The ECB bails out the banks yet again, the Euro area economy not so much

One of the battles in economics is between getting data which is timely and it being accurate and reliable. Actually we struggle with the latter points full stop but especially if we try to produce numbers quickly. As regular readers will be aware we have been observing this problem in relation to the Markit Purchasing Manager Indices for several years now. They produce numbers which if this was a London gangster movie would be called “sharpish” but have missed the target on more than a few occasions and in he case of the Irish pharmaceutical cliff their arrow not only missed the target but the whole field as well.

Things start well as we note this.

The eurozone economic downturn eased markedly
for a second successive month in June as
lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak were further
relaxed, according to provisional PMI® survey data.
The month also saw a continued strong
improvement in business expectations for the year
ahead.

As it is from the 12th to the 22nd of this month it is timely as well but then things go rather wrong.

The flash IHS Markit Eurozone Composite PMI rose
further from an all-time low of 13.6 seen back in
April, surging to 47.5 in June from 31.9 in May. The
15.6-point rise was by far the largest in the survey
history with the exception of May’s record increase.
The latest gain took the PMI to its highest since
February, though still indicated an overall decline in
business output.

Actually these numbers if we note the Financial Times wrong-footed more than a few it would appear.

The rise in the eurozone flash Composite PMI in June confirms that economic output in the region is recovering rapidly from April’s nadir as restrictions are progressively eased. ( Capital Economics )

Today’s PMI numbers provide further evidence of what initially looks like a textbook V-shaped recovery. As much as more than a month of (full) lockdowns had sent economies into a standstill, the gradual reopenings of the last two months have led to a sharp rebound in activity. ( ING Di-Ba)

The latter is an extraordinary effort as a number below 50 indicates a further contraction albeit with a number of 47.5 a minor one. So we have gone enormous contraction , what would have been called an enormous contraction if they one before had not taken place and now a minor one. But the number now has to be over 50 as the economy picks up and this below is not true.

Output fell again in both manufacturing and
services, the latter showing the slightly steeper rate
of decline

On a monthly basis output rose as it probably did at the end of last month, it is just that it is doing so after a large fall. The one number which was positive was still way too low.

Flash France Composite Output Index) at 51.3
in June (32.1 in May), four-month high.

For what it is worth the overall view is as follows.

We therefore continue to expect GDP to slump by over 8% in 2020 and, while the recovery may start in the third quarter, momentum could soon fade meaning it will likely
take up to three years before the eurozone regains
its pre-pandemic level of GDP.

Actual Data

From Statistics Netherlands.

In May 2020, prices of owner-occupied dwellings (excluding new constructions) were on average 7.7 percent up on the same month last year. This price increase is higher than in the previous months.

Well that will cheer the European Central Bank or ECB. Indeed ECB President Lagarde may have a glass of champagne in response to this.

 In May 2020, house prices reached the highest level ever. Compared to the low in June 2013, house prices were up by 47.8 percent on average in that month.

Staying with the Netherlands and switching to the real economy we see this.

According to figures released by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), in April 2020 consumers spent 17.4 percent less than in April 2019. This is by far the largest contraction in domestic household consumption which has ever been recorded by CBS. Consumers mainly spent less on services, durable goods and motor fuels; on the other hand, they spent more on food, beverages and tobacco.

If we try to bring that up to date we see that if sentiment is any guide things have improved but are still weak.

At -27, the consumer confidence indicator in June stands far below its long-term average over the past two decades (-5). The indicator reached an all-time high (36) in January 2000 and an all-time low (-41) in March 2013.

Moving south to France we were told this earlier today.

In June 2020, the business climate has recovered very clearly, in connection with the acceleration of the lockdown exit. The indicator that synthesizes it, calculated from the responses of business managers from the main market sectors, has gained 18 points, its largest monthly increase since the start of the series (1980).

The jump is good news for the French economy although the rhetoric above does not match the detail.

At 78, the business climate has exceeded the low point reached in March 2009 (70), but remains far below its long-term average (100).

The situation is even worse for employment.

At 66, the employment climate still remains far below its May 2009 low (73), and, a fortiori, its long-term average (100).

Oh and staying with France I know some of you like to note these numbers.

At the end of Q1 2020, Maastricht’s debt reached €2,438.5 billion, a €58.4 billion increase in comparison to Q4 2019. It accounted for 101.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), 3.1 points higher than last quarter, the highest increase since Q2 2019.

Just as a reminder the UK measuring rod is different and tends to be around 4% of GDP lower. But of course both measures will be rising quickly in both France and the UK.

Comment

Let me now switch to a speech given earlier today by Philip Lane of the ECB.

 Euro area output contracted by a record 3.6 percent in the first quarter of the year and is projected to decline by a further 13 percent in the second quarter. While growth will partially rebound in the second half of this year, output is projected to return to the level prevailing at the end of 2019 only at the end of 2022.

In fact all of that is open to doubt as the first quarter numbers will be revised over time and as discussed above we do not know where we are right now. The forecasts are not realistic but manufactured to make other criteria such as the debt metrics look better than otherwise.

Also there is a real problem with the rhetoric below which is the cause of the policy change which was the Euro area economy slowing.

Thanks to the recalibration of our monetary policy measures announced in September 2019 – namely the cut in our deposit facility rate, enhanced forward guidance, the resumption of net asset purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) and the easing of TLTRO III pricing – sizeable monetary accommodation was already in place when Europe was confronted with the COVID-19 shock.

As that was before this phase he is trying to hide the problem of having a gun from which nearly all the bullets have been fired. If we cut through the waffle what we are seeing are yet more banking subsidies.

The TLTRO programme complements our asset purchases and negative interest rate policy by ensuring the smooth transmission of the monetary policy stance through banks.

How much well here was @fwred last week.

ECB’s TLTRO-III.4 : €1308bn The Largest Longer Term Refinancing Operation ever………Banks look set to benefit, big time. All TLTRO-III will have an interest rate as low as -1% between Jun-20 and Jun-21, resulting in a gross transfer to banks of around €15bn. Most banks should qualify. Add tiering and here you are: from NIRP to a net transfer to banks!

So the banks get what they want which is interest-rate cuts to boost amongst other things their mortgage books which is going rather well in the Netherlands. Then when they overdose on negative interest-rates they are bailed out, unlike consumers and businesses. Another sign we live in a bankocracy.

Apparently the economy will win though says the judge,jury and er the defence and witness rather like in Blackadder.

An illustrative counterfactual exercise by ECB staff suggests that the TLTRO support in removing tail risk would be in the order of three percentage points of euro area real GDP growth in cumulative terms over 2020-22.

Austria

I nearly forgot to add that Austria is issuing another century bond today and yes I do mean 100 years. Even more extraordinary is that the yield looks set to be around 0.9%.

The Investing Channel

 

 

The Lebanon poses a problem for central banks and the belief they cannot fail

There is a lot going on in the Lebanon to say the least so let me open by offering my sympathy to those suffering there. My beat is economics where there is an enormous amount happening too and it links into the role of the new overlords of our time which is,of course, the central banking fraternity. They have intervened on an enormous scale and we are regularly told nothing can go wrong rather like in the way that The Titanic was supposed to be indestructible. If you like me watched Thunderbirds as a child you will know that there were few worse portents than being told nothing can go wrong.

The State of Play

The central bank summed things up in its 2019 review like this.

The Lebanese economy has moved into a state of recession in 2019 with GDP growth touching the negative territory. The International Monetary Fund projected Lebanon’s real GDP to shrink by 12% in 2020, a new double-digit contraction not seen in more than 30 years. In comparison, the IMF forecasted real GDP to contract by 3.3% in the MENA region and by 3% globally in 2020. Inflation in Lebanon recorded 2.9% in 2019, and it is expected to reach 17% in 2020, according to the IMF.

