Is Japan the future for all of us?

A regular feature of these times is to compare our economic performance with that of Japan. That has propped up pretty regularly in this crisis mostly about the Euro area but with sub-plots for the US and UK. One group that will be happy about this with be The Vapors and I wonder how much they have made out of it?

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so.

The two basic concepts here are interrelated and are of Deflation and what was called The Lost Decade but now are The Lost Decades. These matters are more nuanced that usually presented so let me start with Deflation which is a fall in aggregate demand in an economy. According to the latest Bank of Japan Minutes this is happening again.

This is because aggregate demand is
highly likely to be pushed down by deterioration in the labor market and the utilization rate of conventional types of services could decline given a new lifestyle that takes into
consideration the risk of COVID-19.

The latter point echoes a discussion from the comments section yesterday about an extension to the railway to the Scottish Borders. Before COVID-19 anything like that would come with a round of applause but now there are genuine questions about public transport for the future. There is an irony close to me as I have lived in Battersea for nearly 3 decades and a tube line there has been promised for most of that. Now it is on its way will it get much use?

This is a difficult conceptual issue because if we build “White Elephants” they will be counted in GDP ( it is both output and income), but if they are not used the money is to some extent wasted. I differ to that extent from the view of John Maynard Keynes that you can dig and hole and fill it in. If that worked we would not be where we are now. In the credit crunch we saw facets of this with the empty hotels in Ireland, the unused airport in Spain and roads to nowhere in Portugal. That was before China built empty cities.

Inflation Deflation

There is something of a double swerve applied here which I will illustrate from the Bank of Japan Minutes again.

Next, the three arrows of Abenomics should continue to be carried out to the fullest extent until the economy returns to a growth path in which the annual inflation
rate is maintained sustainably at around 2 percent.

A 2% inflation target has nothing at all to do with deflation and this should be challenged more, especially when it has this Orwellian element.

It is assumed that achievement of the price stability target will be delayed due to COVID-19
and that monetary easing will be prolonged further

It is not a price stability target it is an inflation rate target. This is of particular relevance in Japan as it has had stable prices pretty much throughout the lost decade period. It is up by 0.1% in the past year and at 101.8 if we take 2015 as 100, so marginal at most. The undercut to this is that you need inflation for relative price changes. But this is also untrue as the essentially inflation-free Japan has a food price index at 105.8 and an education one of 92.7.

Policy Failure

The issue here is that as you can see above there has been a complete failure but that has not stopped other central banks from speeding down the failure road. It is what is missing from the statement below that is revealing.

: the Special Program to Support Financing in Response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19); an ample provision of
yen and foreign currency funds without setting upper limits; and active purchases of assets such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

No mention of negative interest-rates? Also the large-scale purchases of Japanese Government Bonds only get an implicit mention. Whereas by contrast the purchase of equities as in this coded language that is what “active purchases of assets such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs)” means gets highlighted. The 0.1% will be happy but as any asset price rise is omitted from the inflation indices it is entirely pointless according to their stated objective. No wonder they keep failing…

This matters because pretty much every central bank has put on their running shoes and set off in pursuit of the Bank of Japan. Ever more interest-rate cuts and ever more QE bond buying. Perhaps the most extreme case is the ECB (European Central Bank) with its -0.5% Deposit Rate and large-scale QE. On the latter subject it seems to be actively mirroring Japan.

The ECB may not need to use the full size of its recently expanded pandemic purchase program, Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel says ( Bloomberg)

This is a regular tactic of hinting at reductions whereas the reality invariably ends up on the Andrea True Connection road.

More! More! More!

Staying with the Euro area the ECB has unveiled all sorts of policies and has a balance sheet of 6.2 trillion Euros but keeps missing its stated target. We noted recently that over the past decade or so they have been around 0.7% per year below it and that is not getting any better.

In June 2020, a month in which many COVID-19 containment measures have been gradually lifted, Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 0.3%, up from 0.1% in May ( Eurostat )

Real Wage Deflation

This to my mind is the bigger issue. It used to be the case ( in what was called the NICE era by former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King) that wages grew faster than wages by 1-2% per annum. That was fading out before the credit crunch and since there have been real problems. The state of play for the leader of the pack here has been highlighted by Nippon.com.

Wage growth in Japan is also slow compared with other major economies. According to statistics published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average Japanese annual wage in 2018 was the equivalent of $46,000—a mere 0.2% increase on the figure for 2000 ($45,000).

They mean 2% and everyone else seems to be heading that way.

This increase is significantly smaller than those recorded in the same period in the United States ($53,900 to 63,100), Germany ($43,300 to 49,800), and France ($37,100 to 44,500).

The UK has gone from around $39,000 to the same as France at $44.500.

There is an obvious issue in using another currency but we have the general picture and right now it is getting worse everywhere.

Comment

The answers to the question in my title unfold as follows. In terms of central bank action we have an unequivocal yes. They have copied Japan as much as they can showing they have learnt nothing. We could replace them with an AI version ( with the hope that the I of Intelligence might apply). Related to this is the inflation issue where all the evidence is that they will continue to fail. We have here an example of failure squared where they pursue policies that do not work in pursuit of an objective which would make people worse rather than better off.

That last point feeds into the wages issue which in my opinion is the key one of our times. The Ivory Towers of the central banks still pursue policies where wages growth exceeds inflation and their models assume it. Perhaps because for them it is true. But for the rest of us it is not as real wages have struggled at best and fallen at worst. This is in spite of the increasingly desperate manipulation of inflation numbers that has been going on.

So we see different elements in different places. The Euro area is heading down the same road as Japan in terms of inflation and apart from Germany wages too. The UK is an inflation nation so that part we are if not immune a step or two away from, but that means our real wage performance is looking rather Japanese.

There is also another sub-plot.

30y gilt yield < 30y JGB yield ( Divyang Shah )

The Investing Channel

 

Why are central bankers so afraid of the truth?

We find ourselves in an era where central bankers wield enormous power. There is something of an irony in this. They were given the ability to set monetary policy as a way of taking power out of the hands of politicians.This led to talk of “independence” as they set interest-rates to achieve an inflation target usually but not always of 2% per annum. Actually this is the first falsehood because we are regularly told this.

The ECB has defined price stability as a year-on-year increase in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%

They could also tell me the moon is full of cheese but I would not believe that either. I am amazed how rarely this is challenged but price stability is clearly an inflation rate of 0%, The usual argument that this stops relative price shifts collapsed when the oil price fall of 2015/16 gave us inflation of around 0% as plainly there was a relative price shift for oil and indeed other goods. Perhaps the shrieks of “Deflation” were a type of distraction.

Next has come the way that claimed independence has morphed into collusion with the political establishment. This moves us away from the original rationale which was to take monetary policy power out of the hands of politicians to stop them manipulating it for the electoral cycle. What had apparent success which was technocratic control of interest-rates has morphed into this.

