Is the Bundesbank still sure that Germany is not facing a recession?

The year so far has seen a development which has changed the economic debate especially in Europe.This is the malaise affecting the German economy which for so long has been lauded. This continued in 2017 which saw quarterly GDP growth of 1.2%, 0.6%, 0.9% and 0.7% giving the impression that it had returned to what had in the past been regarded as normal service. However before the trade war was a glint in President Trump’s eye and indeed before the ECB QE programme stopped things changed. As I have pointed out previously we did not know this at the time because it is only after more recent revisions that we knew 2018 opened with 0.1% and then 0.4% rather changing the theme and meaning that the subsequent -0.1% would have been less of a shock. We can put the whole situation in perspective by noting that German GDP was 106.04 at the end of 2017 and was 107.03 at the end of the third quarter this year. As Talking Heads would put it.

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

Industrial Production

This has been a troubled area for some time as regular readers will be aware. Throughout it we have seen many in social media claim that in the detail they can see reasons for an improvement, whereas in fact things have headed further south. This morning has produced another really bad number. .

WIESBADEN – In October 2019, production in industry was down by 1.7% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). In September 2019, the corrected figure shows a decrease of 0.6% from August 2019, thus confirming the provisional result published in the previous month.

If we look at the breakdown we see that the future is not bright according to those producing capital goods.

Within industry, the production of intermediate goods increased by 1.0% and the production of consumer goods by 0.3%. The production of capital goods showed a decrease by 4.4%. Outside industry, energy production was up by 2.3% in October 2019 and the production in construction decreased by 2.8%.

There is a flicker of hope from intermediate goods but consumer goods fell. There is an additional dampener from the construction data as well.

Moving to the index we see that the index set at 100 in 2015 is at 99.4 so we are seeing a decline especially compared to the peak of 107.8 in May last year. If we exclude construction from the data set the position is even worse as the index is at 97.6.

The annual comparison just compounds the gloom.

-5.3% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Looking Ahead

Yesterday also saw bad news on the orders front.

WIESBADEN – Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in October 2019 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 0.4% on the previous month.

This was a contrast to a hint of an uptick in the previous month.

For September 2019, revision of the preliminary outcome resulted in an increase of 1.5% compared with August 2019 (provisional: +1.3%).

If we peer into the October detail we see that this time around the problem was domestic rather than external.

Domestic orders decreased by 3.2% and foreign orders rose 1.5% in October 2019 on the previous month. New orders from the euro area were up 11.1%, new orders from other countries decreased 4.1% compared to September 2019.

The oddity here is the surge in orders from the rest of the Euro area when we are expecting economic growth there to be very flat. If we switch to Monday’s Markit PMI then there was no sign of anything like it.

At the aggregate eurozone level, ongoing declines in
output and new orders were again recorded.

Indeed ICIS reported this in October based on the Markit survey.

Sharp declines in order book volumes weighed on operating conditions during the month, concentrated on intermediate goods producers, while consumer goods makers saw significantly milder levels of deterioration.

If we look back we see that this series has turned out to be a very good leading indicator as the peak was in November 2017 at 108.9 where 2015 = 100. Also we see that in fact it is domestic orders which have slumped the most arguing a bit against the claim that all of this is trade war driven.

The annual picture is below.

-5.5% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Monetary Policy

This has remained extraordinarily easy but does not appear to have made any difference at all. The turn in production took place when ECB QE was still going full steam ahead for example. Indeed even those who voted for such measures seem to have lost the faith as this from yesterday’s twitter output from former Vice-president Vitor Constancio suggests.

In 2014 when the main policy rate reached zero, keeping a corridor implied a negative deposit rate. There was then a risk of deflation and it was supposed to be a temporary tool.Since last year I have been tweeting against going to deeper negative rates.

A welcome realisation but it is too late for him to change policy now.

The problem for monetary policy is that with the German ten-year yield being -0.3% and the official deposit rate being -0.5% what more can be done? It all has the feeling of the famous phrase from Newt in the film Aliens.

