Will rising bond yields mean ECB QE is To Infinity! And Beyond!?

Yesterday the ECB ( European Central Bank ) President Mario Draghi spoke at the European Parliament and in his speech were some curious and intriguing phrases.

Our current monetary policy stance foresees that, if the inflation outlook becomes less favourable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress towards a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation, the Governing Council is prepared to increase the asset purchase programme in terms of size and/or duration.

I say that bit was curious because it contrasted with the other rhetoric in the speech as we were told how well things are going.

Over the last two years GDP per capita has increased by 3% in the euro area, which compares well with other major advanced economies. Economic sentiment is at its highest level in five years. Unemployment has fallen to 9.6%, its lowest level since May 2009. And the ratio of public debt to GDP is declining for the second consecutive year.

The talk of what I would call “More,More,More” is also a contrast to the December policy decision which went down the road of less or more specifically slower.

We will continue to purchase assets at a monthly pace of €80 billion until March. Starting from April, our net asset purchases will run at a monthly pace of €60 billion, and we will reinvest the securities purchased earlier under our programme, as they mature. This will add to our monthly net purchases.

There was another swerve from Mario Draghi who had written to a couple of MEPs telling them that a country leaving the Euro would have to settle their Target 2 balances ( I analysed this on the  23rd of January ) whereas now we were told this.

L’euro e’ irrevocabile, the euro is irrevocable

Of course Italian is his natural language bur perhaps also there was a message to his home country which has seen the rise of political parties who are against Euro membership.

Such words do have impacts on bond markets and yields but I was particularly interested in this bit. From @macrocredit.

DRAGHI SAYS ECB POLICY DOESN’T TARGET BOND SPREADS

A rather curious observation from someone who is effectively doing just that and of course for an establishment which trumpeted the convergence of bond yield spreads back before the Euro area crisis. Just to be clear which is meant here is the gap between the bond yield of Germany and other nations such as Spain or Italy. These days Mario Draghi seems to be displaying all the consistency of Arsene Wenger.

Oh and rather like the Bank of England he seems to be preparing himself for a rise in inflation.

As I have argued before, our monetary policy strategy prescribes that we should not react to individual data points and short-lived increases in inflation.

Spanish energy consumers may not be so sanguine!

Growing divergence in bond yields

The reality has been that recently we have seen a growing divergence in Euro area bond yields. This has happened in spite of the fact that the ECB QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond buying program has continued. As of the latest update it has purchased some 1.34 trillion Euros of sovereign bonds as well as of course other types of bonds. Perhaps markets are already adjusting to the reduction in the rate of purchases planned to begin on April 1st.

France

Ch-ch-changes here are right at the core of the Euro project which is the Franco-German axis. If we look back to last autumn we see a ten-year yield which fell below 0.1% and now we see one of 1.12%. This has left it some 0.76% higher than its German equivalent.

Care is needed as these are still low levels but politicians get used to an annual windfall from ,lower bond yields and so any rise will be unwelcome. It is still true that up to the five-year maturity France can borrow at negative bond yields but it is also true that a chill wind of change seems to be blowing at the moment. The next funding auction will be much more painful than its predecessor and the number below suggests we may not have to wait too long for it.

The government borrowing requirement for 2017 is therefore forecast to reach €185.4bn.

Italy

Here in Mario’s home country the situation is more material as the ten-year yield has risen to 2.36% or 2% over that of Germany. This will be expensive for politicians in the same manner as for France except of course the yield is more expensive and as the Italian Treasury confirms below the larger national debt poses its own demands.

The redemptions over the coming year are just under 216 billion euros (excluding BOTs), or some 30 billion euros more than in 2016, including approximately 3.3 billion euros in relation to the international programme. At the same time, the redemptions of currently outstanding BOTs amount to just over 107 billion euros, which is below the comparable amount in 2016 (115 billion euros) as a result of the policy initiated some years ago to reduce the borrowing in this segment.

The Italian Treasury has also noted the trends we are discussing today.

As a result of these developments, the yield differentials between Italian government securities and similar securities from other core European countries (in particular, Germany) started to increase in September 2016……. the final two months of 2016 have been marked by a significant increase in interest rates in the bond market in the United States,

Although we are also told this

In Europe, the picture is very different.

Anyway those who have followed the many debacles in this particular area which have mostly involved Mario Draghi’s past employer Goldman Sachs will note this next bit with concern.

Again in 2017, the transactions in derivatives instruments will support active portfolio management, and they will be aimed at improving the portfolio performance in the current market environment.

Should problems emerge then let me place a marker down which is that the average maturity of 6.76 years is not the longest.

Portugal

Here the numbers are more severe as Portugal has a ten-year yield of 4.24% and of course it has a similar national debt to economic output ratio to Italy so it is an outlier on two fronts. It need to raise this in 2017.

The Republic has a gross issuance target of EUR 14 billion to EUR 16 billion through both auctions and syndications.

To be fair it started last month but do you see the catch?

The size was set at EUR 3 billion and the new OT 10-year benchmark was finally priced at 16:15 CET with a coupon of 4.125% and a re-offer yield of 4.227%.

