The rise in the Euro area money supply looks permanent and therefore inflationary

Today out focus switches to the Euro area and the European Central Bank. We cam open with yet another failure for economics 101 as a surge in the money supply is supposed to lead to a weaker currency.Yet last year ended with Bloomberg reporting this.

The European Central Bank is closely monitoring the euro’s strengthening against the U.S. dollar, Governing Council member Olli Rehn says

Regular readers will recall that what used to be called jawboning but these days are called open mouth operations began around 1.18 versus the US Dollar and we are now at 1.2275 as I type this. So we see that even adding the vocal weapon to the money printing I will come to in a moment is not stopping the Euro’s rise.This matters because with so many commodities priced in US Dollars it reduces inflation in the Euro area which the ECB is desperately trying to increase.

We can also look at this via the trade-weighted or effective exchange rate.It is hard not to have another wry smile in the direction of economics 101 as the QE and negative interest-rate era of the ECB has coincided with a Euro rally. It bottomed around 101 in April 2015 and is now at 123. For our immediate purposes the recent move started at 112.6 on the 18th of February. If we try to ignore the excitement back then we have seen a move from 114 to 123 which we know what to do with.

Now, as a rule of thumb, each 10% permanent effective exchange rate appreciation lowers inflation by around 40 to 50 basis points. ( The Draghi Rule)

So around a 0.4% fall in inflation from this source.

Soaring Money Supply

This morning has brought a new record.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 14.5% in November from 13.8% in October. (ECB)

This compares to a pre pandemic growth rate of 8% or so showing how much of an effort the ECB has put into this. There was an 115 billion Euro increase in November of which some 13 billion was for currency in circulation. That is another arrow in the eye for those who predict the demise of cash because whilst there are perfectly good reasons for using it less right now the reality is that it is expanding. The M1 measure now totals so 10.1 trillion Euros.

Broad Money

Unsurprisingly after the news above this has also moved higher.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 11.0% in November 2020 from 10.5% in October.

Indeed as we break it down we see that the increase was narrow money driven.

Looking at the components’ contributions to the annual growth rate of M3, the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 9.9 percentage points (up from 9.5 percentage points in October), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.3 percentage point (down from 0.4 percentage point) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed 0.7 percentage point (as in the previous month).

This will be disappointing for the ECB as all the effort is to also get the M2 and M3 components rising but in November they outright declined. The M1 push of 115 billion Euros saw only a 104 billion rise in M3.

There is another way of looking at this but I caution against relying on it too much as when it was used as a policy in the UK for £M3 it failed.

As a reflection of changes in the items on the monetary financial institution (MFI) consolidated balance sheet other than M3 counterparts of M3, the annual growth rate of M3 in November 2020 can be broken down as follows: credit to general government contributed 7.7 percentage points (up from 7.3 percentage points in October), credit to the private sector contributed 5.1 percentage points (down from 5.2 percentage points), longer-term financial liabilities contributed 0.7 percentage point (up from 0.3 percentage point), net external assets contributed -0.2 percentage point (down from 0.1 percentage point), and the remaining counterparts of M3 contributed -2.3 percentage points (up from -2.5 percentage points).

The push from the government sector does look genuine though.

Is this about to be permanent?

There are various issues around velocity from the above but also how permanent this is? The latter arises because central bankers regularly state that they can reduce the money supply as easily as they boost it. I mean here that they state it because you see there is rather a shortage of examples of them actually doing it. So as you can imagine topics like the one below in a Financial Time opinion piece catch my eye.

In Europe, soaring debt has led some senior Italian officials to ask the European Central Bank to ease debt burdens by forgiving sovereign bonds it owns. That proposal was quickly dismissed by Christine Lagarde and other central bankers and economists.

We looked at this last year and I noted both Lagarde’s shocking track record and the fact that these things are always denied and then somehow find their way onto thw policy action sheet. Well let;s continue with the FT piece.

Their rapid rejection of debt cancellation as part of the recovery from the pandemic misses one very obvious fact. In a world where a lot of sovereign debt is being bought by central banks, intrinsically, all we are doing is allowing the left hand of the government to owe the right hand of the government a lot of money. At some point they could just shake hands and throw the debt away.

They could but the explanation then gets very confused.

For any country bold enough to consider such extreme action, there may also be a first-mover advantage, because the moment this takes place, borrowing costs should go up. I hasten to add that if a country does go down this route, safeguards are needed. Ideally the government would enshrine in its constitution that this is a one-off emergency response. It cannot continue to print money whenever it wants to do something.

If we look at a country which cancels a lot of debt why would its borrowing costs rise? He must be assuming the central bank stops any future QE but why should it when in the immortal words of the apochryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby “It has worked so well”?

How many “one-offs” have been repeated in the credit crunch era? Let me make the job easier for you by instead asking how many have not?

Also I am not sure where this is going as even before the credit crunch more than a few broke these rules.

Many EU countries have already breached the bloc’s fiscal rules on debt levels and there is little room for manoeuvre. Debt cancellation needs to be an option in the toolkit.

Comment

We have been observing a monetary push for some time now but we now see a major change and a nuance. The major change is that something I have been pointing out from the beginning is that the money supply boost will be permanent. In the debt cancellation narrative above the increased money supply is left standing. The first casualty is the truth as we have been lied to on a grand scale.

Next comes another lie which is the measurement of inflation. The official measure which we in the UK call CPI but which more formally is called HICP is designed to avoid the consequent inflation. For example it completely ignores the owner-occupied housing sector in spite of the ECB admitting that housing can be a third of all personal expenditure. Why might that be?

House prices rose by 5% in the euro area (EA19) and by 5.2% in the EU27 in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same quarter of the previous year.

Next comes the nuance which is in fact important. The narrow money growth is money supply but broad money growth relies in fact on demand and we can see that demand for loans is not going so well. Such demand as there is comes unsurprisingly from governments.

The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 21.4% in November from 20.3% in October, while the annual growth rate of credit to the private sector stood at 4.8% in November, compared with 4.9% in October.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Time

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

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

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

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

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

The new plan for any QE unwind is below.

