The return of the unreliable boyfriend causes carnage for the Pound £

Yesterday was not one of the better days for the Bank of England. To explain why let us take the advice of Kylie Minogue and step back in time. We go back to its house journal or the economics editor of the Financial Times Chris Giles on the 22nd of March.

The Bank of England has set the stage for an interest rate rise at its meeting in May, saying that pay growth was picking up and inflation was expected to remain above its 2 per cent target.

For Chris this was an example of deja vu and another success on its way for Forward Guidance.

Michael Saunders and Ian McCafferty broke ranks and voted for an immediate increase in interest rates, in a replay of events last September, when their dissenting views foreshadowed the MPC’s policy tightening announced in November.

The hits kept coming for the rise in May and go away camp.

The remaining seven MPC members argued that while nothing had changed significantly enough since the February meeting to justify an immediate move, they still believed rates would have to rise faster than markets had expected at the last meeting.

So the view advanced that an interest-rate rise in May was pretty much a done deal and markets moved towards suggesting a 90% chance of it. This was further reinforced by a speech given by Gertjan Vlieghe which I have mentioned before. From April 6th.

But last month Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, broke ranks with his colleagues on the nine-member committee when he said that rates could rise above 2 per cent over the same period.

So the stage was set and if there was a warning from the FT it was heavily coded and looked at something else.

The Riksbank has had some difficulties with its predictions. Until last year, it had been persistently over-optimistic about its ability to raise interest rates, always expecting rates to start rising soon

A bit like the England batsman James Vince who plays some flashy eye-catching shots but then gets out in the same familiar fashion.

Yesterday

Unfortunately for Governor Carney all his troubles were not so far away and it looked as though they were about to stay. He gave an interview to the BBC.

The governor of the Bank of England has said that an interest rate rise is “likely” this year, but any increases will be gradual.
Mark Carney said major decisions had to be taken on Brexit, including on the detail of the implementation period and the shape of a final deal.

There would also be a parliamentary vote on the future relationship between Britain and rest of the EU.

All those events would weigh on how fast interest rates rises would occur.

This poses more than a few problems. Firstly there is the issue of Brexit about which of course there are opposite views. But whichever side of the fence you are on the truth is that the water has been much less choppy recently so the Governor is flying a false flag. This adds to the problem he has in this area because he has been consistently too pessimistic on this subject, From the Guardian in May 2016.

That would leave the Bank with a difficult balancing act as it decides whether to cut, hold or raise interest rates to counter opposing forces, Carney added.

Of course the difficult balancing act suddenly became cut as fast as he could with a promise of a further cut that November which was later abandoned. This contrasts in polar fashion with the pace at which interest-rate increases arrive as we are still waiting for the one promised back in the summer of 2014. From the Wall Street Journal.

Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney said Thursday that interest rates in the U.K. could rise sooner than investors expect, sending the clearest signal yet that Britain’s central bank is inching closer to calling time on five years of record-low borrowing costs.

Well not that clear as it turned out to be comfortably numb.

A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves

This was something which created quite a disturbance in the markets as they scrambled to move interest-rate and bond futures. It is easy to forget now but the words of Governor Carney caused quite a bit of damage as the move eventually reversed. Also there was this.

And he warned the BOE intends to be vigilant over any risks to the recovery emanating from the housing market, where rising prices are stoking fears that Britons could become too indebted.

Indeed

Term Funding Scheme. Our Term Funding Scheme (TFS) provides funding to banks and building societies at rates close to Bank Rate. It is designed to encourage them to reflect cuts in Bank Rate in the interest rates faced by households and businesses.

Oh sorry not that £127 billion one nor the extra £60 billion of QE Gilt purchases. anyway as there is nothing to see here let;s move along.

How fast?

This issue is something which just gets ever more breathtaking so let me take you to the Bank of England Minutes.

All members agree that any future increases in Bank Rate are likely to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent.

The problem here is that whilst this is repeated by the media like a mantra nobody points out that we have had years of such hints and promises now with us remaining at the “emergency” Bank Rate of 0.5%. We did of course get a panic cut in the summer of 2016 followed after what was considered to be a suitable delay to avoid embarrassment an overdue reversal but no increases at all.I am reminded of the explanation of what minutes mean by the apochryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby which was along the lines of “Whatever you want” from Status Quo, But feel that this from June 2014 was more accurate.

Part of that normalisation would be a rise in Bank
Rate at some point

The some point has never arrived but of course the hot air rhetoric carries on regardless. From Bloomberg.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney says the U.K. should prepare for a few interest-rate increases over the next few years.

Perhaps he means after June 2019 when he leaves.

Comment

We find ourselves looking at a familiar theme which is the woeful forecasting record of the Bank of England. In this instance we see that it has changed its mid again about pay growth and inflation if we look through the Brexit inspired smokescreen. This matters because the present Governor Mark Carney has placed enormous emphasis on so-called Forward Guidance which of course has turned out to be anything but. It is a feature of his tenure that he is a dedicated follower of fashion but in his private moments he must regret following that particular central banking one. His forward guidance on climate change also has its troubles.

Carney said in the comments, made on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington.