That is expensive in these times of a bond market super boom. Portugal has now paid off some 44% of its borrowings from the IMF but it is coming with an increasingly expensive kicker. Maybe that is why the European establishment wanted the IMF involved in its next review of Portugal’s circumstances.

Also at just over five years the average maturity is relatively short which would mean any return of the bond vigilantes would soon have Portugal looking for outside help again.

As of December 31, 2016 the Portuguese State direct debt amounted to EUR 236,283 million, decreasing 0.5% vis-à-vis the end of the previous month ( 133.4% of GDP).

Comment

Bond markets will of course ebb and flow but recently we have seen an overall trend and this does pose questions for several countries in the Euro area in particular. The clear examples are Italy and Portugal but there are also concerns elsewhere such as in France. These forces take time but a brake will be applied to national budgets as debt costs rise after several years when politicians will have been quietly cheering ECB policies which have driven falls. Of course higher inflation will raise debt costs for nations such as Italy which have index-linked stocks as well.

If we step back we see how difficult it will be for the ECB to end its QE sovereign bond buying program and even harder to ever reverse the stock or portfolio of bonds it has bought so far. This returns me to the issues I raised on January 19th.

If we look at the overall picture we see that 2017 poses quite a few issues for central banks as they approach the stage which the brightest always feared. If you come off it will the economy go “cold turkey” or merely have some withdrawal systems? What if the future they have borrowed from emerges and is worse than otherwise?

Meanwhile with the ECB being under fire for currency manipulation ( in favour of Germany in particular) it is not clear to me that this from Benoit Coeure will help.

The ECB has no specific exchange rate target, but the single currency has adjusted as a consequence. Since its last peak in 2011, the euro has depreciated by almost 30% against the dollar. The euro is now at a level that is appropriate for the economic situation in Europe.

Rising bond yields are feeding into the real economy

Once upon a time most people saw central banks as organisations which raised interest-rates to slow inflation and/or an economy and cut them to have the reverse effect. Such simple times! Well for those who were not actually working in bond markets anyway. The credit crunch changed things in various ways firstly because we saw so many interest-rate cuts ( approximately 700 I believe now) but also because central bankers ran out of road. What I mean by that is the advent of ZIRP or near 0% interest-rates was not enough for some who plunged into the icy cold waters of negative interest-rates. This has posed all sorts of problems of which one is credibility as for example Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told us the “lower bound” for UK Bank Rate was 0.5% then later cut to 0.25%!

If all that had worked we would not be where we are and we would not have seen central banks singing along with Huey Lewis and the News.

I want a new drug
One that won’t make me sick
One that won’t make me crash my car
Or make me feel three feet thick

This of course was QE (Quantitative Easing) style policies which became increasingly the policy option of choice for central banks because of a change. This is because the official interest-rate is a short-term one usually for overnight interest-rates so 24 hours if you like. As central banks mostly now meet 8 times a year you can consider it lasts for a month and a bit but in the interest-rate environment that changes little as you see there are a whole world of interest-rates unaffected by that. Pre credit crunch they mostly but not always moved with the official rate afterwards the effect faded. So central banks moved to affect them more directly as lowering longer-term interest-rates reduces the price of fixed-rate mortgages and business loans or at least it should. Also much less badged by central bankers buying sovereign bonds to do so makes government borrowing cheaper and therefore makes the “independent” central bank rather popular with politicians.

That was then and this is now

Whilst there is still a lot of QE going on we are seeing ch-ch-changes even in official policy as for example from the US Federal Reserve which has raised interest-rates twice and this morning this from China.

Chinese press reports that the PBoC have raised interest rate on one-year MLF loans by 10bps to 3.1% ( @SigmaSqwauk)

The Chinese bond market future fell a point to below 96 on the news which raised a wry smile at a bond market future below 100 ( which used to be very common) but indicated higher bond yields. These are becoming more common albeit with ebbs and flows and are on that road because of the return of inflation. So many countries got a reminder of this in December as we have noted as there were pick-ups in the level of annual inflation and projecting that forwards leaves current yields looking a bit less than thin. Or to put it another way all the central bank bond-buying has created a false market for sovereign and in other cases corporate bonds.

The UK

Back on the 14th of June last year I expressed my fears for the UK Gilt market.

There is much to consider as we note that inflation expectations and bond yields are two trains running in opposite directions on the same track.

In the meantime we have had the EU leave vote and an extra £60 billion of Bank of England QE of which we will see some £1 billion this afternoon. This drove the ten-year Gilt yield to near 0.5%. Hooray for the “Sledgehammer” of Andy Haldane and Mark Carney? Er no because in chart terms they have left UK taxpayers on an island that now looks far away as markets have concentrated more on thoughts like this one from the 14th of October last year.

Now if we add to this the extra 1.5% of annual inflation I expect as the impact of the lower UK Pound £ then even the new higher yields look rather crackpot.

In spite of the “Sledgehammer” which was designed by Bank of England lifer Andy Haldane the UK ten-year Gilt yield is at 1.44% so higher than it was before the EU leave vote whilst his ammunition locker is nearly empty. So he has driven the UK Gilt market like the Duke of York used to drill his men. I do hope he will be pressed on the economic effects of this and in the real world please not on his Ivory Tower spreadsheet.