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

How very Cheshire Cat.

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

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

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

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

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

Today’s Monetary Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QE

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

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

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

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

Or perhaps Britney Spears.

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

Consumer Credit

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How do the negative interest-rates of the ECB fit with a surging money supply?

Today brings an opportunity for us to combine the latest analysis from the European Central Bank with this morning’s money supply and credit data. The speech is from Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel who is apparently not much of a fan of Denmark or Sweden.

In June 2014, the ECB was the first major central bank to lower one of its key interest rates into negative territory.

Of course the effect of the Euro was a major factor in those countries feeling the need for negativity but our Isabel is not someone who would admit something like that. We do however get a confession that the ECB did not know what the consequences would be.

As experience with negative interest rates was scant, the ECB proceeded cautiously over time, lowering the deposit facility rate (DFR) in small increments of 10 basis points, until it reached -0.5% in September 2019. While negative interest rates have, over time, become a standard instrument in the ECB’s toolkit, they remain controversial, both in central banking circles and academia.

Unfortuately for Isabel she has been much more revealing here than she intended. In addition to admitting it was new territory there is a confession the Euro area economy has been weak as otherwise why did they feel the need to keep cutting the official interest-rate? Then the “standard instrument” bit is a confession that they are here to stay.

In spite of the problems she has just confessed to Isabel thinks she can get away with this.

In my remarks today, I will review the ECB’s experience with its negative interest rate policy (NIRP). I will argue that the transmission of negative rates has worked smoothly and that, in combination with other policy measures, they have been effective in stimulating the economy and raising inflation.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic that was simply untrue. You do not have to take me word for it because below is the policy announcement from the ECB on the 12th of September last year. They did not so that because things were going well did they?

The interest rate on the deposit facility will be decreased by 10 basis points to -0.50%…….Net purchases will be restarted under the Governing Council’s asset purchase programme (APP) at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November.

The accompanying statement included a complete contradiction of what Isabel is trying to claim now.

Today’s decisions were taken in response to the continued shortfall of inflation with respect to our aim. In fact, incoming information since the last Governing Council meeting indicates a more protracted weakness of the euro area economy, the persistence of prominent downside risks and muted inflationary pressures.

I wonder if anyone challenged Isabel on this?

Fantasy Time

Some would argue that this represents a policy failure but not our Isabel.

In other words, the ECB had succeeded in shifting the perceived lower bound on interest rates firmly into negative territory, supported by forward guidance that left the door open for the possibility of further rate cuts.

It is no great surprise that for Isabel it is all about “The Precious! The Precious!”

The ECB, for its part, tailored its non-standard measures to the structure of the euro area economy, where banks play a significant role in credit intermediation. In essence, this meant providing ample liquidity for a much longer period than under the ECB’s standard operations.

Yet even this has turned out to be something of a fantasy.

In spite of these positive effects on the effectiveness of monetary policy, the NIRP has often been criticised for its potential side effects, particularly on the banking sector……..In the extreme, the effect could be such that banks charge higher interest rates on their lending activities, thereby reversing the intended accommodative effect of monetary policy.

The text books which Professor Schabel has read and written contained nothing like this. We all know that if something is not in an Ivory Tower text book it cannot happen right?

Money Supply

This morning’s data showed a consequence of the Philosophy described above.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.5% in July from 12.6% in June.

This is the fastest rate of monetary expansion the Euro area has seen in absolute terms. There was a faster rate of expansion in percentage terms in its first month ( January 1999) of 14.7% but the numbers are so much larger now. Also contrary to so much official and media rhetoric cash is in demand as in July it totalled some 1.31 trillion Euros as opposed to 1.19 trillion a year before. This is out of the 9.78 trillion Euros.

As we try to analyse this there is the issue that it is simple with cash as 0% is attractive compared to -0.5% but then deposits should be fading due to the charge on them. Except we know that the major part of deposits do not have negative interest-rates because the banks are terrified of the potential consequences.

We can now switch to broad money and we are already expecting a rise due to the narrow money data.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 10.2% in July 2020 from 9.2% in June, averaging 9.5% in the three months up to July.

Below is the break down.

 

The components of M3 showed the following developments. The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.5% in July from 12.6% in June. The annual growth rate of short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) increased to 1.4% in July from 0.8% in June. The annual growth rate of marketable instruments (M3-M2) increased to 12.8% in July from 9.2% in June.

Putting it that way is somewhat misleading because the M1 change of 158 billion dwarfs the 33 billion of marketable instruments although the growth rates are not far apart.

 

Comment

Let me now put this into context in ordinary times we would expect the narrow money or M1 surge to start impacting about six months ahead. So it should begin towards the end of this year. Although it will be especially hard to interpret as some of the slow down was voluntary as in we chose to shut parts of the economy down. Has monetary policy ever responded to a voluntary slow down in this way before?

Also if we switch to broad money we see that the push has seen M3 pass the 14 trillion Euros barrier. Again in ordinary times we should see nominal GDP surge in response to that in around 2 years with the debate being the split between inflation and real growth. Except of course we do not know where either are right now! We have some clues via the surges in bond and equity markets seen but of course the Ivory Tpwers that Professor Schabel represents come equipped with blacked out windows for those areas.

Actually the good Professor and I can at least partly agree on something as I spotted this in her speech.

With the start of negative rates, we have observed a steady increase in the growth rate of loans extended by euro area monetary financial institutions.

They did although that does not mean the policies she supported caused this and in fact the growth rate of loans to the private-sector is now falling.

She somehow seems to have missed the numbers which further support my theme that her role is to make sure government borrowing is cheap ( in fact sometimes free or even for a profit) is in play.

The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 15.5% in July from 13.6% in June,

We now wait to see if the famous quote from Milton Friedman which is doing the rounds will be right one more time.

Inflation is just like alcoholism, in both cases when you start drinking or when you start printing to much money, the good effects come first the bad effects come later.

Or Neil Diamond.

