Good UK Retail Sales trip up the Bank of England

The morning has bought some better news for the UK economy which is welcome in these pandemic driven hard times. However it has been something of a problem for the Bank of England which tripped up yesterday. It decided to send a signal to markets via this section from its Monetary Policy Committee meeting Minutes.

The Committee had discussed its policy toolkit, and the effectiveness of negative policy rates in particular,
in the August Monetary Policy Report, in light of the decline in global equilibrium interest rates over a number of
years. Subsequently, the MPC had been briefed on the Bank of England’s plans to explore how a negative
Bank Rate could be implemented effectively, should the outlook for inflation and output warrant it at some point
during this period of low equilibrium rates. The Bank of England and the Prudential Regulation Authority will
begin structured engagement on the operational considerations in 2020 Q4.

We learn something from the language as the group of people who have cut interest-rates describe it as “the decline in global equilibrium interest rates over a number of
years.” So we immediately learn that they do not think it has gone well as otherwise they would be taking the credit themselves. After all if it is really like that then they are redundant and we could use a formula to set interest-rates.

Next comes something which is perhaps even more embarrassing which is that only now  around 6 months after the pandemic peak ( which in economics terms was March 19th) have they been briefed on implementing negative interest-rates. What have they been doing? I would have expected it in the first week if not on day one. For the reasons I have explained over time on here I would vote no given such a chance, but at least I know that and I also know why I think that.

Finally they will wait until the next quarter to discuss it with the Prudential Regulation Authority?

The Economic Outlook

There was a conceptual problem with all of this because the view as expressed in the Minutes was that the economy was doing better than they have previously thought.

For 2020 Q3 as a whole, Bank staff expected GDP to be around 7% below its 2019 Q4 level, less weak
than had been expected in the August Report.

This brings us back to the issues I have raised above. Why did they not prepare for negative interest-rates where the outlook was worse than now?

UK Retail Sales

Things got better for us but worse for the Bank of England this morning as the retail sales numbers were released.

In August 2020, retail sales volumes increased by 0.8% when compared with July; this is the fourth consecutive month of growth, resulting in an increase of 4.0% when compared with February’s pre-pandemic level.

The UK shopper has returned to his/her pattern of growth and ironically we are now doing better than the previous period because if you recall annual growth was dropping then whereas now we have solid growth.

Indeed there was even more woe for the inflationistas at the Bank of England in the detail.

In August, retail sales values increased by 0.7% when compared with July and 2.5% when compared with February.

The amount spent is lower than the volume increase meaning that prices have fallen. This is another piece of evidence for the argument I first made on here on the 29th of January 2015 that lower prices led to higher sales volumes. Meanwhile the Bank of England is trying to raise prices.

The MPC’s remit is clear that the inflation target applies at all times, reflecting the primacy of price stability in the
UK monetary policy framework.

Actually they are also not telling the truth as raising prices by 2% per annum would not only reduce any retail sales growth it is not price stability. It is very sad that the present policy is to pick policymakers who all toe the party line rather than some who think for themselves. The whole point of having external members has been wasted as the Bank of England has in effected reverted to being an operating arm of HM Treasury.

Retail Sales Detail

The obvious question is to ask why is the retail sector exemplified by the high street in such trouble?The report does give insight into that.

In August, there was a mixed picture within the different store types as non-store retailing volumes were 38.9% above February, while clothing stores were still 15.9% below February’s pre-pandemic levels.

As you can see there has been quite a shift there and it is not the only one. Fuel volumes are still only at 91.3% of the February level. That is somewhat surprising from the perspective of Battersea but there is context from the issue with Hammersmith Bridge and now Vauxhall Bridge.

Also one area and I am sure you have guessed it has seen quite a boom.

Looking at the year-on-year growth in Table 2, total retail sales increased by 51.6%, with strong increases across all sectors. This shows that while we see declines on the month, online sales were at significantly higher levels than the previous year.

We have fallen back from the peak but the trend was up anyway as pre pandemic volumes were around 50% higher than in 2016. In August they were 125.9% higher than in 2016.

Eat Out To Help Out

In case you were wondering this was not part of the growth today and may well have subtracted from it according to The Guardian.

Britons spent £155m less in supermarkets in August than in the previous month as many returned to workplaces and the government’s eat out to help out scheme encouraged visiting restaurants and cafes.

Alcohol sales in supermarkets dipped month on month, with wine down 5% and beer down 10%, as the scheme encouraged people to swap Zoom catch-ups for trips to bars and restaurants, according to market research firm Kantar.

Comment

It has been a curious 24 hours when our central banking overlords have displayed their leaden footedness. The issue of negative interest-rates is something we have been prepared for and with both the UK 2 and 5 year bond yields already negative markets have adjusted to. For a while the UK Pound £ fell and the bond market rallied but the Pound has rallied again. So what was the point?

Also as Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC reminded me Governor Andrew Bailey told her this on the 16th of March.

On negative interest rates – Evaluated the impact on banks/ bldg societies carefully “there is a reason we cut 15bps”. Bailey: “I am not a fan of negative interest rates and they are not a tool I would want to use readily”. Banks are in position to support the economy.

Never believe anything until it is officially denied……

 

The Central Banks can enrich themselves and large equity investors but who else?

We are in a period of heavy central bank action with the US Federal Reserve announcement last night as well as the BCB of Brazil and the Bank of England today. We are also in the speeches season for the European Central Bank or ECB. But they have a problem as shown below.

(Reuters) – London-listed shares tracked declines in Asian stock markets on Thursday as the lack of new stimulus measures by the U.S. Federal Reserve left investors disappointed ahead of a Bank of England policy meeting.

Is their main role to have equity markets singing along with Foster The People?

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You’d better run, better run, faster than my bullet
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You’d better run, better run, outrun my gun

We can continue the theme of central planning for equity markets with this from Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan earlier.

BOJ GOV KURODA: ETF PURCHASES ARE NOT TARGETING SPECIFIC STOCK MARKET LEVELS. ( @FinancialJuice )

In fact he has been in full flow.

BOJ’S GOV. KURODA: I DON’T SEE JAPAN’S STOCK MARKET GAINS AS ABNORMAL.  ( @FinancialJuice)

I suppose so would I if I owned some 34 Trillion Yen of it. We also have an official denial that he is aiming at specific levels. He might like to want to stop buying when it falls then. Some will have gained but in general the economic impact has been small and there are a whole litany of issues as highlighted by ETFStream.

Koll says the sheer weight of BoJ involvement is off-putting for others who might wish to get involved in the market. “When I go around the world, (the size of the BoJ’s holdings is) the single biggest push back about Japan from asset allocators,” he says. “This is the flow in the market.”

As the Bank of Japan approaches 80% of the ETF market I am sure that readers can see the problem here. In essence is there a market at all now? Or as ETFStream put it.

So how can the BoJ extricate itself from the ETF market without crashing the stock market?

Also it is kind of theme to back the long-running junkie culture theme of mine.

As it stands, the market has become as hooked as any addict.

You also have to laugh at this although there is an element of gallows humour about it.

The recent slackening off in ETF buying might be an attempt to end this cycle of dependency,

That was from February and let me remind you that so much of the media plugged the reduction line. Right into the biggest expansion of the scheme! As an example another 80 billion Yen was bought this morning to prevent a larger fall in the market. It was the fourth such purchase this month.

The US Federal Reserve

It has boxed itself in with its switched to average ( 2% per annum) inflation targeting and Chair Powell got himself in quite a mess last night.

Projections from individual members also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023. ( CNBC )

This bit was inevitable as having set such a target he cannot raise interest-rates for quite some time. Of course, we did not expect any increases anyway and this was hardly a surprise.

With inflation running persistently below this longer-run goal, the Committee will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent. The Committee expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these outcomes are achieved. ( Federal Reserve)

So there is no real change but apparently it is this.