The Grand old Duke of York he had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
When they were up, they were up
And when they were down, they were down
And when they were only halfway up
They were neither up nor down.

If you look at inflation trends the Gilt yield remains too low. Oh and do not forget the £20 billion added to the National Debt  by the Term Funding Scheme of the Bank of England.

Euro area

In spite of all the efforts of Mario Draghi and his bond-buyers we have seen rising yields here too and falling prices. Even the perceived safe-haven of German bonds is feeling the winds of change.

in danger of taking out Dec spike highs in yield of 0.456% (10yr cash) ( @MontyLaw)

We of course gain some perspective but noting that even after price falls the yield feared is only 0.456%! However it is higher and as we look elsewhere in the Euro area we do start to see yield levels which are becoming material. Maybe not yet in Italy where the ten-year yield has risen to 2.06% but the 4% of Portugal will be a continuous itch for a country with such a high national debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio. It has been around 4% for a while now which is an issue as these things take time to impact and I note this which is odd for a country that the IMF is supposed to have left.

WILL PARTICIPATE IN EUROGROUP DISCUSSION ON – BBG ( h/t @C_Barraud)

 

The US

The election of President Trump had an immediate effect on the US bond market as I pointed out at the time.

There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

 

As I type this we get a clear idea of the trend this has been in play overall by noting that the long bond yield is now 3.06%.  We can now shift to an economic effect of this by noting that the US 30 year mortgage-rate is now 4.06% and has been rising since late September when in dipped into the low 3.3s%. So there will be a contractionary economic effect via higher mortgage and remortgage costs. There will be others too but this is the clearest cause and effect link and will be seen in other places around the world.

Japan

Here we have a slightly different situation as the Bank of Japan has promised to keep the ten-year yield around 0% so you can take today’s 0.07% as either success or failure. In general bond yields have nudged higher but the truth is that the Bank of Japan so dominates this market it is hard to say what it tells us apart from what The Tokyo Whale wants it too. Also the inflation situation is different as Japan remains at around 0%.

Comment

We find ourselves observing a changing landscape. Whilst not quite a return of the bond vigilantes the band does strike up an occasional tune. When it plays it is mostly humming along to the return of consumer inflation which of course has mostly be driven by the end of the fall in the crude oil price and indeed its rebound. What that has done is made inflation adjusted or real yields look very negative indeed. Whilst Ivory Tower spreadsheets may smile the problem is finding investors willing to buy this as we see markets at the wrong price and yield. Unless central banks are willing to buy bond markets in their entirety then yields will ebb and flow but the trend seems set to be higher and in some cases much higher. For example German bunds have “safe-haven” status but how does a yield of 0.44% for a ten-year bond go with a central bank expecting inflation to go above 2% as the Bundesbank informed us earlier this week?

The economic effects of this will be felt in mortgage,business and other borrowing rates. This will include governments many of whom have got used to cheap and indeed ultra-cheap credit.

 

 

 

Is this the revenge of the bond vigilantes?

The latter part of 2016 has seen quite a change in the state of play in bond markets. If we look at my own country the UK we only have to look back to the middle of August to see a situation where the UK Gilt market surged to an all-time high. This was driven by what was called a “Sledgehammer” of monetary easing according to the Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane.  This comprised not only £60 billion of Gilt purchases and £10 billion of corporate bond purchases but also promises of “more,more,more” later in the year. Not only was this a time of bond market highs it was also a time of what so far at least has been “peak QE” as central planners like our Andy flexed both their muscles (funded of course by a combination of the ability to create money and taxpayer backing) and their rhetoric.

However those who pushed the UK Gilt market to new highs following the Bank of England now face large losses as you see it has fallen heavily since. The ten-year Gilt yield which fell to 0.5% is now 1.5% as the Bank of England’s Forward Guidance looks ever more like General Custer at Little Big Horn with bond vigilantes replacing the Red Indians. Let me switch into price terms which will give you a clearer idea of the scale of what has taken place. There are always issues with any such measure but the UK Gilt which matures in 2030 can be considered as an average. Fresh with his central planning mandate Mark Carney paid 152.7 for it back in mid-August but last week he got a relative bargain at 138 and if today’s prices hold will be paying much less later this week.

This of course means that the Bank of England has made fairly solid losses on this round of QE as we wonder if that is the “Sledgehammer” referred to. So will anyone else who bought with them and I raise this as some may have been forced to buy in a type of “stop-loss” situation as we wait to see if the pain became too much for some pension funds and insurance companies. Such a situation would be a complete failure as we recall central banks are supposed to supervise and maintain free and fair markets which awkwardly involves stopping the very price and yield manipulation that QE relies on.

As we stand the overall Bank of England QE operation will be in profit but of course that has been partly driven by the new round of it! Anyway here is a picture of the Sledgehammer as it currently stands.

What has driven this?

The UK may well have been at least partially a driving force on the world scene in mid-summer but of course the recent player has been the Trump Truck on its journey to the White House. I recall pointing out on here on November 9th that this part of his acceptance speech meant that a new fiscal policy seemed on its way.

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.

It had an immediate impact.

There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

We have of course more perspective now and this morning that yield has nudged 3.2%. Of course there is ebb and flow but also we have seen a clear trend.