As you can see we have two double-digit measures as output falls by that as we note that the ordinary person will be hurt by double-digit inflation. This poses yet another question for output gap theory. I have to confess I am a little surprised to note that the IMF has not updated the forecasts unlike the government. From the Financial Times.

The government says the economy shrank by 6.9 per cent of GDP last year and expects a further contraction this year of 13.8 per cent — a full-blown depression with an estimated 48 per cent of people already below the poverty line.

The next feature is a currency peg to the US Dollar as we return to the Banque Du Liban.

At the monetary level, the year was marked by noticeable net conversions in favor of foreign currencies, a decline in deposit inflows, a shortage of US dollars and a lack of local currency liquidity. As a result, BDL’s assets in foreign currencies witnessed a contraction of 6% to reach $37.3 billion at end December 2019.

Troubling and a signal that if you control the price via a currency peg the risk is that you have a quantity problem which is always likely to be a shortage of US Dollars.

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 ( Aloe Blacc)

This led to what Taylor Swift would call “trouble,trouble,trouble”

It is worth mentioning that in the last quarter of 2019, the Lebanese pound has plunged on a parallel market by nearly 50% versus an official rate of 1507.5 pounds to the dollar. The Central Bank is still maintaining the official peg in bank transactions and for critical imports such as medicine, fuel and wheat.

This leads to the sort of dual currency environment we have looked at elsewhere with Ukraine coming to mind particularly.

The present position is that the official peg is “Under Pressure” as Queen and David Bowie would say as it has been above 1500 for the whole of the last year. There was particular pressure on the 4th of May when it went to 1522. Switching to the unofficial exchange rate then Lira Rate have it at 3890/3940. I think that speaks for itself.

The official Repo rate is 10% and rise as we move away from overnight to 13.46% for three-year paper. Just as a reminder the United States has near zero interest-rates so this is another way of looking at pressure on the currency peg and invites all sorts of problems.For example the forward rate for the official Lebanese Pound will be around 10% lower for a year ahead due to the interest-rate gap. So more pressure on a rate which is from an alternative universe.

It looks like there has been some currency intervention as in the fortnight to the end of May foreign currency assets fell from 51.6 trillion Lebanese Pounds to 50.5 trillion.

Corruption

We start with the Financial Times bigging up the banking sector but even it cannot avoid the consequences of what has happened.

The banks, long the jewel in Lebanon’s economic crown, and the central bank, the Banque du Liban, are at the heart of this crisis. The banks long offered high interest rates to attract dollar deposits, especially from the far-flung Lebanese diaspora. But Riad Salameh, BdL governor since 1993, began from 2016 offering unsustainable interest returns to the banks to lend on these dollars to the government, through the central bank.

That has led to a type of economic dependency.

In sum, 70 per cent of total assets in the banking system were lent to an insolvent state. The recovery programme estimates bank losses at $83bn and “embedded losses” at the BdL at $44bn (subject to audit). Together that is well over twice the size of the shrinking economy.

One of the worst forms of corruption is where government and the banks get together. For them it is symbiotic and both have lived high on the hog but they have a parasitical relationship with the ordinary Lebanese who now find the price is inflation and an economic depression.

Bankers are protesting at government plans to force mergers and recapitalisation, through a mix of wiping out existing shareholdings; fresh capital investment for banks that wish to stay in business, especially by repatriating dividends and interest earnings; recovered illicit assets; and “haircuts” on wealthy depositors.

Or as Reuters put it.

But the banks were not responsible for the devastating waste, pillage and payroll padding in the public sector – about which this plan has little detailed to say.

Comment

We find that this sort of situation involves both war and corruption. Big business, the banks and government getting to close is another warning sign and one we see all around us. But as we review a parallel currency, an economic depression and upcoming high inflation there is also this.

The sources say the plan focuses overwhelmingly on the banks and the central bank, which together lent more than 70% of total deposits in the banking system to an insolvent state at increasingly inflated interest rates put in place by central bank governor Riad Salameh. ( Reuters)

Ordinarily we assume that a central bank cannot fold as the stereotype is of one backed by the national treasury to deal with losses. There is a nuance with the Euro area where the fact there are 19 national treasuries adds not only nuance but risk for the ECB. But in general if you control the currency you can just supply more to settle any debts.the catch is its overseas value or exchange rate as we note that Mr and Mrs Market have already voted on the Lebanese Pound. But there is more as I noted on Twitter last week.

Auditors are asking banks to take a provision of ~40% against exposure to its central bank. This has to be a first in history. ( @dan_azzi)

We have become used to that being the other way around. The next bit is rather mind boggling as we mull the moral hazard at play here.

Even funnier is that BDL is about to send a circular asking banks to take a 30% provision on their exposure to BDL.

Frankly both look too low which means for the ordinary person that there is a risk of bail ins.

Podcast

 

The Bank of England sets interest-rates for the banks and QE to keep debt costs low

This morning has seen a change to Bank of England practice which is a welcome one. It announced its policy decisions at 7 am rather than the usual midday. Why is that better? It is because it voted last night so cutting the time between voting and announcing the result reduces the risk of it leaking and creating an Early Wire. The previous Governor Mark Carney preferred to have plenty of time to dot his i’s and cross his t’s at the expense of a clear market risk. If it was left to me I would dully go back to the old system where the vote was a mere 45 minutes before the announcement to reduce the risk of it leaking. After all the Bank of England has proved to be a much more leaky vessel than it should be.

Actions

We got further confirmation that the Bank of England considers 0.1% to be the Lower Bound for official UK interest-rates.

At its meeting ending on 6 May 2020, the MPC voted unanimously to maintain Bank Rate at 0.1%.

That is in their terms quite a critique of the UK banking system as I note the Norges Bank of Norway has cut to 0% this morning and denied it will cut to negative interest-rates ( we know what that means) and of course the ECB has a deposit rate of -0.5% although to keep that it has had to offer Euro area banks a bung ( TLTRO) at -1%

Next comes an area where action was more likely and as I will explain we did get a hint of some.

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. Two members preferred to increase the target for the
stock of asset purchases by an additional £100 billion at this meeting.

The two who voted for “More! More! More!” were Jonathan Haskel and Michael Saunders. The latter was calling for higher interest-rates not so long ago so he has established himself as the swing voter who rushes to vote for whatever is right in front of his nose. Anyway I suspect it is moot as I expect them all to sing along with Andrea True Connection in the end.

(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

What do they expect?

The opening salvo is both grim and relatively good.

The 2020 Q1 estimate of a fall in GDP of around 3% had been informed by a wide range of high-frequency indicators, as set out in the May Monetary Policy Report.

A factor in that will be that the UK went into its version of lockdown later than many others. But then the hammer falls.

The illustrative scenario in the May Report incorporated a very sharp fall in UK GDP in 2020 H1 and a
substantial increase in unemployment in addition to those workers who were furloughed currently. UK GDP was
expected to fall by around 25% in Q2, and the unemployment rate was expected to rise to around 9%. There were large uncertainty bands around these estimates.

As you can see GDP dived faster than any submarine But fear not as according to the Bank of England it will bounce like Zebedee.

UK GDP in the scenario falls by 14% in 2020 as a whole. Activity picks up materially in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021 after social distancing measures are relaxed, although it does not reach its pre‑Covid level until the second half of 2021 . In 2022, GDP growth is around 3%. Annual household consumption growth follows a similar
pattern.

Is it rude to point out that it has been some time since we grew by 3% in a year? If so it is perhaps even ruder to point out that it is double the speed limit for economic growth that the Bank of England keeps telling us now exists. I guess they are hoping nobody spots that.

Anyway to be fair they call this an illustrative scenario although they must be aware it will be reported like this.

NEW: UK GDP set for ‘dramatic’ 14% drop in 2020 amid coronavirus shutdown, Bank of England predicts ( @politicshome )

Inflation Problems

In a way this is both simple and complicated. Let us start with the simple.

