UK credit and car loan problems are building

As we look at the UK credit situation there are building pressures almost everywhere we look. This is hardly a surprise if we step back and review the years and years of easy monetary policy involving cutting the Bank Rate to a mere 0.25% and some £445 billion of QE ( Quantitative Easing) as well as other policies. If we stay with QE then the UK is second on the list in terms of how much of its bond ( Gilt) market has been bought by its central bank at 37% according to Business Insider. I doubt Governor Carney will be emphasising this too much when he presents the Financial Stability Report today.

Central bankers are capable of the most extraordinary blindness when it comes to themselves however as I noted when I received this in my email inbox.

Why are house prices in the UK so high? Can prices and mortgage debt continue to rise? How is government policy affecting outcomes? David Miles will explore these issues and consider how the property landscape in the UK might play out over the longer term.

This is the same David Miles who in his time at the Bank of England did as much as he could to drive house prices higher with his votes for Bank Rate cuts, more QE and the bank subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme. He even voted for more QE in the summer of 2013 as the UK economy picked up! Of course in his last month in the autumn of 2015 he claimed he was on the edge of voting for a Bank Rate rise but this only fooled the most credulous. The reality is that he was a major driver in creating this sort of situation. From April.

Yorkshire Building Society is launching a mortgage with the lowest interest rate ever available in the UK at 0.89%.

The new 0.89% product is a two-year variable mortgage with a discount of 3.85% from the Society’s Standard Variable Rate (SVR), which is currently 4.74%, and is available for anyone borrowing up to 65% of the value of their property.

Car Loans

This is another problem area that we have looked at several times due to two main factors. Firstly we have seen quite a rate of growth and secondly the market has changed massively. These days nearly all new cars are bought on credit as this from the Finance and Leasing Association makes clear.

In 2016, members provided £41 billion of new finance to help households and businesses purchase cars. Over 86% of all private new car registrations in the UK were financed by FLA members.

The deals look initially very attractive.

There are often 0% deals available, so it’s worth shopping around.

However there is a “rub” as Shakespeare would put it and we see the danger here as the Financial Times takes up the story..

Most borrowing is in the form of Personal Contract Purchases. Customers pay a deposit and monthly payments for a fixed period. At the end of the contract, they can buy the car from the manufacturer for a price guaranteed at the start.

The in-house banks of car companies, which provide most of the finance for PCPs, generally set this guaranteed price at about 85 per cent of what they think the used car will be worth.

We know that in the United States used car values have dropped sharply so let us look at the UK as the FT explains.

“However, the detail is the key,” said Rupert Pontin, director of valuations at Glass’s. Newer used-cars are losing more of their value and more quickly. A used car that is less than two-and-a-half years old is worth 57.6 per cent of its original value, down from 61.1 per cent in 2014.

“This is likely to continue to be the case for the rest of 2017 and into 2018 as well,” he said, as more cars come off the three-year credit deals they were bought with and that have been wildly popular with UK consumers.

So they are “Fallin'” as Alicia Keys would say. This poses quite a problem for a system which depends on the resale value of the cars. Initially this will probably hit the manufacturers who offer these schemes as those leasing will presumably hand more of the cars back. For deals going forwards though the resale value will be adjusted lower and be factored into the deal making the buyer/consumer get worse terms.

This has changed the car market

I have written in the past about a friend who bought a car and took a contract deal because believe it or not it was £500 cheaper than buying it outright. More is added on this front in a reply to the FT from leftie.

There’s no truth in the description ‘interest free’.  The cost of the loan is built into the ticket price.   We know that because the seller may not offer a discount on the sale price for fear of the ‘interest free’ bluff being found out.  It’s institutionalised dishonesty that traps the unwary and leads to excessive debts.

Whilst some do game the system most are unwary pawns.

I found it was cheaper to buy my small new Ford on PCP credit than pay cash, and the dealer admitted he would get more commission from the former.

Don’t worry, he told me: wait a couple of days for the systems to update then ring Ford and pay off the loan. I did, and accrued interest was negligible. Few people do this – it’s so tempting to hang on to your cash. ( johnwrigglesworth )

So the Merry Go Round rumbles on with the can as ever being kicked about 3/4 years each time. What could go wrong? From the FT.

Many car loans are securitised — packaged together and sold on to investors as bonds — as mortgages were in the run-up to the financial crisis. This has led some to worry that a slowdown in car sales could cause financial instability.

I have noticed something rather troubling this morning and let me make it clear that this is from the US and not the UK but of course such things tend to hop the Atlantic like it is a puddle and not an ocean.

 

This faces ch-ch-changes as explained by the Agents of the Bank of England last week.

Contacts reported a range of potential headwinds, including
the slowdown in real pay growth, upward pressure on new car prices arising from sterling’s depreciation and, for high-volume manufacturers, weaker second-hand car residual values, which had raised the costs of depreciation and so car finance.

Comment

If we start with the UK car market it has seen an extraordinary amount of stimulus. First came its own form of QE as redress payments from the Payments Protection Insurance scandal came into play and next came the easing of the Bank of England. No wonder sales have risen and not all of the drive came from the UK as some came from policies elsewhere as the FT explains.