Crude Oil

This has also been a player via its impact on expectations for inflation. This morning the announced deal between OPEC and non-OPEC countries saw the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil rising 5% to around US $57 per barrel. This compares to the recent nadir of around US $42 in early August. There are of course differences in taxation and so on but roughly I would expect this to raise annual consumer inflation by around 0.5%. This time around the effect seems set to be larger as we have so far replaced the price falls of the latter part of 2015 with rises in 2016. Of course the oil price will change between now and the end of 2016 but this gives an idea of the impact as we stand.

There has also been a general shift higher in commodities prices or to be more specific a surge in metals prices which has only partially been offset by the others. The CRB (Commodity Research Bureau) Index opened 2016 in the low 370s and is now 427.

US Federal Reserve

This has had an influence as well. It contributed to the bond market rally by the way its promises of “3-5” interest-rate rises were replaced by a reality of none so far. Now we face the prospect of this Wednesday’s  meeting thinking that they probably have to do one now to retain any credibility at all. Back on November 9th I wondered if they would and there are still grounds for that as we look at Trump inspired uncertainty and higher bond yields and US Dollar strength. However on the other side of the idea I note that @NicTrades suggesting they could perhaps do 0.5% this week. Far too logical I think!

But as we look back at nearly all of 2016 how much worse could the Forward Guidance of the US Federal Reserve have been?

The Ultras

No not the Italian football hooligans as I am thinking here of the trend that involved countries issuing ever longer dated debt. If we stay with Italy though Mark Jasayoko had some thoughts yesterday on Twitter.

Italy‘s 50year bond issued on Oct 5 is down 11.33% since. = 4yrs of coupons Dear bond bulls, enjoy holding on for the next half century.

Oh Well as Fleetwood Mac would say. There was also Austria with its 70 year bond which pretty much immediately fell and I note that this morning reports of a yield rise approaching 0.1%.  Those who gambled on the ECB coming to the rescue are left with the reality that such long-dated bonds are currently excluded from its QE. As for the 100 year bond issued by Ireland in March the price may well have halved since then.

Perhaps the outer limit of this can be found in Mexico which issued a 100 year Euro denominated bond in March 2015. Of course not even Donald Trump can put a wall around a bond but it puts a chill up your spine none the less.

As we look at the whole environment we see that taxpayers have done well here or more likely governments who will spend the “gains” and investors will have lost. Should the wild swings lead to casualties and bailouts the taxpayer picture will get more complex.

Comment

So we have seen a sort of revenge of the bond vigilantes although care is needed as a few months hardly replaces a bear market which in trend terms has lasted for around 3 decades. However there is a real economy effect here and let me highlight it from the United States.

Interest rates on U.S. fixed-rate mortgages rose to their highest levels in more than two years……..The Washington-based industry group said 30-year fixed-rate conforming mortgages averaged 4.27 percent, the highest level since October 2014……..The spike in 30-year mortgage rates, which have risen about 0.50 percentage point since the Nov. 8 election, has reduced refinancing activity.

That effect will be seen in many other countries and we will also see the cost of business loans rise. Also over time governments which have of course got used to ever cheaper borrowing seem set to find that the tie which was forever being loosened is now being tightened. How is the fiscal expansionism recommended by establishment bodies such as the IMF looking now?

 

 

The ECB drives Euro area short-dated yields even more negative

The recent trend for world bond yields has been for them to rise. This has been particularly evident at the longer maturities. The clearest example of this comes from the US Long Bond or thirty-year yield which spent late summer around 2.3% and is now 3%. There was a rise before the advent of President-Elect Trump which accelerated quickly afterwards. We will never know now what effect a President- Elect Clinton would have had but I suspect it would have been similar. As to the pre-Trump rise in US bond yields this was mostly driven by hints and promises or what is called Forward Guidance from the US Federal Reserve about a second interest-rate rise. Although of course it has been hinting that for all of 2016 so far without delivering it yet.

The international context

This new trend has had effects in places like Portugal where the ten-year yield is 3.6% and Italy where it is 2.1%. This is of course nothing like the levels seen at the peak of the Euro area crisis but there are two points to note. Firstly government’s tend to spend the gains from lower bond yields ( as the gains are not widely understood politicians can take the credit for their largesse) meaning any reversal can create fiscal issues. Secondly the ECB is of course buying considerable numbers of these bonds as it purchases around a billion Euros of Portuguese government bonds and 13 billion Euros of Italian government bonds each month. So we see a rise in spite of all this buying.

A similar situation has arisen in the UK where the “sledgehammer” QE bond buying of Chief Economist Andy Haldane has been swept aside in yield terms by the recent moves. So far an extra £38 billion of Gilts purchases have been made but whilst the ten-year yield is now at 1.37% below the level at which this started it is not be much and this particular phase is underwater overall. Some of the purchases are well underwater in price terms. Perhaps this is why Bank of England Governor seems to be finding the time to do this according to the Financial Times.

Mark Carney has urged the government to seek transitional arrangements with the 27 remaining members of the EU as it negotiates Brexit in an attempt to smooth the path of leaving the EU for companies and for financial stability.