It wont make any difference

Fiscal Policy

The policy was explained by Reuters in late October.

Eurostat said Germany’s revenues last year exceeded expenses by more than previously estimated, allowing Berlin to post a budget surplus of 1.9% of its output, above the 1.7% that Eurostat had calculated in April.

That has been the state of play for several years now and the spending increases for next year may not change that much.

The total German state budget for next year is to be €362 billion ($399 billion), €5.6 billion more than is being spent this year. ( DW )

Although further down in the article it seems that the change may be somewhat limited.

As in previous years, and following the example of his conservative predecessor, the Social Democrat Finance Minister Scholz has pledged not to take on any more debt – maintaining Germany’s commitment to the so-called “black zero”: a balanced budget.

Some more spending may have an implicit effect on the industrial production numbers. Indeed defence spending can have a direct impact should orders by forthcoming for new frigates or tanks.

Yesterday FAZ reported that this fiscal year was more or less the same as the last.

German state is facing a significant surplus this year. All in all, revenues will exceed spending by around 50 billion euros. This is apparent from an internal template for the Stability Council meeting on 13 December. It contains the information on the state’s net lending of between € 49.5 and 56.5 billion.

Comment

There is a case here of living by the sword and perhaps then dying by it as it is what has been considered a great success for Germany which has hit the buffers last year then this. The manufacturing sector is around 23% of the economy and so the production figures have a large impact. October is only the first month of three but such weak numbers for an important area pose a question for GDP in the quarter as a whole? Rather awkwardly pay rates seem to have risen into the decline.

The third quarter saw an exceptionally strong
increase in negotiated pay rates. Including additional benefits, these rates rose year-on-year
by 4.2% in the third quarter of 2019, compared
with 2.1% in 2018. This temporary, considerably higher growth rate was mainly due to new
special payments in the metal-working and
electrical engineering industries, which had
been agreed last year and were first due in July
2019.

Before we knew the more recent data the Bundesbank was telling us this.

The slowdown of the German economy will
probably continue in the fourth quarter of
2019. However, it is not likely to intensify markedly. As things currently stand, overall economic output could more or less stagnate.
Thus, the economy would largely tread water
again in the second half of this year as a whole.

Then they left what is now looking like a hostage to fortune.

However, from today’s vantage point, there is
no reason to fear that Germany will slide into recession.

 

 

What to do with a problem like Germany? Cut interest-rates further….

Over the past year there has been something of a sea change for the economy of Germany. After a period of what in these times was strong economic growth the engine of the Euro area has stuttered and coughed. If we look at it in annual terms economic growth went from the 2.2% of 2016 and 2017 to 1.4% last year and the latter was the story of two halves as the second half saw the economic contract in the third quarter and flat line in the fourth. This fits with our subject of yesterday Deutsche Bank which has seen its share price fall by 36% over the past year as both it and its home economy have struggled. Oh and that new bad bank plan rallied the share price for a day and a bit as it is back to 6.03 Euros. So it looks like another new plan is singing along with Queen.

Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust.

What Next?

The opening quarter of this year offered some relief as Germany saw the economy grow by 0.4%. However yesterday in its June report the Bundesbank pointed out that it was not convinced that this represented a genuine turn for the better. 

Special effects that contributed to a noticeable rise in gross domestic product in the first quarter are either expiring or being reversed.

Google Translate is a little clunky here but we see that it feels that the construction industry will not have boosted the economy.

So is the construction industry on a quarterly average with certain Rebound effects. Due to weather conditions, construction activity had widened considerably in the winter months.

Also it feels that the ongoing problems with sales of diesel engined cars which we see pretty much everywhere we look will impact again after flattering things as 2019 opened.

Furthermore, due to delivery difficulties as a result of the introduction of the new emissions test procedure WLTP (Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure) last fall. Deferred car purchases have been made up for the most part.

It notes that the industrial production sector had a rough April.

Industrial production decreased in the April 2019 strongly. In seasonally adjusted account it fell below the previous month’s level by 2½%. As a result, industrial production also fell sharply compared to the mean of the winter months (- 2%).