This morning another member of the Bank of England Michael Saunders has demonstrated what a land of confusion they live in.

because the economy’s response to
changes in interest rates, especially rises, is more uncertain than usual.

Is it? Maybe one day we will find out! Also there is this rather bizarre statement and the emphasis is mine.

He also discusses why any further tightening is likely to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent.

So there you have it. As to the decision well the Bank of England has led itself and the markets up the garden path and now is having second thoughts. The real problem is not the current view which is more realistic but why it keeps being wrong?

A new Governor?

An ability not to see anything inconvenient seems a good start and of course the ability to deny almost anything would be of great help. Some have suggested he has gone because he wants to be in Europe next season but personally I think we should remember the positive influence he brought to English football in the early days. A big change to the drinking and eating cultures for a start.

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The Nine Elms problem is one of over supply

Partly because it is back in the news ( did it ever really go away?) and partly due to the nicer weather I cycled past Battersea dogs and cats home yesterday heading up to Vauxhall which gave me a cyclists eye view of the Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station developments. One simple measure is that it takes more than a few minutes to do this which gives an initial idea of scale. Another is my crane count which has now reached 32 as opposed to the 24 or 25 of the past. So activity is rising which of course is in the opposite direction to the official UK construction series but of course for me there is a type of locality bias here. Also if you cycle through the development as I did a couple of months ago you find that adding depth to height and length adds even more to the scale.

The Financial Times has been on the case too.

Battersea luxury homes scheme powers on despite oversupply fears

Frankly I am not sure what choice there is now but let us look deeper.

Now surrounded by hoardings and scaffolding, it lies at the heart of one of the most ambitious redevelopment schemes in Britain’s capital, with nearly 40 sites, owned by domestic and overseas developers, clustered in the surrounding 561 acres known as Nine Elms.

So nearly 3 Battersea Parks and there was an effort to pinch some of the park as well back in the day which fortunately was rebuffed. This has led to this.

It is four years since the prime property market peaked in London, but estate agency group JLL estimates that 3,323 upmarket homes are under construction and another 6,332 in the pipeline across the wider Nine Elms area. The volume of homes planned for the area has prompted fears of an oversupply of luxury properties that most Londoners cannot afford. According to JLL, properties in Nine Elms command £1,400 per sq ft on average, while landlords investing in one-bedroom flats can expect to command £450 a week rent.

This takes me back to February 7th when I noted this from the Guardian.

More than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell, raising fears that the capital will be left with dozens of “posh ghost towers”………The total number of unsold luxury new-build homes, which are rarely advertised at less than £1m, has now hit a record high of 3,000 units.

I guess ghost towers are a special(s) case of a ghost town.

Do you remember the good old days
Before the ghost town?
We danced and sang,
And the music played inna de boomtown

Prices?

Back in February the FT was telling us this.

Prices per square foot in prime London have fallen 5 per cent since their 2014 peak while in the most expensive “prime central” areas they are down 11 per cent.

Whereas now it is giving us examples of larger falls.

A glance at property listings online reveals hefty discounts being offered as owners cut overblown prices. A one-bedroom flat in Aykon London One, a 50-story tower planned by Dubai-based developer Damac Properties, is being offered at £1.1m — a 36 per cent discount to its initial £1.7m price in November…………
Elsewhere, a five-bedroom penthouse is available for £11m — it was listed at close to £14m six months ago. Property agents say many vendors will be investors who bought off-plan early and no longer wish to complete.

What we do not know is how realistic these asking prices were in the first place? Also if you had bought off-plan as it is called then rather than take a 36% loss if that is what it is then you would presumably simply abandon your 10% deposit.

Number Crunching

There is the issue of value which of course is in this instance a little like asking how long is a piece of string? However a reply to the FT article from B gives it a go.

Work out the numbers with stamp duty, Agent fees, maintenance costs etc and the yield works out to 1.5% per annum for a cash buyer in an oversupplied market with limited prospect of capital gains at least for some years.

Assuming the FT data is correct then applying my rule of thumb for such matters means that the price needs to halve. Of course central London runs down a different road but this from Vanessa Warwick in January provides some perspective looking at a house in Newcastle.

*Trending* Is this 3 bed terrace for £39K with £550 pcm rental income a deal?

Actually if you look into it the start price seems to have been more like £55k but on that basis our Nine Elms yield just gets worse. It would also appear from the comments that the area might be what has become called a “sh*thole” by President Trump but then of course according to him Nine Elms is an “off location”.

If City-AM was right last week perhaps someone will be along.

The number of buy-to-let investors in the UK has hit an all-time high of 2.5m in the latest tax year. According to research from real estate agency Ludlow Thompson, the number of buy-to-let investors has increased five per cent in the last year, and 27 per cent over the last five years.

Mind you with rents in London falling I am not so sure about this bit.

Rising numbers of landlords shows the enduring appeal of buy-to-let, particularly in London,” said Stephen Ludlow, chairman at Ludlow Thompson. “The long-term picture for the buy-to-let market remains strong.”

Notice the use of “long-term” which in this instance appears to mean strong in spite of falling prices and rents. Mind you for some in central London his long-term may have come true. From Acadata this morning.

