Mark Carney is back making promises about interest-rates

Yesterday the Governor of the Bank of England visited the Great Exhibition of the North and went to Newcastle but sadly without any coal. As usual he was unable to admit his own role in events when they have gone badly and this was illustrated by the sentence below.

We meet today after the first decade of falling real incomes in the UK since the middle of the 19th century.

Perhaps he had written his speech before the Office of National Statistics told these specifics on Wednesday but he should have been aware of the overall picture. The emphasis is mine.

Both cash basis and national accounts real household disposable income (RHDI) declined for the second successive year in 2017. This was due largely to the impact of inflation on gross disposable household income (GDHI),

The issue here is that the Bank Rate cut and Sledgehammer QE sent the UK Pound £ lower after the EU Leave vote. Just for clarity it would have fallen anyway just not by so much and certainly not below US $1.20, After all we have seen it above US $1.30 now and if you look back you see that it has in general two stages. The first which was down accompanied the period the Bank of England promised more easing – it is easy to forget now that they promised to cut Bank Rate to 0.1% in November 2016 before events made it too embarrassing to carry it through –  and then once that stopped stability and then a rise. With a lag inflation followed this trend but with a reverse pattern. So if we return to the data above we now see this.

On a quarter on same quarter a year ago basis, both measures of RHDI increased in Quarter 1 2018. Cash RHDI increased by 2.4% and national accounts RHDI grew by 2%;

Now the inflation effect has faded the numbers are growing again. Again not all of the effect is due to it dropping as stronger employment has helped but it is in there. As a final point these numbers make me smile as I recall some of you being kind enough to point out my role in us finally getting numbers without the fantasy elements.

This bulletin provides Experimental Statistics on the impact of removing “imputed” transactions from real household disposable income (RHDI).

Forward Guidance

It would not be a Mark Carney speech if he did not reverse what he told us last time as he racks up the U-Turns. First he did some cheerleading for himself.

That approach has worked . Employment is at a record high. Import price inflation is fading. Real
wages are rising.

This of course relies on the power of a 0.25% Bank Rate cut ( plus more QE) but sadly nobody asked why if that is so powerful why the previous 4% or so of cuts did not put the economy through the roof? Also his policies made imported inflation worse and real wages are only rising if you choose a favourable inflation measure.

Also we got what in gardening terms is a hardy perennial.

Now, with the excess supply in the economy virtually used up

It has been about to be used up for all of his term! Remember when an unemployment rate of 7% was a sign of it? Well it is 4.2% now.  But in spite of the obvious persistent failures it would appear that it is deja vu allover again.

The UK labour market has remained strong, and there is widespread evidence that slack is
largely used up.

Next we get this

Domestically, the incoming data have given me greater confidence that the softness of UK activity in the first
quarter was largely due to the weather, not the economic climate.

And this.

A number of indicators of household
spending and sentiment have bounced back strongly from what increasingly appears to have been erratic
weakness in Q1………….Headline
inflation is still expected to rise in the short-term because of higher energy prices.

Leads to the equivalent of something of a mouth full and the emphasis is mine.

As the MPC has stressed, were the economy to develop broadly in line with the May Inflation Report
projections – with demand growth exceeding the 1½% estimated rate of supply growth leading to a small
margin of excess demand emerging by early 2020 and domestic inflationary pressures continuing to build
gradually to rates consistent with the 2% target – an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the next few years would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to its target at a conventional horizon.

For newer readers unaware of how he earned the nickname the unreliable boyfriend let me take you back four years and a month to his Mansion House speech.

The MPC has rightly stressed that the timing of the first Bank Rate increase is less important than the path
thereafter – that is, the degree and pace of increases after they start. In particular, we expect that eventual
increases in Bank Rate will be gradual and limited.

Well he was right about the limited bit as it is still where it was then at the “emergency” level of 0.5%. Actually of course he was believed to have been much more specific at the time.

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.

The next day saw quite a scramble as markets adjusted to what they believed in central banker speak was as near to a promise as they would get. You may not be bothered too much about financial traders ( like me) but this had real world implications as for example people took out fixed-rate mortgages and then found the next move was in fact a cut.

Yet some saw this as a sign as this from Joel Hills of ITV indicates.

Mark Carney signalling that, despite all the uncertainty, “gradual and limited” interest rate rises are looming. Market is betting that Bank of England will probably increase Bank Rate in August.

Just like in May when they lost their bets as part of a now long-running series. The foreign exchange markets have learnt their lesson after receiving some burnt fingers in the past and responded little. Perhaps they focused on this bit.

Pay and domestic cost growth have continued to firm broadly as expected.

Now if we start in December the official series for total pay growth has gone 3.1%, 2.8%, 2.6%,2.5% and then 2.5% in April which simply is not “firm” at all. Of course central bankers love to cherry pick but sadly the season for cherries has not been kind here either. If we move to private-sector regular pay as guided we see on the same timescale 2.9%, 3%, 2.8%, 3.2% but then a rather ugly 2.5% in April. There are few excuses here as they have excluded bonuses which are often high in April.

Comment

We have been here so may times now with the unreliable boyfriend who just cannot commit to a Bank Rate rise. Each time he echoes Carly Rae Jepson and ” really really really really really really ” wants to but there is then a slip between cup and lip. If we look back to May which regular readers will recall had been described by the Financial Times as an example of forward guidance for an interest-rate rise the feet got cold. If they do so again will we see wage growth as the excuse? We do not know this month’s numbers but as we stand they looked better back then than now.