Thrifty German savers in search of better interest rates have helped fund the debt-fuelled car-buying boom in the UK…..The biggest deposit taker is Volkswagen which had €28bn of consumer deposits in 2015, followed by BMW with €15.9bn. RCI Banque, the bank of Renault, had €13.6bn of deposits.

Meanwhile for Bank of England Governor Mark Carney it is clear that a week is apparently a long time in central banking. Last week we saw boasting.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows,

This week the Financial Stability Report tells a very different story.

Consumer credit has increased rapidly

Something to cheer like the Governor did? Er no.

Bringing forward the assessment of stressed losses on consumer credit lending in the Bank’s 2017 annual stress
test.

So perhaps not as we see a rise in the capital required by UK banks.

Increasing the UK countercyclical capital buffer rate to 0.5%, from 0%. Absent a material change in the
outlook, and consistent with its stated policy for a standard risk environment and of moving gradually, the FPC
expects to increase the rate to 1% at its November meeting.

That will be two steps of £5.7 billion if the initial estimates are accurate as we note they have finally spotted something we started looking at last summer.

Consumer credit grew by 10.3% in the twelve months to
April 2017

 

Me in City AM

http://www.cityam.com/267366/debate-italian-government-right-commit-eur17bn-rescuing-two?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=dvTwitter

 

 

The cracks at the Bank of England have become fissures

This has been a bad week for the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.  First came the appointment of Professor Silvana Tenreyro to the Monetary Policy Committee which led to even social media to have a brief period of  silence as everyone looked up who she was! Next came a reminder that his Chief Economist Andy Haldane is a modern version of a “loose cannon on the decks” on the edge of going off in almost any direction at any time. Finally last night came a critique from someone Governor Carney went out of his way ( North America) to appoint.

Kristin Forbes

Ms Forbes has given quite a damning account of her time at the Bank of England whilst also confirming several themes of this website.

In July 2014, when I started on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, it was widely expected (including by me) that we would begin increasing interest rates soon. It has been almost three years – and growth has averaged a healthy and above trend 2.3% (year-on-year) over this period. Yet interest rates are now lower – instead of higher – than when I started my term.

Fair play to her for the honesty but of course regular readers will be aware that I forecast this outcome back then. The establishment continue only to talk to themselves which is why we get the phrase “widely expected” when they are wrong as they live in an echo chamber. It is an irony that they try to wear the badge of diversity when in fact it is diversity of ideas that they most need and of course they shun.

Ms Forbes continues to land punches on the Bank of England consensus as another of the themes here the woeful forecasting record gets a mention.

A key justification for the large amount of stimulus that many people (albeit not me) supported in August was a forecast for a sharp contraction in growth to near recession levels and sharp increase in unemployment that would leave a meaningful increase in the number of people without a job. That forecast has not materialized.

As I wrote at the time this was perfectly predictable if you looked at the impact of falls in the value of the UK Pound £ which as a reminder is currently equivalent to a 2.75% cut in Bank Rate. If I was to make a one sentence critique of bringing members of the “international economic elite” to the Bank of England it would be that they invariable fail to understand the impact of changes in the UK Pound £. I write that in sad fashion in this instance because it looked for a time that Kristin Forbes did understand.

After the uppercut comes the left cross.

And as the UK economy has held up well since the Brexit vote, why has there been no consensus to tighten
monetary policy – or at least slightly reduce the substantial amount of stimulus provided in August – since
then?

So she thinks that the Bank of England is full of “Carney’s Cronies” as I have labeled them too?

a majority on the MPC does not support reversing a small portion of last August’s stimulus.

As an aside it is also revealing that even she does not seem to in the words of Blockbuster by Sweet “have a clue what to do” about all the QE. Back in September 2013 I wrote an article in City-AM with a suggestion on this front. Returning to the economic theme she points out that the world has changed at least according to the Bank of England so why has policy not changed?

Instead, over the three full quarters since the referendum, GDP has increased by over three times more (by almost 1 percentage point more) than forecast in the August Inflation Report, and unemployment is 0.5 percentage points lower. Put slightly differently, instead of increasing, unemployment has fallen so much that it is now at its lowest level in over 40 years. At the same time, inflation spiked to 2.9% in May. It is expected to continue increasing over the next few months and remain above target for
over three years.

It has been argued by some by the previous Governor Baron King of Lothbury intimidated some MPC members so as you read this next quote please be aware that his term ended in the summer of 2013 as Mark Carney arrived.

This pattern of different views and dissent by all types of committee members, however, seems to have
changed around 2013 – a period when there were a number of changes at the Bank and to the MPC’s remit,
making it hard to pinpoint the cause……… Not a single dissent since 2013 has come from an internal member.

Finally it would appear that someone at the Bank of England has caught up with a point I have been making since the EU Referendum vote.

Sterling’s recent depreciation appears to be shifting the trend component of UK inflation upward quickly, potentially generating more persistent inflationary pressures

This is all rather different to what Governor Carney told us at Mansion House.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations, and unemployment has reached a 40 year low.