CPI inflation had declined to 1.5% in March and was likely to fall below 1% in the next few months, in large
part reflecting developments in energy prices. This would require an exchange of letters between the Governor
and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So for an inflation targeting central bank ( please stay with me on this one for the moment) things are simple. Should the Governor have to write to the Chancellor he can say he has cut interest-rates to record lows and pumped up the volume of QE. The Chancellor will offer a sigh of relief that the Bank of England is implicitly funding his spending and try to write a letter avoiding mentioning that.

However things are more complex as this sentence hints.

Measurement challenges would temporarily increase the noise in the inflation data, and affect the nature and behaviour of the index relative to a normal period.

It is doing some heavy lifting as I note this from the Office for National Statistics.

There are 92 items in our basket of goods and services that we have identified as unavailable for the April 2020 index (see Annex B), which accounts for 16.3% of the CPIH basket by weight. The list of unavailable items will be reviewed on a monthly basis.

There is their usual obsession with the otherwise widely ignored CPIH, But as you can see there are issues for the targeted measure CPI as well and they will be larger as it does not have imputed rents in it. A rough and ready calculation suggests it will be of the order of 20%. Also a downwards bias will be introduced by the way prices will be checked online which will mean that more expensive places such as corner shops will be excluded.

Also I am not surprised the Bank of England does not think this is material as the absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent is the Deputy Governor is in charge of this area but I do.

The ONS and the joint producers have taken the decision to temporarily suspend the UK House Price Index (HPI) publication from the April 2020 index (due to be released 17 June 2020) until further notice……..The UK HPI is used to calculate several of the owner occupiers’ housing costs components of the RPI. The procedures described in this plan apply to those components of the RPI that are based on the suspended UK HPI data.

Perhaps they will introduce imputed rents via the back door which is a bit sooner than 2030! Also the point below is rather technical but is a theme where things turn out to be different from what we are told ( it is annual) so I will look into it.

 

Unfortunately, since weights are lagged by two years, we would see no effect until we calculate the 2022 weights1. This means that the current weights are not likely to be reflective of current expenditure and that the 2022 weights are unlikely to be reflective of 2022 expenditure.

That sort of thing popped up on the debate about imputed rents when it turned out that they are (roughly) last year’s rather than the ones for now.

Comment

There are three clear issues here. Firstly as we are struggling to even measure inflation the idea of inflation-targeting is pretty much a farce. That poses its own problems for GDP measurement. Such as we have is far from ideal.

The all HDP items index show a stable increase over time, with an increase of 1.1% between Week 1 and Week 7. The index of all food has seen no price change from Week 5 to Week 7, resulting in a 1.2% price increase since Week 1.

As to Bank of England activity let me remind you of a scheme which favours larger businesses as usual.

As of 6 May, the Covid Corporate Financing Facility
(CCFF), for which the Bank was acting as HM Treasury’s agent, had purchased £17.7 billion of commercial
paper from companies who were making a material contribution to the UK economy.

I wonder if Apple and Maersk are on the list like they are for Corporate Bonds?

Within that increase, £81 billion of UK government bonds,
and £2.5 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds, had been purchased over recent weeks.

By the way that means that their running totals have been wrong. As to conventional QE that is plainly targeted at keeping Gilt yields very low ( the fifty-year is 0.37%)

Let me finish by pointing out we have a 0.1% interest-rate because it is all the banks can stand rather than it being good for you,me or indeed the wider business sector. Oh did I mention the banks?

As of 6 May, participants had drawn £11 billion from the TFSME

Podcast

 

 

Is it the ECB which is the Euro area bad bank?

A feature of the credit crunch era is that some subjects have never gone away in spite of all the official denials. Another is that establishment’s use crises to try to introduce policies which they would not be able to get away with in ordinary times. As today we are looking at a central bank this is of course about the subject closest to their hearts which is “The Precious! The Precious!” which for newer readers is the banking sector. So let us get straight to the issue in the Financial Times which has taken a brief holiday from its role as the house journal of the Bank of England to bid for the same role for the ECB or European Central Bank.

European Central Bank officials have held high-level talks with counterparts in Brussels about creating a eurozone bad bank to remove billions of euros in toxic debts from lenders’ balance sheets.

After my reply I somehow doubt I will be getting the role.

But they already have Deutsche Bank?

Indeed this is quite a different message from the one given to the European Parliament by Mario Draghi in February 2016.

However, we have to acknowledge that the regulatory overhaul since the start of the crisis has laid the foundations for durably increasing the resilience not only of individual institutions but also of the financial system as a whole. Banks have built higher and better quality capital
buffers, have reduced leverage and improved their funding profiles.

I have emphasised the use of central banking language as I have picked out that word for some time. He emphasised the point later.

In the euro area, the situation in the banking sector now is very different from what it was in 2012……….making them more resilient to adverse shocks.

Indeed the non performing loans we are now supposed to be worried about were apparently fixed.

There is a subset of banks with elevated levels of non-performing loans (NPLs). However, these NPLs were identified during the Comprehensive Assessment, using for the first time a common definition, and have since been adequately provisioned for. Therefore, we are in a
good position to bring down NPLs in an orderly manner over the next few years.

Er, well we have had a few years since so…..

Geography

The article gives us a good idea of one of the countries pressing for this.

“The lesson from the crisis is that only with a bad bank can you quickly get rid of the NPLs,” Yannis Stournaras, governor of the Bank of Greece and member of the ECB governing council, told the Financial Times. “It could be a European one or a national one. But it needs to happen quickly.”

I have no idea how you could form a Greek bad bank but anyway that would have even less of a life than a May Fly so let’s not worry too much. If we switch to the state of play it does not seem to have progressed as Mario Draghi told us four years ago.

Greek banks have by far the highest level of soured loans on their balance sheets of any eurozone country, making up 35 per cent of their total loan books — a legacy of the 2010-15 debt crisis that pushed the country to the brink of exiting the eurozone.

Yes the numbers are down but the crisis started in 2010 so we are a decade on now. When will it ever go away?

But plans by Greece’s big four lenders to sell more than €32bn of NPLs — almost half the total in the country — are likely to be disrupted by the coronavirus crisis,

We could have a quiz as we wonder how much would be paid for that and whether it would help much? Regular readers will recall that we were told it was a triumph when some of the NPLs of the Italian banks were sold. Would you want them now? I rather suspect the problem has been kicked like a can elsewhere. I note the Bank of Italy reporting this in its latest Economic Bulletin.

approving a debt moratorium on outstanding bank loans, and increasing public guarantees on new loans to firms.

The latest Financial Stability Report was somewhat upbeat on the subject.

At the end of June, the stock of NPLs net of
provisions fell to €84 billion (€177 billion gross
of provisions), 7 per cent less than at the end
of 2018.

Although even by then ( November) the Bank of Italy was troubled by the slow down in the Italian economy and of course now we know that essentially 2019 saw no economic growth at all.

In the fourth quarter of 2019 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.3 per cent over the previous quarter and increased by 0.1 per cent in comparison with the fourth quarter of 2018. ( Istat)

So we can see why Italy would be keen especially as we note this development.

In June, Italian banks’ exposure to emerging economies was €165 billion (about 5 per cent of assets),
6.4 per cent higher than at the end of 2018.

They got into trouble with this last time around.

Returning to the FT there is also a mention of a couple of places which the official and FT lines had been ones of recovery.

Total NPLs in the biggest 121 eurozone banks almost halved in four years to €506bn, or 3.2 per cent of their loan books, by the end of last year. But Greek, Cypriot, Portuguese and Italian banks still have NPL ratios above 6 per cent.

Portugal had been in a better economic run but those who followed the debacle at Novo Banco will be aware of the banking system problems.

Comment

There are quite a few issues for us to pick our way through. For example with the expansion of its role is the ECB already a bad bank itself? Let me hand you over the the present ECB President Christine Lagarde.