If we look over the Atlantic we see a different story of a central bank raising interest-rates into an apparently strong economy and promising more. We are of course between the US and Euro area in economic terms but in my opinion it would have been much better if we had backed up the rhetoric and now had interest-rates of say 1.25%.or 1.5%. If we cannot take that then what has the claimed recover been worth.

Considering all the broken promises and to coin a phrase four years of hurt this is really rather breathtaking,

 

 

Advertisements

Good news for UK GDP and maybe even productivity trends

Rather aptly on GDP ( Gross Domestic Product ) day the UK received some good economic news as from a land down under the clock ticked past midnight.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will on Friday confirm that — as reported last week by Fairfax Media — Britain’s BAE Systems has won a hard-fought contest to help Australia with the $35 billion program to build nine new frigates to be named the Hunter class. ( Sydney Morning Herald)

According to Save the Royal Navy around a third of the contract is up for grabs with the rest being in Australia mostly Adelaide.

BAES will now have to conduct an extensive round of negotiations with many potential suppliers in Australia and globally. The exact break down of benefits to UK manufacturers is obviously not yet available but the Rolls Royce prime movers and the David Brown gearboxes will be UK-made. Overall economies of scale across the supply chain will help reduce both construction and through-life costs for both nations.

The success puts the UK and BAES in good position to compete for an even larger order from Canada and there are some suggestions that if we win we should call it the Commonwealth class. Still let us not get too carried away but it has been decades since we had success in terms of naval exports on this scale.

Still whilst we are looking at good news for GDP let us take in this morning’s data as well.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.2% between Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 and Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2018; the 0.1 percentage points upward revision since the second estimate reflects improvements to the measurement of construction output.

So a case of entente cordiale as we move to the same rate of growth as France albeit by a different route as we have revised up they have revised down. Also this brings into play three themes of which as we note the first quarter of 2017 was revised up as well the issue of (under) measuring the first quarter remains. That is something we share with the US. Next comes my theme that the UK GDP growth trajectory is of the order of 0.3% per quarter. Finally the one sad aspect here is yet more trouble with the construction series which is what “improvement” is defined as in my financial lexicon for these times.

Construction output was estimated to have decreased by 0.8% in Quarter 1 2018, revised upwards from negative 2.7% in the second estimate of GDP.

Seeing as the construction numbers were originally estimated at -3.3% there is quite a problem here. I have discussed this many times as we have seen a large company transferred in from services as a “quick fix” and meddling with the deflator too but we remain in a type of groundhog day. Now as we cannot produce reliable quarterly estimates what could go wrong with switching to a monthly series for GDP as we are about to do?

Productivity

Regular readers will be aware that I think that a fair bit of the UK’s so-called productivity crisis is down to miss measurement. This is to some extent confirmed by a speech by the Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane yesterday. After stumbling in the dark he has realised this.

The first and most important point to make is that the UK does not lack for innovative, high-productivity companies…..Their productivity is world-leading,
their technology world-beating, their managers and workers world-renowned. They are inspirational.

However in the UK they are forming their own type of island.

Fact three is that the productivity gap between the top- and bottom-performing companies is materially larger
in the UK than in France, Germany or the US. In the services sector, the gap between the top- and
bottom-performing 10% of companies is 80% larger in the UK than in our international competitors .
This productivity gap has also widened by far more since the crisis – around 2-3 times more – in
the UK than elsewhere.

Looked at in this way we are doing well.

There are more UK companies in the upper tail than in
Germany, with its much-vaunted industrial reputation, and France. The top 10% of UK companies have
levels of productivity at least 100% above the median.

Returning to my view I think that the concept of productivity only applies to certain sector of the economy as how do you measure it in say a haircut? Sometimes when service is involved faster is not necessarily better it is worse.

Along the way we discover why Andy Haldane has changed his economic views.

The short answer appears to be because the UK is, on many dimensions, a global innovation hub……..The UK is the largest magnet for tech talent in Europe.

This is really rather awkward for the man who brought us “Sledgehammer QE” and wanted a 0.1% Bank Rate. Of that more later as with his usual forecasting skill Andy chose yesterday to emphasis the success of England on the football field.

And then, of course, there is the World Cup. Without wishing to tempt fate, England’s recent sporting
success on the football field (and cricket pitch) has probably added to that feel-good factor among
England-supporting consumers.

Once I read this I should have immediately bet on England losing to Belgium! Anyway returning to this theme Andy was keen to do some ( let’s face it badly needed) cheerleading for himself and by default his ongoing campaign to be the next Governor of the Bank of England,

The MPC has also undertaken asset purchases amounting to almost £½ trillion since 2009. This has
provided additional monetary stimulus to the UK economy, at its peak equivalent to a further reduction in
interest rates of up to around 2.5 percentage points.

I do not know if he stopped for an expected round of applause at this point or after this attempt to present himself and his colleagues as a set of economic super heroes.

Without these measures, we estimate the economy would have been around 8% smaller and unemployment 4 percentage points higher.

A more accurate response would have been to laugh after all Andy would have thought it was with him as opposed to the reality of it being at him.

Comment

The last day or so has seen some better economic news for the UK and this continued in this morning’s money supply data.

The total amount of money held by UK households, businesses and non-intermediary other financial corporations (NIOFCs) (Broad money or M4ex) increased by £19.6 billion in May

This balanced out April’s dip.