Money talks
But it can’t sing and dance and it can’t walk

 

 

Money Supply Madness in the Euro area

This morning has brought a consequence of the actions of the European Central Bank into focus. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic it found itself out of interest-rate ammunition having already cut interest-rates to -0.6%. Or rather interest-rate ammunition for businesses and consumers as of course it has set a record low of -1% for The Precious! The Precious! So it found itself only able to employ more unconventional measures such as Quantitative Easing ( QE) and credit easing ( TLTROs). Of course it was already indulging in some QE which is looking ever more permanent along the lines such about by Joe Walsh.

I go to parties sometimes until four
It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door

Money Supply

We have been observing the consequences of the above in this area for some months now. Today is no different.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1,, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 12.6% in June, compared with 12.5% in May.

If we look back we see that it was 7.2% a year ago and then the extra monetary easing of the autumn of 2019 saw it rally to around 8%. So the new measures have pretty quickly had an impact. That has not always been true as regular readers will know. Also whilst we have seen an annual rate of 13.1% in the past ( late 2009 when the credit crunch hit) the money supply is much larger now. Mostly of course due to all the official effort pushing it up!

In terms of totals M1 pushed past the 9.7 trillion Euros barrier in June and also cash in circulation pushed past 1.3 trillion. Cash is not growing as fast as the rest but in other terms an annual growth rate of 9.7% would be considered fast especially as it has been out of favour as a medium of exchange for obvious possible infection reasons. More woe for the media reporting of it.

Broad Money

As you can see this is on the surge too.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 9.2% in June 2020 from 8.9% in May, averaging 8.8% in the three months up to June. The components of M3, showed the following developments. The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 12.6% in June, compared with 12.5% in May. The annual growth rate of short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) stood at 0.7% in June, unchanged from the previous month. The annual growth rate of marketable instruments (M3-M2) increased to 10.1% in June from 5.7% in May.

The relative move has been even stronger here as the annual rate of growth on a year before has doubled from 4.6%. In more recent terms it has risen from around 5.5% if we ignore the odd print at the end of 2019. As to the breakdown much of the growth (8.5%) is M1 and it is noticeable that M2 seems very out  of fashion these days. I guess with interest-rates so low why have your money deposited for longer terms? But M3 growth has picked up noticeably.  We should not be surprised as that is one of the main targets of ECB policy both implicitly via corporate bond purchases and explicitly such as the purchase of commercial paper.

So we have more overnight deposits backed up by more cash and more money market fund shares. There was also a noticeable slowing in June to 95 billion Euros as the growth rate ( Taking us to 13.89 trillion)

There is another way of looking at this and as usual let me remind you not to take these numbers too literally. That went horribly wrong in my home country back in the day.

the annual growth rate of M3 in June 2020 can be broken down as follows: credit to the private sector contributed 5.1 percentage points (down from 5.3 percentage points in May), credit to general government contributed 5.0 percentage points (up from 3.6 percentage points), net external assets contributed 1.0 percentage point (as in the previous month), longer-term financial liabilities contributed 0.3 percentage point (up from 0.0 percentage point), and the remaining counterparts of M3 contributed -2.0 percentage points (down from -0.9 percentage point).

It was only a few days ago I pointed out that the main role of the ECB these days seems to have become to make sure the Euro area government’s can fund themselves cheaply.

Credit

I consider this to usually be a lagging indicator but there are some points of note and the credit to governments leaps off the page I think.

 The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 13.6% in June from 9.8% in May, while the annual growth rate of credit to the private sector stood at 4.8% in June, compared with 4.9% in May.

Credit to government was -2% as recently as February so the pedal has been pushed to the metal.

The ECB will be troubled by the latter part of the numbers below.

The annual growth rate of adjusted loans to the private sector (i.e. adjusted for loan sales, securitisation and notional cash pooling) decreased to 4.8% in June from 5.3% in May. Among the borrowing sectors, the annual growth rate of adjusted loans to households stood at 3.0% in June, unchanged from the previous month, while the annual growth rate of adjusted loans to non-financial corporations decreased to 7.1% in June from 7.3% in May.

Private-sector credit declined noticeably in the circumstances when adjusted but that seems to go missing in the detail. So let me help out.

New bank loans to euro area corporates slowed to €9bn in June, following a massive increase of €245bn over the previous three months. ( @fwred)

Putting it another way credit growth fell to 178 billion Euros in June of which 153 billion went to governments.

Comment

The response of the ECB to the Covid-19 pandemic has been to sing along with MARRS.

Brothers and sisters!
Pump up the volume
Pump that beat
Brothers and sisters!
Pump up the volume
We gonna get ya!

But just like their other moves of applying large interest-rate cuts and then negative bond yields it does not seem to be working. Back in the day I was taught this as “pushing on a string”. As a concept it is clear but in the intervening decades the monetary system has changed enormously. Personally I think the concepts of money and credit have merged in certain areas such as people paying for things with their phone. Another is the use of credit cards.

Putting it another way the economic impact is money supply multiplied by velocity with the catch being we do not know what velocity is. We can have a stab at what it was but right now we neither know what it is nor what it will be. So we know it has fallen over time undermining the central bank efforts making it push on a string but we can only say that looks like it is happening all over again, we cannot measure it with any precision.

Thus a likely consequence from this is inflation. We can see this in two ways. The official denials combined with increasingly desperate efforts to miss measure inflation. Or as the news overnight has highlighted and my subject of a few days ago, another high for the price of Gold.

Let me offer an olive branch to economics 101. How is the Euro rallying ( 1.17 versus the US Dollar). Well the US Money Supply is growing even faster.

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The ECB is creating Euros even faster than Wirecard can lose them

The focus shifts today to the Euro area as there has been action on a number of fronts. Firstly the world’s second most notable orange person has been speaking at the online Northern Lights Summit. The Orangina Christine Lagarde seems to have upset the folk at ForexLive already.

Lagarde reaffirms that government debt will eventually have to be repaid

No. Just no. Governments will never run surpluses just with a snap of a finger and what is happening to the world and their debt levels now is basically what we have seen with Japan over the past two decades.