I guess anything is better than discussing why he eased monetary policy into a currency decline and economic growth which one of his colleagues ( Kristin Forbes) admitted is faster than last year’s! I guess some will also be mulling how Mark Carney rejects politicians interfering in his work yet seems happy to interfere in theirs. I wonder how he would define independence. Still if monetary policy gets any worse I guess we can expect more speeches on climate change.

This higher yield trend has also seen some bond yields depart the negative zone. For example the ten-year bund yield of Germany has risen to the not so giddy heights of 0.22% pulling other Euro area yields out of negative territory as well. Even Japan has seen its ten-year yield nudge above zero albeit marginally and ended at 0.016% today. This is a bit awkward for the Bank of Japan as yields have risen in spite of its rhetoric about “unlimited purchases” as I discussed only last Monday.

A problem for the ECB

This arises at the shorter maturities and is especially evident in Germany. As you review the chart below please remind yourselves that under its rules the ECB QE bond buying cannot buy at yields below its own deposit rate which is currently -0.4%.

This is what are called Schatz bonds in Germany and they have pulled prices on other Euro area bonds higher and yields lower as well. For example the two-years in both Belgium and France yield -0.68%. Perhaps the Italian two-year is a clearer example because in spite of the risks around the upcoming referendum the yield is a mere 0.22%. There was a time yields shot higher in response to such risks!

A Technical Issue

The essential problem here comes from something I have pointed out before which is that central bank bond buying tends to freeze up bond markets. Of course it also destroys the price discovery mechanism but volumes and liquidity dry up. This was quite noticeable in the early days of the Greek crisis where buying by the Securities Markets Programme saw volumes drop to a tenth of what they were. That remains an issue which has recurred in Japan but the current phase is being driven by the repo market. Reuters looked at this last Wednesday.

The European Central Bank is looking for ways to lend out more of its huge pile of government debt to avert a freeze in the 5.5 trillion-euro short-term funding market that underpins the financial system, central bank sources told Reuters.

Why should it care about this?

it has taken away the key ingredient for repurchase agreements, or repos, whereby financial firms lend to each other against collateral, typically high-rated government bonds such as Germany’s.

So it has inadvertently damaged the “precious” which is the banking system. Also it has shot itself in the foot as regards its own objectives.

Repo is used by investment funds to finance trading and is regarded by the ECB as a key avenue to transmit its own monetary stimulus to the economy.

A freeze in repo activity risks undoing some of the ECB’s stimulus by hampering lending between financial companies and leaving bond markets vulnerable to sharp sell offs.

The situation was so bad we even got an official denial that anything was wrong!

“The ECB’s securities lending is proving valuable for smooth market functioning, and it is being reviewed on an ongoing basis,” an ECB spokesman said.

The situation is driven by the way that derivative portfolios now need more collateral to be held against them whilst there is less top-notch collateral to be had.

With the ECB now owning more than a quarter of all outstanding German bonds, funds pay up to 1.5 percent to borrow a 10-year Bund, up from some 0.40 percent a year ago, according to Icap data.

Another problem on the list for pension funds and hence in time pensioners.

Comment

As you can see the side-effects from the ever-growing amounts of central bank QE are growing. This was met with an official denial which sat oddly with the recent changes made by both the Bundesbank and the ECB to try to ameliorate things. It sat even more oddly with the market reversal on the 23rd in response to hopes/hints of a change of policy as shown in the chart about . Since then those hopes have been extinguished, until the next set of rumours anyway. So we get a bond market where the battle between central banks ( price highs) and inflation trends leading to price falls continues.

Meanwhile thank you to @sallycopper C for highlighting an issue which I think may lead to problems for the game of paper, scissors,stone. From Bloomberg.

Paper made from rock tempts Japan’s biggest printer to invest.

Meanwhile I pointed out earlier to the Financial Times that for an article telling us this “the cost of Christmas dinners is almost unchanged from a year ago ” the headline on Twitter from its commodities editor gave a rather different impression.

Christmas pudding pricier after Brexit hits pound

As a Christmas pudding fan I in fact have already bought two rather nice ones for £3 but  one has already gone, after all I had to find out how good it was!

 

 

Portugal seems set to be the worst casualty from higher bond yields

This morning has seen one of my recent themes continue to rumble around markets. The effect of the likely fiscal expansionism from President Trump that I discussed on the 9th of this month has continued for the US bond market. This morning we have seen a big figure change as the US Long Bond ( 30 year) yield has nudged over 3%. If we go back to the 9th it was doing this.

There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

This has a clear economic impact as some US fixed-rate mortgages in essence track this rate so we will see higher quotes for them. Other US yields have risen too and this has driven yields abroad higher as well as for example the 30 year yield in Germany hit 1%. If we look at the UK there has been quite a change of tone for the UK Gilt market as Micheal Hewson has pointed out.

UK Gilt yields now at pre Brexit levels 1.433%

He means the benchmark 10 year Gilt. This leaves Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane in something of a quandary as you see he promised a “sledgehammer” of monetary action but instead has spent some £33 billion on QE (Quantitative Easing) Gilt purchases to find he has put the UK taxpayer on this.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

No doubt Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will be along to explain how yet again Forward Guidance looks like one of the “cunning plans” so beloved of Baldick of the TV series Blackadder.