Loose cannon on the decks

For those unaware this saying came from the Royal Navy where in the days of sailing ships a loose cannon was extremely dangerous to say the least. A modern version of this has been the Chief Economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane which we can see by a simple game of then and now. First just over 11 months ago.

In my personal view, this means a material easing of monetary policy is likely to be needed,…….Put differently, I would rather run the risk of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut than taking a miniature rock hammer to tunnel my way out of prison…….Given the scale of insurance required, a package of mutually-complementary monetary policy easing measures is likely to be necessary.

And this week.

I considered the case for a rate rise at the MPC’s June meeting.

As ever there is no real confession here about being wrong. After all if Andy had built a plane and it crashed on take-off who would fly on one of his planes again? But the central banking echo chamber is not like that even when they present devastating evidence of their own failure.

Wages have been surprisingly weak for much of the period since the global financial crisis. Chart 1 plots
successive Bank of England forecasts of wage growth since 2012. Wage growth in the UK has persistently
disappointed to the downside, on average by around 1 ¼ percentage points one year ahead.

You see our “loose cannon” knew this last August albeit a year less of it yet he still ignored his own frailties and ploughed ahead in that combination of arrogance and panic that we see from the central banking fraternity at such times. Yet in spite of such failure look what happened only last week.

Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Monetary Analysis and Statistics, and Chief Economist at the Bank of England, has been reappointed for a further three-year term as a member of the Monetary Policy Committee with effect from 12 June 2017.

Rewards for failure indeed. As I asked at the time on what ground was he reappointed please?

Comment

There is much to consider here as the themes of the Bank of England being the worst forecasting organisation in the world and the advent of “Carney’s Cronies” have been in play. However in the speech by Kristin Forbes there was also a confession of the earliest theme of this website so let us get to it.

Even more striking is the lack of other countries’ ability to sustain any tightening in monetary policy since the
crisis.

They are in their own junkie culture style trap but as it is Glastonbury weekend let me hand you over to Muse for a description.

I wanted freedom
Bound and restricted
I tried to give you up
But I’m addicted

Now that you know I’m trapped sense of elation
You’d never dream of
Breaking this fixation

You will squeeze the life out of me

 

The Mark Carney experience at the Bank of England

This morning Mark Carney has given his Mansion House speech which was delayed due to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. One thing that was unlikely to be in the speech today was the outright cheerleading for the reform of the banking sector which was the basis of his speech back on the 7th of April as the news below emerged.

Barclays PLC and four former executives have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance.

The Serious Fraud Office charges come at the end of a five-year investigation and relate to the bank’s fundraising at the height of 2008’s financial crisis.

Former chief executive John Varley is one of the four ex-staff who will face Westminster magistrates on 3 July.

Firstly let me welcome the news that there will be a trial although the conviction record of the Serious Fraud Office is not good. The problem is that this has taken around nine years about something ( £7 billion raised from Qatar ) which frankly looked to have dubious elements when it took place. What you might call  slooooooooooooow progress of justice.

What about UK interest-rates?

We first got a confession about something we discovered last week.

Different members of the MPC will understandably have different views about the outlook and therefore on the potential timing of any Bank Rate increase.

Actually that is an odd way of saying it as five members voted for no change with some more likely to vote for a cut that a rise in my opinion. Although of course Mark Carney has had trouble before with rises in interest-rates which turn out to be cuts!

Next we got a confirmation of the Governor’s opinion.

From my perspective, given the mixed signals on consumer spending and business investment, and given
the still subdued domestic inflationary pressures, in particular anaemic wage growth, now is not yet the time
to begin that adjustment

Indeed he seems keen to kick this rather awkward issue – because it would mean reversing last August’s Bank Rate cut – as far into the future as possible.

In the coming months, I would like to see the extent to which weaker consumption growth is offset by other components of demand, whether wages begin to firm, and more generally, how the economy reacts to the prospect of tighter financial conditions and the reality of Brexit negotiations.

Indeed if we are willing to ignore both UK economic history and the leads and lags in UK monetary policy then you might be able to believe this.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations, and unemployment has reached a 40 year low.

Missing from the slap on the back that the Governor has given himself is the most powerful instrument of all which is the value of the UK Pound which has given the UK economy and more sadly inflation a boost. Indeed the initial response to the Governor’s jawboning was to add to the Pound’s fall as it fell below US $1.27 and 1.14 versus the Euro. Should it remain there then the total fall since the night of the EU leave vote then it is equivalent to a 2.75% fall in UK Bank Rate which is a bazooka compared to the 0.25% peashooter cut provided by the Bank of England. So if you believe Mark Carney you are likely not to be a fan of Alice In Wonderland.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Also if he is going to take credit for er “Credit is widely available” then he will be on very thin ice when he next claims the surge in unsecured credit is nothing to do with him.

Carney’s Cronies

Ironically in a way the foreign exchange market was a day late as you see the real change came yesterday.

​The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced the appointment of Professor Silvana Tenreyro as an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).  Silvana will be appointed for a three year term which will take effect from 7 July 2017.