Actually before the pandemic Germany was running surpluses but the majority were not. We also got some classic Christine Lagarde as she waffled.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The euro zone is “probably past” the worst of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said on Friday, while urging authorities to prepare for a possible second wave.

“We probably are past the lowest point and I say that with some trepidation because of course there could be a severe second wave,” Lagarde told an online event.

At least she is not declaring success as Greeks and Argentinians have learnt to be terrified of what happens next after painful experience.

Also there has been this.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – It is better for the European Central Bank to be safe than sorry when it decides whether to withdraw aggressive stimulus measures deployed to combat the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, ECB policymaker Olli Rehn said on Friday.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Rehn said. “Recall the premature rate hikes of 2011 during the euro crisis.”

This is a classic strategy where a policymaker suggests things may be reduced (yesterday) and today we have the good cop part of this simple Good Cop,Bad Cop pantomime.

Money Supply

Back on the 29th of May I pointed out that the blue touch paper had been lit on the  money supply boom of 2020. Well the rocket is lifting off.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 12.5% in May from 11.9% in April.

That compares with the recent nadir of an annual rate of 6.2% in January of 2019. Another comparison is that the rate of annual growth was around 8% before the latest phase of monetary action such as the extra Quantitative Easing of the PEPP. The weekly reporting does not exactly match a month but we saw an extra 116 billion Euros in May from it.

You will not be surprised to learn that the surge above pushed broad money growth higher as well.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3, increased to 8.9% in May 2020 from 8.2% in April (revised from 8.3%).

Indeed it is mostly a narrow money thing.

Looking at the components’ contributions to the annual growth rate of M3, the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 8.4 percentage points (up from 8.0 percentage points in April), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.2 percentage point (up from -0.1 percentage point) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed 0.3 percentage point (as in the previous month).

The pattern here is not quite the same as whilst the January 2019 reading at 3.8% was low the nadir is 3.5% in August of 2018. That provides some food for thought because if you apply the expected response to this the Euro area economy should have been slowing further about now. Of course the pandemic has created such a fog we cannot see one way or another about whether that held true.

There is another way of analysing this and here is a balance sheet style view.

credit to the private sector contributed 5.3 percentage points (up from 4.8 percentage points in April), credit to general government contributed 3.6 percentage points (up from 2.3 percentage points), net external assets contributed 1.0 percentage point (down from 1.4 percentage points), longer-term financial liabilities contributed 0.0 percentage point (as in the previous month), and the remaining counterparts of M3 contributed -0.9 percentage point (down from -0.3 percentage point).

I counsel caution about reading too much into this as back in the day such analysis when spectacularly wrong in the UK. Accounting identities are all very well but they miss the human component as well as some of the actual numbers. But we see growth from the government sector and the private-sector here. Also the external component has faded a bit in relative terms which provides a counterpoint to another piece of news.

Grandstanding?

From yesterday when all our troubles apparently not so far away.

Eurosystem repo facility for central banks (EUREP) introduced as precautionary backstop to address pandemic-related euro liquidity needs outside euro area….EUREP to allow broad set of central banks to borrow euro against euro-denominated debt issued by euro area central governments and supranational institutions….New facility to be available until June 2021.

These things are invariably badged as temporary but last time I checked the “temporary” income tax in the UK to pay for the Napoleonic War is still here. But as to what good it might do in a world where nobody seems to actually want Euros in this manner I am not sure. Perhaps it is a protection against another outbreak of the “Carry Trade” as this bit hints.

The provision of euro liquidity to non-euro area central banks aims at alleviating euro liquidity needs in the respective countries in a stressed market environment. The
potential beneficiaries are banks that need euro funding and are not able to obtain such funding in the market or get it only at prohibitive prices.

Although there is no real link at all to this.

Overall, these arrangements aim to facilitate a smooth transmission of monetary policy in the euro
area to the benefit of all euro area citizens

Let me help out bu suggesting replacing “all euro area citizens” with “The Precious! The Precious!”.

Here is what is presumably the official view from former ECB Vice-President Vitor Constancio. You may recall that Vitor’s job was to respond with technical questions at the ECB presser with a long involved answer that would send everyone to sleep. But at least he had a role unlike his replacement.

The ECB, reflecting awareness about the international role of the euro, just announced a new repo facility for other central banks to get euros against collateral.The FED dit it recently ..In general, the EU is finally aware of its geo-political interests.

The Fed saw demand of over US $400 billion at the peak whereas I suspect the Euro interest may be more like 0. Maybe someone will request a million or two as a test?

Comment

The relevance of the money supply changes is as follows. Narrow money supply impacts in the next 6 months and broad money in around two years. So assuming there is no Covid-19 second wave the push will impact as economies are picking up anyway. That is awkward as there is a clear inflation danger from this. There are signs of it already as we see the oil price pick up which even the neutered official inflation numbers will record. They of course miss the bit described by Abba.

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world

Although we do see evidence of a type of money destruction.

Germany’s Wirecard collapsed on Thursday owing creditors almost $4 billion. ( Reuters )

The regulators are now on the case but.

All the money’s gone, nowhere to go ( The Beatles )

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.

 

 

Good news for the UK economy on the wages and broad money front less so on consumer credit

Today I feel sorry for whoever has to explain this at the Bank of England morning meeting.

“Annual house price growth remained below 1% for the 11th
month in a row in October, at 0.4%. Average prices rose by
around £800 over the last 12 months, a significant slowing
compared with recent years – for example, in the same
period to October 2016, prices increased by £9,100.”

That was from the Nationwide Building Society which has brought news to spoil a central banker’s breakfast. After all they have done their best.

“Moreover, mortgage rates remain close to all-time lows –
more than 95% of borrowers have opted for fixed rate deals
in recent quarters, around half of which have opted to fix for five years.”

The irony here is that they have made their own Bank Rate changes pretty impotent. I recall in the early days of this decade noting that nearly all mortgages in Portugal were fixed-rate ones and thinking we were different. Well not any more!