Powell, asked if we will get more forward guidance, says today’s update was ‘powerful’, ‘very strong’, ‘durable’ forward guidance. ( @Newsquawk).

He has boxed himself in. He has set interest-rates as his main measure and he cannot raise them for some time and the evidence is that negative interest-rates do not work. So all he can do is the “masterly inaction” of the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Applebym or nothing. Quite how that is powerful is anyone’s guess.

Brazil

The same illogic was on display at the Banco Central do Brasil last night.

Taking into account the baseline scenario, the balance of risks, and the broad array of available information, the Copom unanimously decided to maintain the Selic rate at 2.00% p.a.

They have slashed interest-rates to an extraordinary low level for Brazil and seem to think they are at or near the “lower bound” for them.

The Copom believes that the current economic conditions continue to recommend an unusually strong monetary stimulus but it recognizes that, due to prudential and financial stability reasons, the remaining space for monetary policy stimulus, if it exists, should be small.

But telling people that is a triumph?

To provide the monetary stimulus deemed adequate to meet the inflation target, but maintaining the necessary caution for prudential reasons, the Copom considered adequate to use forward guidance as an additional monetary policy tool.

Seeing as nobody is expecting interest-rate increases telling them there will not be any will achieve precisely nothing. Let’s face it how many will even know about it?

ECB

They too are indulging in some open mouth operations.

ECB’s Rehn: Fed’s New Strategy Will Inevitably Have An Impact On The ECB, “We Are Not Operating In A Vacuum”

Regular readers will recall him from back in the day when he was often telling the Greeks to tighten their belts and that things could only get better. Nobody seems to have told poor Ollie about the last decade.

ECB’s Rehn: There Is A Risk That Inflation Will Continue To Remain Too Low Sees Risk That Euro Zone Will Fall In A Trap Of Slow Growth And Low Inflation For A “Long Time”

So we see more ECB policymakers correcting ECB President Christine Lagarde on the issue of the exchange rate. Also as the news filters around there is this.

Three month Euribor fixes at -0.501% … below the ECB’s deposit rate for the first time! ( StephenSpratt)

He is a little confused as of course this has happened before but whilst it is a very minor move we could see another ECB interest-rate cut. It will not do any good but that has not stopped the before has it?

Bank of England

There is this doing the rounds.

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England is expected to signal on Thursday that it is getting ready to pump yet more stimulus into Britain’s economy as it heads for a jump in unemployment and a possible Brexit shock.

Actually nothing has changed and the Bank of England is at what it has called the lower bound for interest-rates ( 0.1%) and is already doing £4.4 billion of bond buying a week.

Still not everybody is seeing hard times.

Former Bank of England (BoE) governor Mark Carney has joined PIMCO’s global advisory board, which is chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Carney, who was appointed UN Special Envoy on climate action and finance in December 2019, is one of seven members of the global advisory board, alongside former UK Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown, and ex-president of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet. ( investmentweek.co.uk )

As Dobie Gray put it.

I’m in with the in crowd
I go where the in crowd goes
I’m in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows

Comment

We have arrived at a situation I have long feared and warned about. The central bankers have grandly pulled their policy levers and now are confused it has not worked. Indeed they have pulled them beyond what they previously thought was the maximum as for example the Bank of England which established a 0.5% interest-rate as a “lower bound” now has one of 0.1%. Now they are trying to claim that keeping interest-rates here will work when the evidence is that they are doing damage in more than a few areas. In terms of economics it was described as a “liquidity trap” and they have jumped into it.

Now they think they can escape by promising action on the inflation rates that as a generic they have been unable to raise since the credit crunch. Here there is an element of “be careful which you wish for” as they have put enormous effort into keeping the prices they can raise ( assets such as bonds,equities and houses) out of the inflation measures. So whilst they can cut interest-rates further and frankly the Bank of England and US Federal Reserve are likely to do so in any further downtown they have the problem highlighted by Newt in the film Aliens.

It wont make any difference.

That is why I opened with a discussion of equity purchases as it is more QE that is the only game in town now. Sooner or later we will see more bond purchases from the US Federal Reserve above the present US $80 billion a month. Then the only move left will be to buy equities. At which point we will have a policy which President Trump would set although of course he may or may not be President by them.

Oh and I have missed out one constant which is this sort of thing.

ECB Banking Supervision allows significant banks to temporarily exclude their holdings of banknotes, coins and central bank deposits from leverage ratio calculations until 27 June 2021. This will increase banks’ leverage ratios.

The Precious! The Precious!

 

 

 

The rise and rise of negative interest-rates

The modern era has brought something that has been in motion all my career, although there have been spells which did not feel like that. I am discussing bond yields which have been in a secular decline since the 1980s. Regular readers will be aware that back when I was new to this arena I asked Legal and General why they were buying a UK Gilt that yielded 15%? Younger readers please feel free to delete such a number from your memories if it is all too much. But there is another shift as back then the benchmark was 20 years and not 10. However you look at it from that perspective a world in which both the 2 and 5 year UK bond or Gilt yields were around -0.13% would have been considered impossible it not unpossible.

Germany

These have been the leaders of the pack in terms of negative bond yields. Last week Germany sold a benchmark 10 year bond with no coupon at all. We should take a moment to consider this as a bond is in theory something with a yield or coupon so as it does not have one we are merely left with money being borrowed and then repaid. Except there was a catch there too as not all of it will be repaid. The price paid was 105.13 on average and you will only get 100 back. Or if you prefer a negative yield of the order of 0.5% per year.

This year has brought something that in the past would have ended the situation as this.

The German Federal Government intends to issue fixed income Government securities with an aggregate volume of € 210 billion in 2020 to finance
the Federal Government budget and its special funds.

Became this.

The auction volume in the first two quarters of the current year amounted to € 97 billion for nominal capital market instruments (planned at the beginning of the year: € 78 billion) and € 87.5 billion for money market instruments (planned at the beginning of the year: € 31 billion)…….Due to the adjustments, the third quarter auction volume for nominal capital market instruments will total € 74 billion (planned at the beginning of the year: € 41 billion).

As you can see there were considerably more bonds on offer but it has made little or no difference to investors willingness to accept a maturity loss or negative yield. Oh and maybe even more bonds are on the way.

In non-regular reopenings on 1 and 16 April, a total amount of € 142 billion of already existing Federal securities was issued directly into the Federal government’s own holdings. These transactions created the possibility to react flexibly to short-term liquidity requirements.

So we learn that the previous reality that Germany was benefiting from its austere approach to public finances was not much of an influence. Previously it has been running a fiscal surplus and repaying debt.

Switzerland

The benchmark yield is very similar here as the 10 year yield is -0.49%. There are many similarities in the situation between Germany and Switzerland but one crucial difference which is that Switzerland has its own currency. The Swiss Franc remains very strong in spite of an interest-rate of -0.75% that has begun to look ever more permanent which is an irony as the 1.20 exchange-rate barrier with the Euro was supposed to be that. The reality is that the exchange-rate over five years after the abandonment of that is stronger at just below 1.08.

So a factor in what we might call early mover status is a strong currency. This also includes the Euro to some extent as we note ECB President Lagarde was on the wires over the weekend.

ECB Lagarde Says Euro Gains Have Blunted Stimulus Boost to Inflation … BBG

This allows us to bring in Japan as well as the Yen has remained strong in spite of all the bond buying of the Bank of Japan.

Safe Haven

The ECB issued a working paper on this subject in January.

There is growing academic and policy interest in so called “safe assets”, that is assets that have stable nominal payoffs, are highly liquid and carry minimal credit risk.

Notice the two swerves which are the use of “stable nominal payoffs” and “minimal credit risk”. The latter is especially noticeable for a place like the ECB which insisted there was no credit risk for Greece, which was true for the ECB but not everyone else.

Anyway it continues.