This is, however, almost entirely due to a massive 30.7% annual increase in the average price in Kensington and Chelsea,
London’s most expensive borough – and that largely the result of just seven high value property sales

lucky number 7?

Mortgages

It is hard not to think of the famous quote by Karl Marx after the news from the weekend.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

From This Is Money.

The Post Office has launched a mortgage designed to help first-time buyers get onto the property ladder without the need for a deposit.

The deal – known as the family link mortgage – works by giving the first-time buyer a 90 per cent loan-to-value mortgage secured against the property they’re buying plus an interest-free five-year loan secured on a close relative or parent’s home.

There’s a catch – the parental home needs to be mortgage-free for the buyer to be eligible.

But unlike alternative family mortgages, this one costs the parents nothing so long as the buyer repays the loan on time.

This may not be of enormous use at Nine Elms due to the maximum size being £500,000.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here although some seem to have made up their mind before it even began. The perhaps aptly named Tony Islington in the FT comments.

Stuck in the wastelands of South London…..

Perhaps he drives a London black cab but whilst some parts of the area have stunning views over the Thames there are also some like this.

You have different developers putting up “luxury” towers and blocks cheek-by-jowl.  As a resident. your view would be either that of a neighbouring development or a set of railway tracks leading into the busiest railway station in the country.   Virtually all residents have on the ground is a giant supermarket. ( Nguba )

If anybody spots the giant supermarket please let me know. In the end the project will be reliant on foreign buyers as there are so few in the UK who can buy at these prices. But there is a flow of businesses to the area as this from the Wandsworth Guardian points out.

Dorling Kindersley (DK), the world leading illustrated reference publisher will move to One Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms from their 80 Strand Office by 2020……..DK have chosen to join colleagues from its sister company, Penguin Random House UK, whose move was announced in December 2017. The move is in line with a general shift in the media and publishing industries, with Apple to soon unveil London headquarters within the Nine Elm’s district.

But for now it looks like a classic case of over-supply.

R Lee Emery

The drill instructor who was so terrifying in Full Metal Jacket has sadly passed away. Let me leave you with this from him.

Here, you are ALL equally useless!

 

 

 

The Bank of England faces quite a dilemma

At the moment the minds of the Bank of England must be getting more befuddled than usual as jet lag adds to the usual problems. Once they get back from Australia ( Haldane and Broadbent) and Canada ( Governor Carney) no doubt they will set aside time to read Governor Carney’s latest speech on climate change. That is assuming the forward guidance of their various pilots is working much better than theirs as otherwise a few more flights will be required to get home. So let us open with some relatively rare good news for them. From the BBC.

Reaction Engines Limited (REL), the UK company developing a revolutionary aerospace engine, has announced investments from both Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

REL, based at Culham in Oxfordshire, is working on a propulsion system that is part jet engine, part rocket engine.

At the moment the sums are small but it is a reminder that space technology has been a success story for the UK economy over the past couple of years. It has been getting more and more mentions in the official statistics.

Ben Broadbent

Deputy Governor Broadbent has given a speech at the Reserve Bank of Australia this morning. Tucked away in it is something of a gem even for our absent-minded professor.

I discovered when writing the talk that my former colleague Paul Tucker made very similar arguments regarding accountability back in 2011.

The last thing any sensible person would do is equate former Bank of England Deputy Governor Paul Tucker with accountability. Many of you will remember the saga but for those that do not here is the Guardian from back then.

Paul Tucker, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, is among several figures from the world of finance to receive a knighthood in the New Year honours list, despite claims that he was involved in the Libor interest-rate fixing scandal.

What has concerned our bureaucrat is what concerns bureaucrats the most everywhere which is a challenged to the bureaucratic empire.

Some have argued that, because there are significant interactions between the two, monetary and macroprudential policy should be housed not just in the same institution, but in the same policymaking committee
within the central bank. The distinct MPC and FPC should become a single “FMPC”.

Okay why not ?

The risk is that a single committee would pay
too much attention to its more verifiable objectives – the cyclical stabilisation of inflation and growth, currently
allocated in the main to the monetary policymaker – and too little to financial stability.

Yet he seems to forget this later as he remembers his boss is on both committees so we get this.

Even if the two hands are separate, it is important that the one should know what the other
is doing, and in that respect it helps that some people sit on both committees.

Indeed they do some things together.

Many economic
issues are relevant for both and, in the Bank of England, the MPC and FPC regularly receive joint briefings
on such matters.

Poor old Ben then trips over his own feet with this as an increasing number think that what he fears is the current state of play.

I think there would be risks in asking the central bank to meet a wide range of objectives with no distinctive accounting for the use of its various tools.

The housing market

Those at the Bank of England who have trumpeted wealth effects from higher house prices will be troubled by this from Estate Agents Today.

Prices are flat nationally but there are major regional variations with London seeing the sharpest fall in prices, according to the surveyors.

Respondents in the South East of England, East Anglia and the North East of England also reported prices to be falling, but to a lesser extent than in London.

Prices increased elsewhere in the UK in the last three months.