But unlike Governor Carney I consider this to be a good news story because of this bit.

the unemployment rate remains close to 40 year lows and real earnings growth (i.e. after taking account of inflation) is close to levels prevailing before the financial crisis.

So houses are becoming more affordable in general terms and the Nationwide is beginning to pick this up as its earnings to house price ratio has fallen from 5.2 to 5. Although the falls are concentrated in London ( from 10 to 8.9) and the outer London area ( 7.2 to 6.7). Both Northern Ireland ( now 4) and the West Midlands ( now 4.7) have seen small rises.

UK Wages

We can look at the wages position in more detail because this morning has brought the results of the annual ASHE survey.

Median weekly earnings for full-time employees reached £585 in April 2019, an increase of 2.9% since April 2018….In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), median full-time employee earnings increased by 0.9% in the year to April 2019.

So we see something of a turning in the situation for the better although sadly the situation for real wages is not that good, as it relies on the Imputed Rent driven CPIH measure of inflation. So maybe we had 0.5% growth in real wages.

Even using the fantasy driven inflation measure we are still worse off than we once were.

Median weekly earnings in real terms are still 2.9% lower (£18 lower) than the peak in 2008 of £603 in 2019 prices.

These numbers conceal wide regional variations as highlighted here.

In April 2019, the City of London had the highest gross weekly earnings for full-time employees (£1,052) and Newark and Sherwood had the lowest (£431).

Also the way to get a pay rise was to change jobs.

In 2019, the difference in growth in earnings for full-time employees who changed jobs since April 2018 (8.0%) compared with those who stayed in the same job (1.6%) was high, suggesting stronger upward pressure on wages compared with other years.

Tucked away in the detail was some good news for part-time workers.

Median weekly earnings for part-time jobs increased at a greater rate. In 2019, earnings increased by 5.2% in nominal terms, which translates to a 3.1% increase in real terms. The median weekly earnings for part-time employee jobs of £197 is 6.5% higher than in 2008 in real terms.

It seems that the changes in the national minimum wage have had a positive impact here.

Meanwhile far from everyone has seen a rise.

The proportion of employees experiencing a pay freeze or a decrease in earnings (in real terms) in 2019 (35.7%) is lower than in 2018 (43.3%) and in 2011 (relative to 2010) when it was 60.5%.

Mortgages

From the Bank of England today.

Mortgage market indicators point to continued stability in the market. Net mortgage borrowing by households was little changed at £3.8 billion in September. The stability in the monthly flows has left the annual growth rate unchanged at 3.2%. Growth rates have now remained close to this figure for the past three years. Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) were also broadly unchanged in September, at 66,000, and remained within the narrow range seen over the past three years.

As you can see this was a case of what Talking Heads would call.

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Although there is a nuance in that the longer-term objective of the Bank of England is still in play. The true purpose of the Funding for Lending Scheme of the summer of 2012 was to get net mortgage credit consistently positive. That was achieved as there have been no monthly declines since ( unlike in 2010 and 2011) and over time the amount has risen. Nothing like the £9 billion pluses of 2007 but much higher than post credit crunch.

Consumer Credit

The credit impulse provided by the Funding for Lending Scheme was always likely to leak into here.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit was 6.0% in September. This growth rate has now been falling steadily for nearly three years. Revisions to the data this month, however, mean that the annual growth rate has been revised up slightly over the past two and a half years.

Let me give you an example of how the rate of consumer credit growth has been falling from last month’s update.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit continued to slow in August, falling to 5.4%.

The “revised up slightly” means it is now being reported as 6.1%. This is really poor as we can all make mistakes but this is a big deal and needs a full explanation as something has gone wrong enough on a scale to change the narrative.

Assuming this number is correct here is the detail for September itself.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell slightly to £0.8 billion in September, and for the second month in a row was below £1.1 billion, the average since July 2018.

Broad Money

There was some good news in this release for the UK economy.

Total money holdings in September rose by £10.9 billion, broadly flat on the month, and remaining above the average of the past 6 months.

The amount of money held by households rose by £5.5 billion in September, primarily driven by increased holdings of interest bearing sight deposits. NIOFC’s money holdings rose by £4.3 billion, while the amount held by PNFCs rose by £1.0 billion.

I am a little unclear how a rise of just under £11 billion is “broadly flat”! But anyway this continues the improvement in the annual growth rate to 3.9% as opposed to the 1.8% of both January and May. Individual months can be erratic but we seem to have turned higher as a trend.

Comment

There have been several bits of good news for the UK economy today. The first is the confirmation of the improvement in the trajectory for real wages and some rather good growth for those working part-time. This feeds into the next bit which is the way that houses and flats are slowly becoming more affordable albeit that much of the progress has been in London and its environs. Looking ahead we see that the improvement in broad money growth is hopeful for the early part of 2021.

The higher trajectory for consumer credit growth is mixed,however. Whilst it will have provided a boost it is back to the age old UK economic problem of borrowing on credit and then wondering about the trade gap. It is especially poor that the Bank of England has been unable to count the numbers correctly. Also it is time for my regular reminder that the credit easing policies were supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses. How is that going?

while the growth rate of borrowing by SMEs rose slightly to 1.0%.

Woeful and a clear misrepresentation of what they were really up to.

NB

I later discovered that the Bank of England revised Consumer Credit higher by some £6.1 billion in August meaning that as of the end of September it was £225.1 billion.

 

 

 

The plunge in UK car finance will make the Bank of England nervous

This week has brought another example of part of the famous Abraham Lincoln phrase when he pointed out that you can fool some of the people all of the time. This is the financial media and in this instance Reuters who on Monday told us this.

A six-month delay to Brexit gives Britain’s central bankers space to take a broader view of the economy this week, but persistent uncertainty over leaving the European Union makes them unlikely to raise interest rates any time soon.

There are various issues with this including the fact that in a month’s time it will be five years since Governor Carney gave us this Forward Guidance.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming
more balanced. It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

In the coded language of central bankers that was seen as not only a green light but a double green. Yet he did nothing for two years before then cutting interest-rates in August 2016 and of course promising another cut in November of that year. Net he has managed a 0.25% rise to 0.75% in the six years of his tenure yet the financial media still write articles as if he is itching to raise interest-rates as he did not back in the days when Brexit seemed unlikely, to him anyway.