There are several issues here, if I start with British female economists then that is another slap in the face for them as none have been judged suitable for a decade. Next came the thought that I had never previously heard of her which turned to concern as we were told she came from “academic excellence” in an era where Ivory Towers have consistently crumbled and fallen along the lines of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. But after a little research one could see why she had been appointed. From a survey taken by the Centre For Macroeconomics.

Question Do you agree that the benefits of reforming the monetary system to allow materially negative policy interest rates outweigh the possible costs?

Agree. Confident. Reforming the monetary system to allow negative policy interest rates will equip the BoE with an additional tool to face potential crises in the future.

Does “reforming the monetary system” sound somewhat like someone who will support restrictions on the use of cash currency and maybe its banning? She is also a fan of QE ( Quantitative Easing ) style policies.

Question Do you agree that central banks should continue to use the unconventional tools of monetary policy deployed in response to the global financial crisis as part of monetary policy under normal economic conditions?

Agree. Confident. A wider set of policy tools would give mature and credible central banks like the BoE more flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions.

What is it about her apparent support for negative interest-rate and QE that attracted the attention of Mark Carney? Of course in a world after the woeful failure of Forward Guidance and indeed the litany of forecasting errors he was probably grateful to find someone who still calls the Bank of England “credible”!

Comment

We have a few things to consider and let me start with the reaction function of foreign exchange markets. The real news was yesterday as a fan of negative interest-rates was appointed to the Bank of England but the UK Pound waited until Mark Carney repeated his views of only Thursday to fall!

Meanwhile there was this from Governor Carney.

Monetary policy cannot prevent the weaker real income growth likely to accompany the transition to new
trading arrangements with the EU. But it can influence how this hit to incomes is distributed between job losses and price rises.

His views on the EU leave vote are hardly news although some are trying to present them as such. You might think after all the forecasting errors and Forward Guidance failures he would be quiet about such things. But my main issue here is the sort of Phillips Curve way we are presented a choice between “job losses” and “price rises” Just as all credibility of such thinking has collapsed even for those with a very slow response function in fact one slow enough to be at the Serious Fraud Office. He is also contradicting himself as it was only a few months ago we were being told by him that wage growth was on the up. Although that February Inflation Forecast press conference did see signs that the normally supine press corps were becoming unsettled about a Governor previously described as a “rockstar central banker” and “George Clooney” look a like.

Governor, back in August the forecast for GDP for this year
was 0.8%. Now it’s being forecast at 2.0%. That’s a really
hefty adjustment. What went wrong with your initial
forecast?

He may not be that bothered as you see much of today’s speech was in my opinion part of his job application to replace Christine Lagarde at the IMF.

With many concerned that global trade is taking local jobs, protectionist sentiments are once again rising
across the advanced world. Excessive trade and current account imbalances are now politically as well as
economically unsustainable.

Number Crunching

Problems mount for Mark Carney at Mansion House

The UK’s central bank announces its policy decision today and it faces challenges on several fronts. The first was highlighted yesterday evening by the US Federal Reserve.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1 to 1-1/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

UK monetary policy is normally similar to that in the US as our economies often follow the same cycles. This time around however the Bank of England has cut to 0.25% whilst the Federal Reserve has been raising interest-rates creating a gap of 0.75% to 1% now. In terms of the past maybe not a large gap but of course these days the gap is large in a world of zero and indeed negative interest-rates. Also we can expect the gap to grow in the future.

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate;

There was also more as the Federal Reserve made another change which headed in the opposite direction to Bank of England policy.

The Committee currently expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.

So the Federal Reserve is planning to start the long journey to what used to be regarded as normal for a central bank balance sheet. Of course only last August the Bank of England set out on expanding its balance sheet by another £70 billion if we include the Corporate Bond purchases in what its Chief Economist Andy Haldane called a “Sledgehammer”. So again the two central banks have been heading in opposite directions. Also on that subject Mr.Haldane was reappointed for another three years this week. Does anybody know on what grounds? After all the wages data from yesterday suggested yet another fail on the forecasting front in an ever-growing series.

Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Monetary Analysis and Statistics, and Chief Economist at the
Bank of England, has been reappointed for a further three-year term as a member of the Monetary Policy
Committee with effect from 12 June 2017.

For those interested in what Andy would presumably call an anti-Sledgehammer here it is.

( For Treasury Bonds) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $6 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $6 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $30 billion per month…… ( for Mortgage Securities) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $4 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $4 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $20 billion per month.

Whilst these really are baby steps compared to a balance sheet of US $4.46 trillion they do at least represent a welcome move in the right direction.

The Inflation Conundrum

This has several facets for the Bank of England. The most obvious is that it eased policy last August as inflation was expected to rise and this month we see that the inflation measure it is supposed to keep around 2% per annum ( CPI ) has risen to 2.9% with more rises expected. It of course badged the “Sledgehammer” move as being expansionary for the economy but I have argued all along that it is more complex than that and may even be contractionary.

Today’s Retail Sales numbers give an example of my thinking so let me use them to explain. Here they are.

In May 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry was estimated to have increased by 0.9% compared with May 2016; the annual growth rate was last lower in April 2013…..Month-on-month, the quantity bought was estimated to have fallen by 1.2% following strong growth in April 2017.

