployment to rise to above 7 per cent in the final quarter of 2020 and 8 per cent in the first half of 2021 as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) ends: the extension in November will have reduced this at the end of 2020 but may just have
postponed it. Unemployment is expected to rise above 5 per cent until 2024, with long-term persistent unemployment exacerbated by the prospect of a long and uncertain recovery.

Of course it has been a troubled area for them as back in the early days of Forward Guidance they established an unemployment rate of 6.5% as being significant for interest-rate rises and then ignored it.

Looking ahead which is what the Bank of England should be doing today, this looks rather tenuous on the vaccine front. We do not know when or indeed if one will be ready? Also individuals may be less than keen on being injected with something about which the long-term implications cannot be known.

Comment

The analysis suggests more easing is on its way and the first part is easy. These days the role of monetary policy is primarily to encourage fiscal policy by making it as cheap as possible. Today will see another £1.473 billion spent by the Bank of England buying UK government bonds aiming at that objective. But it is running out of road on its present plan because as of the end of today it will have spent some £697 billion out of the £725 billion it has authourised. That is only about another 6 weeks worth at the current rate. Just for the avoidance of doubt the £745 billion figure often quoted includes  £20 billion of corporate bonds which is now all over bar the shouting.

So the easy bit is a vote in favour of another £100 billion of QE which kicks the can comfortably into 2021. They could do more but that takes away some of the opportunity to act or rather looking like they are acting in the future. Regular readers will know I have been expecting an extra £100 billion for a while now as this is simply implicit funding of the government.

The path for Bank Rate is more complex. I still think a move is unlikely but cannot rule out they might be silly enough to cut Bank Rate to 0%. After all with all the rate cuts we have seen another 0.1% would be pretty much laughable. As to a cut into negative interest-rates that would look rather silly when their enquiry into them is not yet complete. However some of the MPC would vote for them and the way things are looking they could easily panic and give us a negative Bank Rate in 2021. Just as a reminder we already have negative bond yields in the UK out to the 6 year maturity. Due to the way that fixed-rate mortgages have become much more popular they are as significant as Bank Rate these days.

 

 

 

Australia cuts interest-rates again

This morning as the world waits on tenterhooks for news on the US election there was yet another move in one of the longest running themes of my work. For that we need to travel to what is often called a land “down under” or more recently the South China Territories. So let me hand you over to the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The elements of today’s package are as follows:

  • a reduction in the cash rate target to 0.1 per cent
  • a reduction in the target for the yield on the 3-year Australian Government bond to around 0.1 per cent
  • a reduction in the interest rate on new drawings under the Term Funding Facility to 0.1 per cent
  • a reduction in the interest rate on Exchange Settlement balances to zero

So we see yet another interest-rate cut in this instance from 0.25% to 0.1% which means that we have gad around 770 in total now since the credit crunch began. There is something very curious about this action because you see that apparently things are going really rather well.

Encouragingly, the recent economic data have been a bit better than expected and the near-term outlook is better than it was three months ago.

Indeed you might also think that as this rate cutting cycle began in June last year when the rate was cut from 1.5% to 1.25% you might wait for its impact to hit, at least if you believe it will have any. After all there were cuts two months in a row meaning a 0.5% cut which should be impacting now. If they do not work how will one of less than a third of the size?

The theme above has become something of a central banking standard where they tell us things are better than expected but cut interest-rates anyway! But I do not see others calling them out for it. After all if you are the South China Territories then this is rather bullish.

The global economy has been recovering from the initial virus outbreaks, with the recovery most advanced in China.

Quantitative Easing

I am sure you have spotted that the trend to more QE is in force as well. It always goes longer in time in line with my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

Under the program to purchase longer-dated bonds, the Bank will buy bonds issued by the Australian Government and by the states and territories, with an expected 80/20 split. These bonds will be bought in the secondary market through regular auctions, with the first auction to be held this Thursday for Australian Government securities.

As well as going longer there is always “More! More! More!” as a theme too as the extra 100 billion Australian Dollars is only a starting point.

The Bank remains prepared to purchase bonds in whatever quantity is required to achieve the 3-year yield target. Any bonds purchased to support this target would be in addition to the $100 billion bond purchase program.

Of course if you are going longer and presumably feel that is a good idea then why bother keeping the 3-year yield target? But the central planners never seem to give anything up once they have gained control.

The Aussie Dollar

We do get a bit of a divergence from the central bankers rule book with the bit I have highlighted below.

The combination of the RBA’s bond purchases and lower interest rates across the yield curve will assist the recovery by: lowering financing costs for borrowers; contributing to a lower exchange rate than otherwise; and supporting asset prices and balance sheets.