Last night was especially unkind to the Reuters views as the man who has tightened his grip on US monetary policy gave us his view.

Our Federal Reserve has incessantly lifted interest rates, even though inflation is very low, and instituted a very big dose of quantitative tightening. We have the potential to go ….up like a rocket if we did some lowering of rates, like one point, and some quantitative easing.

So there you have it President Trump would like US interest-rates 1% lower ( as well as more QE to help finance his fiscal deficit) and the story of the last six months or so is that he has got what he wants. I doubt he will get it tonight at the Federal Reserve announcement but the sands feel like they are shifting.

As to the media predicting interest-rate increases I think they are singing along with Manfred Mann.

Well she was
Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night

House Prices

This is something else confirming my theme of today as we note this from the Nationwide.

UK house price growth remained subdued in April, with
prices just 0.9% higher than the same month last year….Prices rose 0.4% month-on-month, after
taking account of seasonal factors

So there is not much of a spring boost going on here. The Nationwide does a sterling job in spinning the line that houses are affordable to first-time buyers but even it has to admit this.

The exception is in London and parts of the south of
England where affordability pressures are more acute, and the monthly cost of servicing a mortgage, as well as raising a deposit, poses a greater challenge.

It is London that has pulled down the rate of house price growth and let me welcome the fact that whilst there are many different micro markets overall we now have real wage growth of around 2% per annum.

The Bank of England thinks differently and this is highlighted by the Nationwide chart which shows the average house price being around £160,000 in April 2013 as opposed to £214,920 now. That ladies and gentlemen has been the effect of its Funding for Lending Scheme which it argued reduced mortgage rates by around 2%. Of course we can never look at anything in outright isolation but it was a big player and the stopping of the rises will not be good news for any researcher there explaining this to Governor Carney.

Anyway it would appear that mortgage providers are ignoring the Forward Guidance rhetoric too. From MoneySavingExpert.com.

On top of that, there’s currently fierce mortgage competition, so the cheapest 5yr fixed-rate mortgage is 1.79%, which is seriously cheap, and 2yr fixes are as low as 1.39%.

As ever, the Nationwide numbers are flawed as they only cover its customer base but they do add to our total darabase.

Car Finance

This is an area which regularly concerns us and the quote below from the UK Financing & Leasing Association shows why.

In 2018, members provided £46 billion of new finance to help households and businesses purchase cars. Over 91% of all private new car registrations in the UK were financed by FLA members.

That amount continues to rise as I recall it being 86% not so long ago. So if you purchase your car outright you are now a rarity. Also this gives us a direct link between credit and what most regard as unsecured credit ( Governor Carney argues it is secured) and the real economy.

The Bank of England is usually reticent about its data on this subject ( I have asked….) but look at this from earlier.

The fall in net lending on the month was due to weaker net borrowing for other loans and advances, which fell from £0.8 billion in February to £0.2 billion. Within this, new borrowing for car finance fell sharply, alongside weaker car registration numbers in March 2019 than in previous years.

If we stay with unsecured finance the impact was as follows.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers to buy goods and services fell to £0.5 billion in March (Chart 1). This was the lowest monthly flow since November 2013 and well below the average of £0.9 billion since July 2018……The annual growth rate of consumer credit has continued to slow, reflecting the relatively weak flows of consumer credit over the past twelve-months. It fell to 6.4% in March, well below its peak of 10.9% in November 2016.

As you can see some context is needed as that overall rate of growth is still around double the rate of growth of wages and around quadruple economic growth. But as we have expected car finance has changed from being the engine for this to a brake on it.

Is anybody still expecting a Bank of England interest-rate increase?

Business Lending

This is rather eloquent as I remind you that the Funding for Lending Scheme was supposed to boost this.

Annual growth in lending to SME’s remains weak at -0.1%.

Six years of economic growth as well has made little or no difference as opposed to mortgage lending.

 The annual growth rate of mortgage lending was 3.3%. It has been around 3% since the beginning of 2016,

Actually the Bank of England thinks that the latter is “modest” so I dread what it really thinks of lending to smaller businesses.

Comment

Those believing the Forward Guidance mantra have three main problems from today’s data if we look at things from the Bank of England’s point of view. Firstly there are few wealth effects from house price inflation fading to less than 1%. Next there is the sharp slow down in car finance and what that implies. Thirdly there is this from the Markit Manufacturing PMI.

The headline seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index® (PMI®) fell to 53.1 in April, down from March’s 13-month high of 55.1. Alongside weaker growth in production, new orders and stocks of purchases, the lower PMI level also reflected job losses in the sector.

Actually this number worked beautifully with the estimate that stockpiling had raised the index by 2.0. But care is needed as the Bank of England does not think like that and is presumably now afraid of further falls. None of that suggests an interest-rate rise and nor does the rate of economic growth and of course inflation is below target.

Moving onto the money supply data it is hard to read on a couple of counts. Sadly the Bank of England in another mistake stopped publishing narrow money data some years back. All we have is broad money and that looks like it is improving a little. I say looks like because the Gilt Market has two big flows in March. The Operation Twist style QE I have been reporting on added £9 billion but a large Gilt matured ( £36 billion) and will have sucked much more out. Thus I think we should focus on M4 lending at 3.7% that the total M4 growth at 2.2% but we will only really know when we get the April and May data and the maturity gets replaced.

 

Welcome news from UK Money Supply growth

Today brings UK credit growth especially unsecured credit growth and the Bank of England into focus so let me open with the market view on interest-rate prospects.

Interest rate swap markets have cut expectations of a quarter-point rate hike from the Bank of England by the end of 2019 to 52 percent on Wednesday, compared to a previous 64 percent expectation.