After the global financial crisis, the demand for safe assets has increased well beyond its supply, leading to an increase in the convenience yield and therefore to the interest that these assets pay. High demand for safe assets has important macroeconomic consequences. The equilibrium safe real interest rate may in fact decline well below zero.

They also note a feature we have been looking at for the best part of a decade now.

In this situation, one of the adjustment mechanisms is the appreciation of the currency of issuance of the safe asset, the so called paradox of the reserve currency.

Quantitative Easing

The problem for the theory above is that the central banks who love to push such theories ( as it absolves them of blame) are of course chomping on safe assets like they are their favourite sweets. Indeed there is a new entrant only this morning, or more accurately an expansion from an existing player.

The Executive Board of the Riksbank has decided to initiate purchases of corporate bonds in the week beginning 14 September 2020. The purchases will keep
companies’ funding costs down and reinforce the Riksbank’s capacity to act if the credit supply to companies were to deteriorate further as a result of the corona pandemic. On 30 June 2020, the Executive Board decided that, within its programme for bond purchases, the Riksbank would offer to purchase corporate bonds to a
nominal amount of SEK 10 billion between 1 September 2020 and 30 June 2021.

There are all sorts of issues with that but for today’s purpose it is simply that the push towards negative interest-rates will be added to. Or more specifically it will increasingly spread to higher risk assets. We can be sure however that should some of these implode it will be nobody’s fault as it could not possibly have been predicted.

Meanwhile ordinary purchases around the world continue including in my home country as the Bank of England buys another £1.45 billion of UK bonds or Gilts.

Comment

There are other factors in play. The first is that we need to try to look beyond the present situation as we note this from The Market Ear.

the feedback loop…”the more governments borrow, the less it seems to cost – giving rise to calls for still more borrowing and spending”. ( Citibank)

That misses out the scale of all the central bank buying which has been enormous and gets even larger if we factor in expected purchases. The US Federal Reserve is buying US $80 billion per month of US Treasuries but with its announcement of average inflation targeting seems likely to buy many more

Also the same Market Ear piece notes this.

The scalability of modern technology means that stimulus is going into asset price inflation, not CPI

Just no. What it means is that consumer inflation measures have been manipulated to avoid showing inflation in certain areas. Thus via Goodhart’s Law and/or the Lucas Critique we get economic policy based on boosting prices in these areas and claiming they are Wealth Effects when for many they are inflation.

We get another shift because if we introduce the issue of capital we see that up to know bond holders will not care much about negative yields as they have been having quite a party. Prices have soared beyond many’s wildest dreams. The rub as Shakespeare would put it is that going forwards we face existing high prices and low or negative yields. It used to be the job of central banks to take the punch bowl away when the party gets going but these days they pour more alcohol in the bowl.

Meanwhile from Friday.

UK SELLS 6-MONTH TREASURY BILL WITH NEGATIVE YIELD AT TENDER, FIRST TIME 6-MONTH BILL SOLD AT NEGATIVE YIELD ( @fiquant )

Podcast

 

 

 

 

Why I still expect UK house prices to fall

This morning has brought another example that to quote Todd Terry “there’s something going on” in the UK housing market. Of course there is an enormous amount of government and Bank of England support but even so we are seeing a curious development.

House prices rebound further to reach record
high, challenging affordability.

That is from the Halifax earlier who are the latest to report on this trend where the initial effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been not only to raise recorded house prices, but to give the rate of growth quite a shove. Indeed prices rose by nearly as much this August on its own as in the year to last August.

“House prices continued to beat expectations in August, with prices again rising sharply, up by 1.6% on a
monthly basis. Annual growth now stands at 5.2%, its strongest level since late 2016, with the average
price of a property tipping over £245,000 for the first time on record.”

I would not spend to much time on the average price per see as each house price index has its own way of calculating that. But the push higher in prices is unmistakable as we look for the causes.

“A surge in market activity has driven up house prices through the post-lockdown summer period, fuelled
by the release of pent-up demand, a strong desire amongst some buyers to move to bigger properties, and
of course the temporary cut to stamp duty.”

I think maybe the stamp duty cut should come first, but the desire for larger properties is intriguing. That may well b a euphemism for wanting a garden which after the lock down is no surprise, but at these prices how is it being afforded? Wanting if one thing, be able to afford it is another.

Bank of England

It’s combination of interest-rate cuts. QE bond buying, and credit easing has led to this.

The mortgage market showed more signs of recovery in July, but remained weak in comparison to pre-Covid. On net, households borrowed an additional £2.7 billion secured on their homes. This was higher than the £2.4 billion in June but below the average of £4.2 billion in the six months to February 2020. The increase on the month reflected a slight increase in gross borrowing to £17.4 billion in July, below the pre-Covid February level of £23.7 billion and consistent with the recent weakness in mortgage approvals.

As you can see it has got things on the move but both gross and net levels of activity are lower and especially the gross one. That may well be a lock down feature as there are lags in the process.  But if the approvals numbers are any guide they are on their way

The number of mortgages approvals for house purchase continued recovering in July, reaching 66,300, up from 39,900 in June. Approvals are now 10% below the February level of 73,700 (Chart 3), but more than seven times higher than the trough of 9,300 in May.

Michael Saunders

It seems that the Monetary Policy Committee may have further plans for the housing market.

Looking forward, I suspect that risks lie on the side of a slower recovery over the next year or two
and a longer period of excess supply than the forecast in the August MPR. If these risks develop,
then some further monetary loosening may be needed in order to support the economy and prevent
a persistent undershoot of the 2% inflation target. ( MPR = Monetary Policy Report )

Seeing as interest-rates are already at their Lower Bound and we are seeing QE bond buying as for example there will be another £1.473 billion today. it does make you wonder what more he intends? Although in a more off the cuff moment he did say this.

Review of negative rates is not finished: Not theologically oppsed to neg rates. ( ForexFlow)

He seems genuinely confused and frankly if he and his colleagues were wrong in August they are likely to be wrong in September as well! Oh and is this an official denial?

But I wouldn’t get too carried away by this prospect of money-fuelled inflation pressures.

He did however get one thing right about the money supply.

In other words, the crisis has lifted the demand for money
– the amount of deposits that households and businesses would like to hold – as well as the rise in the
supply of money described above.

That is a mention of money demand which is more of an influence on broad money than supply a lot of the time. Sadly though he fumbled the ball here.

All this has been backed up by the BoE’s asset purchase programme, which (to the extent that bonds have
been bought from the non-bank private sector) acts directly to boost broad money growth.

It acts directly on narrow money growth and affects broad money growth via that.

Another credit crunch

Poor old Michael Saunders needs to get out a bit more as this shows.

And, thanks to the marked rise in their capital ratios during the last decade, banks have been much better
placed than previously to meet that demand for credit.

Meanwhile back in the real world there is this.

Barclays has lowered its loan to income multiples to a maximum of 4.49 times income.

This applies to all LTVs, loan sizes and income scenarios except for where an LTV is greater than 90 per cent and joint income of the household is equal to or below £50,000, and where the debt to income ratio is equal to or above 20 per cent.

In these two cases the income multiple has been lowered to 4 times salary. ( Mortgage Strategy)

There has been a reduction in supply of higher risk mortgages and such is it that one bank is making an offer for only 2 days to avoid being swamped with demand.

Accord Mortgages is relaunching it’s 90 per cent deals for first-time buyers for two days only next week. ( Mortgage Strategy)

Also according to Mortgage Strategy some mortgage rates saw a large weekly rise.

At 90 per cent LTV the rate flew upward by 32 basis points, taking the average rate from 3.22 per cent to 3.54 per cent…….Despite the overall average rate dropping for three-year fixes there was one large movement upwards within – at 90 per cent LTV the average rate grew from 3.26 per cent to 3.55 per cent.