So after a strong 2016 UK retail sales have weakened in 2017 but my argument is that the main driver here has been this.

Average store prices (excluding fuel) increased by 2.8% on the year; the largest growth since March 2012.

It has been the rise in prices or higher inflation which has been the main driver of the weakness in retail sales. A factor in this has been the lower value of the Pound which if you use the US inflation numbers as a control has so far raised UK inflation by around 1%. This weakness in the currency was added to by expectations of Bank of England monetary easing which of course were fulfilled. You may note I say expectations because as some of us have been discussing in the comments section the main impact of QE on a currency happens in the expectations/anticipation phase.

On the other side of the coin you have to believe that a 0.25% cut in interest-rates has a material impact after cuts of over 4% did not! Also that increasing the Bank of England’s balance sheet will do more than adding to house prices and easing the fiscal deficit. A ten-year Gilt yield of 0.96% does not go well with inflation at 2.9% ( CPI) and of course even worse with RPI ( 3.7%).

House Prices

I spotted this earlier in the Financial Times which poses a serious question to Bank of England policy.

Since 1980, the compounded inflation-adjusted gain for a UK homeowner has been 212 per cent. Before 1980 house price gains were much tamer over the various cycles either side of the second world war. Indeed, in aggregate, prices were largely unchanged over the previous 100 years, once inflation is accounted for.

A change in policy? Of course much of that was before Mark Carney’s time but we know from his time in Canada and here that house price surges and bubbles do happen on his watch. The article then looks at debt availability.

The one factor that did change, though, and marked the start of that step change in 1980, is the supply of mortgage debt……….has resulted in a sevenfold increase in inflation-adjusted mortgage debt levels since then.

This leads to something that I would like Mark Carney to address in his Mansion House speech tonight.

Second an inflation-targeting central bank, which has delivered a more aggressive monetary response to each of the recent downturns, because of that high debt burden.

On that road we in the UK will see negative interest-rates in the next downturn which of course may be on the horizon.

Comment

There is much to consider for the Governor of the Bank of England tonight. If he continues on the current path of cutting interest-rates and adding to QE on any prospect of an economic slow down then neither he nor his 8 fellow policy setting colleagues are required. We could replace them with an AI ( Artificially Intelligent ) Robot although I guess the danger is that it becomes sentient Skynet style ( from The Terminator films ) and starts to question what it is doing?

However moving on from knee-jerk junkie culture monetary policy has plenty of problems. It first requires both acknowledgement and admittal that monetary policy can do some things but cannot do others. Also that international influences are often at play which includes foreign monetary policy. I have looked at the Federal Reserve today well via the Far East other monetary policy applies. Let me hand you over to some research from Neal Hudson of Residential Analysts on buyers of property in London from the Far East.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these buyers have been using local mortgages to fund their purchases.  The limited evidence I have suggests that around half of Hong Kong and Singaporean buyers use a local mortgage while the majority of mainland Chinese buyers use one.

Okay on what terms?

The main difference is that the mortgage rate tends to be slightly higher (London Home Loan comparison) and local lenders allow borrowers to have far higher debt multiples.

These people are not as rich as might previously have been assumed and we need to throw in changes in the value of the UK Pound £ which are good for new buyers but bad for existing ones. Complicated now isn’t it?

On a personal level I was intrigued by this.

Last year I visited a development in Nine Elms and the lobby felt more like a hotel than a residential block. There were significant numbers of people appearing to pick up and drop off keys with suitcases in tow.

You see I live in another part of Battersea ( the other side of the park) and where i live feels like that as well.

 

 

 

The economics of the 2017 General Election

Tomorrow the United Kingdom goes to the polls for a General Election. Yesterday’s anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in France reminded us that the ability to vote is a valuable thing that people have fought and died for. Let me repeat my usual recommendation to vote albeit with the realisation that as far as I can see it has been an insipid and uninspiring campaign. Time for “none of the above” to be on the ballot box I think.

Moving to economics there have been a couple of reminders over the past 24 hours that some themes remain the same. From BBC News.

RBS has finally reached a £200m settlement with investors who say they were duped into handing £12bn to the bank during the financial crisis.

The RBS Shareholders Action Group has voted to accept a 82p a share offer.

The amount is below the 200p-230p a share that investors paid during the fundraising in 2008, when they say RBS lied about its financial health.

If you look at the sums you see that the compensation is nowhere near the problem if you feel that there was a misrepresentation back then. Also as there was a 1:10 stock split back in 2012 is this not really an 8.2p offer? As to the theme of there being no punishment for bank directors there is also this.

A settlement means that the disgraced former chief executive of RBS, Fred Goodwin, will not appear in court.

Of course the UK is not alone in such machinations as I note this from Spain today. From Bloomberg.

Banco Popular Espanol SA was taken over by larger Spanish competitor Banco Santander SA after European regulators determined that the bank was likely to fail…..

The purchase price was 1 euro, according to the statement.

Santander plans to raise about 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) of capital as part of the transaction. ( Bloomberg ).