 Smoothing through the recent volatility by taking a two-month average suggests money has increased broadly in line with its recent average.

The annual rate of growth of 4% means that should we achieve our inflation target of 2% then we can expect economic growth of 2% towards the end of this year and early next. The flaw in this is the oil price and of course the impact of the Unreliable Boyfriend on the UK Pound £.

The less satisfactory situation is something that Chief Economist Haldane is less keen to emphasis which is that if you apply a “Sledgehammer” to the monetary system then the UK’s history tells you to expect this.

Annual growth of consumer borrowing, excluding mortgages, slowed a little in May to 8.5%

Remember that is on top of double-digit annual growth rates.

Meanwhile those who have followed my critiques of imputed rent and its impact on the inflation numbers and GDP since 2012 or so may like to note this. From the economics editor of the Financial Times for whom it is apparently good enough for the former factors but not for measuring productivity.

Only if you include owner occupied imputed rents, which anyone sensible who does this sort of thing excludes.

Still if you apply that much more widely he and I agree for once.

Why is the Bank of England preparing for a 0% interest-rate?

Sometimes events have their own motion as after enjoying watching England in the cricket yesterday which is far from something I can always I had time to note it was Mansion House speech time. My mind turned back to 2014 when Bank of England Governor Mark Carney promised an interest-rate rise.

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.

Of course four years later we are still waiting for the unreliable boyfriend to match his words with deeds. Indeed last night he was sailing in completely the opposite direction as shown by this.

The additional capital means the MPC could, if necessary, re-launch the TFS in future on the Bank’s balance sheet, cementing 0% as the lower bound.

We have learnt in the credit crunch era to watch such things closely as preparations for an easing on monetary policy have so regularly turned into action as opposed to tightening for which in the UK we have yet to see an outright one. All we have is a reversal of the last error ridden cut to a 0.25% Bank Rate as I note that the extra £60 billion of QE, Corporate Bond QE and Term Funding Scheme are still in existence.

There was another mention of a 0% interest-rate later in the piece.

Although the principles guiding the MPC’s choice of threshold still hold, with the lower bound on Bank Rate
now permanently close to 0%,

In the words of Talking Heads “is it?”

The Lower Bound

This has been an area which if we keep our language neutral has been problematic for Governor Carney to say the least! For example last night’s speech mentioned an area I have flagged for some time.

relative to the effective lower bound on Bank
Rate of 0.5% at that time

When the statement was originally made there were obvious issues when we had countries that had negative interest-rates well below the “lower bound”. As an example the Swiss National Bank announced this yesterday morning.

Interest on sight deposits at
the SNB remains at −0.75% and the target range for the three-month Libor is unchanged at
between −1.25% and −0.25%

As they are already equipped for a -1.25% interest-rate and have a -0.75% one it is hard not to smile at the “lower bound” of Mark Carney. The truth in my opinion is that it means something quite different and as ever the main player is the “precious” or the banks.

In August 2016, the MPC launched the Term Funding Scheme (TFS) in order to reinforce the pass-through
of the cut in Bank Rate to 0.25% to the borrowing rates faced by households and companies.

As you can see it is badged as a benefit to you and me which of course is a perfect way to slip cheap liquidity to the banks. After all competing for savings from us must be a frightful bore for them and it is much easier to get wholesale amounts and rates from the Bank of England.

Bank of England balance sheet

There are changes here as well.

With the Chancellor’s announcement tonight of a ground-breaking new financial arrangement and capital
injection for the Bank of England, we now have a balance sheet fit for purpose and the future.

What arrangement? There will be a capital injection of £1.2 billion this year raising it to £3.5 billion. That can go as high as £5.5 billion should the Bank of England make profits bur after that it has to be returned to HM Treasury.

The gearing for liquidity operations is quite something to behold.

The additional capital will significantly increase the amount of liquidity the Bank can provide through
collateralised, market-wide facilities without needing an indemnity from HM Treasury to more than half a
trillion pounds. This lending capacity would expand to over three quarters of a trillion pounds when, as
designed, additional capital above the target level is accrued through retained earnings.

On the first number the gearing would be of the order of 140 times.Care is needed with that though as the Bank of England does insist on collateral in return for the liquidity. Mind you that is not perfect as a guardian as those who recall the episode where the Special Liquidity Scheme was ended early due to “phantom securities”. If you do not know about that the phrase itself is rather eloquent as an explanation.

Reducing the National Debt

Yesterday was  good day for data on the UK public finances but that may be dwarfed by what was announced in the speech.

Today’s announcement increases the amount of risk the Bank can carry on its balance sheet. As a result,
the Bank plans to bring the £127 billion of lending extended through the TFS onto our balance sheet by the
end of 2018/19 the financial year.

That had me immediately wondering if the Office for National Statistics will now drop the requirement for this to be added to the UK National Debt. this would bring us into line with rules elsewhere as for example if you will forgive the alphabetti spaghetti the TLTROs and LTROs of the European Central Bank are not added to the respective national debts. Such a change would reduce our national debt from 85.4% of GDP to below 80%. I am sure I am not the only person thinking that would be plenty to help finance the suggested boost to the NHS should you choose.

QE

There was a change here and this reflects the 0.5% change in the “lower bound”

Although the principles guiding the MPC’s choice of threshold still hold, with the lower bound on Bank Rate
now permanently close to 0%, the MPC views that the level from which Bank Rate can be cut materially is
now around 1.5%.
Reflecting this, the MPC now intends not to reduce the stock of purchased assets until Bank Rate reaches
around 1.5%.