  1. Interest-Rates around 0%
  2. Large-Scale purchases of sovereign bonds
  3. Large-Scale purchases of private-sector bonds
  4. Credit Easing
  5. Purchases of equities ( for monetary policy and as a consequence of exchange-rate policy)
  6. Purchases of commercial property so far via Exchange-Traded Funds or ETFs

Not all central banks have gone all the way down the list with the Bank of Japan being the leader of the pack and who knows may go even further overnight at its unscheduled meeting? I should add as people regularly look at my back catalogue that by the time anyone in that category reads this we may see many central banks at step 6 and maybe going further. But back to my collusion point here is some evidence.

I also confirm that the Asset Purchase Facility will remain in place for the financial year 2020-21.

This is almost a throwaway sentence in the inflation remit from the Bank of England but it is in fact extremely important in two ways, and in tune with today’s theme neither of which are mentioned. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reaffirming that Her Majesty’s Treasury is backing the QE ( Quantitative Easing ) policies of the Bank of England which currently are steps 2 to 4 above. Next comes the issue of the amount which is huge even for these times.

The Committee voted by a majority of 7-2 for the Bank of England to continue with the programme of £200 billion of UK government bond and sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, to take the total stock of these purchases to £645 billion.

The 2 dissenters voted for “More! More! More!” rather than less and I expect the extra £100 billion they voted for to be something sung about by The Undertones.

Happens all the time
Its going to happen – happen – till your change your mind
Its going to happen – happen – happens all the time

So we have a doom loop for supporters of independence as the politicians via backing any losses from QE become the masters again and the central bankers become marionettes. As so often we see Japan in the van by the way the Abenomics of Shinzo Abe appointed Governor Kuroda to the Bank of Japan pretty much as they would appoint a minister. It is the most exposed in terms of monetary policy via its 31.4 trillion Yen of equity holdings with a break-even it estimates at around 19,500 in terms of the Nikkei 225 index. Also of course an individual company in which it holds shares could fold.

Forward Guidance

This had a cacophony of falsehoods as we were promised interest-rate rises which failed to happen. In my own country it became laughable as an unemployment rate of 7% was highlighted and then unemployment rates of 6% and 5% were ignored. Then at Mansion House in June 2014 Governor Mark Carney said this.

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.

In fact a bit over 2 years later he cut them whilst promising to reduce them further than November to 0.1% before economic reality even reached Threadneedle Street and the latter was redacted. It is hard to believe now but many were predicting interest-rate rises by the ECB in 2019 based on Forward Guidance. Of course the US Federal Reserve did actually give it a go before retreating like Napoleon from Moscow and as we recall the role of President Trump in this I would remind you of my political collusion/control point above.

Negative Interest-Rates

This area is littered with falsehoods. In Beatles terms it took only a week for this.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said he is not thinking of adopting a negative interest rate policy now,

to become this.

The Bank will apply a negative interest rate of minus 0.1 percent to current accounts that financial institutions hold at the Bank.1 It will cut the interest rate further into negative territory if judged as necessary.

As Hard-Fi put it.

Can’t believe it
You’re so hard to beat
Hard to beat

The new Governor of the Bank of England seems to be on the same road to Damascus. From Sky News yesterday.

Mr Bailey told MPs it was now studying how effective that cut had been as well as “looking very carefully” at the experience of other countries where negative rates had been implemented.

On the prospect of negative rates, he said: “We do not rule things out as a matter of principle.

Curious because that is exactly what people had thought he had done several times in this crisis.

Comment

There are other areas I could highlight as for example there is the ridiculous adherence to the output gap philosophy that has proved to be consistent only in its failures. But let me leave you via the genius of Christine McVie the central bankers anthem.

Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies
Tell me lies, tell me, tell me lies
Oh, no, no, you can’t disguise
(You can’t disguise, no, you can’t disguise)
Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies

Me on The Investing Channel

 

In the future will all central banks buy equities?

As the weather shows a few signs of picking up in London it appears that one central banker at least has overheated listening to Glen Frey on the radio.

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

Yes it is our favourite “loose cannon on the decks” which is the Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane. He has been quiet in recent times after his Grand Tour around the UK to take central banking to the people and get himself appointed as Governor was widely ignored. But he is back.

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England is looking more urgently at options such as negative interest rates and buying riskier assets to prop up the country’s economy as it slides into a deep coronavirus slump, the BoE’s chief economist was quoted as saying.

The Telegraph newspaper said the economist, Andy Haldane, refused to rule out the possibility of taking interest rates below zero and buying lower-quality financial assets under the central bank’s bond-buying programme.

There is a lot going on there and certainly enough for him to be summoned to the Governor’s study to explain why he contradicted what the Governor had said only a few days before. Also as is his wont Andy had also contradicted himself.

“The economy is weaker than a year ago and we are now at the effective lower bound, so in that sense it’s something we’ll need to look at – are looking at – with somewhat greater immediacy,” he said in an interview. “How could we not be?”

So we have a lower bound for interest-rates but we are thinking of cutting below it? So it is not an effective lower bound then. I can help him out with just a couple of letters as calling it an ineffective lower bound would fix it. Of course Andy has experience of numbers slip-sliding away on his watch as the estimate of equilibrium unemployment has gone from 6.5% to around 4.25% ( it has got a bit vague of late) torpedoing his output gap theories. Even worse of course it will now be going back up. Time for him to move from Glen Frey to Kylie Minogue.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way

Then there is Andy’s hint about buying equities.

buying lower-quality financial assets

He has a problem with those who recall him pointing out he does not understand pensions so he would not be a stock picker more a tracker man. Although of course in the UK in many ways that means the same thing. For example if we look at Astra Zeneca it was worth just under £108 billion at the beginning of this month and Royal Dutch Shell some £95 billion whereas if we those bandying for the number 100 slot we are between £3 and £3.5 billion. Then the FTSE 100 is over 80% of the all-share so by now I think you will have figured that yet again such a policy would benefit big business. Andy may not have done so as his “Sledgehammer QE” of 2016 dashed into such UK stalwarts as er Apple and Maersk. An error being repeated in the current operations.

Chair Powell

Chair Powell of the US Federal Reserve was interviewed on 60 Minutes yesterday which was likely to be more like 40 minutes when you allow for adverts. What did he say? Well after a really odd section on virology we got this burst of hype.

But I would just say this. In the long run, and even in the medium run, you wouldn’t want to bet against the American economy. This economy will recover. And that means people will go back to work. Unemployment will get back down. We’ll get through this. It may take a while. It may take a period of time. It could stretch through the end of next year. We really don’t know. We hope that it will be shorter than that, but no one really knows.

Eyes will have turned to the hint that it might be in 2022 as that begs a lot of questions as to what the Federal Reserve might do in the meantime. What about this for instance?

I continue to think, and my colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee continue to think that negative interest rates is probably not an appropriate or useful policy for us here in the United States. ( Chair Powell)

“probably not” eh? That is leaving the door open to a change of mind. This is in spite of the fact that in central banking terms this is quite a damning critique ( as it involves an implicit criticism of other central banks).

The evidence on whether it helps is quite mixed.

Also as section which is just plain wrong.

PELLEY: So the banks would pay people to borrow money, essentially?

POWELL: Yes.

Let us now move onto what might be called the money shots.