So we have an actual attempt at devaluation or more strictly exchange-rate depreciation. Of course President Trump may be about to depart but should he stay will he be looking at Australia as looking for an economic advantage via a weaker exchange-rate?

If we look at the Trade Weighted Index it’s recent peak was at 65.7 at the end of January 2018. It then gently declined towards 60 and then plunged to around 50 as the pandemic hit. So there was a substantial depreciation,although with economies plunging any economic gains were likely to be small. The index then bounced to a bit above 62 in August and was 59.5 yesterday.So there was and indeed is no clear case for needing a depreciation especially if you are benefiting from some re-stocking by China.

So far this year, Australian exports of iron ore and liquefied natural gas to China have increased by eight percent and nine percent respectively year on year, according to Wood Mackenzie. China’s coal imports from Australia also far exceeded the levels before the pandemic. ( CGTN from the 28th of July).

Housing Market

I see that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been on the case already.

Adelaide homeowners Mark and Verity Riessen are eagerly waiting to see how much of the rate cut will be passed on to them by their lender.

“The last rate cut the RBA passed through, was not passed on to us by our lender,” Mr Reissen said.

So the banks have behaved like well banks in not passing on the previous interest-rate cut and that is a theme. What do I mean by that? As interest-rates have approached and then in some places gone below zero the responsiveness or delta of the mortgage-rate changes has clearly declined. It always was important to check the terms of your mortgage but the ones saying linked to Cash Rate ( of the RBA) will be in prime position today.Also you need to check for exemptions as some around the world have (sneakily) imposed a minimum interest-rate.

According to the RBA the Reissen’s are at 3.2% paying what is pretty much the average rate with new mortgages being at 2.69% on average.

House Prices

We only have numbers up until the end of June but here is Australia Statistics.

Weighted average of the eight capital cities Residential Property Price Index:

  • fell 1.8% this quarter.
  • rose 6.2% over the last twelve months.

The total value of residential dwellings in Australia fell $98.2b to $7,138.2b this quarter.

The idea that the number above is any sort of value is pretty much laughable as has there been a bid for the lot? But we see that the RBA may have been triggered by house price falls which central bankers hate.

The index is at 143.2 as opposed to the 100 of 2012.

Comment

Let us look at the reality of the situation. Starting with interest-rates if you are wondering what is the point of a 0.15% cut after so many you are on the right track and the psychobabble continues with this.

Given the outlook, the Board is not expecting to increase the cash rate for at least three years.

So more meaningless Forward Guidance although some seem fooled by it. From ABC.

Dr Hunter said the bank outlining it did not expect to raise the cash rate over the next three years would “provide households and businesses with some certainty over their individual borrowing rates in the near term”.

Perhaps someone should tell Dr.Hunter about the existence of fixed interest-rates! Also as the last interest-rate rise was a decade ago today who exactly expects any sort of interest-rate rise? The fact it was to 4.75% provides plenty of food for thought.

The reality is that central banks have two aims now and that is why we are seeing so much QE and credit easing. Aim one is to help government fiscal policy by keeping the rate at which it can borrow very low and also pumping house prices by reducing mortgage rates.

Meanwhile I know Halloween was a few days ago but this still chills the spine.

Dr Lowe also said the cash rate was very unlikely to drop below zero.

 

 

 

 

Central bank Digital Coins are to enforce negative interest-rates

The weekend just gone produced quite a lot of news. Another lockdown in the UK is in the offing and there is of course the not so small matter of tomorrow’s US election. But something that does not make such headlines was also very significant and it came from ECB President Christine Lagarde.

We’ve started exploring the possibility of launching a digital euro. As Europeans are increasingly turning to digital in the ways they spend, save and invest, we should be prepared to issue a digital euro, if needed. I’m also keen to hear your views on it.

Actually it looks as though they have already decided and are launching a public consultation as cover for the exercise. After all most will not understand what are the real consequences of this especially as it will be presented as being modern and something which is happening anyway. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a push for electronic forms of payment which is really rather convenient for this purpose. So they have a good chance of getting support and if they do not well they will simply ignore it. I must say it is hard not to laugh at the “if needed” because it is the central bankers as I shall explain who need it and not the Euro areas consumers and savers.

The real problem is highlighted here.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic came as a deep shock to all of us and warranted fast policy responses. I’m proud to say that we’ve delivered: our measures have been providing crucial support to the eurozone economy and to European citizens.

It is the first sentence which applies here although I have to say the tone deaf nature of “we’ve delivered” in the second is pretty shocking. The ECB already had problems with the Euro area economy as the “Euroboom” faded and growth was not only poor but the largest economy and indeed bell weather Germany was struggling. Then the pandemic hit and made everything worse.