Let me offer you two thoughts on this. Firstly as the Bank of England has yet to raise interest-rates from the emergency 0.5% level then discussing 1.5% or 2% is a moot point. Secondly this is a way of locking in losses as you will be driving the price of the Gilts owned lower by raising Bank Rate. Even holding the Gilts to maturity has issues because you get 100 back and in the days of the panic driven Sledgehammer QE buying where market participants saw free money coming and moved prices away the Bank of England paid way over 100.

Comment

It is hard not to have a wry smile at Governor Carney planning for a 0% Bank Rate as one of his colleagues joins those voting for a rise to 0.75%. Of course Governor Carney wants a rise to 0.75% eventually, say after his term has ended for example. The irony was that the person who has put so much effort into trying to be the next Governor voted for a rise. As to how Andy Haldane’s campaign has gone let me offer you this from Duncan Weldon.

Next month: 6 votes to hold 2 votes to hike And one vote for something involving a dog and a frisbee.

There was a time when people used to disagree with my views about Andy Haldane whereas now the silence is deafening in two respects. One is that I do not get challenged on social media about it anymore and the other is that if you look for the chorus line of support that used to exist it appears to have disappeared and in some cases been redacted.

Moving to more positive news there has been rather a good piece written by the England footballer Raheem Sterling and whilst no doubt there has been some ghostwriting the final message is very welcome I think.

England is still a place where a naughty boy who comes from nothing can live his dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Last night the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney gave a speech which was extraordinary even for him. At the Society of Professional Economists he stood up and immediately took listeners into a parallel universe that was like the episode in Star Trek where Spock was irrational and violent.

Our guidance means that those who follow us will be better able to anticipate our actions. It will make those
actions more powerful. And it will help households and businesses consume, save, hire and invest with
confidence as the UK determines its path forward.

Just for clarity he is talking about the Forward Guidance of the Bank of England where he has promised interest-rate rises and not only not delivered them but of course ended up making a cut and adding £60 billion of Quantitative Easing. So guiding you in the wrong direction up the garden path helps? Well apparently it is most helpful when he sends you the wrong way.

Guidance is most useful at such turning points.

I was challenged on social media last night by those who claimed he has never promised interest-rate rises. I responded by taking them back to Mansion House in June 2014 when Governor Carney announced 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.

This is because central bankers speak in code as Alan Greenspan of the US Federal Reserve pointed out back in the day.

 I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Returning to June 2014 financial markets were sure they knew what Mark Carney meant and that was that an interest-rate rise was coming soon. In response the Short Future for interest-rate expectations soared as did the UK Pound £. Here is a nuance to this which is that those who were going to be right as in nothing would happen were probably stopped out of their positions. This was added to by even David ” I can see for” Miles the easing fan writing this about interest-rate rises in the Sunday Telegraph.

But that day is coming.

Back in my days on Mindful Money I pointed this out on the 24th of June 2014.

 If we were in America then Mark Carney would be called a “flip-flopper” as we have had a lot of different types of Forward Guidance from an individual who has not yet been in office for a year. Others may be wondering at Mark Carney’s claim that he has met “thousands of businesses” in less than a year which is quite a rate!

The version according to Mark Carney

Remember this.

the MPC would not even think about tightening policy at least until the unemployment rate had fallen below 7%

Which went wrong about as fast as it could as even the Governor admits.

In the event, the unemployment rate fell far faster than we had expected, falling below 7% in February 2014

If we skip the obvious issue of Forward Guidance from an organisation making yet another large forecasting error there is a clear issue of logic. This is that a sharp fall in unemployment suggests a stronger economy and thus Bank Rate rises as it is a measure according to Governor Carney that is.

– a clear and widely understood indicator of the degree of slack

But apparently less slack meant this.

That guidance was effective. Surveys conducted in the months that followed indicated high awareness of it
among companies, with almost half reporting that they expected Bank Rate to remain at low levels for longer
than they would have done were guidance not in place

So it worked by being wrong! Of course if we switch to the real world companies were probably ignoring all the “flip-flopping” that was already evident. After all he had only been Governor for a year when this happened. From the BBC.

The Bank of England has acted like an “unreliable boyfriend” in hints over interest rate rises, according to MP Pat McFadden…………

“We’ve had a lot of different signals,” he said. “I mean it strikes me that the Bank’s behaving a bit like a sort of unreliable boyfriend.

“One day hot, one day cold, and the people on the other side of the message are left not really knowing where they stand.”

Apparently misleading is helpful

The next section was aptly described by Earth Wind and Fire.

Every man has a place
In his heart there’s a space
And the world can’t erase his fantasies

We find that according to Governor Carney being an unreliable boyfriend brings a whole raft of benefits.

The MPC’s guidance speaks first and foremost to UK households and businesses.

Okay so he is swerving away from the financial markets he has misled to take us where?

And last year, we introduced layered communications, with simpler, more accessible language and graphics to
reach the broadest possible audience.

So we have had some dumbing down and then climbed the steps to the highest Ivory Tower he could find.

It now publishes its best collective judgments on the natural rate of unemployment, the output gap, as well as the
expected growth in productivity, labour supply and potential output.

I would like to pick out just one to illustrate how lost in the clouds this particular Ivory Tower is and that is the natural rate of unemployment. Was it the 7% he first used? Er no. In fact on the 28th of June 2014 it was already in disarray.