Do the business surveys back this up?

If we start with construction then here is the latest from Markit.

After a solid performance in early-spring, the German
construction sector continued to lose momentum during May, recording its weakest rise in total activity for four months……It’s been a largely positive start to the year for the sector, but a first fall in new orders in nine months points to some downside risks to the short-term outlook.

So broadly yes and maybe further slowing is ahead. 

However as we look wider Markit is more optimistic than the Bundesbank.

The Composite Output Index continued to point to a modest
pace of growth across Germany’s private sector. At 52.6, the latest reading was up from 52.2 in April and the highest in three months, but still below the long-run series average of 53.4 (since 1998).

That is interesting as central banks love to peruse PMI numbers. Mind you perhaps they had advance warning of this released this morning from the ZEW Institute.

The German ZEW headline numbers for June showed that the economic sentiment index arrived at -21.1 versus -5.9 expectations and -2.1 last. While the sub-index current conditions figure jumped to 7.8 versus 6.0 expected and 8.2 booked previously, bettering market expectations. ( FXSTREET )

There is a little irony in the present being better than expected but it is rather swamped by the collapse in expectations. The ZEW is an arcane index that is hard to get a handle on so we should not overstate its significance but the change is eye-catching.

A policy response

I was going to point out that this was going to be an influence on the policy of the European Central Bank or ECB. This comes in two forms as firstly Germany is such a bell weather for the Euro area and according to recently updated ECB capital key is 26.4% of it. Also of course there is the thought that overall ECB policy is basically set for Germany. Thus I was expecting some news or what have become called “sauces” from the ECB summer camp at Sintra which opened last night. This morning we have already learned that President Draghi packed more than his shorts, sun cream and sunglasses.

In this environment, what matters is that monetary policy remains committed to its objective and does not resign itself to too-low inflation.

Here he is setting out his stall and the emphasis is his. There is a clear hint in the way that he is pointing at “too-low inflation” as in the coded language of central bankers it leads to this.

Looking forward, the risk outlook remains tilted to the downside, and indicators for the coming quarters point to lingering softness.

So now not only do we have too-low inflation we have a weak economy too. So if we were a pot on the stove we are now gently simmering. Then Mario turns up the gas.

In the absence of improvement, such that the sustained return of inflation to our aim is threatened, additional stimulus will be required.

First though we have to wait as he continues with the dead duck that is Forward Guidance.

We remain able to enhance our forward guidance by adjusting its bias and its conditionality to account for variations in the adjustment path of inflation.

After all if it worked we would not be here would we? But then we get to boiling point.

This applies to all instruments of our monetary policy stance.

Further cuts in policy interest rates and mitigating measures to contain any side effects remain part of our tools.

And the APP still has considerable headroom.

For newer readers the APP is the Asset Purchase Programme or how it has operated what has become called Quantitative Easing or QE. This is significant because if there is a country which lacks headroom it is our subject of today Germany. This is because it has been running a fiscal surplus and reducing its national debt which combined with the existing ECB purchases means there are not so many to buy these days. Not Italy though as there are plenty of its bonds around.

Finally we get a reinforcement of the theoretical framework with this.

What matters for our policy calibration is our medium-term policy aim: an inflation rate below, but close to, 2%. That aim is symmetric, which means that, if we are to deliver that value of inflation in the medium term, inflation has to be above that level at some time in the future.

Comment

We may have seen the central banking equivalent of what is called a “one-two” in boxing. Yesterday the German Bundesbank talks of an economic contraction and today Mario Draghi is hinting that more easing  is on its way.  What this may mean is that whilst the Bundesbank is unlikely to be leading the charge for easier policy it will not stand in its way. Also if Mario Draghi is going to do this there is not a lot of time left as he departs in October, does he plan to go with a bang?

This has already impacted German financial markets as they look at the newswires and price German bonds even higher. After all if you expect a large buyer why not make them pay for it? So it is now being paid even more to borrow as the benchmark ten-year yield reaches another threshold at -0.3%. Or if you prefer the futures contract has hit all time highs in the 172s.