Will they now be so keen to try to push mortgage interest-rates higher and thus drive away the claimed wealth effects? Whereas at the moment the situation according to the credit conditions survey of the Bank of England reminds us that its previous policies are still having an effect.

A narrowing of spreads reflects an increase in the level of
competition in the mortgage market. In recent discussions, the major UK lenders noted that competition remains very strong.

Can anybody please tell me where the £127 billion of funding given to the banks by the Term Funding Scheme may have gone? It does not seem to have gone here.

The perceived availability of credit to small businesses decreased slightly in 2018 Q1, according to respondents to the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Voice of Small Business Index.

Also if we return to the argument provided by Ben Broadbent that a separate FPC is vital I wonder what he and they think of where the biggest impact of their TFS has been.

 competition remains very strong
and since November has increased in the higher LTV market,………..Consistent with this, the difference
between quoted rates on two-year fixed rate 90% and 75%
LTV mortgages has narrowed from 90 basis points in August to 69 basis points in March. ( LTV = Loan To Value).

As I understand it this is officially called vigilance these days.

Consumer Credit

Another example of “vigilance” can be provided here from today’s survey. You may recall that the Bank of England has taken something of a journey on this subject after Governor Carney told us this in February 2017.

This is not a debt-fuelled consumer expansion
that we’re dealing with.

Now the survey tells us this.

There has been a modest tightening in the availability of
consumer credit over the past year.

This is a reining back from the promises of a reduction that we saw in the survey for the third and fourth quarters of last year which they are no doubt hoping we have forgotten. Of course we see a sign of the Term Funding Scheme at play yet again.

Lending spreads have tightened in recent months as interest rates remained broadly unchanged following the rise in Bank Rate.

This provides two problems for the Bank of England. Firstly it has boosted consumer credit with its “Sledgehammer” policies and now we will have to face the consequences. Next is a confirmation of the earliest theme of this blog which is that Bank Rate has very little and sometimes nothing to do with the interest-rates charged in this area. In effect therefore it is somewhat impotent.

 

Comment

Yet again our absent-minded professor has been somewhat forgetful. For example his own move from being an “external” member to an internal one at the Bank of England was clearly beneficial for him but was bad for the idea of external members bringing fresh ideas and dare I say it independence to the Bank. Now that Rubicon has been crossed they too may now be hoping for promotion and monetary gain and hence influenced in the same way their appointment was an attempt to avoid.

Also the empire building of the current Governor who has overseen inflation in the number of Deputy Governors such as Ben is clearly something that cannot be challenged within the Bank. For example I am no great fan of macro prudential policy as when it was used in the past it failed and I notice the fanfare in favour has gone much quieter as reality has replaced hype.

Moving to the interest-rate issue that presently seems to be the topic du jour every day the Bank of England is facing something of a crisis as its forward guidance has put it between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the increases seen and expected in US interest-rates and the hard place is the trajectory of the UK economy.

Nigeria

The honesty is admirable but it is hard not to smile as you read why Nigeria released its inflation data an hour early today. The Hat Tip is to @LiveSquawk

It will be shortly. I published one hour earlier by accident. Forgot Watch still on London time so I released 8am instead of 9am as published 😊😊. Probably need a break/holiday. My apologies

 

 

UK production and manufacturing have seen a lost decade

Today brings us what is called a theme day by the UK Office for National Statistics as we get data on production, manufacturing and trade. This comes at a time when the data will be especially prodded and poked at. This is mainly driven by the fact that there have been hints of an economic slow down both in the UK and in the Euro area. Added to that we have seen rising tensions around Syria and the Middle East which have pushed the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil above US $70 which if sustained will give us another nudge higher in terms of cost push or if you prefer commodity price inflation. If we return to yesterday’s topic of Bank of England policy we see the potential for it to find itself between a rock and a hard place as a slowing economy could be combined with some oil price driven inflation.

Production

This opened with a worrying note although of course the issue is familiar to us.

In the three months to February 2018, the Index of Production decreased by 0.1% compared with the three months to November 2017, due to a fall of 8.6% in mining and quarrying, caused mainly by the shutdown of the Forties oil pipeline within December 2017.

If we move to the February data we see that it rose but essentially only because of the cold weather that caused trouble for services and construction.

In February 2018, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.1% compared with January 2018; energy supply provided the largest upward contribution, increasing by 3.7%.

If we look into the detail we see that the colder weather raised production by 0.43% meaning that there were weaknesses elsewhere. Some of it came from the oil and gas sector where in addition to some planned maintenance there was a one-day shut down for the rather accident prone seeming Forties field. But there was also something which will attract attention.

Manufacturing output decreased by 0.2%, the first fall in this sector since March 2017, when it fell by 0.4%. Within this sector 7 of the 13 sub-sectors decreased on the month; led by machinery and equipment not elsewhere classified, which fell by 3.9%, the first fall since June 2017, when it decreased by 4.9%.

This has been a strength of the UK economy in recent times and concerns about a possible slow down were only added to by this.

 It should be noted that the growth in this sector of 0.1% during January 2018 and published last month, has been revised this month to 0.0%, further supporting evidence provided in the January 2018 bulletin of a slow-down in manufacturing output.