Pain for Portugal

Not much pain is to be seen in the media as I note today it is full of reports of Christiano Ronaldo’s 2 goal haul and penalty miss. But you see the bond market tantrum has meant that the ten-year yield in Portugal is now 3.67%. A while ago the financial media were very concerned about it passing 3% but now a fair bit higher number is mostly passing unnoticed! If we move to intra Euro issues then there is a significance in the fact that it is well over 3% higher than the same maturity of Germany ( 3.31%).

This yield is in spite of the fact that up to the end of last month the ECB had purchased some 22.9 billion Euros of Portuguese Government Bonds.

The National Debt

This is an issue for Portugal as the Bank of Portugal describes in its latest Monthly Bulletin.

At the end of the first half of 2016, the public debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 131.7 per cent (121.8 per cent of GDP, excluding central government deposits), after reaching 129 per cent at the end of 2015 (121.6 per cent of GDP, excluding central government deposits).

Remember when the Euro area established a ratio of 120% for this metric on the early days of the Greek crisis? They must have regretted that very much as Italy and Portugal cruised by it. It is also revealing when you get a different number which of course is always lower but means using a different set of rules to the benchmark! As ever the official view is that the number is about to fall and to 124.8% but even the Bank of Portugal calls that “particulaly demanding”.

Fiscal problems

If we look at the numbers in relative and indeed comparitive terms the deficit is not large. From the Bank of Portugal.

, the general government deficit stood at 2.8 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2016, compared with 4.6 per cent in the same period of the previous year.

The catch is that it comes on top of the national debt and worryingly not with the revenue growth hoped for.

In the first half of 2016 total revenue grew, yearon-year, by 1.7 per cent, which was significantly lower than the yearly projection (3.3 per cent),

Also you may note that Portugal is still under the Euro area austerity program at least implicitly and the switch to fiscal expansionism seems to have by-passed it.

Economic Growth

This is a road which so often seems to start hopefully as Venture Beat illustrate here.

As Web Summit arrives in Lisbon, Portugal tries to seize its startup moment with $220 million fund

Let us hope so although the reports of  this will not have helped much. From @InsurgentPT

Portugal organizes #WebSummit. Wi-fi connection fails in the first day. Investors might not be impressed

In a way it always seems to turn out like that as hopes fade and growth at best ends up of the order of 1% as this from the Bank of Portugal shows.

Projections for the Portuguese economy point to a deceleration in GDP, from 1.6 per cent in 2015 to 1.1 per cent in 2016.

It blames “idiosyncractic structural constraints” which is odd after all the reforms we were told ( Remarkable progress according to Mario Draghi) have happened isn’t it? Actually this is especially worrying for those who have proclaimed reform.

The pace of growth in economic
activity has stood below that of previous
business cycles, namely affected by high levels
of indebtedness in the public and private sectors,
adverse demographic developments and
a macroeconomic environment characterised
by relatively weak external demand dynamics.

So worse rather than better? This poses more than a few questions when we note that the Euro economic experience for Portugal has been dogged by slow economic economic and that is in the better times.

As we look for reasons some can be bad luck as for example there were times that the large Volkswagen plant in Portugal would only bring good economic news. But the problems of corruption and cronyism in the banking sector has not only affected the national debt as more and more bailout have taken place but it has left the banks unable to support economic growth. There is something of a trap here as the weak banks struggle with non-performing loans but not supporting the economy only leads to them being more of a problem. Also Portugal’s businesses are rather indebted according to the Economist.

Investment is being stifled by the weight of the corporate sector’s debt, which is close to 140% of GDP.

Comment

We need some nuance and sense of scale here as the bonds yields of today are nothing like the 17/18% seen in Portugal before it called for a bailout.  But they do pose problems as the fiscal windfall from lower bond yields invariably gets spent which is awkward when it fades. Also what happened to the economic growth from the windfall? This is a familiar theme as remember when Novo Banco was translated as New Bank and then turned out to be “meet the new boss,same as the old boss”?

Novo Banco’s legacy assets, however, turned out to be worse than expected, making it virtually impossible that the lender will be sold for anywhere near the €4.9 billion ($5.46 billion) capital injection it received. ( Wall Street Journal)

There are five bids for it again as we wonder how much they will pay for a bank who has just made a profit but of only 3.7 million Euros.

On the other side of the ledger there have been gains in Portugal as for example the unemployment rate has fallen to 10.5%. If the Algarve Daily News is correct maybe it needs find a way of reducing the undergorund economy.

Portugal’s grey economy, the parallel under-the-counter trade in goods and services, remains buoyant, reaching over 27% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product last year.

The un-taxed economy, which keeps many from poverty despite its illegality, is running at the highest percentage since 2010……Portugal leads many of its peers too as the OECD average grey economy is just 16.4% of GDP.

Wasn’t this supposed to be another example of reform? Against that even a Euro below 1.08 versus the US Dollar will not help that much.

Also let me give my best wishes to those on South Island in New Zealand after the weekend earthquake.

 

 

 

 

 

The trend towards ever lower interest-rates continues but what about bond yields?