Of course if the easing worked we would not be here so there is an element of going through the motions about this. Also let’s face it only central bankers and their cheerleaders think low inflation is a bad idea. Sadly the media so rarely challenge them on how they will make people better off via them being poorer.

 

Germany and Deutsche Bank both face economic problems

One of the supposed constants of the credit crunch era has been the economic performance of Germany. Earlier this week saw a type of confirmation of past trends as the European Central Bank or ECB updated its capital key, which is calculated on the basis show below.

The shares of the NCBs in the ECB’s capital are weighted according to the share of the respective Member States in the total population and gross domestic product of the European Union (EU), in equal measure.

Few will be surprised to read that in Euro area terms ( other European Union members are ECB shareholders with the Bank of England at 14.33%) the share of Germany has risen for 25.6% to 26.4%. That poses an issue for any future ECB QE especially as the Italian share has declined. But a little food for thought is provided by the fact that the Bank of England share went up proportionately more.

The economic outlook

As the latest monthly economic report from the Bundesbank points out the situation is not starting from its usual strength.

Economic output in Germany dipped slightly in
the third quarter of 2018. According to the
Federal Statistical Office’s flash estimate, real
gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by
0.2% in seasonal and calendar-adjusted terms
as compared to the previous quarter.

That has tended to be swept under the carpet by the media partly because of this sort of analysis.

This decline was mainly caused by a strong temporary
one-off effect in the automotive sector.

Central banks always tell you a decline is temporary until they are forced not too and in this instance we see two bits at this particular cherry as “temporary” finds “one-off” added to it. But the detail begs a question.

Major problems in connection with the introduction
of a new EU-wide standard for measuring exhaust emissions led to significant production
stoppages and a steep drop in motor vehicle
exports.

Fair enough in itself but we know from our past analysis that production boomed ahead of this so we are counting the down but omitting the up. Whereas next we got something I had been suggesting was on the cards.

At the same time, private consumption was temporarily absent as an important force driving the economy.

This reminds me of my analysis from October 12th.

 Regular readers will be aware of the way that money supply growth has been fading in the Euro area over the past year or so, and thus will not be surprised to see official forecasts of a boom if not fading to dust being more sanguine.

The official view blames the automotive sector but if we take the estimate of that below we are left with economic growth of a mere 0.1%.

 IHS Markit estimates that the autos drag on Germany was around -0.3 ppts on GDP in Q3

Apparently that is a boom according to the Bundesbank as its view is that the economy marches on.

Despite these temporary one-off effects, the economic
boom in Germany continues.

Indeed we might permit ourselves a wry smile as the usual consensus that good weather boosts an economy gets dropped like a hot potato.

as well as the exceptionally hot, dry
weather during the summer months.

No ice-creams or suntan oil apparently.

What about now?

The official view is of a powerful rebound this quarter but the Markit PMI survey seems to be struggling to find that.

 If anything, the underlying growth trajectory for the industry remains downward: German manufacturers reported a near stagnation of output in November, the sharpest reduction in total new orders for four years and a fall in exports not seen since mid-2013. Moreover, Czech goods producers, who are sensitive to developments in the autos sector, again commented on major disruption,

If we look wider we see this.

The Composite Output Index slipped to a near four-year low of 52.3 in November, down from 53.4 in October.

Moving to this morning’s official data we were told this.

In October 2018, production in industry was down by 0.5% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis).

It was 1.6% higher than a year ago on the other side of the coin but Bundesbank hopes of a surge in consumption do not seem to be shared by producers.

The production of consumer goods showed a decrease of 3.2%.

Yesterday’s manufacturing orders posed their own questions.

+0.3% on the previous month (price, seasonally and calendar adjusted)
-2.7% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Deutsche Bank

The vultures are circling again and here is how the Wall Street Journal summed it up yesterday.