Second, we are buying public and private sector bonds in large volume to ensure that all sectors of the economy can benefit from easy financing conditions…….We have also extended our asset purchases to commercial paper, which is an important source of liquidity for firms.

It is also lending but with wider ( aka weaker) collateral requirements. I raise this issue because back at the height of the credit crunch issue the Bank of England ended one of its schemes early because of “Phantom Securities”. I am sure you get the drift.

A reply to the FT from Italicus raises another issue.

So the idea is to remove NPL from the balance sheets of banks so that they can keep on lending to people and businesses who can keep on not repaying their debts?

As Pink Floyd so aptly put it.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

Next comes the issue that rules for banks are only applied when the seas are calm which is the reverse of what should happen.

The European Central Bank (ECB) today announced a temporary reduction in capital requirements for market risk, by allowing banks to adjust the supervisory component of these requirements.

Next comes the issue of what are Special Purpose Vehicles. The Italian versions for bad loans called variously Atlas and Atlante have rather faded from view. Not before some rather spectacular write downs though which weakened the banking sector they were supposed to support.

Also there is Deutsche Bank with its share price of 5.88 Euros.

Podcast

 

It is all about the banks once again

As so often we find ourselves returning to the topic of the banks as they are at the heart of the financial system. They are the group which most exemplify the dictum if you want to enrich yourself get as close as you can to flows of money. The best description of this was provided by Matt Taibbi some years ago.

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

Now we find ourselves in a situation where central banks are hurriedly devising schemes to protect the banking sector which is odd in a way for something they have kept describing as “resilient”. Of course the original medicine of interest-rate cuts has turned into an overdose as the banks remain terrified of the consequences of reducing interest-rates for the ordinary depositor below 0% in case it creates a run on deposits. Such a thing which expose some of the illusions that banking relies on. So now we have other policies such as more Quantitative Easing of which there will be an extra £4.5 billion in the UK today for example. Also we are in an era of “credit easing” with what is called the Term Funding Scheme for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises or TFSME as below.

 In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 5% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate……….Experience from the Term Funding Scheme launched in 2016 suggests that the TFSME could provide in excess of £100 billion in term funding.

Last time around the money leaked straight into the mortgage market thus providing a double boost for the banks as they were able to lend out funds they got cheaply as well as boost their balance sheet as the consequent higher house prices improve their mortgage book.

But in spite of that there are plenty of signs of this.

Trouble, trouble, trouble
Oh, oh
Trouble, trouble, trouble ( Taylor Swift).

Lloyds Bank

Let me give you a different perspective on this with some news that flashed a warning sign yesterday.

*LLOYDS BANK STARTS CASH TENDER FOR 12% PERPETUAL CAP SECURITIES Wow, this is stunning. ( @jeuasommenulle)

These securities are part of the capital of a bank and some US $2 billion was issued. As junior subordianated debt it is not at the top of the line but this is hardly the time for a buyback of any sort of capital especially when we note the news below. Switching to the interest-rate well that is what banks had to pay when the credit crunch was raging in last 2009.

This poses a question of why the Bank of England is allowing this? Which leads to the conclusion that one of the holders of the bond may be desperate for cash/liquidity and is being offered a type of out or if you prefer an olive branch. Regular readers are unlikely to be surprised by this being in US Dollars.

Dividends

According to the Financial Times these are something for yesterday and some unspecified date in the future but not now.

The UK’s largest lenders bowed to pressure from Britain’s top financial regulator and halted their dividends after they were warned against paying out billions of pounds to shareholders during the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of co-ordinated statements on Tuesday evening, Lloyds, RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Santander and Standard Chartered said they would cancel their dividends for 2019 and refrain from setting cash aside for investor payouts this year. They also pledged not to carry out any share buybacks.

So the banks will save the amount below and accordingly get a capital boost.

By bowing to the regulator’s wishes on dividends, the banks have avoided being subjected to formal action. But the decision to cancel last year’s payouts — worth £7.5bn — will prove unpopular with some investors, especially retail shareholders who rely on the payout for their income.

Investors though who have been hoping for dividends will lose out. Now whilst owning a share is supposed to be risky there is an awkward optic here in the era of central bank put options for equities as well as the fact that some of these had been announced.

The Asia-focused bank had been due to pay a dividend totalling $4.2bn on April 14. HSBC’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell as much as 9.9 per cent on Wednesday morning…….Barclays had been due to pay a full-year dividend of 6p per share on Friday, worth roughly £1bn.

Bonuses

These too are supposed to be put on hold.

The regulator also said it “expects” the banks and Nationwide, the building society, to refrain from paying any cash bonuses to senior staff and signalled they should stop setting money aside for variable pay during the “coming months”. ( Financial Times )

As someone who is suspicious of such announcements it immediately occurs to me that bonuses in shares are not excluded according to that statement. Furthermore bank shares are very cheap right now, of which more later. So bonuses would probably have been in shares anyway.

If North Man is correct there is also another issue.

Absolute scandal – the banks have just paid their 2019 bonus pools in the LAST 2 WEEKS (e.g. c http://1.bn Barc and c. 3bn HSBC paid out). If a capital cushion is required, why didn’t the PRA ensure these were stopped as well?…….Why doesn’t the FT article mention this – any serious financial article would question why 19 bonuses can be paid, but the 19 dividend can’t and challenge this glaring inconsistency. Surely has to be same treatment for both whether it is pay, cut or suspend.

He has a point I think.

The US Dollar Shortage

I have been writing for a couple of years or so now about the apparent shortage of US Dollars. It would appear that the US Federal Reserve is coming around to my point of view. It was only on the 16th of last month I noted the expansion of its liquidity or FX Swaps. As of last week’s update some US $206 billion was drawn on them. But it seems that was not enough. The emphasis is mine.

The FIMA Repo Facility will allow FIMA account holders, which consist of central banks and other international monetary authorities with accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to enter into repurchase agreements with the Federal Reserve. In these transactions, FIMA account holders temporarily exchange their U.S. Treasury securities held with the Federal Reserve for U.S. dollars, which can then be made available to institutions in their jurisdictions.

 

Comment

The financial system is plainly creaking and clearly so are some of the banks. I have looked above at the issue of US Dollar liquidity and it is not necessarily a shortage of them outright but that now some are considered too risky to be lent them. As banks rely in such flows there is a danger of a financial form of contagion. I doubt it is a coincidence that the bond Lloyds Bank are planning to redeem is US Dollar denominated.

On the other side of the coin the banks are under pressure to support the economy. There must be extraordinary demands on them to support smaller businesses for example. I see the big read in the Financial Times is this.

Will the coronavirus crisis rehabilitate the banks?

I would not be any sort of son if I did not point out that my father’s ashes will be spinning at maximum speed. For newer readers I looked at his experiences with the banks during economic slow downs last Thursday. This from the FT piece is really rather extraordinary.

We are the doctors of the economy now.

If that is a parody then please forgive me for missing it.

Returning to the UK banks we see in an irony of the times the Bank of England remaining a follower of the ECB as it was it who started the dividend suspension theme. However there is a catch which is the effect on already weak bank share prices as we learn there are a lack of free gifts in this area. For example Barclays Bank is at 88 pence as I type this down another 6 pence today. Meanwhile Royal Bank of Scotland in which the UK government invested UK taxpayers money at a bit over £5 is at £1.07 as I type this also down 7 pence today.

Yet Lloyds Bank can apparently buy a bond back? With a share price of 30 pence?

Meanwhile the owner of Brewdog when asked by CNBC if the banks were doing all they can replied.