The latest leg down in market expectations of a rate hike comes after overnight political developments that has sown fresh uncertainty for the British economy in the near term. ( Reuters)

Personally I find that rather odd as I think a cut is about as likely as a rise. Indeed with slowing world economic growth in ordinary circumstances people would be looking for a cut. I can understand those who think that in a disorderly Brexit the Bank of England might be forced to raise interest-rates to defend the value of the UK Pound £. But the catch is that when the Pound fell after the EU Leave vote Governor Carney and his colleagues decided to cut rather than raise Bank Rate. So it would require a collapse in the Pound for the Bank of England to raise rates.

Gold

There is a curious situation about the gold that is stored by the Bank of England but belongs to Venezuela. Reuters explains.

It is a decision for the Bank of England whether to give Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro access to gold reserves it holds, British junior foreign office minister Alan Duncan said on Monday.

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaido has asked British authorities to stop Maduro gaining access to gold reserves held in the Bank of England, according to letters released by his party on Sunday.

As that is an official denial from Alan Duncan we immediately suspect the government has applied pressure on the Bank of England. But it is left in an awkward position and so far it has refused to return the gold to Venezuela which begs more than a few questions as it holds quite a lot of gold for foreign countries.

If we look into the situation the Bank of England holds some 165,377,000 troy ounces.

 A troy ounce is a traditional unit of weight used for precious metals. It is different in weight to an ounce, with one troy ounce being equal to 1.0971428 ounces avoirdupois.

It has been falling recently but rose quite a bit in the latter part of 2016 and 2017. In terms of gold bars it is a bit over 413,000. Contrary to what some claim the UK still has some gold ( worth £9.41 billion in the 2017/18 accounts) as pert of its foreign exchange reserves.

Returning to the issue of Venezuela I see George Galloway has got rather excited on RT.

The bank’s decision to seize – a polite word for steal – more than a billion dollars’ worth of Venezuelan gold was reportedto have been ordered by the governor after a call from US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – not even the president himself.

Apart from that being hearsay they have not seized it as they already had it but they are currently refusing to return it. I have some sympathy at the moment as who should they return it too in a country which is in turmoil? A lot of other markets concerning Venezuela have seen changes as for example the market in bonds of the state oil company PDVSA has dried up.

So to my mind the current position of the Bank of England has a weakness ( fears you might not be able to get your gold back) but also a strength ( it will question who is reclaiming it). Also as to how much of the gold at the Bank of England is actually gold here is John Stewart with a different perspective.

People out there turnin’ music into gold
People out there turnin’ music into gold
People out there turnin’ music into gold

Money Supply and Credit

These are hot topics on two counts. Firstly slowing money supply growth proved to be a reliable indicator of weak economic growth in 2018 and secondly soaring unsecured credit growth showed vulnerabilities in the UK economic structure.

So we first observe a welcome move.

The total amount of money held by the UK private sector (broad money or M4ex) increased by £11.5 billion in December. Within this, money held by households increased £5.5 billion, significantly above the £3.2 billion average over the past six months. This increase was driven by deposits in interest-bearing instant access savings accounts. Money held by UK private non-financial corporations (PNFCs) increased £1.5 billion, in line with the recent average.

This means that the annual rate of growth has risen from 2.2% to 2.5%. This is still weak but a more hopeful sign emerges if we look at the latest three months because they show an annualised rate of growth of 4.3%.

If we switch to a lending side style analysis we see this.

Households borrowed £4.1 billion secured against property in December, slightly above the average of the previous six-months……The amount businesses’ borrowed from UK banks………. Borrowing from banks remained robust in December at £2.3 billion.

If we add in unsecured credit and the other components we see that lending growth rose to 3.7% from the recent nadir of 3.1% in September.

Unsecured Credit

Here are the numbers.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers to buy goods and services fell to £0.7 billion in December . Within this, credit card borrowing was particularly weak at only £0.1 billion, compared to an average of £0.3 billion since July. The overall consumer credit monthly flow was slightly below the £0.9 billion monthly average since July, and significantly below the average between January 2016 and June 2018 of £1.5 billion.

We need to take care with phrases like “particularly weak” as credit card borrowing has been on something of a tear in the UK meaning that at £72.2 billion it is 7.1% higher than a year ago. Perhaps Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden wrote that but as he of course described 8.3% growth as “weak” not so long ago.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit has been slowing gradually since its peak of 10.9% in November 2016, falling further to 6.6% in December.

So we have a nuanced view here which is threefold. Firstly it is welcome to see a decline in the rate of growth. A catch though is that this rate of growth is on inflated levels and is still far higher than other numbers in the UK economy at around quadruple the rate of economic growth and double wage growth. Lastly the peak of November 2016 suggests it was puffed up by the “Sledgehammer QE” and Bank Rate cut of August 2016 a subject the Bank of England would rather not discuss.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but let us start with a welcome improvement in the UK money supply trajectory.  I realise this is against the rhetoric we hear from elsewhere but the numbers are what they are. At a time when the world outlook is weak we need to grab every silver lining. The situation is more complex with unsecured credit because whilst the annual rate of growth is slowing some of that is due to it being on a larger amount ( £215.6 billion). Also some of it is due to a slowing of car loans as we see that sector slow due to technical reasons such as the diesel debacle. According to the UK Finance & Leasing Association car finance had 0% growth in November as falls in new car finance were offset by higher used car finance. This is at a time where we continue to pivot towards a rental/lease model as opposed to an outright purchase one.

The percentage of private new car sales financed by FLA members through the POS was 91.2% in the twelve months to November.

Let me end with some good news and a compliment for Governor Mark Carney. It comes from a disappointingly downbeat comment from Katie Martin of the Financial Times.

There’s more trade in the renminbi in London than there is in the euro vs sterling, which is weird/interesting.

Actually that is good news and confirms a conversation I had a while back with one of the managers of the Chinese state body in the City. It is an area of strength for the UK economy and I believe the Bank of England has supported this. Not all areas of banking are bad just some.

UK annual unsecured credit growth “slows” to 8.1%

Today brings us to the latest UK data on both the money supply and the manufacturing sector. Both of these are seeing developments. If we start with something which has boosted the UK money supply by some £445 billion there is of course the QE bond purchases of the Bank of England. Having given my thoughts on Friday here is David Smith of the Sunday Times who seems to have bought the Bank of England rhetoric hook,line and sinker. Firstly let me correct an early misconception.