Deutsche Bank shares were down about 4% in afternoon trading Thursday in Frankfurt, roughly in line with European banks amid broader market declines. Deutsche Bank shares have fallen 51% this year to all-time lows below €8 ($9.08).

As I type this it has failed to benefit much from today’s equity market bounce and is at 7.73 Euros. Perhaps because investors are worried that if it has not done well out of “the economic boom” then prospects during any slow down look decidedly dodgy. Also perhaps buyers are too busy laughing at the unintentional comedy here.

Deutsche Bank on Thursday and last week defended senior executives. Improving compliance and money-laundering controls “has been a real emphasis of current management,” and the bank has made “enormous investments” in fighting financial crime, said Mr. von Moltke, who joined the bank in 2017, in the CNBC interview.

Could it do any worse? The numbers are something of a riposte also to those like Kenneth Rogoff who blame cash and Bitcoin for financial crime.

Deutsche Bank processed an additional €31bn of questionable funds for Danske Bank than previously thought – that takes the total amount of money processed by the German lender for Danske’s tiny Estonian branch to €163bn ( Financial Times).

That compares to the present market value of 16 billion Euros for its shares. That poses more than a few questions for such a large bank and whilst banking sectors in general have been under pressure Deutsche Bank has been especially so. Personally I do not seem how merging it with Commerzbank would improve matters apart from putting a smoke screen over the figures for a year or two. One thing without doubt is that it would make the too big to fail issue even worse.

Comment

If we look at the broad sweep Germany has responded to the Euro area monetary slow down as we would have expected. What is less clear is what happens next? This quarter has not so far show the bounce back you might expect except in one area. The positive area is the labour market where employment is 1.2% higher than a year ago and wages have risen with some estimates around 3%. So the second half of 2018 seems set to be a relatively weak one.

One area which must be an issue is the role of the banks because as they, and Deutsche Bank especially, get weaker how can they support the economy via lending to businesses? At least with the fiscal position strong ( running a surplus) Germany has ammunition for further bailouts.

Moving back to the ECB I did say I would return to the capital key change. It means that under any future QE programme it would buy relatively more German bunds except with its bond yields so low with many negative it does not need it. Also should the slow down persist there is the issue of it being despite monetary policy being so easy.

 

 

Germany also faces ever more unaffordable housing

The economy of Germany has been seeing good times as Chic would put it and this morning has seen an indicator of this. From Destatis.

 The debt owed by the overall public budget (Federation, Länder, municipalities/associations of municipalities and social security funds, including all extra budgets) to the non-public sector amounted to 1,965.5 billion euros at the end of the fourth quarter of 2017. ……..Based on provisional results, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that this was a decrease in debt of 2.1%, or 41.3 billion euros, compared with the end of the fourth quarter of 2016.

We talk of Germany being a surplus economy and here is another sign of it as it applies to itself the medicine it has prescribed for others.

 Net lending of general government amounted to 36.6 billion euros in 2017…….. When measured as a percentage of gross domestic product at current prices (3,263.4 billion euros), the surplus ratio of general government was +1.1%.

Of course all of this is much easier in a growing economy.

 For the whole year of 2017, this was an increase of 2.2% (calendar-adjusted: +2.5%),

Thus the national debt to GDP ratio will have declined and I am sure more than a few of you will have noted that the total debt is a fair bit smaller than Italy’s for a larger economy. This parsimony has of course been helped by European Central Bank purchases of German Bunds which means that even five-year bonds have a negative yield ( -0.07%). Of course there is a chicken and egg situation here but 469 billion Euros of bond purchases in a growing economy lead to yields which would lead past computer models to blow up like HAL-9000 in the Film 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Trade

Whilst we are looking at surpluses there is this ongoing saga which continued last year.

Arithmetically, the balance of exports and imports had an effect of +0.8 percentage points on GDP growth compared with the previous year.

Ironically Germany did actually boost its imports ( 4.8%) but its export performance ( 5.6%) was even better. This meant that the same old song was being played.

According to provisional results of the Deutsche Bundesbank, the current account of the balance of payments showed a surplus of 257.1 billion euros in 2017.