POWELL: Well, there’s a lot more we can do. We’ve done what we can as we go. But I will say that we’re not out of ammunition by a long shot. No, there’s really no limit to what we can do with these lending programs that we have. So there’s a lot more we can do to support the economy, and we’re committed to doing everything we can as long as we need to.

The track record of central bankers using the phrase “no limit” is not good as the Swiss National Bank most famously found out. But there was more and the emphasis below is mine.

POWELL: Well, to begin, the one thing we can certainly do is we can enlarge our existing lending programs. We can start new lending programs if need be. We can do that. There are things we can do in monetary policy. There are a number of dimensions where we can move to make policy even more accommodative. Through forward guidance, we can change our asset purchase strategy. There are just a lot of things that we can do.

Comment

Central bankers are like gamblers on a losing streak desperately doubling down. You do not need to take my word for it as we can take a look at a country which has been enthusiastically buying equities for a while now, which is Japan. For example the Bank of Japan bought over 100 billion Yen’s worth as recently as Friday on its way to this.

The Bank will actively purchase ETFs and J-REITs for the time being so that their amounts outstanding will increase at annual paces with the upper limit of about 12 trillion
yen and about 180 billion yen, respectively.

As of the last update the Bank of Japan had bought some 31.4 trillion Yen of equity ETFs. How is that going?

Japan fell into a technical recession in the first quarter for the first time since 2015

That is from the Financial Times. If you think that does not do justice to an economy 2% smaller than a year ago and seeing nominal GDP declines with a large national debt, well the FT is Japanese owned these days. Meanwhile back in the real world the lost decade(s) carries on.

Why would you copy that? Yet we seem likely to do so…..

Podcast on the UK Gilt Market

 

The central banking parade continues

The last 24 hours have seen a flurry of open mouth operations from the world’s central bankers. There are a couple of reasons for this of which the first is that having burst into action with the speed of Usain Bolt they now have little to do. The second is that they have become like politicians as they bask centre stage in the media spotlight. The third is that their policies require a lot of explaining because they never achieve what they claim so we see long words like “counterfactual” employed to confuse the unwary.

The land of the rising sun

Let us go in a type of reverse order as Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan has been speaking this morning and as usual has uttered some gems.

BoJ Gov Kuroda: Repeats BoJ Would Not Hesitate To Add Additional Easing If Needed -BoJ Has Several Tools And Measures To Deploy If Required ( @LiveSquawk )

This is something of a hardy perennial from him the catch though comes with the “if required” bit. You see the April Economic Report from the Ministry of Finance told us this.

The Japanese economy is getting worse rapidly in an extremely severe situation, due to the Novel Coronavirus…….Concerning short-term prospects, an extremely severe situation is expected to remain due to the influence of the infectious disease. Moreover, full attention should be given to the further downside risks to the domestic and foreign economy which are affected by the influence of the infectious disease.

So if not now when? After all the Japanese economy was already in trouble at the end if 2019 as it shrank by 1.8% in the final quarter. Actually he did kind of admit that.

BoJ’s Kuroda: Japan’s Economy To Be Substantially Depressed In Q2

Then looking at his speech another warning Klaxon was triggered.

In the meantime, it expects short- and long-term policy interest rates to remain at their present
or lower levels.

This raises a wry smile because in many ways the Bank of Japan is the central bank that likes negative interest-rates the least. Yes it has one of -0.1% but it tiptoed into it with the minimum it felt it could and stopped, unlike in other easing areas where it has been happy to be the leader of the pack. Why? Well after nearly 30 years of the lost decade it still worries about the banking sector and whether it could survive them and gives them subsidies back as it is. Frankly it has been an utter disaster and shows one of the weaknesses of the Japanese face culture.

Oh and as we mull the couple of decades of easing we got this as well.

KURODA: RECENT EASING ACTION INCLUDING MORE ETF PURCHASES IS TEMPORARY ( @DeltaOne)

This morning there was just over another 100 billion Yen of equity ETF purchases as we mull another refinement of the definition of temporary in my financial lexicon for these times. It appears to mean something which keeps being increased and never ends.

The Bank of England

The new Governor Andrew Bailey gave an interview to Robert Peston of ITV last night which begged a few questions. The first was how its diversity plans seem to involve so much dealing with the children of peers of the realm and Barons in particular? This of course went disastrously wrong with Deputy Governor Charlotte Hogg who seemed to know as little about monetary policy as she did about the conflict of interest issue which led to her departure. During the interview Robert Peston seemed to be exhibiting a similar degree of competence as I pointed out on social media.

@Peston  now says that buying hundreds of billions of debt is different to a decade ago when the Bank of England bought er hundreds of billions of debt. It is frightening that this man was once BBC economics editor.

There was a policy element although it was not news to us I am sure it was to some.

Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey has told ITV’s Peston show that one of the main purposes of the Bank buying £200bn of government debt – and probably more over the course of the Covid-19 crisis – is to “spread the cost of this thing to society” and help the government avoid a return to austerity. ( ITV)

To the extent that there was a policy announcement the whole interview was very wrong as it should be on the Bank of England website for all to see rather than boosting the career of one journalist and network. As I note how that person’s career had been under pressure we see the UK establishment in action. I also note that two subjects were not mentioned.

  1. The apparent dirty protest at the FCA on Andrew Bailey’s watch
  2. The doubling of overdraft interest-rates after a botched intervention by the FCA on Andrew Bailey’s watch.

The United States

Something rather ominous happened last night as The Hill reports.

“He has done a very good job over the last couple of months, I have to tell you that,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with the governors of Colorado and North Dakota. “Because I have been critical, but in many ways I call him my ‘MIP.’ Do you know what an MIP is? Most improved player. It’s called the Most Improved Player award.”

We noted back in November 2018 that The Donald was taking charge of US monetary policy and that Jerome Powell had become something of a toy. Indeed there was more.

The president said he still is at odds with Powell over his stance on negative interest rates. Trump has for months pushed negative interest rates, arguing the U.S. is on an unfair playing field if other countries have negative rates.

Whilst I disagree with The Donald on negative interest-rates he is at least honest and we know where he stands. Whereas Chair Powell said this.

Speaking to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Powell said negative interest rates are “not something that we’re looking at,” ( Forbes)

Is that an official denial? Anyway it does not go that well with this.

The economic toll has taken an outsized toll on lower-income households, Powell said, with 40% of those employed in February and living in a household that makes less than $40,000 a year losing their job in March.

Conceptually this is a real issue for the US Federal Reserve as such people are unlikely to have many holdings ( or indeed any…) of the assets it keeps pumping up the price of.

Comment

As we survey the scene some of it is surreal. I noted on Tuesday that the US had already seen two examples of negative interest-rates and one has deepened in the meantime. US Feds Funds futures have moved as high as 100.025 for the summer of 2021 and 100.05 for the autumn. Now -0.05% is not a lot but these things have a habit of being like a balloon that is about to be inflated.

You may also note that those who have claimed central banks are independent of government have been silent recently.Perhaps they are busy redacting past comments?

Missing for today’s update so far has been the European Central Bank or ECB. This is because it is involved in something of an internal turf war.

The shock at the ruling is palpable in the corridors of power in Berlin as Karlsruhe’s three-month deadline runs down.