No I don’t

A blog from my late father about the banks

The opening today is brought to you by my late father. You see he was a plastering sub-contractor who was a mild man but could be brought to ire by the subject of how he had been treated by the banks. He used to regale me with stories about how to keep the relationships going he would be forced to take loans he didn’t really want in the good times and then would find they would not only refuse loans in the bad but ask for one’s already given back. He only survived the 1980-82 recession because of an overdraft for company cars he was able to use for other purposes which they tried but were unable to end. So my eyes lit up on reading this from the BBC.

Banks have been criticised by firms and MPs for insisting on personal guarantees to issue government-backed emergency loans to business owners.

The requirement loads most of the risk that the loan goes bad on the business owner, rather than the banks.

It means that the banks can go after the personal property of the owner of a firm if their business goes under and they cannot afford to pay off the debt.

Whilst borrowers should have responsibility for the loans these particular ones are backed by the government.

According to UK Finance, formerly the British Bankers Association, the scheme should offer loans of up to £5m, where the government promises to cover 80% of losses if the money is not repaid. But, it notes: “Lenders may require security for the facility.”

In recent times there has been a requirement for banks to “Know Your Customer” or KYC for short. If they have done so then they would be able to sift something of the wheat from the chaff so to speak and would know which businesses are likely to continue and sadly which are not. With 80% of losses indemnified by the taxpayer they should be able to lend quickly, cheaply and with little or no security.

For those saying they need to be secure, well yes but in other areas they seem to fall over their own feet.

ABN AMRO Bank N.V. said Thursday that it will incur a significant “incidental” loss on one of its U.S. clients amid the new coronavirus scenario.

The bank said it is booking a $250 million pretax loss, which would translate into a net loss of around $200 million.

Well we now know why ABN Amro is leaving the gold business although we do not know how much of this was in the gold market. Oh and the excuse is a bit weak for a clearer of positions.

ABN AMRO blamed the loss on “unprecedented volumes and volatility in the financial markets following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.”

Returning to the issue of lending of to smaller businesses here were the words of Mark Carney back as recently as the 11th of this month when he was still Bank of England Governor.

I’ll just reiterate that, by providing much more flexibility, an ability to-, the banking system has been put in
a position today where they could make loans to the hardest hit businesses, in fact the entire corporate
sector, not just the hardest hit businesses and Small and Medium Sized enterprises, thirteen times of
what they lent last year in good times.

That boasting was repeated by the present Governor Andrew Bailey. Indeed he went further on the subject of small business lending.

there’s a very clear message to the banks-, and, by the way, which I think has been reflected in things that a number of the banks have already said.

Apparently not clear enough. But there was more as back then he was still head of the FCA.

One of the FCA’s core principles for business is treating customers fairly. The system is now, as we’ve said many times this morning, in a much more resilient state. We expect them to treat customers fairly. That’s what must happen. They know that. They’re in a position to do it. There should be no excuses now, and both we, the Bank of England, and the FCA, will be watching this very
carefully.

Well I have consistently warned you about the use of the word “resilient”. What it seems to mean in practice is that they need forever more subsidies and help.

On top of that, we’re giving them four-year certainty on a considerable amount of funding at the cost of
bank rate. On top of that, they have liquidity buffers themselves, but, also, liquidity from the Bank of
England. So, they are in that position to support the economy. ( Governor Carney )

Since then they can fund even more cheaply as the Bank Rate is now 0.1%.

Meanwhile I have been contacted by Digibits an excavator company via social media.

Funding For Lending Scheme was crazy. We looked at this to finance a new CNC machine tool in 2013. There were all sorts of complicated (and illogical) strings attached and, at the end of the day, the APR was punitive.

I asked what rate the APR was ( for those unaware it is the annual interest-rate)?

can’t find record of that, but it was 6% flat in Oct 2013. Plus you had to ‘guarantee’ job creation – a typical top-down metric that makes no sense in SME world. IIRC 20% grant contribution per job up to maximum of £15k – but if this didn’t work out you’d risk paying that back.

As you can see that was very different to the treatment of the banks and the company was worried about the Red Tape.

The grant element (which theoretically softened the blow of the high rate) was geared toward creating jobs, but that is a very difficult agreement (with teeth) to hold over the head of an SME and that contribution could have been clawed back.

Quantitative Easing

There is a lot going on here so let me start with the tactical issues. Firstly the Bank of England has cut back on its daily QE buying from the £10.2 billion peak seen on both Friday and Monday. It is now doing three maturity tranches ( short-dated, mediums and longs) in a day and each are for £1 billion.

Yet some still want more as I see Faisal Islam of the BBC reporting.

Ex top Treasury official @rjdhughes

floated idea in this v interesting report of central bank – (ie Bank of England) temporarily funding Government by buying bonds directly, using massive increase in Government overdraft at BoE – “ways & means account”

Some of you may fear the worst from the use of “top” and all of you should fear the word “temporarily” as it means any time from now to infinity these days.

This could be justified on separate grounds of market functioning/ liquidity of key markets, in this case, for gilts/ Government bonds. There have been signs of a lack of demand at recent auctions…

Faisal seems unaware that the lack of demand is caused by the very thing his top official is calling for which is central bank buying! Even worse he seems to be using the Japanese model where the bond market has been freezing up for some time.

“more formal monetary support of the fiscal response will be required..prudent course of action is yield curve control, where Bank can create fiscal space for Chancellor although if tested this regime may mutate into monetary financing”

Those who have followed my updates on the Bank of Japan will be aware of this.

Comment

Hopefully my late father is no longer spinning quite so fast in his Memorial Vault ( these things have grand names).  That is assuming ashes can spin! We seem to be taking a familiar path where out of touch central bankers claim to be boosting business but we find that the cheap liquidity is indeed poured into the banks. But it seems to get lost as the promises of more business lending now morph into us seeing more and cheaper mortgage lending later. That boosts the banks and house prices in what so far has appeared to be a never ending cycle. Meanwhile the Funding for Lending Scheme started in the summer of 2012 so I think we should have seen the boost to lending to smaller businesses by now don’t you?

Meanwhile I see everywhere that not only is QE looking permanent my theme of “To Infinity! And Beyond” has been very prescient. No doubt we get more stories of “Top Men” ( or women) recommending ever more. Indeed it is not clear to me that a record in HM Treasury and the position below qualifies.

he joined the International Monetary Fund in 2008 where he headed the Fiscal Affairs Department’s Public Finance Division and worked on fiscal reform in a range of crisis-hit advanced, emerging, and developing countries.

 

 

The Chinese way of economic stimulus has started already in 2020

Firstly welcome to the new year and for some the new decade ( as you could argue it starts in 2021). The break has in some ways felt long and in other ways short but we have begun a new year with something familiar. After the 733 interest-rate cuts of the credit crunch era the People’s Bank of China ( PBOC ) has started 2020 with this.

In order to support the development of the real economy and reduce the actual cost of social financing, the People’s Bank of China decided to reduce the deposit reserve ratio of financial institutions by 0.5 percentage points on January 6, 2020 (excluding finance companies, financial leasing companies, and auto finance companies).

This is a different type of monetary easing as it operates on the quantity of money ( broad money) rather than the price or interest-rate of it. By increasing the supply ( with lower reserves banks can lend more) there may be cheaper loans but that is implicit rather than explicit. As to the size of the impact Reuters has crunched the numbers.

China’s central bank said on Wednesday it was cutting the amount of cash that all banks must hold as reserves, releasing around 800 billion yuan ($114.91 billion) in funds to shore up the slowing economy.

Care is needed here as we see some copy and pasting of the official release. This is because that is the maximum not the definite impact and also because the timing is uncertain. No doubt some lending will happen now but we do not know when the Chinese banks will use up the full amount. That is one of the reason’s we in the West stopped using this as a policy option ( the UK switched in the 1970s) as it is unreliable in its timing or more specifically more unreliable than interest-rate changes, or so we thought.

Speaking of timing there is of course this.

Freeing up more liquidity now would also reduce the risks of a credit crunch ahead of the long Lunar New Year holidays later this month, when demand for cash surges. Record debt defaults and problems at some smaller banks have already added to strains on China’s financial system.