That much? The situation has been summed up rather well in a reply to the article.

Santander could be buying a time bomb filled with bad debt. What is the CEO thinking? Why should shareholders bail out Popular?! ( @ ken_tex )

We are left with a general theme that the banking sector carries on regardless and simply ignores things like elections. Democracy has not reached the banking sector. There is a British implication as of course Santander is a big player in UK banking and as an aside this sees the first bail-in of a so-called Co-Co bond.

How is the economy doing?

We have the Bank of England with its foot hard down on the monetary policy pedal with a Bank Rate of 0.25% which as far as I can recall has barely merited a mention in the campaign! Amazing how that and £445 billion of QE ( including the Corporate Bonds) can be treated as something to be pretty much ignored isn’t it? Partly as a result of this we are facing a spell of higher consumer inflation which will lead to a contractionary effect on the economy due to the way it seems set to reduce real wages. But again this seems to have been ignored. Of course the Bank of England will be happy to be outside of the political limelight but when it is such a major part of economic policy there should at least be a debate.

Fortunately the edge has been taken off things by the decline in the price of crude oil back towards US $50 in Brent Crude terms and the rally of the UK Pound to US $1.29. This is a factor in the Markit business survey telling us this on Monday.

The three PMI surveys are running at levels that are historically consistent with GDP growing at a robust 0.5% rate, albeit with the slowing in May posing some downside risks to the near-term outlook.

So the economy continues to grow but at a slow pace overall. Of course the Bank of England will be concerned about this reported this morning by the Halifax.

House prices in the last three months
(March-May) were 0.2% lower than in
the previous three months (DecemberFebruary).

The mood of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will not be improved by this as it refers back to a time before it began its house price policy push in the summer of 2013.

Prices in the three months to May
were 3.3% higher than in the same
three months a year earlier. This was
lower than April and is the lowest annual
rate since May 2013 (2.6%). The annual
rate is around a third of the 10.0% peak
reached in March 2016.

The Bank of England will also be worried by this signal that emerged yesterday. From Homelet.

UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…….This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis. The pace of rental price inflation across the UK has been slowing in recent months, having peaked at 4.7% last summer.

Of course whilst there will be concern and maybe some panic at the Bank of England that the £63 billion of the banking subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme has run out of puff. Meanwhile over at HM Treasury someone will be having a champagne breakfast as they slap themselves on the back for starting a rush to get rents in the official UK consumer inflation measure ( CPIH) last Autumn.

Fiscal policy

Back on the 23rd of May I looked at this.

Labour promised £75 billion a year in additional spending and £50 billion of additional taxes. The Liberal Democrats are also aiming for tens of billions of pounds in extra spending partially funded by more tax. Yesterday’s Conservative manifesto was much more, well, conservative………The Conservatives do not appear to have felt the need to spell out much detail. But they have left themselves room for manoeuvre.

Whoever wins we seem set for a period of higher taxation and higher expenditure but we remain in a situation where there is a lot of smoke blowing across the battlefield. There is of course also this from Labour.

we will establish a National Investment Bank that will bring in private capital finance to deliver £250 billion of lending power.

Comment

This has been an election where the economy has been out of the limelight. In a way this is summarised  by the fact that we have heard so little from the current Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. This means that many important matters get ignored such as the apparent devolution of so much economic power to the Bank of England. An issue which is important as in my opinion it was captured by the UK establishment and now pursues policies that politicians would be afraid to implement.

Other important issues such as problems with productivity and real wages which have bedevilled us in the credit crunch era get little debate or mention. To that list we can add the ongoing current account deficit.

Yet some markets are at simply extraordinary levels and it is hard not to raise a wry smile at the ten-year Gilt yield being a mere 0.99%! Whatever happened to pricing an election risk? It also provides quite a boost over time to the fiscal numbers as it is well below the rate of inflation.

 

 

With UK house prices falling and manufacturing booming are we rebalancing?

This morning has brought news which will send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England. This was from the Nationwide Building Society.

House prices show third consecutive monthly
decline for the first time since 2009.

Over the past three months house prices have gone -0.3% ( March), -0.4% ( April) and now -0.2% in May. For quite a few economic variables we look at the three monthly average to get an idea of trend and if we do that here we see that we can see which way the wind is currently blowing according to the Nationwide. If we look further back we see this.

The annual rate of growth slowed to 2.1%, the weakest in almost four years.

That time scale takes us back to pretty much the time that the Bank of England stepped in to boost the housing market with its Funding for ( Mortgage ) Lending Scheme or FLS. It led to a decline in mortgage interest-rates which was pretty quickly of the order of 1% per annum and according to the Bank of England itself reached a peak of 2%. Initially it was high equity to loan mortgages which benefited but this later spread to the lower equity value ones. This fed through into house prices as higher prices became more affordable due to lower mortgage rates. The house price rise over this period has been from £169,000 to just under £209,000 or around 24% which has allowed the Bank of England to claim that wealth effects have spread through the economy. Thus it will not be pleased to see that fading away and indeed showing signs of a reversal.