Comment

If we start with the last section which is something of a credit crunch for low equity or if you prefer high risk mortgages then that is something which can turn the house price trend. I would imagine there will be some strongly worded letters being sent from the Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey to the heads of the banks over this. But on present trends this and its likely accompaniment which is surveyors reducing estimated values will turn the market. Indeed even the Halifax is btacing itself for falls.

“Rising house prices contrast with the adverse impact of the pandemic on household earnings and with
most economic commentators believing that unemployment will continue to rise, we do expect greater
downward pressure on house prices in the medium-term.”

What can the Bank of England do? Short of actually buying houses for people there is really only one more thing. Cut interest-rates into negative territory and offer even more than the current £113 billion from the Term Funding Scheme ( to save the banks the inconvenience of needing those pesky depositors and savers). Then look on in “shock” as the money misses smaller businesses as it floods the mortgage market. But these days the extra push gets smaller because it keeps pulling the same lever.

Also can HM Treasury now put stamp duty back up without torpedoing the market?

Podcast

 

Can the Bank of England pull UK house prices out of the bag again?

Whilst the UK was winding up for a long weekend the Governor of the Bank of England was speaking about his plans for QE ( Quantitative Easing) at the Jackson Hole conference. He said some pretty extraordinary stuff in a somewhat stuttering performance via videolink. Apparently it has been a triumph.

So what is our latest thinking on the effects of QE and how it works? Viewed from the depth of the Covid
crisis, QE worked effectively.

Although as he cannot measure it so we will have to take his word for it.

Measuring this effect precisely is of course hard, since we cannot easily identify what the counterfactual would have been in the absence of QE.

He seems to have forgotten the impact of the central bank foreign exchange liquidity swaps of the US Federal Reserve. By contrast we were on the pace back on the 16th of March.

But QE clearly acted to break a dangerous risk of transmission from severe market stress to the macro-economy, by avoiding a sharp tightening in financial conditions and thus an increase in effective interest rates.

The next bit was even odder and I have highlighted the especially significant part.

QE is normally thought to work through a number of channels: including signalling of future central bank
intentions and thus interest rates; so called ‘portfolio balance’ effects (i.e. by changing the composition of
assets held by the private sector); and improving impaired market liquidity.

As he has cut to what he argues is the “lower bound” for UK interest-rates how can he be signalling lower ones? After all that would take us to the negative interest-rates he denies any plans for.

Fantasy Time

Things then took something of an Alice In Wonderland turn. Before you read this next bit let me remind you that the Bank of England started QE back in 2009 and not one single £ has ever been repaid.

First, a balance sheet intervention aimed solely at market
functioning is likely to be more temporary, in terms of the duration of its need to be in place.

Also the previous plan if I credit it with being a plan was waiting for this.

and once the Bank Rate
had risen to around 1.5%, thus creating more headroom for the future use of Bank Rate both up and down.

Whilst it was none too bright ( as you force the price of the Gilts held down before selling them) it was never going to be used. This was clear from the way Nemat Shafik was put in charge of this as you would never give her that important a job. Even the Bank of England eventually had to face up to her competence and she left her role early to run the LSE. This meant that she was part of the “woman overboard” problem that so dogged the previous Governor Mark Carney.

The new plan for any QE unwind is below.

We need to work through what lessons this may have for the appropriate future path of central bank balance sheets, including the pace and timing of any future unwind of asset
purchases.

How very Cheshire Cat.

“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”

The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

The only real interest the Governor has here is in doing more QE and he faces a potential limit ( if we did not know that we learn it from his denial). So he thinks that one day he may unwind some QE so he can do even more later. For the moment the limit keeps moving higher as highlighted by the fact that the UK issued another £7.4 billion of new bonds or Gilts last week alone.

Today’s Monetary Data

Let me highlight this referring to the Governor’s speech. He tells us that QE has been successful.

The Covid crisis to date has demonstrated that QE and forward guidance around it have been effective in a
particular situation.

Meanwhile borrowers faced HIGHER and not LOWER interest-rates in July

The interest rate on new consumer credit borrowing increased 22 basis points to 4.64% in July, while rates on interest-charging overdrafts increased 1.6 percentage points to 14.84%.

This issue is one which is a nagging headache for Governor Bailey this is because he had the same effect in his previous role as head of the Financial Conduct Authority. It investigated unauthorised overdraft rates in such a way they have risen from a bit below 20% to 31.63% in July. Some have reported these have doubled so perhaps the data is being tortured here.There is a confession to this if you look hard enough.

Rates on interest-charging overdraft rose by 1.6 percentage points to 14.84% in July. Between April and June, overdraft rates have been revised up by around 5 percentage points due to changes in underlying data.

Oh and just as a reminder the FCA was supposed to be representing the borrowers and not the lenders.

QE

As the Governor trumpets his “to “go big” and “go fast” decisively” action we see a clear consequence below.

Private sector companies and households continued increasing deposits with banks at a fast pace in July. Sterling money (known as M4ex) rose by £26.3 billion in July, more than in June (£16.8 billion), but less than average monthly increase of £53.4 billion between March and May. The increase in July is strong relative to the £9.4 billion average of the six months to February 2020.

This means that annual broad money growth ( M4) is at a record of 12.4%. Care is needed as I can recall a previous measure ( £M3) so the history is shorter than you might think. But there has been a concerted effort by the Bank of England to sing along with Andrea True Connection.

(More, more, more) How do you like it? How do you like it?
(More, more, more) How do you like it? How do you like it?
(More, more, more) How do you like it? How do you like it?

Or perhaps Britney Spears.

Gimme, gimme more
Gimme more
Gimme, gimme more
Gimme, gimme more
Gimme more

Consumer Credit

The sighs of relief out of the Bank of England were audible when this was released.

Net consumer credit borrowing was positive in July, following four months of net repayments (Chart 2). An additional £1.2 billion of consumer credit was borrowed in July, around the average of £1.1 billion per month in the 18 months to February 2020.

Although there is still this to send a chill down its spine.

 Net repayments totaled £15.9 billion between March and June. That recent weakness meant the annual growth rate remained negative at -3.6%, similar to June and it remains the weakest since the series began in 1994.

Comment

Quite a few of my themes have been in play today. For example QE looks ever more like a “To Infinity! And Beyond!” play. Governor Bailey confirms this by repeating the plan for interest-rates. They were only ever raised ( and by a mere 0.25% net in reality) so they could cut them later. So QE will only ever be reduced ( so far net progress is £0) so that they can do more later. He does not mention it but any official interest-rate increase looks way in the distance although as we have noticed the real world does see them. That was my first ever theme on here.

Next let me address the money supply growth. The theory is that it will in around 2 years time boost nominal GDP by the same amount. We therefore will see both inflation and growth. That works in broad terms but we have learnt in the past that the growth/inflation split is unknown as are the lags. Also of course which GDP level do we start from? I can see PhD’s at the Bank of England sniffing the chance to produce career enhancing research but for the rest of us we can merely say we expect inflation but much of it may end up here.

House prices at the end of the year are expected to be 2% to 3% higher than at the start.

The annual rate of UK house price growth slowed to 2.5% in July, from 2.7% in June. ( Zoopla )

I find that a little mind boggling but unlike central banking research we look at reality on here.

Finally let me cover something omitted by the Governor and many other places. This is the strength of the UK Pound £ which has risen above US $1.34. Whilst US Dollar weakness is a factor it is also now above 142 Yen ( and the Yen has been strong itself). I would place a quote from the media if I could find any. In trade-weighted terms from the nadir just below 73 as the crisis hit it will be around 79 at these levels. Or if you prefer the equivalent according to the old Bank of England rule of thumb is a 1.5% rise in Bank Rate. Perhaps nobody has told the Governor about this…..

Podcast

 

 

Some welcome good economic news for the UK

Today is proving to be something of a rarity in the current Covid-19 pandemic as it has brought some better and indeed good economic news. It is for the UK but let us hope that such trends will be repeated elsewhere. It is also in an area that can operate as a leading indicator.