Although our statisticians found no supporting evidence for this there remains the possibility that the bad weather played a role in this. Otherwise we are left with an impression of a manufacturing slow down which does fit with the purchasing managers indices we have seen. The annual comparison however remains good just not as good as it was.

 in February 2018 compared with February 2017, manufacturing increased by 2.5%.

Also there were hopes that we might regain the previous peak for manufacturing output which was 106.8 in February 2008 where 2015 = 100 but we scaled to 105.4 in January and have now dipped back to 105.2. The situation in production is somewhat worse as we are still quite some distance from the previous peak which on the same basis was at 111.1 in February 2008 and this February was at 104.8. The issue is complicated by the decline of North Sea Oil and Gas but overall those are numbers which look like a depression to me especially after all this time which one might now call a lost decade.

Trade

We traditionally advance on these numbers with some trepidation after years and indeed decades of deficits on this particular front. So let us gather some cheer with some better news.

Comparing the 12 months to February 2018 with the same period in 2017, the total trade deficit narrowed by £12.9 billion to £27.5 billion; the services surplus widened by £11.1 billion to £108.3 billion and the goods deficit narrowed by £1.8 billion to £135.8 billion.

Tucked away in this was some good news and for once a triumph for economics 101.

Total exports rose by 10.4% (£59.4 billion) to £627.6 billion compared with total imports, which increased by 7.6% (£46.5 billion) to £655.1 billion.

In true Alice In Wonderland terms our exports have to do this to make any dent in our deficit because the volume of imports is larger.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

Both goods and services imports have responded well to the lower value of the UK Pound £ as well as being influenced by the favourable world economic environment.

 Goods exports rose by 11.3% (£34.9 billion) to £345.0 billion ……..Services exports rose by 9.5% (£24.5 billion) to £282.6 billion

We rarely give ourselves the credit for being a strong exporting nation because it gets submerged in our apparent lust for imports.

As to the more recent pattern I will let you decide if the change below means something as it is well within the likely errors for such data.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £0.4 billion to £6.4 billion in the three months to February 2018

A little wry humour is provided by the fact that in terms of good exports our annual improvement was due to exports to the European Union. However the humour fades a little as I note our official statisticians have no real detail at all on our services exports which is a great shame as they are a strength of our economy.

Construction

After the cold spell in February this was always going to be a difficult month.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 0.8% in February 2018………Construction output also decreased in the month-on-month series, contracting by 1.6% in February 2018, stemming from a 9.4% decrease in infrastructure new work.

In the circumstances I thought this was not too bad although this may have left me in a class of two.

You see the past is better than we thought it was which also confirms some of the doubts I have expressed about the reliability of this data.

The annual growth in 2017 of 5.7% is revised upwards from the 5.1% growth reported.

So it is not in a depression but has entered a recession.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider as we note that any continuation of the recent falls will see manufacturing continue its own lost decade as we note that overall production seems trapped in one with little hope of  what might be called “escape velocity”. That means that the Bank of England faces a scenario where the picture for this particular 14% of the economy has seen the grey clouds darken. By contrast construction went from a really good phase into a recession which  the bad weather has made worse. I would expect the weather effect to unwind fairly quickly but that returns us to a situation which looked weak,

This leaves the expressed policy of the “unreliable boyfriend” in something of a mess as his forward guidance radar seems to have looked backwards again. Perhaps his new private secretary James Benford will help although I note his profile has been so low Bloomberg had to look him up on LinkedIn, I hope they got the right person. Also life can be complex as for example Russians in the UK might be thinking as they go from threats of financial punishment to seeing the UK Pound £ rally by 2% today and by over 10% in the past week to around 91 versus the R(o)uble .

Let me remain in the sphere of the serially uncorrelated error term by congratulating Roma on a stunning win last night.

 

 

What will the Bank of England claim next?

This morning has seen Reuters publish the details of an interview with one of the Bank of England’s policymakers Ian McCafferty. So let us take a look at what he said.

The Bank of England should not delay raising interest rates again, one of its top policymakers said, pointing to the possibility of faster pay rises and the recent strong pick-up in the world economy.

This is already a little awkward for our self-proclaimed inflation warrior. This is because the Bank of England has been forecasting faster pay rises for several years now usually due to output gap theory.

Speaking in his office in the BoE on Monday, adorned with books on the economy and a framed page of The Times newspaper with a headline about inflation, McCafferty said that as well as the boost from the world economy’s strong recovery, he thought there was now no slack left in Britain’s labor market.

The slack issue has been a problem for him and his colleagues for some time as this from a speech of his four years ago illustrates.

That is why, in the second phase of forward guidance that came into effect this month as the unemployment
rate passed 7%, the MPC expanded the range of indicators of labour market slack that we are formally
monitoring.

The first phase of Forward Guidance lasted around 6 months and it is hard not to have a wry smile as we have left both the unemployment level originally indicated and the other measure suggested by Ian well behind.

At present, these indicators suggest that the current level of slack in the economy, as reported in the
February Inflation Report, is in the region of 1-1½% of GDP, suggesting that there remains some room for
demand to recover further without exerting upward pressure on inflation.