Officials are trying to work out a way of satisfying the court without eroding the independence of the ECB, which has kept the euro zone intact through a decade of crises.

One lawmaker described feeling like a bomb disposal expert, “because the Constitutional Court has put an explosive charge under the euro and the EU”. ( Reuters)

Hang on! Someone still thinks central banks are independent…….

The Tokyo Whale is hungry again!

A new week has started with something which we will find awfully familiar although not everyone will as I will explain. But first let me give you something of a counterpoint and indeed irony to the news.

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Monday on signs that worldwide oil storage is filling rapidly, raising concerns that production cuts will not come fast enough to fully offset the collapse in demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. oil futures led losses, falling by more than $2 a barrel on fears that storage at Cushing, Oklahoma, could reach full capacity soon. U.S. crude inventories rose to 518.6 million barrels in the week to April 17, near an all-time record of 535 million barrels set in 2017. [EIA/S]

In ordinary times this would be a case of let’s get this party started in Japan. This is because it is a large energy importer and thus it would be getting both and balance of payments and manufacturing boost. In itself it would have been extremely welcome because you may recall that its economy had seen a reverse before the present pandemic.

The contraction of Japan’s 4Q 2019 GDP was worse than expected, coming in at -1.8% q/q (- 7.1% annualized rate) versus the first estimate of -1.6% q/q (-6.3% annualized rate) as the contraction in business spending was deeper than what was first reported in February, ( FXStreet )

So the land of the rising sun or Nihon was already in what Taylor Swift would call “trouble, trouble,trouble”, The raising of the Consumption Tax ( what we call VAT) had in an unfortunate coincidence combined with the 2019 trade war. The former was rather like 2014 as we mull all the promises it would not be. Also let me give you a real undercut, Japan acted to improve its fiscal position just in time for it to be considered much less important.

The Tokyo Whale

Let me open with something which for newer readers may come as a shock.

The Bank will actively purchase ETFs and J-REITs for the time being so that their amounts outstanding will increase at annual paces with the upper limit of about 12 trillion
yen and about 180 billion yen, respectively.

Yes the Bank of Japan is buying equities and has just suggested it will double its annual purchases of them. Those who follow me will be aware it has been buying more as for example it is now buying around 120 billion Yen on the days it buys ( nine so far in April) as opposed to the previous 70 billion or so having bought over 200 billion when equity markets were hit hard. The detail is that it buys via Exchange Traded Funds ( ETFs) to avoid the embarrassment of having to vote at AGMs and the like.

Oh and in another familiar theme upper limits are not always upper limits.

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

Also the ,you may note that the limit for commercial property purchases has been doubled too. I do sometimes wonder why they bother with the commercial property buys although now we have an extra factor which is that in so many places around the world commercial property looks under a lot of pressure. For example if there is more working from home as seems likely.

The Precious! The Precious!

Japan has an official interest-rate of -0.1% but not for quite everybody.

(3) apply a positive interest rate of 0.1 percent to the outstanding balances of current accounts held by financial institutions at the Bank that correspond to the amounts outstanding of loans provided through this
operation.

For whom?

Twice as much as the amounts outstanding of the loans will continue to be included in the Macro Add-on Balances in current accounts held by financial institutions at the Bank.

Yes the banks and as you can see they will be a “double-bubble” gain from lending under the new Bank of Japan scheme. I wonder if the Japanese taxpayer has noted that extension of operations to the private debt sphere as well?

expand the range of eligible collateral to private debt in general, including household debt (from about 8
trillion yen to about 23 trillion yen as of end-March 2020),

Corporate Bonds and Commercial Paper

I have highlighted another risk being taken on behalf of the Japanese taxpayer.

The Bank decided, by a unanimous vote, to significantly increase the maximum amount
of additional purchases of CP and corporate bonds and conduct purchases with the upper
limit of the amount outstanding of about 20 trillion yen in total. In addition, the maximum amounts outstanding of a single issuer’s CP and corporate bonds to be purchased will be raised substantially.

Should there be a default there might be trouble.

The Bank will increase the maximum share of the Bank’s holdings of CP and corporate
bonds within the total amount outstanding of issuance by a single issuer from the current
25 percent to 50 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Surely at any sign of trouble everyone will simply sell to the Bank of Japan which will then be a buyer of more like first than last resort.

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
‘Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here ( The Eagles )

Japanese Government Bonds

This is something we have been expecting and just as a reminder the previous target was between 70 and 80 trillion Yen a year.

The Bank will purchase a necessary amount of JGBs without setting an upper limit so that 10-year JGB yields will remain at around zero percent.

It is hard to get too worked up about that as we have been expecting it to be along. In theory the plan remains the same, although there is a slight shuffle as in the past they have indicated a range between 0% and -0.1%.

Comment

The first issue is that the Japanese economy is doing extremely badly. It already had problems and the PMI business survey suggested a GDP decline of the order of 10%. With its “face” culture that is likely to be an underestimate. In response there has been this.

The Japanese government has outlined details of its plan to hand out 100,000 yen, or more than 900 dollars, in cash to all residents as part of its economic response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The cash handouts will go to every person listed on Japan’s Basic Resident Register, regardless of nationality. ( NHK)

They tried something like this back in the 90s and I remember calculating it as £142 as compared to £752 this time. As to adjusting for inflation well in the Lost Decade era Japan has seen so little of that.

So we see that the Bank of Japan is underwriting the spending plans of the Japanese government which of course is the same Japanese government which underwrites the bond buying of the Bank of Japan! It seems set to make sure that the Japanese government can borrow for free in terms of yield as I note this.

In case of a rapid increase in the yields, the Bank will purchase JGBs promptly and appropriately.

In fact just like a parent speaking to a child you can indulge in the JGB market but only if you play nicely.

While doing so, the yields may move upward and downward to some extent mainly depending on developments in economic activity and prices.

You will find many cheering “Yield Curve Control” although more than a few of those will be hoping that there claims that the Bank of Japan will need to intervene less have been forgotten. Actually there have been phases where it has kept yields up rather than down.

In the future will the Bank of Japan own everything?

The Express

I have done some interviews for it recently and here is one on the benefits of lower oil prices

https://www.express.co.uk/finance/city/1272278/coronavirus-news-oil-prices-negative-inflation-uk-wages-spt

Podcast on central bank equity purchases

 

The first business surveys about this economic depression appear

This morning has seen the first actual signals of the scale of the economic slow down going on. One of the problems with official economic data is the  time lag before we get it and this has been exacerbated by the fact that this has been an economic contraction on speed ( LSD). By the time they tell us how bad it has been we may be in quite a different world! It is always a battle between accuracy and timeliness for economic data. Thus eyes will have turned to the business surveys released this morning.

Do ya do ya do ya do ya
Ooh I’m looking for clues
Ooh I’m looking for clues
Ooh I’m looking for clues ( Robert Palmer)

Japan

The main series began in Japan earlier and brace yourselves.