In July 2020, retail sales volumes increased by 3.6% when compared with June, and are 3.0% above pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

As you can see not only did July improve on June but it took the UK above its pre pandemic levels. If we look at the breakdown we see that quite a lot was going on in the detail.

In July, the volume of food store sales and non-store retailing remained at high sales levels, despite monthly contractions in these sectors at negative 3.1% and 2.1% respectively.

In July, fuel sales continued to recover from low sales levels but were still 11.7% lower than February; recent analysis shows that car road traffic in July was around 17 percentage points lower compared with the first week in February, according to data from the Department for Transport.

As you can see food sales dipped ( probably good for our waistlines) as did non store retailing but the recovery in fuel sales from the nadir when so few were driving was a stronger influence. I suspect the fuel sales issue is likely to continue this month based on the new establishment passion for people diving their cars to work. That of course clashes with their past enthusiasm for the now rather empty looking public transport ( the famous double-decker red buses of London are now limited to a mere 30 passengers and the ones passing me these days rarely seem anywhere near that). Actually it also collides with the recent public works for creating cycle lanes out of is not nowhere restricted space in London which has had me scratching my head and I am a regular Boris Bike user.

As we look further I thought that I was clearly not typical as what I bought was clothing but then I noted the stores bit.

Clothing store sales were the worst hit during the pandemic and volume sales in July remained 25.7% lower than February, even with a July 2020 monthly increase of 11.9% in this sector.

Online retail sales fell by 7.0% in July when compared with June, but the strong growth experienced over the pandemic has meant that sales are still 50.4% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels.

In fact the only downbeat part of today;s report was the implication that the decline of the high street has been given another shove by the current pandemic. On the upside we are seeing innovation and change. Also if we look for some perspective we see quite a switch on terms of trend.

When compared with the previous three months, a stronger rate of growth is seen in the three months to July, at 5.1% and 6.1% for value and volume sales respectively. This was following eight consecutive months of decline in the three-month on three-month growth rate.

It is easy to forget in the melee of news but UK Retail Sales growth had been slip-sliding away and now we find ourselves recording what is a V-Shaped recovery in its purest form.

There is another undercut to this which feeds into a theme I first established on the 29th of January 2015 which is like Kryptonite for central bankers and their lust for inflation. If we look at the value and volume figures we see that prices have fallen and they have led to a higher volume of sales.I doubt that will feature in any Bank of England Working Paper.

Purchasing Manager’s Indices

These do not have the street credibility they once did. However the UK numbers covering August also provided some good news today.

August’s data illustrates that the recovery has gained speed
across both the manufacturing and service sectors since July. The combined expansion of UK private sector output was the fastest for almost seven years, following sharp improvements in business and consumer spending from the lows seen in April.

Public-Sector Finances

This is an example of a number which is both good and bad at the same time.

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks, PSNB ex) in July 2020 is estimated to have been £26.7 billion, £28.3 billion more than in July 2019 and the fourth highest borrowing in any month on record (records began in 1993).

That is because we did need support for the economy ( how much is of course debateable) and even so the monthly numbers are falling especially if we note this as well.

Borrowing estimates are subject to greater than usual uncertainty; borrowing in June 2020 was revised down by £6.0 billion to £29.5 billion, largely because of stronger than previously estimated tax receipts and National Insurance contributions.

We can now switch to describing the position as the good the bad and the ugly.

Borrowing in the first four months of this financial year (April to July 2020) is estimated to have been £150.5 billion, £128.4 billion more than in the same period last year and the highest borrowing in any April to July period on record (records began in 1993), with each of the months from April to July being records.

The size of the debt is a combination of ugly and bad but we see that the numbers look like they are falling quite quickly now. Indeed if we allow for the effect of the economy picking up that impact should be reinforced especially if we allow for this.

Self-assessed Income Tax receipts were £4.8 billion in July 2020, £4.5 billion less than in July 2019, because of the government’s deferral policy;

National Debt

There has been some shocking reporting of this today which basically involves copy and pasting this.

Debt (public sector net debt excluding public sector banks, PSND ex) has exceeded £2 trillion for the first time; at the end of July 2020, debt was £2,004.0 billion, £227.6 billion more than at the same point last year.

It is a nice click bait headline but if you read the full document you will spot this.

The Bank of England’s (BoE’s) contribution to debt is largely a result of its quantitative easing activities via the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (APF), Term Funding Schemes (TFS) and Covid Corporate Financing Facility Fund (CCFF).

If we were to remove the temporary debt impact of these schemes along with the other transactions relating to the normal operations of BoE, PSND ex at the end of July 2020 would reduce by £194.8 billion (or 9.8 percentage points of GDP) to £1,809.3 billion (or 90.7% of GDP).

Regular readers may be having a wry smile at me finally being nice to the Term Funding Scheme! But its total should not be added to the national debt and nor should profits from the Bank of England QE holdings. Apparently profit is now debt or something like that.

As a result of these gilt holdings, the impact of the APF on public sector net debt stands at £115.8 billion, the difference between the nominal value of its gilt holdings and the market value it paid at the time of purchase.

Comment

It is nice to report some better news for the economy and let us hope it will continue until we arrive at the next information point which is how the economy responds to the end of the furlough scheme in October. As to the Public Finances I have avoided any references to the Office for Budget Responsibility until now as they have managed to limbo under their own usual low standards. Accordingly even my first rule of OBR Club that the OBR is always wrong may need an upwards revision.

Let me now take you away from the fantasy that the Bank of England has taken UK debt above £2 trillion and return to an Earth where it is implicitly financing the debt. Here is the Resolution Foundation.

These high fiscal costs of lockdown look to be manageable, though. 1) The @UK_DMO   has raised over £243bn since mid-March. 2) While debt is going up, the costs are still going down. Interest payments were £2.4bn in July 2020, a £2bn fall compared with July 2019.

That shows how much debt we have issued but how can it be cheaper? This is because the Bank of England has turned up as a buyer of first resort. At the peak it was buying some £13,5 billion of UK bonds a week and whilst the weekly pace has now dropped to £4.4 billion you can see that it has been like a powered up Pac-Man. Or if you prefer buying some £657 billion of something does tend to move the price and yield especially if we compare it to the total market.

Gilts make up the largest component of debt. At the end of July 2020 there were £1,681.2 billion of central government gilts in circulation.

Finally the UK Retail Prices Index consultation closes tonight and please feel free to contact HM Treasury to ask why they are trying to neuter out best inflation measure?

 

 

Another survey says UK House Prices are rising

This morning there will have been scenes at the Bank of England. Indeed there will have been jostling amongst the staff as they rush to be the one who presents the morning meeting. Whoever grabbed the gig will be facing a Governor who has a wide beaming smile as his mind anticipates raiding the well-stocked wine cellar later. Perhaps the cake trolley will be filled with everyone’s favourites as well. What will cause such happiness?

Sharp increase in July pushes house prices to
highest ever levels ( Halifax )

Unwitting passers-by may hear a murmur which sounds like “The Wealth Effects! The Wealth Effects!” because that is exactly what it is. This mentality has seeped its way through the UK establishment now as the Deputy National Statistician Jonathan Athow parroted such a line during a recent online conference on how he plans to neuter the Retail Price Index.

What are the numbers?

The Halifax reported quite a surge last month.

Following four months of decline, average house prices in July experienced their greatest month on month
increase this year, up 1.6% from June and comfortably offsetting losses in 2020. The average house price
in July is the highest it has ever been since the Halifax House Price Index began, 3.8% higher than a year
ago.

If we look at levels we get a context to the house price boom the UK has seen in recent decades as we note that an index set at 100 in 1992 was at 416.6 in July. Putting that another way the average price is now £241,604. Care is needed with such averages because they vary between different organisations quite a but partly because as you can see the numbers come in for some torture.