The PBOC said it expects total liquidity in the banking system to remain stable ahead of the Lunar New Year. ( Reuters).

Although for context this is the latest in what has become a long-running campaign.

The PBOC has now cut RRR eight times since early 2018 to free up more funds for banks to lend as economic growth slows to the weakest pace in nearly 30 years.

You could argue the number of RRR cuts argues against its usefulness as a policy but these days interest-rate changes have faced the same issue.

The translation of the official view is below.

The People’s Bank of China will continue to implement a prudent monetary policy, remain flexible and appropriate, not flood flooding, take into account internal and external balance, maintain reasonable and adequate liquidity, and increase the scale of currency credit and social financing in line with economic development and stimulate the vitality of market players. High-quality development and supply-side structural reforms create a suitable monetary and financial environment.

I would draw your attention to “flood flooding” but let’s face it that makes a similar amount of sense to what other central banks say and write!

I note that it is supposed to help smaller companies but central banks have plugged that line for some time now. The Bank of Japan gave it a go and in my country the Bank of England introduced the Funding for Lending Scheme to increase bank lending to smaller and medium-sized businesses in 2012. The reality was that mortgage lending and consumer credit picked up instead.

Of the latest funds released, small and medium banks would receive roughly 120 billion yuan, the central bank said, stressing that it should be used to fund small, local businesses.

The banks

Having said that this was different to policy in the West there is something which is awfully familiar.

The PBOC said lower reserve requirements will reduce banks’ annual funding costs by 15 billion yuan, which could reduce pressure on their profit margins from recent interest rate reforms. Last week, it said existing floating-rate loans will be switched to the new benchmark rate starting from Jan. 1 as part of a broader effort to lower financing costs. ( Reuters ).

I guess central banks are Simon and Garfunkel fans.

And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine
Two steps away from the county line
Just trying to keep my customers satisfied,
Satisfied.

The Chinese Economy

There is something of an economic conundrum though if we note the latest economic news.

BEIJING, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) — The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for China’s manufacturing sector stood at 50.2 in December, unchanged from November, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Tuesday.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below reflects contraction.

This marks the second straight month of expansion, partly buoyed by booming supply and demand as well as increasing export orders, said NBS senior statistician Zhao Qinghe.

“booming supply and demand”. Really? Well there is growth but hardly a boom/

On a month-on-month basis, the sub-index for production gained 0.6 points to 53.2 in December,

Even it is not backed up by demand.

while that for new orders fell slightly to 51.2, still in the expansion zone.

The wider economy is recorded as doing relatively well.

Tuesday’s data also showed China’s composite PMI slid slightly to 53.4, but was 0.3 points higher than this year’s average, indicating steady expansion in the production of China’s companies.

Stock Market

According to Yuan Talks it as ever liked the idea although it is only one day.

#Shanghai Composite index extends gains to 1.5% to approach 3100 mark. #Shenzhen Component Index and #Chinext index are surging near 2%.

Still President Trump would be a fan.

Yuan or Renminbi

Here we see that we have been on a bit of a road to nowhere over the past year. After weakening in late summer towards 7.2 versus the US Dollar the Yuan at 6.96 is up 1.2% on a year ago. So there have been a lot of column inches on the subject but in fact very little of them have been sustained.

Comment

It would appear that the PBOC does not have much faith in the reports of a pick up in the Chinese economy as it has already stepped up its easing programme. There are other issues in play such as the trade war and these next two so let us start with US Dollar demand.

China’s big bang opening of its $45 trillion financial industry begins in earnest next year — a step-by-step affair that’s unfolding just as economic strains threaten the promised windfall luring in global firms.

Starting with its insurance and futures markets, the Communist Party ruled nation will enact the most sweeping changes in decades to allow the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and BlackRock Inc. to expand their footprint in China and compete for a slice of its growing wealth. ( Insurancejournal.com )

Will it need a dollar,dollar? We will have to see. Also this issue continues to build.

WARSAW (Reuters) – Bird flu has been detected in turkeys in eastern Poland, authorities said on Wednesday, and local media reported that the outbreak could require up to 40,000 birds to be slaughtered.

China has a big issue with this sort of thing and like in banking and economics the real danger was always possible contagion. So far it has had limited effect on UK pork prices for example as the annual rate of inflation is 0.7% but it is I think a case of watch this space.

Meanwhile according to Yuan Talks the credit may not flow everywhere.

Regulators in the city of Beijing warned financial institutions about risks in the lending to property developers with “extremely high leverage”, indicating the authority is not relaxing financing rules for the cash-starved sector as many anticipated.

Looking at it in terms of money supply growth an annual rate of 8.2% for broad money ( M2) may seem fast in the west but it has not changed much recently in spite of the easing and is slow for China.

 

 

Will UK real wages and its banks ever escape the depression they seem trapped in?

Today brings the UK labour market into focus and in particular the situation regarding both real and nominal wage growth. Before we get to that there was news yesterday evening from the Bank of England on one of the highest paid categories.

The 2019 stress test shows the UK banking system is resilient to deep simultaneous recessions in the UK and global economies that are more severe overall than the global financial crisis, combined with large falls in asset prices and a separate stress of misconduct costs. It would therefore be able to withstand the stress and continue to meet credit demand from UK households and businesses.

Yes it is time for the results of the annual banking stress tests which of course are designed to look rigorous but for no-one to fail. So far the Bank of England has avoided the embarrassment of its Euro area peers who have seen a collapse quite soon after. In terms of the detail there is this.

Losses on corporate exposures are higher than in previous tests, reflecting some deterioration in asset quality and a more severe global scenario. Despite this, and weakness in banks’ underlying profitability (which reduces their ability to offset losses with earnings), all seven participating banks and building societies remain above their hurdle rates. The major UK banks’ aggregate CET1 capital ratio after the 2019 stress scenario would still be more than twice its level before the crisis.

As you can see the Bank of England is happy to slap itself on the back here as it notes capital ratios. Although of course higher capital ratios have posed their own problems abroad as we have seen in the US Repo crisis.

Major UK banks’ capital ratios have remained stable since year end 2018, the starting point of the 2019 stress test. At the end of 2019 Q3, their CET1 ratios were over three times higher than at the start of the global financial crisis. Major UK banks also continue to hold sizeable liquid asset buffers.

Actually the latter bit is also an explanation as to why banks struggle to make profits these days and why many think that their business model is broken.

Also I note that their view is that the highest rate of annual house price growth in the period 1987-2006 was 6.6% and the average 1.7%. I can see how they kept the average low by starting at a time that then saw the 1990-92 drop but only 6.6% as a maximum? Odd therefore if prices have risen so little that house prices to income seem now to have become house prices versus household disposable income and thereby often two incomes rather than one.

In terms of share prices this does not seem to have gone down that well with Lloyds more than 4% lower at 64 pence, Royal Bank of Scotland more than 3% lower at 252.5 pence and Barclays over 3% lower at 186 pence. Meanwhile it is hard not to have a wry smile at the fact that the UK bank which you might think needs a stress test which is Metro Bank was not included in the test. Although it has not avoided a share price fall today as it has fallen over 3% to 198 pence. Indeed, this confirms that it is the one which most needs a test as we note it was £22 as recently as January.

Labour Market

Let us start with what are a couple of pieces of good news.

The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.2%, 0.4 percentage points higher than a year earlier but little changed on the previous quarter; despite just reaching a new record high, the employment rate has been broadly flat over the last few quarters.

They get themselves into a little bit of a mess there so let me zero in on the good bit which is tucked away elsewhere.

There was a 24,000 increase in employment on the quarter.

There was also a favourable shift towards full-time work.

This was driven by a quarterly increase for men (up 54,000) and full-time employees (up 50,000 to a record high of 20.71 million), but partly offset by a 30,000 decrease for women and a 61,000 decrease for part-time employees.