If we allow for the inaccuracies in the data and the latest “trade wars” debate mostly raised by President Trump has highlighted the issues here with some countries thinking they are both in surplus/deficit with each other the German surplus is a constant. This poses quite a few questions as of course on one line of thinking it was a cause of the credit crunch.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission have for years urged Germany to lift domestic demand and imports in order to reduce global economic imbalances and fuel global growth, including within the euro zone.

As time has passed it is hard not to wonder about how much Germany could have helped its Euro area partners via this route. Of course a catch is that it would have to want what they produce which gets forgotten. Also I find a wry humour in organisations like the IMF and EC telling Germans to “spend,spend,spend” to coin a phrase and consume more and yet also warn regularly about climate change.

Labour Market

There is another sign of success if we note this.

The adjusted unemployment rate was 3.6% again in January 2018……….Compared with January 2017, the number of persons in employment increased by 1.4% (+631,000 people). Roughly 1.6 million people were unemployed in January 2018, 160,000 fewer than a year earlier.

So we see that the quantity numbers for the labour market are very good as the unemployment rate chases that of Japan. However if we move to the quality arena things look a little different. From Bloomberg.

The scramble for qualified workers has become an existential issue for companies across Germany, which are offering enticements ranging from overseas sojourns and ski outings to subsidized housing and sausage platters.

Let us park the issue of whether the sausages are delicious and consider the cause of this.

After years of robust growth, unemployment has dropped to a record low of 5.4 percent, and the country has 1.2 million unfilled jobs—nearly equivalent to the population of Munich. Manufacturing, construction, and health care are particularly stretched, and 1 in 4 businesses may have to hold back production as a result of the labor crunch, the European Union reports.

So our HAL-9000 would predict wage growth and of course if it was in a central bank it would be flashing “output gap negative” and predicting stellar wage growth. Meanwhile back in the real world.

The corporate largesse hasn’t dramatically boosted salaries, at least so far. Compensation in Germany rose 13 percent in the last five years as unions moderated wage demands to help their companies maintain an edge in the face of growing global competition.

There is another similarity here with Japan in that the financial media have been telling us that wages are about to soar or sometimes that agreements have been signed. So they must spend their lives being disappointed as whilst the German figures are better than Japan’s they are not what has been promised.

If we look into the detail of the report we see that in spite of strong circumstances companies these days seem to prefer one-off payments rather than wage rises. Have we changed that much in response to the credit crunch as in being less certain about the future or not believing what we are told in this case about economic strength? There is some logic behind that in an era of Fake News stretching to diesel engines and indeed hybrid performance if we consider areas especially relevant to Germany, Maybe wages measures should switch to earnings per hour.

the country’s biggest union this year accepted a lower increase in salaries in exchange for the right to work fewer hours.

But America already does that and it has not changed the picture but maybe still worth a go.

House Prices

I note that in February the Bundesbank picked out house prices and told us this.

According to current estimates, price
exaggerations in urban areas overall in 2017
amounted to between 15% and 30%. In
the big cities, where considerable overvaluations
had already been measured earlier,
the price deviations are likely to have increased
further to 35%.

Price “exaggerations” is a new one but presumably is being driven by this.

According to figures based on bulwiengesa AG
data residential property prices in urban
areas in Germany continued to increase
sharply by around 9%, and hence at a
somewhat faster pace than in the three
preceding years, when the increase averaged
7½%.

Indeed there may well be issues similar to the British buy to let problem.

As in 2016, the rate of inflation for rental
apartment buildings in the towns and cities
as well as in Germany as a whole was markedly
higher than for owner- occupied housing.

Comment

So we have good times in many respects as after all many would see rising house prices as that too. Of course I do not and let me now throw in the impact of easy monetary policy at a time of economic growth.

The average mortgage rate, which had already hit
an all- time low in the preceding year, settled
at 1.7%, which was slightly above its
2016 level.

Interestingly the cost of housing is soaring relative to wages however you try to play it.