The standardised average price is calculated using the HPI’s mix adjusted methodology………The standardised index is seasonally adjusted using the U.S. Bureau of the Census X-11 moving-average method based on a rolling 84-month series. Each month, the seasonally adjusted figure for the same month a year ago and last month’s figure are subject to revision.

84 months!

Why?

As we switch to the question posed by Carly Simon we are told this.

The latest data adds to the emerging view that the market is experiencing a surprising spike post lockdown. As pent-up demand from the period of lockdown is released into a largely open housing market, a low supply of available homes is helping to exert upwards pressure on house prices. Supported by the government’s initiative of a significant cut in stamp duty, and evidence from households and agents
suggesting that confidence is currently growing, the immediate future for the housing market looks brighter
than many might have expected three months ago.

So we see that the Stamp Duty cut is in play so once the Chancellor has completed this morning’s round of media interviews he will receive a call from Governor Andrew Bailey to say “Well played sir!”. I have to confess that this bit has me a little bemused.

that confidence is currently growing

That is hard to square with the wave of job and pay cuts we are seeing.

Mortgages

We looked at the approvals data last week but there is also the data from the tax register.

Monthly property transactions data shows a rise in UK home sales in June. UK seasonally
adjusted residential transactions in June 2020 were 63,250 – up by 31.7% from May following the lifting
of COVID-19 lockdown measures. Quarter-on-quarter transactions were approximately 47% lower than
quarter one 2020. (Source: HMRC, seasonally-adjusted figures)

I find it odd that so many organisations continue with seasonal adjustment at a time when we are not acting as usual. But we have to suspect higher numbers again in July if we also note the trends below.

Results from the latest (June 2020) RICS Residential Market Survey point to a recovery emerging
across the market, with indicators on buyer demand, sales and new listings rallying following the
lockdown related falls. New buyer demand has moved to a net balance of +61% (compared to -7% and
-94% in April and May respectively). New instructions also rose firmly to a net balance of +42%
(compared with -22% in May). Newly agreed sales net balance has moved into positive territory for the
first time since February, with a net balance of +43% (from -34% in May)

Care is needed as that is a sentiment index with spin in play and maybe as much as the Pakistan cricket team which has picked two spinners.

If we switch to mortgage rates then the Bank of England tells us this.

The effective rates on new and outstanding mortgages were little changed in June. New mortgage rates were 1.77%, an increase of 3 basis points on the month, while the interest rate on the stock of mortgage loans was 2.16%, unchanged from May and 0.2 percentage points lower than in February.

As you can see the rate for new mortgages is quite a bit below that on the existing stock meaning that a combination of new draw downs and remortgaging is pulling the overall position lower.

Bringing this up to date we have a story of two halves where remortgages remain at extraordinary low levels but the first time buyer has to pay quite a bit more.

This week has seen several rate increases for mortgages, particularly at higher loan-to-values (LTV). Halifax, TSB, Skipton Building Society, Virgin Money and Nationwide Building Society all increased their rates during the week on 85% LTV mortgages. HSBC increased its rates on 90% LTV mortgages, but they remain among the top rates for those with a smaller mortgage deposit. ( Moneyfacts )

The organisations above may well be getting a phone call from Governor Bailey along these lines.

Whose side are you on, son?

Don’t you love your country?

Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?

( Full Metal Jacket)

Indeed the whole Monetary Policy Committee seems to have mortgage rate news on speed dial.

The Committee discussed the various factors affecting the price of new mortgage lending.

They also took some time to applaud themselves.

But other factors had been pushing in the opposite direction, such that it was possible that, in the absence of the MPC’s policy action, mortgage rates would have risen somewhat at all LTV ratios.

Comment

So we see a rather surprising development which backs up what we looked at on the 29th of July from Zoopla. I think we are seeing a bit of delayed action or if you prefer something which is in fact in the ( often derided) rational expectations models where prices can rise to prepare for a larger fall.

Why? Well in the short term the efforts of the government looked at above and the Bank of England via its new Term Funding Scheme ( over £21 billion now) can work. So we have lower costs and continued pressure on mortgage rates, But as time passes the higher levels of unemployment and wages cuts have to come into play in my opinion.

Meanwhile at the upper end of New York.

Two years after selling a three-storey penthouse for $59 million, one of the most expensive sales in Manhattan at the time, the developer of a luxury building on the High Line in Manhattan has steeply discounted the remaining four apartments, with the price of one full-floor unit overlooking the elevated park dropping by more than 50%.

The units at The Getty Residences in Chelsea, designed by architect Peter Marino, had been on the market for the last three years.

The units range from a 3,312-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bathroom that had its price cut about 42% to $9.4 million to a 3,816-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bathroom apartment with a balcony dropping 43% to $13.8 million.  ( Forbes )

 

 

Time for some Bank of England Bingo for savers

Earlier this morning the Bank of England announced that it was taking the advice of the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby by applying some “masterly inaction”

At its meeting ending on 4 August 2020, the MPC voted unanimously to maintain Bank Rate at 0.1%. The Committee voted unanimously for the Bank of England to continue with its existing programmes of UK government bond and sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, maintaining the target for the total stock of these purchases at £745 billion.

Let me first focus on an interest-rate of 0.1% and take you back to the 28th of September 2010.

 “It’s very much swings and roundabouts. At the current juncture, savers might be suffering as a result of bank rate being at low levels, but there will be times in the future — as there have been times in the past — when they will be doing very well.

“Savers shouldn’t see themselves as being uniquely hit by this. A lot of people are suffering during this downturn … Savers shouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to live just off their income in times when interest rates are low. It may make sense for them to eat into their capital a bit.”  ( Deputy Governor Charlie Bean)

Savers will be eating “into their capital a bit” more these days as the “swings and roundabouts” never turned up but there was a slide with Bank Rate now 0.1% compared to the emergency 0.5% back then, That provides something of a contradiction to something else our Charlie said.

The Deputy Governor said the Bank’s 0.5  per cent base rate was part of an “aggressive policy” to deal with a “once-in-a-century” financial crisis.

What do you do with someone who gets the future completely wrong?

Sir Charles joined the OBR in January 2017 and also holds a part-time Professorship at the London School of Economics.

Yes you give them a job forecasting the economy. This is along the lines of Yes Prime Minister where an individual who does not even have a television is suggested as a perfect Governor for the BBC. You may note that rather than the slide that savers are on Sir Charles has been on a roundabout of other establishment jobs to top up his already substantial RPI linked pension. Yes the same RPI which is officially a bad measure of inflation until it applies personally.

Negative Interest-Rates.

In some ways it is hard to know where to start with this.

Some central banks have judged their ELB to be below
zero, and have implemented negative policy rates as a tool to stimulate the economy. In recent years, the MPC has
judged that the ELB for Bank Rate is close to but just above zero. But that judgement can change, and in the past
has changed.

Actually I have had two minor successes here. Firstly they admit negative interest-rates exist as believe it or not past analysis ignored the fact that merely crossing either The Channel or the Irish Sea took interest-rates to -0.6% and -1% for banks. Also that the view on the Effective Lower Bound or ELB switched overnight from 0.5% to 0.1%. Laughable really but nor as wild as the swings at the Bank of Canada.

The reality is that they are preparing us for a move to a negative Bank Rate. This is because the brighter ones there know they are in trouble.

Oh no I see
A spider web and it’s me in the middle
So I twist and turn
Here am I in my little bubble

But they are not bright enough to realise it is a trap of their own making. Meanwhile the PR spinning goes on.

The global fall in central bank interest rates to very low levels in part reflects falls in the ‘equilibrium interest rate’
— the interest rate at which monetary policy is neither expansionary nor contractionary.

So all the interest-rate cuts are nothing at all to do with them really, which is curious as only a couple of paragraphs earlier it is up to them.