#Japan‘s economic downturn deepens drastically in March, dragged down by a sharp contraction in the service sector, according to #PMI data as #coronavirus outbreak led to plummeting tourism, event cancellations and supply chain disruptions. ( IHS Markit )

The composite output index was at 35.8 which indicates an annualised fall in GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) approaching 8% should it continue. There was a split between manufacturing ( 44.8) and services ( 32.7) but not the way we have got used to. The manufacturing number was the worst since April 2009 and the services one was the worst since the series began in 2007.

France

Next in the series came La Belle France and we needed to brace ourselves even more.

March Flash France PMI suggest GDP is collapsing at an annualised rate approaching double digits, with the Composite Output PMI at an all-time low of 30.2 (51.9 – Feb). Both services and manufacturers recorded extreme drops in output on the month.

There was more to come.

French private sector activity contracted at the
sharpest rate in nearly 22 years of data collection
during March, amid widespread business closures
due to the coronavirus outbreak.

There are obvious fears about employment and hence unemployment.

Amid falling new orders, private sector firms cut
their staff numbers for the first time in nearly threeand-a-half years during March. Moreover, the rate
of reduction was the quickest since April 2013.

I also noted this as I have my concerns about inflation as the Ivory Towers work themselves into deflation mode one more time.

Despite weaker demand conditions, supply
shortages drove input prices higher in March…….with
manufacturers raising output prices for the first time
in three months

We could see disinflation in some areas with sharp inflation in others.

Germany

Next up was Germany and by now investors were in the brace position.

The headline Flash Germany
Composite PMI Output Index plunged from 50.7 in
February to 37.2, its lowest since February 2009.
The preliminary data were based on responses
collected between March 12-23.

This led to this analysis.

“The unprecedented collapse in the PMI
underscores how Germany is headed for recession,
and a steep one at that. The March data are
indicative of GDP falling at a quarterly rate of
around 2%, and the escalation of measures to
contain the virus outbreak mean we should be
braced for the downturn to further intensify in the
second quarter.”

You may be thinking that this is better than the ones above but there is a catch. Regular readers will recall that due to a problem in the way it looks at supply this series has inflated the German manufacturing data. This has happened again.

The headline Flash Germany
Manufacturing PMI sank to 45.7, though it was
supported somewhat by a further increase in
supplier delivery times – the most marked since
July 2018 – and a noticeably slower fall in stocks of
purchases, both linked to supply-side disruption

So the truth is that the German numbers are closer to France once we allow for this. We also see the first signals of trouble in the labour markets.

After increasing – albeit marginally – in each of the
previous four months, employment across
Germany’s private sector returned to contraction in
March. The decline was the steepest since May
2009 and was underpinned by similarly sharp drops
in workforce numbers across both manufacturing
and services.

Also we note a continuing pattern where services are being hit much harder than manufacturing, Of course manufacturing had seen a rough 2019 but services have essentially plunged at a rapid rate.

The Euro Area

We do not get much individual detail but you can see that the other Euro area nations are doing even worse.

The rest of the euro area reported an even
steeper decline than seen in both France and
Germany, led by comfortably the sharpest fall in
service sector activity ever recorded, though
manufacturing output also shrank at the steepest
rate for almost 11 years.

I am trying hard to think of PMI numbers in the 20s I have seen before.

Flash Eurozone Services PMI Activity Index(2)
at 28.4 (52.6 in February). Record low (since
July 1998)

Putting it all together we get this.

The March PMI is indicative of GDP slumping at a
quarterly rate of around 2%,

The UK

Our numbers turned up to a similar drum beat and bass line.

At 37.1 in March, down from 53.0 in February, the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit / CIPS Flash UK Composite Output Index – which is based on approximately 85% of usual monthly replies – signalled the fastest downturn in private sector business activity since the series began in January 1998. The prior low of 38.1 was seen in November 2008.

This was supported by the manufacturing PMI being at 48 but it looks as though we have at least some of the issues at play in the German number too.

Longer suppliers’ delivery times are typically seen as an
advance indicator of rising demand for raw materials and
therefore have a positive influence on the Manufacturing PMI index.

The numbers added to the household finances one from IHS Markit yesterday.

UK consumers are already feeling the financial pinch of
coronavirus, according to the IHS Markit UK Household Finance Index. With the country on the brink of lockdown during the survey collection dates (12-17 March), surveyed households reported the largest degree of pessimism towards job security in over eight years,
with those employed in entertainment and manufacturing sectors deeming their jobs to be at the most risk.

Comment

So we have the first inklings of what is taking place in the world economy and we can add it to the 40.7 released by Australia yesterday. However we need a note of caution as these numbers have had troubles before and the issue over the treatment of suppliers delivery times is an issue right now. Also it does not appear to matter if your PMI is 30 or 37 we seem to get told this.

The March PMI is indicative of GDP slumping at a
quarterly rate of around 2%,

Now I am slightly exaggerating because they have said 1.5% to 2% for the UK but if we are there then France and the Euro area must be more like 3% and maybe worse if the series is to be consistent.

Next I thought I would give you some number-crunching from Japan.

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan on Tuesday acknowledged unrealized losses of 2-3 trillion yen ($18-$27 billion) on its holdings of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) after a rout in Japanese stock prices, raising the prospect it could post an annual loss this year.

Our To Infinity! And Beyond! Theme has been in play for The Tokyo Whale and the emphasis is mine.

Its stock purchase started at a pace of one trillion yen per year in 2013 when the Nikkei was around 12,000. The buying expanded to 3 trillion yen in 2014 and to 6 trillion yen in 2016, ostensibly to boost economic growth and lift inflation, but many investors view the policy as direct intervention to prop up share prices.

Surely not! But the taxpayer may be about to get a warning of sorts.

The unrealized loss of 2-3 trillion yen would wipe out about 1.7 trillion yen of recurring profits the BOJ is estimated to make this year from interest payments on its massive bond holdings, said Hiroshi Ugai, senior economist at J.P. Morgan.

For today that will be on the back burner as the Nikkei 225 equity index rose 7% to just above 18,000 which means that its purchases of over 200 billion Yen yesterday will be onside at least as we note the “clip size” has nearly trebled for The Tokyo Whale.

 

 

The biggest move by the US Federal Reserve was the one concerning liquidity or FX Swaps

Last night the week started with the arrival of the Kiwi cavalry as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced this.

The Official Cash Rate (OCR) is 0.25 percent, reduced from 1.0 percent, and will remain at this level for at least the next 12 months.

With international sporting events being cancelled this was unlikely to have been caused by a defeat for the All Blacks as the statement then confirmed.

The negative economic implications of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise warranting further monetary stimulus.

But soon any muttering in the virtual trading rooms was replaced by quite a roar as this was announced.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals. This action will help support economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation returning to the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective. ( US Federal Reserve)

So a 1% interest-rate cut to the previous credit crunch era low for interest-rates and whilst the timing was a surprise it was not a shock. This is because on Saturday evening President Donald Trump had ramped up the pressure by saying that he had the ability to fire the Chair Jeroen Powell. The odd points in the statement were the reference to returning to being “on track” for its objectives which seems like from another world as well as reminding people of Greece which has been “on track” to recovery all the way through its collapse into depression. Also “strong labor market conditions” is simply untrue now. All that is before the reference to inflation returning to target when some will be paying much higher prices for goods due to shortages.