Governor Mark Carney pointed out that some work had suggested that the equilibrium unemployment rate (the lowest rate compatible with non-accelerating inflation) may be more like 5.5% than the 6.5% previously used.

I cannot recall if it went to 5% but it did go to 4.5% and is now 4.25%. Imagine the Bank of England had used such “science” to design the Titanic. They would be able to claim that it had not hit the iceberg but only because it would have sunk before it got out of port.

Reality got most suspended here.

The interest rate expectations of households and businesses have remained in line with the MPC’s limited
and gradual guidance………Guidance has reduced the impact of economic uncertainty on short-term interest rates

No the regular hints of an interest-rate rise have increased uncertainty especially when as has so often happened the unreliable boyfriend has flip-flopped. Ironically the next bit is true but not for the reasons given.

Guidance has dampened the volatility of interest rates, consistent with the expected and actual path of policy
rates (Chart 4). Guidance has reduced the impact of economic uncertainty on short-term interest rates.

The truth is that fewer and fewer people take any notice of his pronouncements. This was highlighted last night by the way the UK Pound £ responded with a yawn to the speech. Such a development must be most hurtful to someone whose ego is such that they changed the Bank of England website to have “Latest from the Governor” on the front page.

Comment

This is provided by two responses to last night’s speech. Here is a view which is clear on one side.

Okay so the only way is up! Or perhaps not. From Reuters.

The Bank of England could pump more stimulus into Britain’s economy if this year’s Brexit negotiations result in a bad deal, BoE governor Mark Carney said on Thursday.

In the past this would have been considered to be a masterly speech from a central bank Governor but not when he/she is claiming to provide Forward Guidance. because as you can see they can claim to be right whatever happens via some selective cherry picking but the ordinary person can not.

Why might Governor Carney hint at interest-rate rises and not do them. As ever the “precious” seems to be in the mix. From @IrkHudson.

Helps banks margins

The unreliable boyfriend has tripped over his own feet again

Today brings the “unreliable boyfriend” centre stage as we come to the moment when he gave Forward Guidance that he will raise interest-rates. Of course he would not be the unreliable boyfriend if things did not look very different by the time the event arrived! Sadly that has been the history of Bank of England Forward Guidance under Governor Mark Carney which has been anything but. From the initial false start of flagging up an unemployment rate of 7% that was supposed to be like the “train in the distance” sung about by Paul Simon but actually then arrived at high-speed it has been an error strewn path. Reuters have put it like this.

The BoE governor’s guidance on the path for interest rates has repeatedly been knocked off course by surprises in the economy, hence the accusation of unreliability from a lawmaker.

Care is needed as there are always going to be surprises and in a way that is a good thing as fans of the novel Dune will know. But there are themes that can be got right and sadly Governor Carney grasped the wrong stick right from the beginning. If we think back to yesterday’s article on Japan its unemployment rate of 2.5% is relevant here as tucked away in the original Forward Guidance was the Bank of England saying the natural rate of unemployment ( which some take as the equilibrium one and others even as a guide to full employment) was 6.5% The utter hopelessness of this view is shown by looking at the UK unemployment rate or even worse the Japanese one. Or if you prefer the natural rate in the UK has been 6%,5.5% then 4.5% and more recently 4.25% which illustrates the words of Oliver Hardy.

That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into

Sadly I do see teachers on social media referring to such views at the Bank of England and fear for what their students are being taught.

Also of course the media do need to keep their place in the pecking order for questions at press conferences and interviews which I think we should keep in mind as we read this from Reuters.

Drab data show Bank of England’s Carney a ‘sensitive boyfriend’

The data view was highlighted here.

Carney’s highlighting last month of “mixed” economic signals shocked investors who had bet the BoE would raise rates to a new post-financial-crisis high of 0.75 percent on May 10.

Since then, almost all the gauges of Britain’s economy have disappointed. Financial markets now point to a less than 10 percent chance of a rate hike on Thursday, compared with 90 percent a month ago.

Britain’s economy barely grew in the first three months of 2018 and bad weather was not the only reason why, official statisticians said last month.

Today’s data

The opening salvo was again drab.

In March 2018, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.1% compared with February 2018.Manufacturing fell by 0.1% in March 2018 compared with February 2018.

Maybe the weather had an impact but not a large one according to our official statisticians. If we look for some perspective we find ourselves continuing the recent theme of a slowing down economy.

>In the three months to March 2018, the Index of Production increased by 0.6% compared with the three months to December 2017, due mainly to a rise of 2.5% in energy supply; this was supported by rises in mining and quarrying of 2.2% and manufacturing of 0.2%.

It is kind of an irony that we find a positive impact from the weather! Although of course for domestic consumers this is a cost and a likely subtraction from other output for those whose budgets are tight.

If we step back and consider the credit crunch era then unless you raise the counterfactual to heroic levels then the £435 billion of QE and an emergency interest-rate of 0.5% seem to have failed here.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 5.1% and 0.8% respectively in the three months to March 2018.

Construction

The news here was better but only in the context of not being quite as bad as we had previously thought.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 2.7% in March 2018, the biggest fall seen in this series since August 2012.

Here there was much more likely to have been an adverse impact from the weather and the recent pattern has been grim. However the overall picture is rather different to that shown by the production sector.

Construction output peaked in December 2017, reaching a level that was 30.3% higher than the lowest point of the last five years, April 2013. Despite the month-on-month decrease in March 2018, construction output remains 22.7% above this level.