Even if we are generous that had gone by the end of the year and yet Bank Rate is where it was then having followed the strategy of the Grand Old Duke of York when it did move. Oh and did I mention problems with forecasting a wages boom?

So the pickup in January settlements reported by a number of data providers certainly suggests that nominal pay is finally on the rise.

That is because it is from 2014 but pretty much same rhetoric has been used by the Bank of England this year. Actually Ian was embarrassingly wrong back then was average earnings fell sharply in that April meaning that the rolling three-month measure was at -0.3% in July.

What is the current wages evidence?

Ian gives us yet another regurgitation of the output gap or slack style analysis that has worked so badly for him over the past four years.

Unemployment at its lowest rate since 1975, skill shortages and signs that employers were resorting to higher wage offers to lure staff from rival firms or stop them from leaving would also create inflation pressure.

The official data does not give much of a backing for this as the three monthly average at 2.8% in January is higher than last year but by 0.6%. Also if you look back then this measure was around 3% in the late spring and summer of 2015 so it is a case of back to the future. If we move to the latest quarterly report of the Agents of the Bank of England we get what sounds like the same old scene.

Growth in total labour costs had remained modest, although average pay settlements this year were a little higher than in 2017 for many contacts (Chart 6). Most settlements were between 2½%–3½%, driven by a combination of improved profitability among exporters, the annual NLW increase and higher consumer price inflation.

As consumer inflation is set to fade there is an issue there and I will leave you to mull how government policy via the National Living Wage can lead to the Bank of England raising Bank Rate! Oh and many would regard exporters raising pay in response to higher profitability as a good thing.

There is more backing for the higher wages in prospect view from private-sector surveys such as this from this morning on Bloomberg.

U.K. firms facing a shortage of workers are pushing up starting salaries, according to IHS Markit and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.

Pay for temporary or contract staff rose at the quickest pace in six months in March, as the supply of job candidates fell sharply, they said in a report on Tuesday. Vacancies grew across all categories, with engineers and IT workers the most sought after for permanent roles, and hotel and catering employees in highest demand for temporary jobs.

However City-AM has spotted something which Bloomberg seems to have overlooked.

However, signs of increasing pay pressure for staff in permanent roles have diminished since hitting an almost three-year high in January.

A Space Oddity

This is somewhere between confused and simply wrong and the emphasis is mine.

The BoE raised rates for the first time in more than a decade in November, saying that Britain, while growing more slowly than other rich countries because of the impact of the 2016 Brexit vote, was more prone to inflation than in the past.

If we look back to the past we have seen plenty of examples where inflation has been much higher. Ian should know this as I worked with him during one of them. But if we look more recently there are two reasons for using less not more. Firstly there has so far been no sign that the inflation caused by the fall in the UK Pound £ has had secondly and tertiary effects and rolled through the system like it used to. On the evidence so far it hit and then faded. Secondly inflation has not even gone as high as it did in the autumn of 2010.

The World Economy

This is an example of a type of space oddity.

the boost from the world economy’s strong recovery

This is an example of steering monetary policy via the rear window when you are supposed to be looking ahead via the front window. To set monetary policy correctly you would have needed to raise interest-rates around a year before this in fact you could argue somewhere around the time they cut them.

Andy Haldane

There is a clear problem in you being judge and jury on your own actions as Andy as attempted in Melbourne Australia today.

A detailed, disaggregated analysis of household balance sheets suggests the material loosening in UK
monetary policy after the financial crisis did not have significant adverse distributional consequences.

These days it only takes a couple of minutes for him to be challenged about reality which is very different to the lauding he used to get.

 

Personally I am disappointed that having invited Billy Bragg to give a talk at the Bank of England Andy has not produced one of these for him.

Some illustrative and tentative examples of these personal “monetary policy scorecards” have been shown.

Oh and I owe the Bank of England an apology as I though their version of sending Andy to Coventry was complete when they sent him to the Outer Hebrides whereas I now note he is giving speeches in Australia. Will he be the first man on Mars?

Also let me help him out on a subject which he has confessed to not understanding which is pensions. By my calculations his is worth at least £3.4 million will he be producing a personal scorecard?

Comment

There are two fundamental problems here. The first is the error made by the Bank of England back in August 2016 when it confused cut with raise something from which it has never fully recovered. It now has figured out that interest-rates are too low but in terms of timing would be raising in the face of falling inflation and signs of a weakening economic outlook.

Next is the issue of telling everyone it has made them better off. Apart from the obvious moral hazard involved if it was true then why does it need to keep telling us? Moving to a more technical issue it is difficult for a man who does not understand one of the biggest sources of wealth (pensions) to lecture us about it. Sweet summed it up back in the day.

Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say?
We just haven’t got a clue what to do
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way?
To Block Buster!

 

 

 

 

How much will interest-rates rise?

The issue of interest-rate rises has suddenly become something of a hot topic and let me open with the words of Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan. From the Financial Times.

Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, has warned that the US economy is at risk of overheating, raising the prospect that the Federal Reserve may soon need to slam on the brakes to prevent wages and prices from rising too quickly.

There are more than a few begged questions here but let us park them for now and carry on.