I do not know why there was some sexism at play and suspect it is just part of the ebb and flow unless one of you have a better suggestion.

The next good bit was this.

the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.8%, 0.3 percentage points lower than a year earlier but largely unchanged on the previous quarter…….For August to October 2019, an estimated 1.28 million people were unemployed. This is 93,000 fewer than a year earlier and 673,000 fewer than five years earlier.

There were fears that the unemployment rate might rise. But the reality has been reported by the BBC like this.

UK unemployment fell to its lowest level since January 1975 in the three months to October this year. The number of people out of work fell  by 13,000 to 1.281 million.

Wages

This area more problematic and complex so let me start my explanation with the data.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain slowed to 3.2% for total pay (including bonuses) and 3.5% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

The first impact is simply of lower numbers than we have become used to especially for total pay. Let us move to the explanation provided.

The annual growth in total pay was weakened by unusually high bonus payments paid in October 2018 compared with more typical average bonus payments paid in October 2019.

I have looked at the detail and this seems to have been in the finance and construction sectors where bonus pay was £12 per week and £6 per week lower than a year before. I have to confess I am struggling to think why October 2018 was so good as the numbers now are in line with the others? Anyway this should wash out so to speak in the next 2 months as October 2018 really stood out. Otherwise I would be rather troubled about a monthly increase this year that is only 2.4% above a year before.

So if we now switch to regular pay then 3.5% is a bit lower than we had become used to but in some ways is more troubling. This is because the spot figure for October was 3.2% and it looks as if it might be sustained.

This public sector pay growth pattern is affected by the timing of NHS pay rises which saw some April 2018 pay increases not being paid until summer 2018. As a result, public sector pay estimates for the months April to July 2019 include two NHS pay rises for 2018 and 2019 when compared with 2018. In addition, the single month of April 2019 included a one-off payment to some NHS staff.

Thus public-sector pay growth has faded away and is also now 3.2% on a spot monthly basis.

Anyway the peaks and troughs are as follows.

construction saw the highest estimated growth at 5.0% for total pay and 5.4% for regular pay…….retail, wholesale, hotels and restaurants saw the lowest growth, estimated at 2.3% for total pay and 2.5% for regular pay; this is the sector with the lowest average weekly pay (£339 regular pay compared with £510 across the whole economy)

Comment

There are elements here with which we have become familiar. The quantity numbers remain good with employment rising and unemployment falling although the rate of change of both has fallen. Where we have an issue is in the area of wage growth. The context here is that it did improve just not as much as we previously thought it did. However we still have this.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.5%, and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.8%.

That is calculated using the woeful CPIH inflation measure but by chance it at CPI are pretty similar right now, so I will simply point out it would be lower but still positive using RPI.

Thus we see that wage growth and inflation seem both set to fall over the next few months as we wait to see how that balances out. But the underlying issue is that we have an area which in spite of the recent improvements is still stuck in a depression.

For October 2019, average regular pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at £510 per week in nominal terms. The figure in real terms (constant 2015 prices) is £472 per week, which is still £1 (0.2%) lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008.

The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in October 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.3% difference.

Fingers crossed that we can escape it…..

 

Why is the US Repo crisis ongoing?

The US Repo crisis is something that seems to turn up every day, or if you prefer as often as we are told there is a solution to trade war between the US and China. On Friday the New York Federal Reserve or Fed provided another US $72.8 billion of overnight liquidity in return for Treasury Bonds ( US $56.1 billion) and Mortgage-Backed Securities ( US $16.7 billion). So something is still going on in spite of the fact that we have two monthly plus Repos ( 42 days) for US $25 billion each in play and 3 fortnightly ones totalling around US $59 billion. So quite a bit of liquidity continues to be deployed and this is before we get to the Treasury Bill purchases.

In accordance with this directive, the Desk plans to purchase Treasury bills at an initial pace of approximately $60 billion per month, starting with the period from mid-October to mid-November.

As an example Friday saw some US $7.525 billion of these bought. So the sums are getting larger.

How did this start?

The Bank for International Settlements or BIS which is the central bankers central bank puts it like this.

On 17 September, the secured overnight funding rate (SOFR) – the new, repo market-based, US dollar overnight reference rate – more than doubled, and the intraday range jumped to about 700 basis points. Intraday volatility in the federal funds rate was also unusually high. The reasons for this dislocation have been extensively debated; explanations include a due date for US corporate taxes and a large settlement of US Treasury securities. Yet none of these temporary factors can fully explain the exceptional jump in repo rates.

Indeed, as for a start the issue has proved to be anything but temporary.

Where the BIS view gets more interesting is via the role of the banks or rather a small group of them.

US repo markets currently rely heavily on four banks as marginal lenders. As the composition of their liquid assets became more skewed towards US Treasuries, their ability to supply funding at short notice in repo markets was diminished.

As the supply of reserves fell in the QT or Quantitative Tightening era they stepped up to the plate on a grand scale.

As repo rates started to increase above the IOER from mid-2018 owing to the large issuance of Treasuries, a remarkable shift took place: the US banking system as a whole, hitherto a net provider of collateral, became a net provider of funds to repo markets. The four largest US banks specifically turned into key players: their net lending position (reverse repo assets minus repo liabilities) increased quickly, reaching about $300 billion at end-June 2019 . At the same time, the next largest 25 banks reduced their demand for repo funding, turning the net repo position of the banking sector positive (centre panel, dashed line).

So things became more vulnerable as we note this.

At the same time, the four largest banks held only about 25% of reserves (ie funding that they could supply at short notice in repo markets).

Then demand for Repo funding was affected by the US Treasury.

After the debt ceiling was suspended in early August 2019, the US Treasury quickly set out to rebuild its dwindling cash balances, draining more than $120 billion of reserves in the 30 days between 14 August and 17 September alone, and half of this amount in the last week of that period. By comparison, while the Federal Reserve runoff removed about five times this amount, it did so over almost two years

As you can see the drain from QT was added to in spite of the fact that the market had become more vulnerable due to the lack of players. There was a clear lack of joined up thinking at play and perhaps a lack of any thinking at all. A factor here was something the BIS identifies for the banks.

For instance, the internal processes and knowledge that banks need to ensure prompt and smooth market operations may start to decay. This could take the form of staff inexperience and fewer market-makers, slowing internal processes

After a decade the experienced hands had in general moved on.

But it was not enough to collapse the house of cards. There were other nudges as well on the horizon.

Market commentary suggests that, in preceding quarters, leveraged players (eg hedge funds) were increasing their demand for Treasury repos to fund arbitrage trades between cash bonds and derivatives. Since 2017, MMFs have been lending to a broader range of repo counterparties, including hedge funds, potentially obtaining higher returns.

So hedge funds were playing in the market but as it happened were not an issue for a while as the US Money Market Funds (MMF) turned up. But then they didn’t.

 During September, however, quantities dropped and rates rose, suggesting a reluctance, also on the part of MMFs, to lend into these markets. Market intelligence suggests MMFs were concerned by potential large redemptions given strong prior inflows. Counterparty exposure limits may have contributed to the drop in quantities, as these repos now account for almost 20% of the total provided by MMFs.

So there is a hint that maybe a hedge fund or two became such large players that they hit counterparty limits. Also redemptions from MMFs would hardly be a surprise as we note the interest-rate cuts we have seen in 2019.

Why should we care?

There is this.

 Repo markets redistribute liquidity between financial institutions: not only banks (as is the case with the federal funds market), but also insurance companies, asset managers, money market funds and other institutional investors. In so doing, they help other financial markets to function smoothly.

So they oil the wheels of financial markets and when they don’t? Well that is one of the causes of the credit crunch.

The freezing-up of repo markets in late 2008 was one of the most damaging aspects of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC).

In case you did not know what they are.