At first, as in America, the process of running off QE assets is being achieved by not reinvesting the proceeds of maturing bonds.

That implies that the UK is no longer reinvesting its maturing Gilt holdings and if it were true would be a policy I support having originally suggested it some five years ago. This would, however be news to the Monetary Policy Committee.

The Committee also voted unanimously to maintain the stock of UK government bond purchases,

Moving back to how things might play out the musical theme is “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin.

We are still, of course, some way away from the unwinding of the Bank’s £435bn of QE. It will not happen until interest rates reach 1.5%, and they are currently only half that level. It remains possible that, in the event of a rocky, no-deal Brexit, the Bank will think it is obliged to launch a further tranche of QE. But it will eventually be reversed. And there is no reason why we should be unduly worried about that.

So suddenly we are no longer reversing it, and we will not do so until Bank Rate reaches 1.5%. In case you are wondering if there is something especially significant about 1.5% there is not apart from the fact that the associated higher Gilt yields will mean a lower value for the holdings. Oh and we might get more! But don’t worry “it will eventually be reversed”  although using the strategy suggested, which of course has not started, it would not be until 2065.

As to what good it has done? We seem to just have to accept the line it has saved us.

any marginal increase in wealth inequality looks like a small price to pay for avoiding more serious economic damage and deflation.

Money Supply

This month’s data was a little bit of a curate’s egg but let us start with something that has become very familiar. From the Bank of England.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit slowed further in August, to 8.1%, reflecting weaker monthly lending flows. The annual growth rate was the lowest since August 2015, and well below the peak of 10.9% in November 2016. Within this, and consistent with lower monthly net flows over the past few months, other loans and advances growth fell to 7.7%, the lowest since December 2014. Credit card growth has been broadly stable for the past 18 months at close to 9%.

The official view can be seen quite clearly here, and if we take the £838 million of July and the £1118 million of August that is lower than the circa £1500 million previously. The catch is the annual growth rate of 8.1% as can anybody thing of anything else in the UK economy growing at that sort of rate? After all it compares with real wage growth which is somewhere around zero and an annual rate of economic growth of between 1% and 2%. Although I am reminded that Sir Dave Ramsden of the Bank of England called an annual growth rate of 8.3% “weak” earlier this year.

Also if you look at the date of the peak you see that the “Sledgehammer QE” and Bank Rate cut of August 2016 did seem to achieve something, which was a peak in unsecured borrowing. Oddly we do not see the Bank of England trying to bathe itself in this particular piece of glory…..

Mortgage Lending

This has been fairly stable for a while now. The Funding for Lending Scheme got net monthly lending positive in 2013 and since then both the banks and our central bank have been happy. At the moment we mostly see net lending of around £3 billion per month.

Lending to business

There are two clear trends here.Let me open by pointing out the impact of the Funding for Lending Scheme on the metric it was loudly proclaimed to influence.

Annual growth in lending to small and medium-sized businesses remained close to zero for the eighth consecutive month.

This has been the pattern since it began which is why the central banking version of the  nuclear deterrent or the word “counterfactual” has been deployed. It tells us that however bad things are they would have been worse otherwise, so things are in fact a success. If we look at the breakdown we see that of the £166 billion or so, some £50 billion is for real-estate as opposed to the £10 billion for manufacturing, which tells us something about the way the UK economic wind blows.

Another is that businesses are shifting away from banks which is a trend which would make my late father very happy if he was still with us.

Businesses can raise money by borrowing from banks or from financial markets (in the form of bonds, equity and commercial paper). The total amount outstanding of businesses’ borrowing from these sources increased by £3.2 billion in August. Within this, net finance raised from banks remained positive, but weak, at £1.0 billion.

Over the past six months the average raised from banks has been £1 billion but £1.5 billion has been raised from other sources of credit.

Money Supply

These are the curate’s egg part this month. This is because the actual monthly data was better.

The total amount of money held by UK households, businesses and non-intermediary other financial corporations (NIOFCs) (Broad money or M4ex) rose by £6.9 billion in August. This was above the £0.7 billion in July and the £2.6 billion average of the previous six months.

However the annual rate of M4ex fell to 2.8% which is poor and a further slowing. But if we look for perspective the problem months were July as you can see above and even more so June where it shrank by £2.6 billion. So we know the overall trend has been weak but we are a bit unsure about what is about to take place.

Manufacturing

There was some rather welcome news from this sector today as Markit published its PMI business survey.

Domestic market demand strengthened, while increased orders from North America and Europe helped new export
business stage a modest recovery from August’s
contraction. Business confidence also rose to a three-month
high.

The reading of 53.8 following an upwardly revised 53 for August shows some welcome growth and is rather different to the media perspective and coverage. Let us hope it bodes well.

Comment

The UK money supply data have been weak for a while now and on Friday we noted again that so has the economy.

Compared with the same quarter a year ago, the UK economy has grown by 1.2% – revised down slightly from the previously published 1.3%.

That makes the Bank Rate rise in August look even odder to me. Of course there is an exception which is unsecured credit which is charging along albeit not quite a fast as before. The total has now reached £214.2 billion.

We are left hoping that the better manufacturing surveys will add to the GDP data for July and give us if not the economic equivalent of the long hot summer at least some solid growth. After all clouds are gathering around at least some of Europe (Italy) if not its golfers.

Meanwhile our official statistician rather than working on known problems seem determined to produce numbers which are meaningless in my opinion.

In 2017, the UK’s real full human capital stock was £20.4 trillion, equivalent to just over 10 times the size of UK gross domestic product (GDP).

Perhaps there is a clue telling us where the author lives.

the average real human capital stock of those living in West Midlands fell the most, by 5% in 2017 to £568,168, the biggest drop in six years, reflecting negative real earnings growth. By contrast, the average real human capital stock of those living in East Midlands with a degree or higher qualification rose by 9% in 2017 to £564,790.