“Many people underestimate the possibility of higher inflation and wages, which means they might be underestimating the chance that the Federal Reserve may have to raise rates faster than we all think,” he wrote. “We have to deal with the possibility that, at one point, the Federal Reserve and other central banks may have to take more drastic action than they currently anticipate.”

Okay let us break this down. Firstly we are back to output gap theory again which of course has been wrong,wrong and wrong again in the credit crunch era. If there are signs of overheating then they are to be found in asset markets where we have seen booming bond prices and house prices and until recently all-time highs for equity markets. Only on Tuesday we looked at US house price growth of 6% or 7% depending which data you use.

Wages

I have picked this out because there has been quite a swerve from Jamie Dimon as for so long nearly everyone has been hoping for higher wages. Now suddenly apparently a rise is a bad thing? The Financial Times article implicitly parrots this line.

The prospect of an overheating economy has spooked the financial markets as recently as February, when stronger-than-expected US wage growth sparked the worst Wall Street sell-off in six years.

In terms of numbers a rise in average earnings growth per hour to 2.9% was hardly groundbreaking and of course it has since faded away showing the unreliable nature of one month’s data. In reality to return to old era trends we would need wages growth of 3.5%+ for a while. But in Jamie’s world that seems to be a bad thing although apparently not always. From Bloomberg.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon received $29.5 million in total compensation for his work in 2017, an increase of 5.4 percent from a year earlier.

So we are left mulling a view where what was supposed to be good would now be bad! Although those of you who in the comments section have argued we will not see major interest-rate rises until wage rises for the ordinary person picks up are permitted a wry smile at this point.

What is expected?

From the FT article.

Prices of Fed funds futures suggest few expect the Fed to raise rates by more than three times this year, as policymakers have indicated. Longer-term market measures also indicate that investors expect inflation and bond yields to remain subdued for years to come.

I put the second sentence in because it is positively misleading. What those measures are provide a balancing of markets now and usually have very little to do with what will happen. Returning to interest-rates we got a view this week from former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

At Monday’s larger forum for Jefferies clients, she expressed the view that three or four rate rises were likely this year, and that recent U.S. tax cuts and a boost in government spending posed at least some risk of running the economy hot, according to the first source, who requested anonymity. ( CNBC)

This is the awkward bit about the Jamie Dimon claim which is that the existing and likely moves in US interest-rates are a response to expected higher inflation anyway as of course as we have looked at many times it is still below the target. Back to Janet.

Later, over dinner at the Manhattan penthouse of Jefferies’ chief executive, Yellen told executives from hedge funds, private equity firms and other companies that she considered inflation to be in check and unlikely to spike, so rates would stay relatively low, according to a second person familiar with the discussion.

Take that as you will as of course we discovered in her time that she does not really understand inflation.

The Bank of England

So how will it respond as traditionally it follows the US Federal Reserve?

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Oh sorry not that one. Let us move onto its favourite publication the Financial Times.

Policymakers at the Bank of England are debating whether to be more forthcoming about their future plans for interest rates, as they gear up for a crunch vote on the cost of borrowing next month.

This is fascinating stuff because it both implies and suggests they know what their forecasts are! Let me give you an example reviewed favourably by Chris Giles the economics editor of the FT.

But last month Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, broke ranks with his colleagues on the nine-member committee when he said that rates could rise above 2 per cent over the same period.

Actually if we remove the rose-tintin ( sorry but he is Belgian) he seems an excitable chap as this from the Evening Standard in April 2016 reveals.

Vlieghe’s answer is intriguing: “Theoretically, I think interest rates could go a little bit negative.”

The long discussion on negative interest-rates that took place was clearly a hint of expected policy and means that Gertjan was wrong which poses a question over why we should listen this time? Although Chris Giles has a very different view.

Not sure it matters if people believe them.

I think it matters a lot. Oh and as the Swedish Riksbank has found it.

The Riksbank has had some difficulties with its predictions.

But to be fair Chris Giles does have a sense of humour ( I think).

But there remains concern that the BoE could undermine trust in it as an institution running an important public policy if it makes predictions about interest rates that do not come to pass.

Comment

Let me open with a rather good reply to this from GreaterFool.

Any shreds of credibility that the BoE once had disappeared into smoke after the forward guidance experiment. Telling people that you’ll raise rates after unemployment falls below 7% and then dropping them again when unemployment is below 5% will do that.

In fact the hits keep coming as though in this instance from Felix2012

There are quite a few commenters here who still take MPC seriously, unfortunately.

As to clarity well we did get that from Governor Carney back in June 2014.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming more balanced….“It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

That was taken as a clear signal back then and the next day saw a lot of market adjustments which later led to losses as it never happened. Of course the road to a Bank Rate cut after Governor Carney hinted at it was both real and fast as we discovered 3 years later.

So what can we expect? The Bank of England has rather committed itself to a May Bank Rate rise which if you look at falling inflation and some weaker economic news looks out of touch. We have seen signs of slowing in Europe too as German industrial production has shown already today. The US Federal Reserve will no doubt carry on course unless there is a shock stateside although not everyone even thinks we need any tightening. BoI is the Bank of Italy.

 

What happens if consumer spending is debt fuelled but slows anyway?