A repo transaction is a short-term (usually overnight) collateralised loan, in which the borrower (of cash) sells a security (typically government bonds as collateral) to the lender, with a commitment to buy it back later at the same price plus interest.

Also it is one of those things which get little publicity ( mostly ironically because they usually work smoothly) but there is a lot of action.

 Thus, any sustained disruption in this market, with daily turnover in the US market of about $1 trillion, could quickly ripple through the financial system.

Comment

Some of the factors in the Repo crisis were unpredictable. But it is also true that the US Fed was at best rather flat-footed. There had been a long-running discussion over the use of Interest On Excess Reserves or IOER to banks on such a scale which was not resolved. Then there was the way that so few banks (4) were able to become such large players creating an obvious risk. Then the role of the MMFs as by their very nature they flow into and out of markets and are likely to flow out when interest-rates are declining.

The BIS analysis adds to what we know but changes in stocks give us broad trends rather than telling what flowed where or rather did not flow on September 17th or since. As David Bowie put it.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Number Crunching

The BIS has been looking into some other areas.

An analysis of the #TriennialSurvey finds that global notional for #OTCderivatives rose to $640 trn in 2019, dominated by #InterestRateDerivatives

Average daily turnover of OTC interest rate derivatives more than doubled over 2016-19 to $6.5 trillion, taking OTC markets’ share to almost half total trading

30 years, 53 countries, 1,300 reporting dealers, and $6.6 trillion daily FX trades,

Weekly Podcast

 

Italy faces yet more economic hard times

This morning has brought more signs of the economic malaise that is affecting Italy, a subject which just goes on and on and on. Here is the statistics office.

In 2019, GDP is expected to increase by 0.2 percent in real terms. The domestic demand will provide a contribution of 0.8 percentage points while foreign demand will account for a positive 0.2 percentage point and inventories will provide a negative contribution (-0.8 percentage points).

That is a reduction of 0.1% on the previous forecast. In one way I doubt their forecasts are accurate to 0.1% but then in another way counting 0.1% growth is their job in Italy. The breakdown is odd though. As the net foreign demand may be small but any growth is welcome at a time of a time war but with domestic demand growing why are inventories being chopped?

So annual economic growth has gone 1.7% in 2017 and 0.8% last year and will now be 0.2% if they are correct. They do manage a little optimism for next year.

In 2020, GDP is estimated to increase by 0.6 percent in real terms driven by the contribution of domestic demand (+0.7
percentage points) associated to a positive contribution of the foreign demand (+0.1 p.p.) and a negative contribution of inventories (-0.2 p.p.).

So the main change here is that the decline in inventories slows. If we switch to a positive we are reminded that Italy’s trade position looks pretty good for these times.

In 2019, exports will increase by 1.7 percent and imports will grow by 1.3 percent, both are expected
to slighty accelerate in 2020 (+1.8% and +1.7% respectively)

Looking at domestic demand it will be supported by wages growth and by this.

Labour market conditions will improve over the forecasting period but at moderate pace. Employment
growth is expected to stabilise at 0,7 percent in 2019 and in 2020. At the same time, the rate of
unemployment will decrease at 10.0 percent in the current year and at 9.9 percent in 2020.

They mean 10% this year and 9.9% next although there is a catch with that.

The number of unemployed persons declined (-1.7%, -44 thousand in the last month); the decrease was the result of a remarkable drop among men and a light increase for women, and involved all age groups, with the exception of over 50 aged people. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.7% (-0.2 percentage points), the youth rate decreased to 27.8% (-0.7 percentage points).

As you can see the unemployment rate was already below what it is supposed to be next year so I struggle to see how that is going to boost domestic demand. Perhaps they are hoping that employment will continue to rise.

In October 2019 the estimate of employed people increased (+0.2%, +46 thousand); the employment rate rose at 59.2% (+0.1 percentage points).

The Markit PMIs

There was very little cheer to be found in the latest private-sector business survey published earlier.

The Composite Output Index* posted at 49.6 in November,
down from 50.8 in October and signalling the first decline in Italian private sector output since May. Despite this, the rate of contraction was marginal.
Underpinning the latest downturn was a marked slowdown
in service sector activity growth during November, whilst
manufacturing output recorded its sixteenth consecutive
month of contraction. The latest decrease was sharp but
eased slightly from October.

I doubt anyone is surprised by the state of play in Italian manufacturing so the issue here is the apparent downturn in the service sector. This leads to fears about December and for the current quarter as a whole. Also the official trade optimism is not found here.

Meanwhile, export sales continue to fall.

Sadly there is little solace to be found if we look at the wider Euro area.

The final eurozone PMI for November came in
slightly ahead of the earlier flash estimate but still
indicates a near-stagnant economy. The survey
data are indicating GDP growth of just 0.1% in the
fourth quarter, with manufacturing continuing to act
as a major drag. Worryingly, the service sector is
also on course for its weakest quarterly expansion
for five years, hinting strongly that the slowdown
continues to spread.

Unicredit

We have looked regularly at the Italian banking sector and its tale of woe. But this is from what is often considered its strongest bank.

After cutting a fifth of its staff and shutting a quarter of its branches in mature markets in recent years, UniCredit said it would make a further 8,000 job cuts and close 500 branches under a new plan to 2023………UniCredit’s announcement triggered anger among unions in Italy, where 5,500 layoffs and up to 450 branch closures are expected given the relative size of the network compared with franchises in Germany, Austria and central and eastern Europe.

Back in January 2012 I described Unicredit as a zombie bank on the business programme on Sky News. It has spent much if not all of the intervening period proving me right. That is in spite of the fact that ECB QE has given it large profits on its holdings of Italian government bonds. Yet someone will apparently gain.

UniCredit promised 8 billion euros ($9 billion) in dividends and share buybacks on Tuesday in a bid to revive its sickly share price, although profit at Italy’s top bank will barely grow despite plans to shed 9% of its staff.

This is quite a mess as there are all sorts of issues with the share buyback era in my opinion.  In the unlikely event of me coming to power I might rule them ultra vires as I think the ordinary shareholder is being manipulated. Beneath this is a deeper point about lack of reform in the Italian banking sector and hence its inability to support the economy. This is of course a chicken and egg situation where a weak economy faces off with a weak banking sector.

Mind you this morning Moodys have taken the opposite view.

The outlook for Italy’s banking system has changed to stable from negative as problem loans will continue to fall, while banks’ funding conditions improve and their capital holds steady, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report published today.

“We expect Italian banks’ problem loans to fall in 2020 for a fifth consecutive year,” said Fabio Iannò, VP-Senior Credit Officer at Moody’s. “However, their problem loan ratio of around 8% remains more than double the European Union average of 3%, according to European Banking Authority data. We also take into account our forecast for weak yet positive Italian GDP growth, and our stable outlook on Italy’s sovereign rating.”

What could go wrong?

Comment

There is a familiar drumbeat and indeed bass line to all of this. In the midst of it I find it really rather amazing that Moodys can take UK banks from stable to negative whilst doing the reverse for Italian ones! As we look for perspective we see that the “Euro boom” and monetary easing by the ECB saw annual economic growth of a mere 1.7% in 2017 which has faded to more or less zero now. We are back once again to the “girlfriend in a coma” theme.

Italy has strengths in that it has a solid trade position and is a net saver yet somehow this never seems to reach the GDP data. Maybe the grey economy provides an answer but year after year it fails to be measured. Of course if politico are correct there is always plenty of trade and turnover here.

Italy’s new coalition government might not last the winter, with tensions reaching a peak this week over EU bailout reform……The 5Stars oppose the planned ESM reform because they say it would make it harder for highly indebted countries, like Italy, to access bailout funds without painful public-debt restructuring.

That reminds me about fiscal policy which is the new go to in the Euro area according to ECB President Christine Lagarde, well except for Italy and Greece.