The ECB’s Problem

This arises from the fact that in response to the issues above it has used so many monetary policy options. It was as long ago as June 2014 that it introduced negative interest-rates and there have been further reductions since. Its Deposit Rate is now -0.5% and via the TLTROs it has reduced its interest-rates for the banks to -1%. This is a crucial point in today’s narrative because they feel they cannot keep interest-rates at these negative levels without throwing some free fish to the banks. There is a lot of irony here because interest-rates were cut to help the banks but the supposed cure has turned out to be poison at the dosages required. You do not need to take my word for it just tale a look at bank’s share prices. For example my old employer Deutsche Bank has a share price which has nudged over 8 Euros this morning which is around half of what it was in early 2017 and well you do the maths in the fall from this.

The all-time high Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft stock closing price was 159.59 on May 11, 2007. ( macrotrends.net )

So the banks are struggling with negative interest-rates as they are which poses a problem for a central bank wanted to go lower or in the new buzzword be “recalibrated”.

The Plan

Actually the ECB was part of a group of central banks which asked the Bank for International Settlements to look into this issue in January.

In jurisdictions where cash use is declining and digitalisation is increasing, CBDC could also play an important role in maintaining access to, and expanding the utility of, central bank money. ( CBDC = Central Bank Digital Coin)

As that is not a problem they are up to something else here. Also they are worried that it might make the problem they are supposed to stop worse.

There are two main concerns: first that, in times of financial crisis, the existence of a CBDC could enable larger
and faster bank runs; and second, and more generally, that a shift from retail deposits into CBDC
(“disintermediation”) could lead banks to rely on more expensive and less stable sources of funding.

In the end it is always about the banks in their role as The Precious. I think we get more of the truth here.

CBDC may offer opportunities that are not possible with cash. A convenient and accessible
CBDC could serve as an alternative to potentially unsafe forms of private money, offer users privacy, reduce
illegal activity, facilitate fiscal transfers and/or enable “programmable money”. Yet these opportunities may
involve trade-offs and unless these have a bearing on a central bank’s mandate (eg through threatening
confidence in the currency), they will be secondary motivations for central banks.

To my mind the opportunities are for central bankers and not for us.

The IMF lets the cat out of the bag

Back in February 2019 it told us this.

In a cashless world, there would be no lower bound on interest rates. A central bank could reduce the policy rate from, say, 2 percent to minus 4 percent to counter a severe recession.

I am sure you have already spotted why the ECB is now on the case. As to cash it turns out it has a feature which makes central bankers hate it. This is simply that it offers 0% which as the IMF explains below is a barrier to central bank “innovation”,

When cash is available, however, cutting rates significantly into negative territory becomes impossible. Cash has the same purchasing power as bank deposits, but at zero nominal interest. Moreover, it can be obtained in unlimited quantities in exchange for bank money. Therefore, instead of paying negative interest, one can simply hold cash at zero interest. Cash is a free option on zero interest, and acts as an interest rate floor.

There is an irony in this as by doing nothing it has turned out to be a powerful tool. The central bankers will be furious at the advice given by the rather prescient Steve Miller Band.

Hoo-hoo-hoo, go on, take the money and run
Go on, take the money and run
Hoo-hoo-hoo, go on, take the money and run
Go on, take the money and run.

Banning a song usually only makes it more popular. That would also be true of cash I suspect.

Comment

As so often what we are told is very different to what is the plan. A central bank digital coin is a way of imposing even deeper negative interest-rates. The IMF gave a template for this below.

To illustrate, suppose your bank announced a negative 3 percent interest rate on your bank deposit of 100 dollars today. Suppose also that the central bank announced that cash-dollars would now become a separate currency that would depreciate against e-dollars by 3 percent per year. The conversion rate of cash-dollars into e-dollars would hence change from 1 to 0.97 over the year. After a year, there would be 97 e-dollars left in your bank account. If you instead took out 100 cash-dollars today and kept it safe at home for a year, exchanging it into e-money after that year would also yield 97 e-dollars.

This brings us back to the ECB which last week told us this.

this recalibration exercise will touch on all our instruments. It is not going to be one or the other. It is not going to be looking at one single instrument. It will be looking at all our instruments, how they interact together, what will be the optimal outcome, and what will be the mix that will best address the situation.

It fears that further interest-rate cuts could cause a bank run. I agree with that and have written before that somewhere around -1.5% to -2% seems likely to be the threshold. Thus any more cuts will bring them near that especially as the LTRO rate is already -1%. So in their view a new plan is required and some of you may already be mulling their existing plan to phase out the 500 Euro note which is their highest denomination.

Putting this another way they are worried by two developments. One is Bitcoin which potentially challenges the monopoly power of central banks and also the demand for cash is rising not falling. In the Euro area it was 1.33 trillion Euros in September as opposed to 1.2 trillion a year before.

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