Today brings us to a sector of the UK economy that has been running rather red-hot which is the unsecured credit data. The BBC caught up with this on Monday albeit from data which is incomplete.

Debt on UK credit cards is growing at the fastest rate since before the financial crisis, figures show.

The more regular use of these cards for smaller, contactless purchases explains in part the greater debt being built up over short periods.

However, figures from UK Finance show that the annual growth rate in outstanding credit card debt of 8.3% in February was the highest for 12 years.

Some of you will already be smelling a rat as you recall that it has been over 10% in response to the Bank of England opening the credit taps with its “Sledgehammer” in August 2016. It is interesting to see though that on this series we are finally getting the same message. Oh and if you are wondering who UK Finance are they are the new name for the British Bankers Association in the same way that the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant became the leak-free Sellafield.

If we look further into the data there was potentially good news for the economy which does fit with news elsewhere.

“Bank lending to businesses saw modest year-on-year growth in February, driven by investment within the manufacturing sector”

Today’s Data

The data from the Bank of England could have been released with KC and the Sunshine Band in the background.

Now it’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
It’s the same old song

Or to put it another way.

The annual growth rate for consumer credit ticked up slightly to 9.4% (Table J), although net lending remains broadly in line with its previous six-month average.

The monthly number rose from £1.3 billion in January to £1.6 billion in February and the total is now £209.6 billion. If we break that down the fastest growing component is credit cards which if we annualise the quarterly growth rate have risen by 11.3% and now 11.2% in 2018 so far meaning the total is now £70.6 billion. But for that we would be worried by the larger other loans and advances ( personal loans and overdrafts ) which total some £138.6 billion and on the same criteria have grown at 8.2% and 8.5%. Individual months can be erratic but this sector has been a case of the trend is your friend for a couple of years or so now.

Never believe anything until it is officially denied

One of my favourite phrases because it works so well. Brought to you this time by the Bank of England credit conditions survey and the emphasis is mine.

The availability of unsecured credit to households was reported to have decreased again in Q4, such that reductions were reported in all four quarters of 2017 (Chart 1). Lenders expected a significant decrease in Q1. Credit scoring criteria for granting total unsecured loan applications tightened again in Q4, and lenders expected them to tighten significantly further in Q1.

So they reduced it in the third quarter if you recall as well cut it back in the 4th and then gave it a “significant decrease” to er 9.4% in February. This is heading into comical Ali territory now.

Back in February 2017 Governor Mark Carney told us this at the Inflation Report press conference.

From an MPC perspective, just to put those numbers into
context, on the most expansive definition, the increase in
consumer borrowing would contribute up to a tenth of the
increase in consumption. So it’s something, but it’s not
everything. This is not a debt-fuelled consumer expansion
that we’re dealing with.

Of course he may still have been rattled by the opening question.

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?

This is not a debt-fuelled consumer expansion

I would like to stick with the statement by the Governor and bring in this from the Office of National Statistics earlier.

The accumulation of debt (measured by the amount of short-term and long-term loans households took out) in 2017 outstripped the amount of total financial assets they accumulated in the same period. This was the first time this happened since records began in 1987.

Also is anybody thinking of the Sledgehammer QE of August 2016 and of course the promises back then of further “muscular” action in November 2016?

Up until Quarter 3 2016, the households sector was a net lender. In the five quarters since, households have been net borrowers at an average of £3.3 billion per quarter. As a result, 2017 was the first year in which households were net borrowers – meaning that they had to borrow in order to fund their spending and investment activities.

Perhaps this is what the Governor meant at Mansion House last year.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations ( his especially).

Business Lending

This was supposed to be the main target of the Funding for Lending Scheme as it was fired up in the summer of 2012. The priority was smaller businesses so how is that going?

Net lending to SMEs has increased following a rather weak January

It rose by £700 million after falling by £700 million then. This means that the annual growth rate has risen from 0% to 0.1% and reminds us yet again of the true meaning of the word counterfactual.

Comment

So the beat goes on for UK unsecured credit although it seems to have taken UK Finance quite some time to catch up. The national accounts breakdown also tells us that there has been something of a shift although it includes secured debt and has issues with accuracy. On that subject if we stay with GDP here is an example of something from the research centre of the UK ONS.

Our initial results suggest that imputation of pension
accruals raises both the Gini coefficient and the geometric mean of equivalised household income materially, while the effects of imputing investment income are more marked on the Gini coefficient than on the geometric mean of household income.

So if we have imputed rent, pensions and investment income why not stop counting anything and simply input the lot and tell us that tractor production is rising. You may not be surprised to read that one of the authors is Martin Weale who is building a consistent track record.

Moving back to unsecured debt I note that the Bank of England ( of course Dr. Weale’s former employer )  is of course vigilant. But in spite of all this vigilance even growth at these levels does not seem to be helping the retail sector much as we observe a steady stream of receiverships and closures. On the more hopeful side falling inflation will help improve the real wages situation this year and mean that we may get some more of this.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 1.8% between 2016 and 2017, revised upwards by 0.1 percentage points from the second estimate of GDP published on 22 February 2018.

Happy Easter to you all.