The MPC is currently considering whether the ELB for Bank Rate could be below zero; that is whether a negative
policy rate could provide economic stimulus.

Indeed just on the wires as I type this comes another entry in my theme of never believe anything until it is officially denied.

BOE’s Bailey, negative rates are in the toolbox but no plans to use them ( @mhewson_CMC )

Quantitative Easing

There will be some ch-ch-changes here starting next week.

The Bank intends to purchase evenly across the three gilt maturity sectors.  For operations scheduled between 11 August 2020 and 16 December 2020 the planned size of auctions will be £1,473mn for each maturity sector. This auction size includes the reinvestment of the £7.0bn cash flows associated with the maturity on 7 September 2020 of a gilt owned by the APF.

So we see that a weekly rate of purchases of £6.9 billion will fall to slightly over £4.4 billion and if we allow for the Operation Twist style refinancing that is a bit below 60% of what it was.

Forecasts

It seems that the spirit of Professor Sir Charles Bean lives on.

The UK economic slump caused by Covid-19 will be less severe than expected, but the recovery will also take longer, the Bank of England has said.

It expects the economy to shrink by 9.5% this year.

While this would be the biggest annual decline in 100 years, it is not as steep as the Bank’s initial estimate of a 14% contraction. ( BBC)

Of course our valiant Knight’s present employer has done even worse. Who could possibly have expected this?

Housing Market

The Bank of England will have been fully behind this.

An overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need will be at the heart of the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades, the Housing Secretary has announced today (6 August 2020).

The landmark changes will transform a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure – such as schools, roads and GP surgeries – to support them. ( UK Government)

There is even time for some smaller businesses rhetoric.

The changes will be a major boost to SME builders currently cut off by the planning process.

Are they the same ones which were supposed to be boosted by the Funding for Lending Scheme of the summer of 2012? How has that been going?

The current system has shown itself to be unfavourable to small businesses, with the proportion of new homebuilding they lead on dropping drastically from 40% 30 years ago to just 12% today.

Comment

Let me open with the economic view which is that 2020 so far has turned out not to be as bad as the Bank of England previously thought. That is welcome and we have seen a spread of better news. That means that their panic-stricken rush to cut Bank Rate to 0.1% was yet another policy mistake which they seem set to compound by cutting to negative interest-rates. Of course they have already inflicted negative bond yields on us ( up to around the 7 year maturity) via their financing of the UK government with total QE purchases now some £645 billion.

I am ignoring their forecasts for 2021 because the have just demonstrated they know not a lot about 2020 so how they know 2021? Also the next real clue comes when the furlough scheme runs out later this year.

Meanwhile since the Bank of England has gone quiet on the policy front one thing has improved which is the value of the UK Pound £. The headline of nearly US $1.32 flatters it as the real move in effective or trade-weighted terms has been from 73 to 78. Actually that shift itself is welcome as the anti-inflationary move versus the US Dollar has been larger than elsewhere. That leaves the intellectual titans at the Bank of England in quite a quandary because they want inflation higher so they can make people and savers worse off. You think that is too silly for them? Not in a world where the Governor of the Bank of England can publicly state cutting interest-rates works in an upswing.

BoE’s Bailey: Effectiveness Of Negative Rates Depends On What Point Of Cycle They Are Used, ECB Research Suggests Most Effective In An Upswing ( @LiveSquawk)

Is that how the ECB ended up with a deposit rate of -0.6%? If so the Euro area economy must have seen quiet a boom…..Oh wait.

The Investing Channel

 

 

UK Retail Sales surge in June

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about all sorts of economic events. Yesterday evening I went for a stroll in Battersea Park and it was quite noticeable how the number of people going for a picnic there has increased. We do not know how permanent that will be but I suspect at least some of it will be as people discover that the same bottle of wine is so much cheaper than at a wine bar or pub. Oh yes and some seem to forget the food part of the picnic! I can see that BBC Breakfast have put their own spin on it.

9-year-old Sky had this message on #BBCBreakfast for people dropping litter in parks and open spaces

Yes more people have created more litter. Kudos to @PolemicPaine who pointed out ahead of a flurry of such media reports that it would happen. Some people’s behaviour is bad but in recent years the cleanliness of Battersea Park has improved a lot and thank you to the workers there.

Retail Sales

These are the numbers which were likely to be harbingers of change in the trajectory of the UK economy. So this morning’s news was rather welcome.

In June 2020, the volume of retail sales increased by 13.9% when compared with May 2020 as non-food and fuel stores continue their recovery from the sharp falls experienced since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

That was quite a surge and means this.

The two monthly increases in the volume of retail sales in May and June 2020 have brought total sales to a similar level as before the coronavirus pandemic; however, there is a mixed picture in different store types.

There is another way of looking at this.

In June, total retail sales continued to increase to reach similar levels as before the pandemic, with a fall of just 0.6% when compared with February.

So is it in modern language, like well over? Not quite as the text is a little reticent in pointing this out but volumes were some 1.6% lower than last June. Whilst growth had been slowing we usually have some so perhaps 3% lower than we might usually expect. However these are strong numbers in the circumstances and will have come as an especial shock to readers of the Financial Times with the economics editor reporting this. I have highlighted the bit which applies to June.

The latest numbers on card payments and bank account transactions from Fable Data show that in the week to July 19, total spending in the UK was 25 per cent down on the same week in 2019, a deterioration from a 13 per cent decline four weeks earlier.

As you can see whilst consumption is a larger category than Retail Sales there is quite a difference in the numbers here. According to the report by the economics editor of the FT a bad June was followed by a woeful July.

The latest indications from unofficial data on spending patterns in the UK suggests the economic recovery that began in late April has stalled — and possibly even moved backwards in July. Separate figures from the Bank of England’s payment system and from card payments collected by Fable Data show a worse picture for spending in mid-July than at the start of the month.

More on this later.

The Breakdown

Whilst the overall picture is pretty much back to February there have been some ch-ch-changes in the pattern.

In June, while non-food stores and fuel sales show strong monthly growths in the volume of sales at 45.5% and 21.5% respectively, levels have still not recovered from the sharp falls experienced in March and April.

My personal fuel sales shot up as I bought some diesel and went to visit an aunt and my mother;s house at the end of June but on a more serious level traffic in Battersea picked up noticeably. This is in spite of the official effort to discourage driving just after telling people to drive! Anyway switching sectors this is interesting.

Following this peak, sales returned to a level higher than before the pandemic. In June 2020, despite a small monthly decline of 0.1% in volume sales, food stores remained 5.3% higher than in February 2020.

I say that because of this.

Feedback from food retailers had suggested that consumers were panic buying in preparation for the impending lockdown.

If they were we would expect a dip going ahead. On a personal level I did put some extra stuff in my freezer in case I had to quarantine ( it was 7 days then) and bought some more tinned food. But collectively the other side of that has not been seen so far. Maybe it is because the June numbers do not see the opening of restaurants and the like which began on July 4th.

I doubt anyone is going to be surprised by this.

Non-store retailing has reached a new high level in June 2020, with continued growth during the pandemic and a 53.6% increase in volume sales when compared with February 2020.

Let me now give you the two polar opposites starting with the bad.

Textile, clothing and footwear stores show the sharpest decline in total sales at negative 34.9%. This was because of a combination of a large fall within stores at negative 50.8% along with a slower uptake in online sales, with a 26.8% increase from February.

Now the up,up and away.

Household goods stores, as the only store type to show an increase since the start of the pandemic, has a large uptake in online sales, increasing by 103.2%. In addition, household goods stores saw the smallest decline in store sales when compared with other non-food stores, at negative 15.2%.

I am glad to see my friend who has been painting his garage door and some windows pop up in the figures.

In June, electrical household appliances, hardware, paints and glass, and furniture stores all returned to similar levels as before the pandemic.