QE5

This came sliding down the slipway last night which will have come as no surprise to regular readers who have followed to my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

To support the smooth functioning of markets for Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities that are central to the flow of credit to households and businesses, over coming months the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion.

This is quite punchy as we note that the previous peak for its balance sheet was 4.5 trillion Dollars and now it will go above 5 trillion. The Repos may ebb and flow bad as we stand it looks set to head to 5.2 trillion or so. The odd part of the statement was the reference to the “smooth functioning” of the Treasury Bond market when buying such a large amount further reduces liquidity in a market with liquidity problems already. For those unaware off the run bonds ( non benchmarks) have been struggling recently. The situation for mortgage bonds is much clearer as some will no doubt be grateful for any buyers at all. Although whether buying the latter is a good idea for the US taxpayer underwriting all of this is a moot point. At least the money used is effectively free at around 0%.

Liquidity Swaps

This was the most significant announcement of all for two reasons. Firstly it was the only one which was coordinated and secondly because it stares at the heart of one of the main problems right now. Cue Aloe Blacc.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me
Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow.

I have suggested several times recently that there will be banks and funds in trouble right now as we see simultaneous moves in bond, equity and oil markets. That will only be getting worse as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil approaches US $31. This means that some – and the rumour factory will be at full production – will be finding hard to get US Dollars and some may not be able to get them at all. So the response is that the main central banks will be able to.

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank are today announcing a coordinated action to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

These central banks have agreed to lower the pricing on the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 25 basis points, so that the new rate will be the U.S. dollar overnight index swap (OIS) rate plus 25 basis points.

So it appears that price matters for some giving us a hint of the scale of the issue here. If I recall correct a 0.5% cut was made as the credit crunch got into gear. Also there was this enhancement to the operations.

 To increase the swap lines’ effectiveness in providing term liquidity, the foreign central banks with regular U.S. dollar liquidity operations have also agreed to begin offering U.S. dollars weekly in each jurisdiction with an 84-day maturity, in addition to the 1-week maturity operations currently offered. These changes will take effect with the next scheduled operations during the week of March 16.

Then we got something actively misleading because the real issue here is for overseas markets.

The new pricing and maturity offerings will remain in place as long as appropriate to support the smooth functioning of U.S. dollar funding markets.

For newer readers wondering who these might be? The main borrowers in recent times have been the European Central Bank and less so the Bank of Japan. This is repeated at the moment as some US $58 million was borrowed by a Euro area bank last week. Very small scale but maybe a toe in the water.

Comment

Some of the things I have feared are taking place right now. We see for example more and more central banks clustering around an interest-rate of 0% or ZIRP ( Zero Interest-Rate Policy). Frankly I expect more as you know my view on official denials.

#BREAKING Fed’s Powell says negative interest rates not likely to be appropriate ( @AFP )

You could also throw in the track record of the Chair of the US Federal Reserve for (bad) luck.

Meanwhile rumours of fund collapses are rife.

Platinum down 18%, silver down 14% Palladium down 12%, Gold down 4% – someone is getting liquidated ( @econhedge )

Some of that may be self-fulfilling but there is a message in that particular bottle.

As to what happens next? I will update more as this week develops but I expect more fiscal policy back stopped by central banks. More central banks to buy equities as I note the Bank of Japan announced earlier it will double its operations this year. Helicopter Money is a little more awkward though as gathering to collect it would spread the Corona Virus. As Bloc Party put it.

Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)

Let me sign off for today by welcoming the new Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.

Podcast

I would signpost the second part of it this week as eyes will turn to the problems in the structure of the ECB likely to be exposed in a crisis.

 

 

Central Banks will demand even more powers in response to this crisis

Yesterday was quite something with the extraordinary oil price decline topped off by a more than 2000 point fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the United States. I know that it is an outdated and flawed index but nonetheless it felt symbolic. So far today things are quieter with some bounce back in equity markets and the reverse in bond markets. But we have some familiar themes at play so let us get straight to them.

Japan

The Bank of Japan has been at the outer limit of monetary policy for some time now as The Mainichi pointed out earlier today.

The BOJ already owns around 50 percent of outstanding Japanese government bonds of about 1,000 trillion yen ($9.73 trillion), while pledging to buy 80 trillion yen of them per year. It has also bought nearly exchange traded funds.

Further cuts in the negative interest rate of minus 0.1 percent, which have pushed down longer-term interest rates for years, are expected to snap the profitability of the banking sector and hurt returns for insurers and pensions of private companies.

They have got a little excited on the issue of equity purchases as I am not sure what a nearly exchange traded fund is? Let me help out by pointing out that the Bank of Japan purchased some 101.4 billion Yen of equity ETFs both yesterday and today. Today’s purchases have a different perspective because the market closed higher, this is because the Bank of Japan has established a principle of only buying on down days. In this present crisis it has abandoned that twice so far. In addition its “clip size” has risen from 70.4 billion Yen to 101.4 billion. So far in March it has bought around 410 billion Ten of equities.

So Andrea True Connection continues to be playing from its loudspeakers.

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

It also buys commercial property ETFs although it is much less enthusiatic about this and has only bought 3.6 billlion Yen of them this month. Frankly I am not sure what these particular purchases are to achieve but they continue.

Fiscal Policy

I regularly point out that fiscal policy has been oiled and facilitated by the low level of bond yields. As The Mainichi points out above The Tokyo Whale has purchased half the Japanese bond market meaning that at many maturities Japan is being paid to borrow and even the thirty-year yield is a mere 0.3%. Thus it helps this.

President Donald Trump on Monday said he will be taking “major” steps to gird the U.S. economy against the impact of the spreading coronavirus outbreak, while Japan’s government plans to spend more than $4 billion in a second package of steps to cope with fallout from the virus. ( Reuters)

If we stay with Japan for now I note that as I looked this up there were references to a US $122 billion stimulus as recently as December. This is a problem as Japan keeps needing more fiscal stimuli and it is a particular issue right now. This is because last year’s rise in the Consumption Tax was supposed to improve the fiscal position whereas all we have seen since is stimuli or moves in the opposite direction.

This is a recurring theme in Japan as we mull the consequences of such extreme monetary action. Let me give you another example of a backwash for the control agenda. The policy of Yield Curve Control because it aims at a specific yield target for Japanese Government Bonds has been keeping yields up and not down in recent times.

The Euro area

It was only last week that I suggested the ECB could become the next major central bank to buy equities and thus I noted this overnight from a former Vice-President.

Should the central banks’ mandate be extended to explicitly include financial stability, giving them more instruments to try to contain asset prices booms instead of just “mopping-up after the crash”. Policy reviews are ongoing and everything must be on the table this time.

That is Vitor Constancio saying “everything must be on the table this time”.

I doubt he meant this but something has turned up today that will require ECB support.

ROME (Reuters) – Payments on mortgages will be suspended across the whole of Italy after the coronavirus outbreak, Italy’s deputy economy minister said on Tuesday.

“Yes, that will be the case, for individuals and households,” Laura Castelli said in an interview with Radio Anch’io, when asked about the possibility.