A clear feature of the credit crunch world has been lower interest-rates and lower bond yields. This has come in two phases where the first was badged usually as an emergency response to the credit crunches initial impact. However as I warned back then central banks had no real exit plan from such measures and we then found that the emergency had apparently got worse as so many central banks cuts again. So if you like we went from ZIRP ( Zero Interest-Rate Policy) to NIRP ( N is Negative) . Along the way it is easy to forget now that the ECB did in fact raise interest-rates twice but the Euro area crisis saw it cut them to -0.4% and to deployed over a trillion Euros of QE bond buying so far. In the UK Bank of England Governor Mark Carney also retreated with his tail between his legs after a couple of years or so of Forward Guidance about higher interest-rates which turned out to be anything but as he later cut them to 0.25%!

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Yesterday evening the Kiwis again joined the party.

The Reserve Bank today reduced the Official Cash Rate (OCR) by 25 basis points to 1.75 percent.

I have a theory that the RBNZ regularly cuts interest-rates when the All Blacks lose at rugby union and on that subject congratulations to Ireland on finally breaking their duck. Moving back to interest-rates that makes 40 central banks ( h/t @moved_average ) who have eased policy in 2016 so far which poses a question over 8 years into the credit crunch don’t you think? Central banks used to raise interest-rates when they claimed a recovery was developing.

Also we can learn a fair bit about the modern central bank from looking at the explanatory statement from the RBNZ.

Significant surplus capacity exists across the global economy despite improved economic indicators in some countries.

Perhaps only the Governor can tell us whether that psychobabble is good or bad! Anyway central banks used to cut interest-rates if the economy is either weak now or expected to be so let’s take a look.

GDP grew by 3.6 percent in the year to the June 2016 quarter, and near-term indicators suggest this pace of growth is likely to continue. Annual GDP growth is forecast to average around 3.8 percent over the next year. This strength has been a feature of the Bank’s projections for some time……….. As GDP is forecast to grow at a faster rate than the economy’s productive capacity, the output gap is projected to rise, contributing to inflationary pressure.

Oh well perhaps not. Also there is another (space) oddity if we look at a cut in interest-rates.

The combination of high population growth, low mortgage rates, and a shortage of housing in Auckland has continued to exert upward pressure on house prices…….Outside of Auckland and Canterbury, house price inflation reached a 10-year high in July, but has fallen slightly since.

Ah yes so a cut in interest-rates will help? Oh hang on as we observe this.

Mortgage rates remain around record lows

If we look at the chart we see that it is no surprise that house price inflation has slowed in Auckland because it want over 25% per annum. For some reason ( perhaps someone familiar with NZ can explain) Canterbury saw over 25% around 3 years ago. However the rest of New Zealand has seen a rise to around 10% per annum. Many would call this quite a boom and a central bank would raise interest-rates. Of course these days we are promised policies from long enough in the past that most will have forgotten they were failures back then.

This follows the announcement of further tightening of loan-to-value ratio restrictions in July 2016.

Also with the New Zealand economy growing so strongly it is hard ot avoid the feeling of beggar thy neighbour about this.

A decline in the exchange rate is needed.

The inflation argument is not so strong even for those who believe that 2% is better than 0%. Added to house prices we see this.

Annual inflation is expected to rise from the December quarter,

One area that is awkward for the central bank is this.

 On an annual basis, the net inflow of working-age migrants rose to a new peak of around 60,000 in September

Of course establishment s everywhere tell us how fantastic this will be for economic growth which makes the rate cut even odder. But we see that it will have ch-ch-changes on New Zealand that elsewhere have contributed to not quite the nirvana promised. It is hard as a Londoner not to have a wry smile at this because both socially and in business you meet so many Kiwis some who are here for a while and some end up staying. It is however of course an urban myth that they all live in one camper van in Kensington! But if the mainstream media finally gets something right in 2016 New Zealand may be about to see a flow of American immigration as well.

The RBNZ does not give us GDP per head which would be interesting to see. We do however get something that as far as I know is unique in the central banking world.

We assume that over the medium term the price of whole milk powder will tend towards USD 3,000 per tonne, and that the Dubai oil price will continue to gradually increase to around USD 60 per barrel.

Firstly you get the wholesale milk price as you note it is provided before the crude oil price!

A Challenge to the central bankers

The RBNZ kindly gave us the central bankers view of what happens next.

Policy rates are at record lows across
most advanced economies and are expected to remain stimulatory over coming years. In 2016, quantitative easing by central banks has been at its highest level since the global financial crisis. The degree of unconventional monetary policy is unlikely to increase further.

Of course Forward Guidance from central bankers has been anything but that! Also whilst they may well continue to reduce official interest-rates it looks to me as if there will be trouble elsewhere. This is because inflation looks set to rise and its impact on real or inflation adjusted bond yields. There was an element of this in the rise in the US 30 year bond yield that I pointed out yesterday after Donald Trump was elected.

Putting it another way the chart of inflation expectations below is revealing. However take care as these things are very broad brush as in useful for trends but very inaccurate in my opinion.

That starts to make current bond yields look a bit thin doesn’t it?

Comment

Today I have been looking at two opposite forces as the central banking army continues its advance but faces more potential guerilla style opposition. We do not yet know how much inflation will pick-up overall but we do know that unless the oil price falls heavily it will do so. We also know that in some areas we are seeing hints of commodity prices rising again as for example Dr.Copper has been on the move. in response bond yields are rising today and as summer has moved into autumn we have been seeing this overall. For example the ten-year bund yield in Germany is now 0.28% as I type this. This is simultaneously giddy heights compared to recently as well as still very low!