Comment

This is welcome news for the UK economy and it provides another piece of evidence for one of my themes. For newer readers I argued back in January 2015 that lower prices boost the economy ( the opposite of the Bank of England view) and we see that lower prices in retail have led us to getting right back to where we started from. I am sure that some PhD’s at the Bank of England are being instructed to sufficiently torture the numbers to disprove this already.

Actually the Bank of England is in disarray as in response to the FT data above one of its members seems to have switched to analysing health.

Jonathan Haskel, an external member of the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee, said the evidence was beginning to show that household concerns about health were more likely to drive spending than government lockdown rules.

Oh well. Also this made me laugh, after all who provided all the liquidity?

“The need for more equity finance creates a case for authorities to be ambitious in reforming the financial system to remove any biases against the patience that’s needed for many equity investments,” he said.

“Even investors who should have the longest horizons seem to have a fetish for liquidity and an aversion to really illiquid growth capital assets.” he said. ( Reuters)

I do hope somebody pointed out to Alex Brazier, the BoE’s Executive Director for Financial Stability Strategy and Risk that the speech should be given to his own colleagues who have been singing along to Elvis Costello.

Pump it up, until you can feel it
Pump it up, when you don’t really need it

Let me finish by pointing out that these retail numbers are imprecise in normal times and will be worse now. So we have seen quite an upwards shift of say around 10%. Moving onto numbers which are even more unreliable there was more good news but regular readers will know to splash some salt around these.

At 57.1 in July, up from 47.7 in June, the headline seasonally
adjusted IHS Markit / CIPS Flash UK Composite Output Index – which is based on approximately 85% of usual monthly replies – registered above the 50.0 no-change value for the first time since February.

UK Public-Sector Borrowing starts to improve

Today has brought the UK public-sector finances into focus and we find some better news which is very welcome in these times. I was going to type good but as you will soon see the numbers remain somewhat eye-watering. Let me illustrate with the opening paragraph from this morning’s release.

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks, PSNB ex) in June 2020 is estimated to have been £35.5 billion, roughly five times (or £28.3 billion more) that in June 2019 and the third highest borrowing in any month on record (records began in 1993).

We can’t call that good when we were pre pandemic thinking of borrowing that sort of amount in the whole year. But it represents a slowing on the pandemic trend which is reinforced by this from May.

Borrowing estimates are subject to greater than usual uncertainty; borrowing in May 2020 was revised down by £9.8 billion to £45.5 billion, largely because of stronger than previously estimated tax receipts and National Insurance contributions

The better news theme continues with two nuances. The first is simply welcoming a lower number and the second is the strong hint that the economy was doing better than so far thought via stronger tax receipts. So I dug a little deeper.

Central government tax receipts and NICs for May 2020 have been increased by £6.6 billion and £2.3 billion respectively compared with those published in our previous bulletin (published 19 June 2020). Previous estimates of Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Income Tax increased by £4.2 billion and Value Added Tax (VAT) increased by £2.3 billion, both because of updated data.

This is outright good news as we see that both income taxes and expenditure or consumption taxes are better than previously thought. For overseas readers National Insurance Contributions can be confusing as they are presented as everything they are not. For example they hint they are for pensions and the like when in fact they just go in a common pot, and they give the impression they are not income taxes when they are.

Oh and something else we have been noting was in play.

Alcohol duty collected in May has increased by £0.5 billion (on a national accounts basis) compared with our previous estimate. A large proportion of this additional revenue relates to repayment of arrears of duty payments (or debt) from February, March and April 2020.

Perhaps whoever was collecting those numbers had been having a drink themselves….

Tax Receipts

This pandemic has reminded us that they are not what you might expect.

To estimate borrowing, tax receipts and NICs are recorded on an accrued (or national accounts) rather than on a cash receipt basis. In other words, we attempt to record receipts at the point where the liability arose, rather than when the tax is actually paid.

In a modern online IT area that seems poor to me. But it gets worse as we note my first rule of OBR club which for newer readers is that it is always wrong.

This process means many receipts are provisional for the latest period(s) as they depend on both actual cash payments and on projections of future tax receipts (currently based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR’s) Coronavirus Reference Scenario ( 14 May 2020) , which are “accrued” (or time adjusted) back to the current month(s)).

So as usual we see that in May the OBR was wrong.

June

After noting the above please take this with a pinch of salt.

In June 2020, central government receipts are estimated to have fallen by 16.5% compared with June 2019 to £49.4 billion, including £35.0 billion in taxes…..This month, tax revenue on a national accounts basis fell by 20.1% compared with June last year, with Value Added Tax (VAT), Corporation Tax and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Income Tax receipts falling by 45.1%, 19.2% and 1.6% respectively.

Hopefully they have learned something from the May experience. There is some hope from this although surely it should also apply to NICs?

However, we have applied an additional adjustment to PAYE Income Tax and Air Passenger Duty (APD).

There are a couple of extra points to note from the detail. For example they expect Stamp Duty on property to be £600 million as opposed to £900 million last June which gives us some more data on the property market. Also in the light of the upwards revision to alcohol duty I am a bit surprised they expect less this June ( £200 million lower) but £100 million more from tobacco.

We are spending much more.

In June 2020, central government spent £80.5 billion, an increase of 24.8% on June 2019.

There was also quite a win from reporting lower inflation levels.

Interest payments on the government’s outstanding debt in June 2020 were £2.7 billion, a £4.6 billion decrease compared with June 2019. Changes in debt interest are largely a result of movements in the Retail Prices Index to which index-linked bonds are pegged.

Perspective

We get some from this.

Borrowing in the first quarter of this financial year is estimated to have been £127.9 billion, £103.9 billion more than in the same period last year and the highest borrowing in any April to June period on record (records began in 1993), with each of the months from April to June being records.

We only get some written detail.

This unprecedented increase largely reflects the impact of the pandemic on the public finances, with the furlough schemes (CJRS and SEISS) adding £37.6 billion in borrowing alone as subsidies paid by central government to the private sector.

So let me help out a bit. Income taxes are only a little bit down on last year but VAT receipts are £10.8 billion lower which means there has been some saving going on. Fuel Duty is unsurprisingly some £3.2 billion lower and Stamp Duty some £1.2 billion lower.

One matter I would note is that expenditure on debt is down substantially by some £5.6 billion and I would caution about putting it all down to lower inflation and inflation ( RPI) linked Gilts. We have begun to issue the occasional Gilt at negative yields and others for little or nothing which will add to this. It is a development which I think only  we have had on our radar which is that whilst we are issuing so much debt it is at only a small annual cost. By the way this is another area which the OBR has got spectacularly wrong and confirmed my first rule about them one more time.

Comment

So we learn that the UK economy has been doing better than previously reported as one of the signals is tax receipts. However, that is relative and one could easily type less badly. Moving onto the National Debt I have to confess I had a wry smile.

At the end of June 2020, the amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector was just under £2.0 trillion (or £1,983.8 billion), which equates to 99.6% of gross domestic product (GDP).

So I was both right and wrong in awarding myself a slice of humble pie last month. Right in that unless you can prove the numbers are wrong you take it on the chin. But on the other side I was in fact more accurate than the Office for National Statistics in expecting the breaching of the 100% threshold to take longer. Also my first rule of OBR Club won again. Oh well! As Fleetwood Mac sang.

Another matter of note is how the Bank of England is affecting these numbers which is two ways. It has inflated how we record the debt.

If we were to remove the temporary debt impact of APF and Term Funding Scheme, public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) at the end of June 2020 would reduce by £192.9 billion (or 9.7% percentage points of GDP) to £1,790.9 billion (or 89.9% of GDP).

However all its purchases ( another £3.45 billion today) mean that we are borrowing very cheaply with some bond yields negative ( out to 6/7 years) and even the fifty-year being only 0.53%.