Italy’s banking lobby ABI said on Monday lenders representing 90% of total banking assets would offer debt moratoriums to small firms and households grappling with the economic fallout from Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.

Yesterday we noted that businesses were going to get a debt payment moratorium and today we see mortgages will also be on the list. This will immediately lead to trouble for the banks and of course the Italian banks were in enough trouble as it is. Even the bank considered the strongest Unicredit has a share price 23% lower than a year ago and of course there are all the zombies.

This also impacts at a time when Italian bond yields have risen albeit to a mere 1.3% for the ten-year benchmark. But even that leads to worries as Reuters point out.

Despite the introduction of tougher banking regulation and oversight in the wake of the euro zone debt crisis a decade ago, the doom loop remains.

Italian banks held 388.22 billion euros of Italian government bonds in their portfolios at the end of January, around a sixth of the country’s public debt.

“The feedback loop between the sovereign and banks in Italy is alive and well, and both sovereign and bank debt should trade in lock-step,” said Antoine Bouvet, senior rates strategist at ING.

Mentions of something that was in danger of being forgotten are on the rise so let me point out this from the ECB website.

The Governing Council will consider Outright Monetary Transactions to the extent that they are warranted from a monetary policy perspective as long as programme conditionality is fully respected, and terminate them once their objectives are achieved or when there is non-compliance with the macroeconomic adjustment or precautionary programme.

There are other issues here as plainly Italy is about to blast through the Stability and Growth Pact or Maastricht fiscal rules. Also I note that the European Stability Mechanism would be involved as why put things on balance sheet when you can tuck them away in a Special Purpose Vehicle or SPV? But the ECB will be busy and let me throw a snack into the debate, might it support bank shares?

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here and the news keeps coming on this front.

#JAPAN SEEN MULLING EXPANSION OF ETF BUYING PROGRAM, KYODO SAYS – BBG ( @C.Barraud )

On and on it goes with so few ever questioning why it is always more needed? At some point you need an audit of progress so far and successes and failures. Whereas obvious failures get swept under the carpet. Let me give you an example of this from a Sweden which had negative interest-rates for several years but has now climbed back to the giddy heights of 0%. Yet Sweden Statistics reports this.

In recent years, households have made large net deposits in bank accounts despite low interest rates.

Then there is this as well.

Households’ net purchases of new tenant-own apartments amounted to SEK 21 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019, which is the highest value ever in a single quarter.

This returns us to the side-effects of such policies which is where we came in looking at Japan which has loads of them.

But ever quick to use a crisis to expand their powers the central bankers will be greedily using this crisis to do so. So we can expect more mortgage moratorium’s which of course will require even more help for “The Precious”.

Just as I was posting this it seems to be happening already.

BREAKING: RBS confirms it will give a three-month mortgage payment holiday to homeowners impacted by coronavirus. Follows Italy saying mortgage payments will be suspended. ( @gordonrayner )

I wonder if the Bank of England has been moving behind the scenes? Meanwhile it too moved on yesterday as one of the bonds it purchased in its Operation Twist QE purchases was at a negative yield.

What will happen to house prices now?

I thought that I would end this week with a topic that we can look at from many angles. For example the first question asked by the bodies that have dominated this week, central banks, is what will this do to house prices? Well in ordinary times this weeks actions would have quite an impact and I am including in this expectations of future action by the Bank of England and European Central Bank (ECB). For newer readers this is because bond yields and their consequent impact on mortgage rates move these days ahead of policy action and sometimes well ahead. Of course, maybe one day central banks will fail to ease but such beliefs rely on ignoring the history of the credit crunch so far where such events were described rather aptly by Muse with supermassive black hole and monetary tightening was described by Oasis with Definitely Maybe,or perhaps better still by Rod Stewart with I Was Only Joking.

Bond Yields

The world has moved on even since I looked at this yesterday. Perhaps even faster than I suggested it might! Well played to any reader either long bonds or long a bond fund as you have had an excellent 2020. Sadly those on the other side of the balance sheet looking for an annuity are in the reverse situation. Not many places will put it like this but the US Federal Reserve has completely lost control of events this week and has learnt nothing from the mistakes of the Bank of Japan and ECB.

What I mean by this is that the US ten-year yield is now 0.78%. It was only this week that they went below 1% for the first time ever and last week we were looking at it hitting new lows like 1.3%. It started the year at 1.9%. This has been added to by the US Long Bond which has soared overnight reducing the thirty-year yield to 1.36% or 0.21% lower. What this means is that the already much lower US mortgage rates are going much lower still and I would quote some but I am afraid they simply cannot keep up with the bond market surge. Although I do note that Mortgage Daily News is wondering if things will be juiced even more?!

One of them suggested mortgage rates have more room to move lower if the Fed decides to start reinvesting its first $20bln a month of MBS proceeds again (which it currently allows to “roll off” the balance sheet). ( MBS = Mortgage Backed Securities )

As I am typing this events are getting even more extraordinary so let me hand you over to Bloomberg.

U.S. 10-year Treasury yield drops below 0.7%

I have experienced these sort of moves with bond markets falling but cannot recall them ever rallying like this so it is a once in a lifetime move.

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself
“My God! What have I done?” ( Talking Heads )

So I now expect another sharp move lower in US mortgage rates and I expect this to be followed by much of the world. For example in my home country the UK mortgages are mostly fixed-rate these days ( in fact over 90%) so the five-year Gilt yield gives us a marker on what is likely to happen next. It has fallen to 0.14% this morning and so UK mortgages will be seeing more of this from Mortgage Strategy.

Vida Homeloans has announced a series of rate cuts to its residential and buy-to-let mortgage ranges……

Still in the residential range, Vida’s 75 per cent LTV five-year fix has gone down from 5.39 per cent to 4.99 per cent, and its 65 per cent LTV five-year fix from 5.49 per cent to 5.04 per cent.

In the BTL range, the 75 per cent LTV five-year fix has been cut from 4.64 per cent to 4.04 per cent.

I have picked them out because they are specialist lenders for non standard credit. You know the sort of thing we were promised would never happen again. Also we read about turning Japanese but we seem to be turning Italian as payment holidays appear.

Lenders are “ready and able” to offer help to borrowers affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, UK Finance has pledged.

The trade body says this may come in the form of repayment relief to customers whose earnings have been hit or costs increased as a result of contracting the virus or  because of the measures imposed to stop it spreading.

It comes after a number of lenders including TSB, Natwest and Saffron Building Society offered payment holidays to borrowers who had been severely affected by recent flooding.

So we can see that this particular tap is as wide open as it has ever been and as we look around the world we can expect similar moves in many places. In terms of exceptions there is one maybe because Germany is returning to previous bond yield lows ( -0.74% for the benchmark ten-year) and via its policy of yield curve control the Bank of Japan is stopping much of this happening. The latter is another in quite a long list of events from the lost decade era in Japan and I am pointing it out for three reasons.The first is that it is raising rather than reducing bond yields as intended. The second is that therefore we will not see a housing market boost. The third is that I am alone in pointing such things out as the “think tanks” continue to laud yield curve control. After all copying Japan has worked so well hasn’t it?