The other side of the argument is that much of this has been inflation as first time buyers face house price inflation and this is one I support strongly. In my world a fall in house price growth to around 2% is something to welcome and not to fear as it brings it pretty much into line with both economic growth and wage rises. Indeed I could go further and say that we need house price falls to bring things back into line. The argument for that goes as follows we see that house price growth was 24% but real wage growth according to official data was less than one tenth of that as the index has risen from 98.6 to 100.9. Let me give you two extra thoughts on that which is that the real wages number is in my opinion too high as the impact of higher house prices is excluded. But as an aside even on the favourable basis on which it is calculated to me what leaps off the page/screen is how little real wage growth we have had in what has been a good period for economic growth .

Regular readers will be aware that I have been expecting a house price slow down for a while as this from the 4th of January indicates.

What I mean by that is that the rise in house prices looks set to fade and be replaced by house price falls.

Take care

Just to say that the UK has several house price indices all of which give is different answers. The Nationwide should have actual trading prices but will be limited to Nationwide customers which tend to be more from the south. One thing it does offer is the timely nature of the data and this does fit with what we see from the less timely official series.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.1% in the year to March 2017 (down from 5.6% in the year to February 2017). This continues the general slowdown in the annual growth rate seen since mid-2016.

Looking ahead there was also this message sent to me by Dan Cookson.

The non-seasonally adjusted mortgage approvals data took quite a drop in April 

I wonder if there has been something of an Easter effect like we saw in the retail sales data? We will know more next month.

Nine Elms

If there is somewhere which is the leader of the pack right now it looks rather like Nine Elms. That is both convenient as I live near to it and of course inconvenient as I consider the likely impact! For newer readers this is the scale of what is going on there. From Bloomberg.

Almost 20,000 homes are planned for the Nine Elms district, a regeneration site that extends from Lambeth Bridge in the north to Chelsea Bridge in the south.

I can tell you that it takes quite a while to pass it if you are on a Boris bike and actually due to the traffic scheme not a lot less by car. This led to quite a boom.

Prices for existing homes in Nine Elms, where most of the transactions took place, have risen by an average of 43 percent over the same period.

But now something of a bust.

Homes in SW8 postcode district had annual drop of 16% in March.

By some calculations there is a fair bit more to go or as Tube station announcements remind us “Mind the gap”.

Neal Hudson, founder of research firm Residential Analysts Ltd., said in a telephone interview, “Investors have dried up and the bulk of demand for London homes is now from owner-occupiers who can only afford” to pay 450 pounds per square foot.

The Nine Elms homes are priced between 750 pounds and 1,500 pounds a square foot, he said. The apartments are often sold with facilities including gyms, swimming pools and 24-hour concierge services.

Manufacturing

If we switch to a different part of the UK economy then we have just seen some good news. From Markit and its monthly business survey or PMI.

Manufacturing production and new orders both
expanded at above survey average rates.
Companies benefited most from the continued
strength of the domestic market. There was also a
solid increase in new export business as well.

This means that we can hope for a much better performance this quarter than last.

The strong PMI numbers suggest the
manufacturing sector has gained growth
momentum in the second quarter after the sluggish
start of the year.

If we look at the minutiae then the reading dipped from 57.3 in April to 56.7 in May but I doubt anyone believes the measure is that accurate. One intriguing reflection of this if we consider how strong UK employment has been is this.

These underlying dynamics are proving to be a real boon for the manufacturing labour market, with May seeing jobs
added at the fastest pace since mid-2014.

In ordinary times  we would expect to be seeing rises in wage growth and no doubt the Ivory Towers are on the case but the sad reality of the credit crunch era is that we have been singing along with Bob Marley.

I don’t wanna wait in vain.

Comment

As we have had a couple of months of house price falls and a rise in manufacturing then let me take you back to April 2002.

For the Monetary Policy Committee the
challenge is to keep inflation close to the target during a period in which a significant re-balancing of
the British economy will take place.

Sadly for the speaker it took another 15 years for us to have a hint of this and long after his role had ended. Still let me welcome even a flicker of a rebalancing of the UK economy but of course a genuine change would take years. The speaker for those of you who have not guessed was the then Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King who is now Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile at the Bank of England.

Staff at the Bank of England will begin voting on Thursday on whether to hold a strike this year in protest at below-inflation pay rises, union sources told Reuters.

If only there was an organisation which could help by keeping inflation low……

Sgt Peppers

Fifty years ago this album ( for younger readers music back then came on a piece of circular plastic which had to be put in a protective sleeve which led to some extraordinary and now famous artwork) was released by the Beatles and in my opinion deserves a doff of the cap. Plenty of great songs but my favourite is A Day In The Life.

 

 

 

UK unsecured lending continues to surge ahead

Today we get more information on just how loose Bank of England monetary policy is. But as it happens markets signalled the state of play yesterday. From the Financial Times.

The price of 10-year UK government debt rallied to its highest since October, as the general election build-up comes more clearly into investors’ view. The yield on benchmark 10-year gilts, which moves inversely to the price, dipped below 1 per cent on Tuesday to an intra-day low of 0.978 per cent, as investors sought the safety of government bonds after the long bank holiday weekend.