If we consider monetary policy then supporters of the QE era have a case for arguing that there was a boost here from easy monetary policy and perhaps the Funding for Lending Scheme which did so much to reduce mortgage rates. So the implicit bank bailout did help one sector perhaps. The catch comes with the slow down as it was already happening before the Bank Rate rise last November and of course the Term Funding Scheme only ended in February. Even in the wildest dreams of Mark Carney and he has had some pretty wild ones monetary policy does not act that quickly.

Trade

Here the news was ( fortunately) better.

The UK total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £0.7 billion to £6.9 billion in the three months to March 2018, due mainly to falling goods imports from non-EU countries.

Even data over 3 months is not entirely reliable but the longer data was better too.

In the 12 months to March 2018, the total trade deficit narrowed £13.3 billion to £26.6 billion due to 9.2% export growth exceeding 6.4% growth for imports.

There is some genuine good news for the UK economy there in the growth achieved by our exporters. Because of our long-running trade deficit we need export growth to exceed import growth for us to make any progress. Also I am pleased to point out that earlier this week news appeared that confirmed my theme that our services exports have been badly measured and if we put more effort into recording them we were likely to get some good news.

provisional revisions to the UK trade balance range from a downward revision of £1.2 billion to the total trade deficit (goods and services) in 2001 to an upward revision of £9.8 billion in 2016 (Table 1). The £9.8 billion upward revision to the total trade deficit in 2016 means the deficit has been revised from £40.7 billion to £30.9 billion

As you can see the ch-ch-changes make quite a difference. If we factor in the impact of the lower UK Pound £ since the EU leave vote the narrative shifts somewhat. My opinion is that we have had long-running deficits but they have not been as bad as the numbers produced. As ever care is needed because do we really know this even now.

The main driver of the revision in 2016 came from improvements made to methods used to estimate net spread earnings, which feed into exports of services. The net spread earnings improvement revised trade in services exports back to 2004.

Well done to the Office for National Statistics for making a new effort something I asked for in my response to the Charlie Bean review. Of course the former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King was always keen on some rebalancing although it did not happen on poor Mervyn’s watch. By poor I do not mean financially poor as I am sure Baron King of Lothbury will be enjoying the benefits of his RPI-linked pensions as well as his other work.

Comment

The simple fact is that if we look at past Forward Guidance from the Bank of England then its conventional view would be moving towards a Bank Rate cut rather than a rise today. So yet again it has tripped over its own feet. The only factor heading in the other direction is the higher price of crude oil ( Brent Crude is over US $77 as I type this) which will push inflation higher further down the line. Although of course such influences are usually described as “temporary” however long they last and thereby get ignored.

An actual cut would be silly because as I have pointed it before the drop in the UK Pound £ since the unreliable boyfriends latest public U-Turn has been the equivalent of a 0.5% Bank Rate cut as it is. You could argue that would aid a Bank Rate rise but with monetary and economic data slowing I think that now would be a case of bad timing and I am someone who wants Bank Rate back up between 1.5% and 2% to provide a better balance between savers and depositors.

I would not worry too much about Governor Carney’s future though as those at the top of the establishment have a Teflon coating. After his role in the Libor scandal you might think that ex Bank of England Governor Paul Tucker should be in obscurity if not jail and yet apparently his thoughts are valuable. From the Brookings Institute.

Paul Tucker, drawing from his 33 years as a central banker, says that Congress should be much more specific about the objectives it wants the Federal Reserve to achieve and the Fed should try harder to explain what it’s doing

Tucker’s Luck?

Me on Core Finance TV

youtu.be/GtrmZbRPTgY

Millennials need lower UK house prices rather than £10,000

This morning the attention of Mark Carney and the Bank of England will have been grabbed by this from the Halifax Building Society.

On a monthly basis, prices fell by 3.1% in April, following a 1.6% rise in March, reflecting the
volatility in the short-term monthly measure.

Those who watched the ending of the Lord of the Rings on television over the bank holiday weekend may be wondering if this is like when the eye of Sauron spots that the ring of power is about to be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom? More on the Bank of England later as of course it meets today ready for its vote on monetary policy tomorrow although we do not get told until Thursday.

If we step back for some perspective we see this.

House prices in the latest quarter (February-April) were 0.1% lower than in the preceding
three months (November-January), the third consecutive decline on this measure

This means that we have fallen back since the apparent boom last October and November when the quarterly rate of growth reached 2.3%. Now we see that over the past three months it has gone -0.7%,-0.1% and now -0.1%.

Moving to annual comparisons we are told this.

Prices in the last three months to April were 2.2% higher than in the same three months a year earlier, down from the 2.7% annual growth recorded in March.

Again the message is of a lower number.

What have we learnt?

Whilst the monthly number is eye-catching this is an erratic series as going from monthly growth of 1.6% to -3.1% shows. Even the quarterly numbers saw falls last year at this time but then recovered as we mull a seasonal effect. But for all that as we look back we do see a shift from numbers of the order of 5% annual growth to numbers of the order of 2%. Of course that is the inflation target or would be if the UK establishment allowed house prices to be in the inflation index rather than keeping it out of them so it can claim any rise as wealth effects. Personally I see the decline in the rate of house price inflation as a good thing as for example the last three months has seen it much more in line with the growth in UK wages.

What does the Halifax think looking ahead?

They are not particularly optimistic.