Mortgage Lending

We can also expect a boost from here. There are plenty of rumours of credit easing especially from the ECB as frankly it has few other options. I would expect much trumpeting of this going to smaller businesses but by some unexplained and unexpected event ( except by some financial terrorist writers) it will go straight into the mortgage market. My home country had an example of this with the Funding for Lending Scheme where the counterfactual needed to be applied to business lending bit was not required for mortgage lending. Japan also had a scheme for smaller businesses where large companies immediately set up subsidiaries and claimed.

Comment

So far I have given these for those expecting a house price rally.

Reasons to be cheerful, part three
1, 2, 3 ( Ian Dury)

For newer readers this is not something I welcome as it is inflation for first-time buyers.

Now let me look at the other side of the coin and there are two main factors. The first is what John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits” or the film Return to the Forbidden Planet called “monsters of the id”. With worries about jobs and quarantine will people be willing to buy? That may lead to a lagged effect as people refinance now and buy at a later date.

The next is mortgage supply. Whilst the official taps are opening and they are building new pipes as I type there will be some banks and financial institutions that will be under pressure here and thus will not be able to lend. Some we can figure out but other are unpredictable and let me give you a symbol of a big stress factor right now, Yesterday’s 14 day Repo saw around US $70 billion of demand and only US $20 billion was supplied. So dollars are in short supply somewhere and frankly the US Federal Reserve policy of reducing Repo sizes looks pretty stupid.

 

 

 

The ECB could be the next central bank to start buying equities

It feels like quite a week already and yet it is only Monday morning! As rumours circulated and fears grew after some pretty shocking data out of China on Sunday the Bank of Japan was limbering up for some open mouth action. Below is the statement from Governor Kuroda.

Global financial and capital markets have been unstable recently with growing uncertainties about the outlook for economic activity due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Bank of Japan will closely monitor future developments, and will strive to provide ample liquidity and ensure stability in financial markets through appropriate market operations and asset purchases.

Actually most people were becoming much clearer about the economic impact of the Corona Virus which I will come to in a moment. You see in the language of central bankers “uncertainties” means exactly the reverse of the common usage and means they now fear a sharp downturn too. This will be a particular issue for Japan which saw its economy shrink by 1.6% in the final quarter of last year.

But there was a chaser to this cocktail which is the clear hint of what in foreign exchange markets the Bank of Japan calls “bold action” or intervention. This not only added to this from Chair Powell of the US Federal Reserve on Friday but came with more.

The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.

As an aside if the fundamentals of the US economy were strong the statement would not be required would it?

The Kuroda Put Option

The problem for the Bank of Japan is that it was providing so much liquidity anyway as Reuters summarises.

Under a policy dubbed yield curve control, the BOJ guides short-term rates at -0.1% and pledges to cap long-term borrowing costs around zero. It also buys government bonds and risky assets, such as ETFs, as part of its massive stimulus program.

The Reuters journalist is a bit shy at the end because the Bank of Japan has been buying equity ETFs for some time as well as smaller commercial property purchases. I have been watching and all last week apart from the public holiday on Monday they bought 70.4 billion Yen each day.

Regular readers will be aware that the Bank of Japan buys on down days in the equity market and that the clip size is as above. Or if you prefer Japan actually has an explicit Plunge Protection Team or PPT and it was active last week. This morning though Governor Kuroda went beyond open mouth operations.

BoJ Bought Japan Stock ETFs On Monday – RTRS Market Sources BoJ Normally Does Not Buy ETFs On Day TOPIX Index Is Up In Morning ( @LiveSquawk )

As you can see they have changed tactics from buying on falls to singing along with Endor.

Don’t you know pump it up
You’ve got to pump it up
Don’t you know pump it up
You’ve got to pump it up

Also there was this.

BANK OF JAPAN BOUGHT RECORD TOTAL 101.4B YEN OF ETFS TODAY ( @russian_market )

Actually about a billion was commercial property but the principle is that the Bank of Japan has increased its operations considerably as well as buying on an up day. So the Nikkei 225 index ended up 201 points at 21,344 as The Tokyo Whale felt hungry.

Coordinated action

The Bank of England has also been indulging in some open mouth operations today.

“The Bank continues to monitor developments and is assessing its potential impacts on the global and UK economies and financial systems.

The Bank is working closely with HM Treasury and the FCA – as well as our international partners – to ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect financial and monetary stability.” ( The Guardian)

The rumours are that interest-rate cuts will vary from 1% from the Federal Reserve to 0.5% at places like the Bank of England to 0.1% at the ECB and Swiss National Bank. The latter are more constrained because they already have negative interest-rates and frankly cutting by 0.1% just seems silly ( which I guess means that they might….)

There have already been market responses to this. For example the US ten-year Treasury Bond yield has fallen below 1.1%. The ten-year at 0.75% is a full percent below the upper end of the official US interest-rate. So the hints of interest-rate cuts are in full flow as we see Treasuries go to places we were assured by some they could not go. Oh and you can have some full number-crunching as you get your head around reports that expectations of an interest-rate cut in Australia are now over 100%

The Real Economy

China

If we switch now to hat got this central banking party started it was this. From the South China Morning Post on Saturday.

Chinese manufacturing activity plunged to an all-time low in February, with the first official data published amid the coronavirus outbreak confirming fears over the impact on the Chinese economy.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slowed to 35.7, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday, having slipped to 50.0 in January when the full impact of the corona virus was not yet evident.

The only brief flicker of humour came from this.

Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected the February reading to come in at 45.0.

Although you might think that manufacturing would be affected the most there was worse to come.

China’s non-manufacturing PMI – a gauge of sentiment in the services and construction sectors – also dropped, to 29.6 from 54.1 in January. This was also the lowest on record, below the previous low of 49.7 in November 2011, according to the NBS. Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected the February reading to come in at 50.5.

To give you an idea of scale Greece saw its PMI ( it only has a manufacturing one) fell into the mid-30s as its economic depression began. So we are now facing not only a decline in economic growth in China but actual falls. This is reinforced by stories that factories are being asked to keep machines running even if there are no workers to properly operate them to conceal the size of the slow down.

Comment

The problem for central banks is that they are already so heavily deployed on what is called extraordinary monetary policy measures. Thus their ammunition locker is depleted and in truth what they have does not work well with a supply shock anyway as I explain in the podcast below. So we can expect them to act anyway but look for new tools and the next one is already being deployed by two central banks. I have covered the Bank of Japan so step forwards the Swiss National Bank.

Total sight deposits at the SNB rose by CHF3.51bn last week… ( @nghrbi)

Adding that to last weeks foreign exchange intervention suggests it has another 1 billion Swiss Francs to invest in (mostly US) equities.

Who might be next? Well the Euro is being strong in this phase partly I think because of the fact it has less scope for interest-rate cuts and partly because of its trade surplus. Could it copy the Swiss and intervene to weaken the Euro and investing some of the Euros into equities? It would be a “soft” way of joining the party. Once the principle is established then it can expand its activities following the model it has established with other policies.

As for other central banks they will be waiting for interest-rates to hit 0% I think. After all then the money created to buy the shares will be “free money” and what can go wrong?

Podcast