So a clash is coming as I believe that central banks such as the ECB are happy for yields to rise now so they can act again later and claim success. The problem is two-fold. If it is so good why do we always need more and secondly how does this work with rising inflation trends?

 

What are the economic consequences of a Donald Trump victory?

This morning has seen an event which some will describe as a victory for anti-establishment hopes and others as the end of the world as we know it. The victory of Donald Trump adds to the UK vote to leave the European Union as events which only just before they happened were supposedly not far off unpossible. As an ex options trader my first thought is that the media and dare I say/write it experts understanding of probability has had a simply shocking 2016. One of the things I learned back in the day was that when you make investments you need to wipe you own wishes,wants and likes from you mind science fiction style and maximise objectivity. Also the era of “big data” is not going so well is it?

This has some economic consequences in itself as much of the media has damaged itself in 2016 by being so consistently wrong. How that combines with an age where we consume so much more news is not crystal clear but I expect the main organisations to lose viewers and readers and for newer forms to emerge. There will be one minor relief which is that the one track mind exhibited by the Financial Times this summer and autumn will be replaced by choosing whether to blame Brexit or Trump!

Let me also throw in an issue for the banking and financial centre. After all we have been told that the victory of New York as a banking centre or rather the banking centre was nailed on by the UK EU leave vote. Yet @madamebutcher points out this.

Suddenly, all the American bankers want to stay in London.

We could perhaps do an exchange where our bankers go there and theirs come here. This would mean that everyone would be simultaneously wrong and right!

Economic policy

Has there been an election campaign where there was so little emphasis on the economics? The one main hint along the way as we have discussed on here was that both candidates were likely to have some form of fiscal stimulus. However there were elements of other policies which will affect the economics of which the main one was the protectionist rhetoric and promises of Donald Trump. From the FT.

Mr Trump has campaigned on his pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, called for a ban on Muslim immigration and the deportation of 11m unauthorised immigrants.

There was also this.

Mr Trump has opposed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and called for fundamental changes to the Nafta pact with Mexico and Canada……He has also threatened to impose punitive 45 per cent tariffs on goods from China, stoking fears of a trade war.

And this.

Mr Trump has promised the biggest tax revolution since Ronald Reagan, pledging to cut taxes across the board. He says no American business would pay more than 15 per cent of their profits in tax, compared with a current maximum of 35 per cent. The top rate of tax would fall from 39.6 per cent as the Republican reduces the number of tax brackets.

So there was in fact a fair bit but it was covered by a smokescreen on other issues including the obvious personality clash. It was there but often a secondary element rather than primary. There was no “It’s the economy, stupid!” like the original Bill Clinton campaign.

Fiscal Policy

There was already an element of fiscal expansionism in the tax cutting plans highlighted above. For younger readers this is very similar to what Ronald Reagan promised and did as President and back then it went well. Advocates of Arther Laffer were pleased to see the economy strengthen and as it did so tax revenues do well too. Of course that was then and now is a post credit crunch world where many old relationships have broken, but it did look to have worked back then.

On the spending front there was this clear hint.

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

That is very reminiscent of the “New Deal” of F.D Roosevelt from back in the day or at least it feels like it. Of course we should apply some sort of filter to an acceptance speech likely to be given at a time of a combination of high emotion and much tiredness but some of that will need to be done now I think. It was also backed up by this.

I will harness the creative talents of our people and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It is going to happen. We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world.

We have quite an odd combination of free market promises on taxes and apparent central planning on infrastructure spending. There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

What about monetary policy?

The US Federal Reserve has been on the wires and media outlets in the last week yet again promising us an interest-rate rise in December. If we apply logic then the apparent fiscal expansionism expressed by President-Elect Trump should make that even more likely. However there is in reality doubt on two fronts now. As fans of the economic effect of bond yields then a persistent rise ( remember this one is not even a day old) in the 30 year yield will make them less likely to rise. Next central bankers love to use uncertainty as an excuse and 2016 has provided quite a lot of that.

So whilst an interest-rate rise in December should be more likely I suspect it has become less likely now.

Other central banks

The Bank of Japan has been on the wires because the Yen has strengthened to 103 versus the US Dollar and the Nikkei dropped over 900 points to 16,251. But apart from it promising “bold action” for about the 1000th time it is quiet. However I suspect one thing will change which is the constant uses of Brexit as a scapegoat will mostly be replaced by the election of Donald Trump.

Comment

You may be wondering why I have not referred to financial markets more and that is simply because many of them have calmed down apart from those I have mentioned. There is of course one other. The Mexican Peso has fallen some 10% and at times more today as we wonder how much a wall can cost? I have a Mexican neighbour and wonder what to say to her?

Meanwhile fiscal expansionism may well lead to a change in US Federal Reserve policy. I have wondered in the past if future interest-rate increases could be combined with (even) more QE so are we now singing along to Sweet.

Does anybody know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anybody know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

Should you be feeling down today it could be worse as Newsweek has proven.