So if we want a strong Gilt market all we have to do is have more bank holidays, what a curious view? There are two much more relevant issues here of which the first is the easing on UK monetary conditions as the Gilt market has rallied since late January with the ten-year yield falling from 1.51% to around 1% now. The second is that it is in my experience rather extraordinary for the latest part of the rally to be taking place in an election campaign particularly one which veers between insipid and shambolic. The polls are in an even worse place as they suggest that the Conservatives may either lose their majority ( YouGov ) or win by 100 seats! Mind you after the 2015 debacle I can see why so many now simply ignore them.

Inflation

A consequence of easy monetary conditions is rising prices and we have seen another sign of what we have been expecting today already.

Grocery inflation hit 2.9 per cent in the 12 weeks to May 21, according to Kantar Worldpanel’s latest survey of the grocery sector, ahead of the official year-on-year inflation rate of 2.7 per cent. ( FT )

I doubt many consumers will be grateful for this nor will they agree with the central banking fraternity that by being “non-core” it can mostly be ignored. But they are doing their best to avoid it in an example of rationality.

in a sign that inflation is starting to affect consumers’ spending habits, cheaper products and discount retailers saw the biggest rises……Aldi and Lidl recorded their fastest growth rates since 2015, hitting a combined market share of 12 per cent. Across the sector, sales of supermarkets’ cheaper own-label products were 6 per cent higher than the same period last year,

Unsecured Credit

On the 29th of September last year I warned that the bank of England was playing with fire with its Bank Rate cut and other monetary policy easing. In particular I was worried about the growth of unsecured credit.

Consumer credit increased by £1.6 billion in August, broadly in line with the average over the previous six months. The three-month annualised and twelve-month growth rates were 10.4% and 10.3% respectively.

So how is that going now?

The flow of consumer credit was similar to its recent average in April, at £1.5 billion; the annual growth rate was broadly unchanged.

As you can see some months later the beat goes on. The only changed is that the Bank of England seems to have changed its policy about declaring the actual growth rate so shall we see if it has something to hide? If we check we see that the three-month annualised growth rate is 9.8% and the twelve-month growth rate is the same as last August at 10.3%.

So as the late Glenn Frey would say.

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on

Just as a reminder the numbers were “improved” a few years ago on this basis.

The stock of student loans has doubled over the five years to 5 April 2012 to £47 billion, and now represents more than 20% of the stock of overall consumer credit. With student loans unlikely to be affected by the same factors that influence the other components of consumer credit, the Bank is proposing a new measure of consumer credit that excludes student loans……….This new measure of
consumer credit will be introduced in the August 2012 Bankstats release.

That is what we have now and as a comparison times were very different back then.

Consumer credit excluding student loans is estimated to have contracted by 0.4% in the year to June 2012.

Whereas student loans were expected to surge.

Government projections suggest that the outstanding balance of student loans will be more than £80 billion by 2017/18.

They were pretty much right about that but what does it mean for consumer credit? Well the total is much lower than it would be with student loans in it. For example I estimate that the current level of consumer credit of £198.4 billion would have nearly £100 billion added to it. As to the monthly net growth well the current £1.5 billion or so would be somewhere north of £2.5 billion and maybe at £3 billion. The reason why I estimating is that the numbers are over a year behind where we are.

Secured Credit

This will not be regarded as such a success by the Bank of England.

Net lending secured on dwellings in April was £2.7 billion, the lowest since April 2016 …. Approvals for house purchase and remortgaging loans fell further in April, to 64,645 and 40,575 respectively

Of course the Bank of England has made enormous efforts in this beginning four summers ago with the Funding for Lending Scheme. Those efforts pushed net mortgage lending back into positive territory and also contributed to the rise in UK house prices that has been seen over the same time period. Last August yet another bank subsidy scheme was launched and the Term Funding Scheme now amounts to £63 billion. However it seems to have given more of a push to unsecured lending than secured.

Of course Governor Carney also claims that car loans are secured lending ( no laughing please) and here is the latest data on it from the Finance and Leasing Association.

New figures released today by the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that new business in the point of sale (POS) consumer new car finance market grew 13% by value and 5% by volume in March, compared with the same month in 2016.

That meant that £3.62 billion was borrowed in March using what is described as dealership finance.

Business lending

The various bank subsidy schemes have been badged as being a boost to business lending especially for smaller ones, but have not lived up to this.

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises decreased by £0.3 billion ( in April)

Comment

The Bank of England claims that it is “vigilant” about unsecured lending in the UK but we know that the use of the word means that it is not. Or as it moves from initial denials to acceptance we see yet again a Yes Prime Minister style game in play.

James Hacker: All we get from the civil service is delaying tactics.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, I wouldn’t call civil service delays “tactics”, Minister. That would be to mistake lethargy for strategy.

But it opened the monetary taps last August with its “Sledgehammer” expectations of which pushed the UK Pound lower and now we see unsecured credit continuing to surge and broad money growing at just over 7%. The old rule of thumb would give us an inflation rate of 5% if economic growth continues to be around 2%. In fact it is if we add in the trade deficit exactly the sort of thing that has seen boom turn to bust in the past.