“Housing demand has softened in the early months of 2018, with both mortgage approvals and completed home sales
edging down. Housing supply – as measured by the stock of homes for sale and new instructions – is also still very
low. However, the UK labour market is performing strongly with unemployment continuing to fall and wage growth finally picking up. These factors should help to ease pressure on household finances and as a result we expect
annual price growth will remain in our forecast range 0-3% this year.”

In terms of detail we are pointed towards this.

Home sales fell in March. UK home sales dropped by 7.2% between February and March to 92,270 –
the lowest level since May 2016.

And looking further down the chain to this.

Housing market activity softens in March. Bank of England industry-wide figures show that the
number of mortgages approved to finance house purchases – a leading indicator of completed house
sales – fell for the second consecutive month in March to 62,914 – a drop of 1.4%. Approvals in the
three months to March were 1.7% higher than in the preceding three months, further indicating a
subdued residential market.

So the fires of the system are burning gently at best.

The UK establishment responds

Of course so much of the UK economic system is built on rising house prices so we should not be surprised to see the establishment riding to the rescue. Here is the Financial Times on today’s report from the Intergenerational Commission and the emphasis is mine.

After an exhaustive, two-year examination of young Britons’ strained living standards and the elderly’s concerns about health and social care, the commission recommended a £10,000 “citizen’s inheritance” for 25-year-olds to help them buy their first home or reduce their student debt, lower stamp duty for people moving home and billions more spent on health in a report published on Tuesday.

Nobody at this august institutions seems to ever stop and ask the question as to why so much “help” is always needed? The truth is that it is required because house prices are too high. They of course turn a not very Nelsonian blind eye to that reality. Also the bit about creating the money seems rather vague.

The commission said the government could find the money needed to fund the additional public expenditure by introducing new taxes on property and wealth.

Indeed the lack of thought in this bit is frightening especially when we see the role of who said it.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general and a member of the commission, said: “The idea that each generation should have a better life than the previous one is central to the pursuit of economic growth. The fact that it has broken down for young people should therefore concern us all.”

No challenging of all about can or should we grow if it means draining valuable resources and sadly no doubt soon we will get more global warming rhetoric from the same source. Then to correct myself on the issue of taxes we do get some detail and it is something that the establishment invariably loves.

The bulk of the additional tax measures came from a proposal for a new property tax, with annual rates of 1.7 per cent of the capital value of a home for any properties worth more than £600,000 and 0.85 per cent on values below that.

What sort of mess is that? You inflate house prices and tell people they are better off. Then you make the mess even worse by taxing many on gains they have not taken! A clear cash flow issue for many who may have a more expensive property but still live in it. This will be especially true for the retired living on a pension.

Oh and £10,000 won’t go far will it? So this is something that will plainly go from bad to worse.

Also some advice to millennials. Should you ever get this £10,000 don’t pay off your student debt as that looks to be something likely to be written off road to nowhere style in the end anyway.

Comment

If we start with millennials I do think that times are troubled but the real driving factor affecting them is this.

Those in their late 20s and early 30s were the first generation not to have higher pay on average than people of the same age 15 years earlier, according to the commission.

We are back to wages again which the establishment of course then shouts look over here and moves to house prices. But then it has a problem because its claim that there has been little or no inflation faces this inconvenient reality.

With the prospect of more time spent renting from private landlords, the average millennial spent 25 per cent of their income on housing, compared with roughly 17 per cent for baby boomers when they were younger, a figure that subsequently fell for that generation as their incomes rose sharply in the 1980s and 1990s.

So we have higher prices and payments without having much inflation! It is a scam which the establishment continue with their claim that housing inflation can be measured using imputed rents. Even worse they measure rents badly and may be underestimating the rises by around 1% per annum.

Now we can return to Mark Carney and the Bank of England who no doubt feel like they have heat stroke when they read of house price falls. This is because of the enormous effort they have put into this area of which the latest was the Term Funding Scheme which ended in February.  It started in August 2016 and UK Bank Rate is the same now at the emergency rate of 0.5% but we can measure its impact on mortgage rates. You see according to the Bank the last 3 months before it saw new business at 2.39% twice and then 2.3% whereas now it has gone 1.96%,2.02% and now 2,04%. So an extra Bank Rate cut just for mortgages.

Now if we factor that into house prices would it be churlish to suggest it may have raised them by the £10,000 the Intergenerational Commission wants to gift to millennials?

 

 

 

How long will it be before the Bank of England hints at a Bank Rate cut?

After Friday’s disappointing UK GDP release this morning brings the beginnings of the first snapshot into the economy in the second quarter. Also there is in the Financial Times a reminder of the problems experienced by the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

“>Quiz: Do you have what it takes to study economics?Mark Carney wants teenagers to understand how the economy works. Do you measure up?

A laudable plan but first it would help if the Governor understood what was going on! After all it was as recently as a few months ago that he told us this. From Bloomberg.

But it was February’s Inflation Report, and Mark Carney’s statement that rates needed to rise “somewhat earlier and to a somewhat greater extent” than previously thought that really solidified investors’ view.

Only a couple of months later he fully lived up to his reputation as the “unreliable boyfriend”

That confidence soon expired when Carney used a BBC interview to damp expectations for an imminent interest-rate increase.

Mind you as recently as the 8th of April the Telegraph seemed to be in a 2013 time warp.

Mark Carney is known as the George Clooney of central banking…………have all served to reinforce what former Canadian colleagues term his “star quality”. ……The glamorous governor of the UK’s central bank will soon depart, however.  ( h/t PeterHoskinsTV )

The media seem to have a natural deference to authority as the Financial Times has had to do a screeching U-Turn from the analysis that told us the road to a May Bank Rate rise was a triumph of Forward Guidance.

The UK Pound £

One area which has kept much more up with the times has been the foreign exchanges. The UK Pound £ headed down against the US Dollar by more than a cent as soon as markets were aware of Governor Carney singing along with Luther Vandross.

But now I know
I don’t need you at all, you’re no good for me
I’ve changed my mind
I’m taking back my love

This has now been added to by the weak GDP report and we find ourselves noting that the effective exchange rate at 79.48 is a fair bit lower than the 81.24 of the 17th of April. Or to put it that is the equivalent of a 0.44% Bank Rate cut. Amazing isn’t it when we are told a 0.25% change is such a big deal?

Not all of this is Governor Carney;s fault as for example the US Dollar has rallied but the “rockstar” as he was once called got this completely wrong.

Manufacturing

This has been a bright spot for the UK economy over the past 18 months or so. However there is some food for thought in today’s Markit PMI business survey.

The upturn in the UK manufacturing sector slowed
further at the start of the second quarter. Rates of
expansion eased for output, new orders and
employment, in part reflecting a weakening in the
pace of expansion of new work from abroad.

The monthly reading did this.

fell to a 17-month low of 53.9 in April, down from 54.9 in
March. The PMI has signalled expansion in each
of the past 21 months.

Also there was news from an area of the economy that has been particularly robust.

Manufacturing employment increased in April.
The rate of job creation eased to the weakest in 14
months.

If we look for some perspective we see that UK manufacturing did not seem to pick up in April. A change from 54.9 to 53.9 may or may not mean something due to the errors in the estimates but whilst growth compared to our past history is good ( the overall average is 51.2) compared to the recent period it is not.

Inflation

The burst driven by the post EU leave vote fall in the UK Pound £ is passing us by now.

However, the rate of output charge inflation eased
for the third straight month to the slowest since
August 2017.

But the new weaker Pound £ will not help and the fact that the Sugar Tax is back in the news and Scotland now has a minimum price for alcohol reminds us of our tendency towards institutionalised inflation. Each individual change may have its merits but we can be sure we will face higher prices and inflation as a result.This is especially significant at a time of weak wage growth.

This has been added to recently by the issues in the Middle East raising the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil to around US $74. Although not all commodities are on the rise as this from the Reserve Bank of Australia reminded us earlier today.

Preliminary estimates for April indicate that the index decreased by 3.8 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after increasing by 0.4 per cent in March (revised). Iron ore and coking coal prices led the decrease……Over the past year, the index has decreased by 1.4 per cent in SDR terms, led by lower iron ore prices.

There is an Australian bias to the commodities chosen but it does show that some are not adding to price pressure.

Unsecured Credit

This was an area that received what looked like praise from Mark Carney as the annual rate of growth pushed past 10% following his Sledgehammer QE of August 2016.

The stimulus is working

The problem is twofold. Firstly he has shifted his language to being “vigilant”. Secondly and much more importantly it has continued on something of a tear.

Consumer net credit rose by £0.3 billion in March 2018. Annual growth of consumer credit fell on the month to 8.6%

Not doubt someone will be trying out a PR release calling this a success as in annual growth shows the stimulus whilst the monthly drop is a success for vigilance. Actually the Bank of England will be worried here as they did not want a lurch downwards like this! Care is needed as the numbers are erratic but if this is an example of macroprudential policy it is also a sign of the problems as you tend to lurch from boom to bust rather than applying the brakes and slowing down.

Anyway even the 8.6% compares with wage growth that has been a bit over 2% and economic growth at 1.2%. Which number looks out of line?

Money Supply

Yesterday we noted that the growth of broad money had fallen to 3.7% in the Euro area and today we discovered that in the UK it had fallen to 3.8%. Thus both have seen a slowing which continues the theme of the last few weeks. If we look at the likely mixture between growth and inflation that currently looks worse for the UK as we start with a higher rate of inflation so lat us hope that drops and soon.

Comment

Today’s data is more fuel for the theme that the UK economy has slowed in 2018 and ironically even the news that consumer credit growth lurched downwards in March will worry the Bank of England. Be careful what you wish for is a theme of macroprudential style policies that so many seem to have forgotten. Anyway that may be a one month mirage so let us simply note that recent economic evidence would ordinarily have Mark Carney mulling a Bank Rate cut and not a rise.

We have covered the problems of his Forward Guidance many times so let us now take a different tack which is to compare it with the ECB and Mario Draghi. They face what are similar situations which is broad money growth slowing to as it happens pretty much the same rate of growth. They both will now have the occasional sleepless night wondering of the chance to change policy passed them by and that the boat sailed without them in it. But Mario will sleep better I think as whilst I am no fan of negative interest-rates and large-scale QE he had the Euro area crisis to contend with whereas Mark Carney has had at least a couple of chances to hop on the boat but in a nervous unreliable boyfriend state missed them.

Much of the stimulus in the UK was supposed to boost business borrowing, how has that been going?

Net finance raised was £0.0 billion in March

Yet if we switch to mortgages the beat goes on. If we go back to February 2016 the rate for new mortgages overall was 2.49%. So with the Bank Rate back at 0.5% since November it should be back there? Er no it is 2.04%. As we are told in the Matrix series of films “some things never change…”