The continuing sharp price rises for housing
in urban centres were accompanied by a
significant increase of 7¼% in rents in new
contracts, which are chiefl y the outcome of
rent adjustments in the case of repeat occupancies.

This poses a question for what would happen if later in 2018 we see an economic slowing as suggested by weaker monetary data and some lower commodity prices? We will have to see about that but much further ahead is the issue of Germany’s demographics which combine a low birth rate, rising life expectancy ( economics is clearly the dismal science here) and an aging population. This leaves the intriguing thought that travelling towards it just like in Japan leads to negative interest-rates, low wage growth and a trade surplus…….Yet the public finances are very different.

Cash is King

Something else that Germany shares with the UK. From the Bundesbank March report via Google Translate.

The value of accumulated net issuance of euro banknotes by the Bundesbank rose between the end of 2009 and the end of 2017 from € 348 billion to € 635 billion. Since 2010
On average, the Bundesbank gave an average of € 35.8 billion in euro banknotes a year.
This corresponds to an average annual growth rate of 7.8%.

Yet we keep being told that cash is so yesterday whereas we may still be in the adventures of Stevie V

Money talks, mmm, mmm, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, oho
Money talks, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, oho

 

The murky world of central banks and private-sector QE

The last 24 hours has seen something of a development in the world of central bank monetary easing which has highlighted an issue I have often warned about. Along the way it has provoked a few jokes along the lines of Poundland should now be 50 pence land or in old money ten shillings. Actually the new issue is related to one that the Bank of England experienced back in 2009 when it was operating what was called the SLS or Special Liquidity Scheme. If you have forgotten what it was I am sure the words “Special” and “Liquidity” have pointed you towards the banking sector and you would be right. The banks got liquidity/cash and in return had to provide collateral which is where the link as because on that road the Bank of England suddenly had to value lots of private-sector assets. Indeed it faced a choice between not giving the banks what they wanted or changing ( loosening) its collateral rules which of course was an easy decision for it. But valuing the new pieces of paper it got proved awkward. From FT Alphaville back then.

Accepting raw loans would also ensure that securities taken in the Bank’s operations have a genuine private sector demand rather than comprising ‘phantom’ securities created only for use in central bank operations.

In other words the Bank of England was concerned it was being done up like a kipper which is rather different from the way it tried to portray things.

Under the terms of the SLS, banks and building societies (hereafter ‘banks’) could, for a fee, swap high-quality mortgage-backed and other securities that had temporarily become illiquid for UK Treasury bills, for a period of up to three years.

Some how “high-quality” securities which to the logically minded was always problematic if you thought about the mortgage situation back then had morphed into a much more worrying “phantom” security.  Indeed as the June 2010 Quarterly Bulletin indicated there was rather a lot of them.

But a large proportion of the securities taken have been created specifically for use as collateral with the Bank by the originator of the underlying assets, and have therefore not been traded in the market. Such ‘own-name’ securities accounted for around 76% of the Bank’s extended collateral (around the peak of usage in January 2009), and form the overwhelming majority of collateral taken in the SLS.

Although you would not believe it from its pronouncements now the Bank of England was very worried about the consequences of this and in my opinion this is why it ended the SLS early. Which was a shame as the scheme had strengths and it ended up with other schemes ( FLS, TFS) as we mull the words “one-off” and “temporarily”. But the fundamental theme here is a central bank having trouble with private-sector assets which in the instance above was always likely to happen with instruments that have “not been traded in the market.”

The ECB and Steinhoff

Central banks can also get into trouble with assets that have been traded in the market. After all if market prices were always correct they would move much less than they do. In particular minds have been focused in the last 24 hours on this development.

The news that Steinhoff’s long-serving CEO Markus Jooste had quit sent the company’s share price into freefall on Wednesday morning. Steinhoff opened more than 60% lower, falling from its overnight close of R45.65 to as low as R17.57.

Overall, Steinhoff’s share price has dropped more than 80% over the past 18 months. The stock peaked at over R90 in June last year.  ( Moneyweb).

According to Reuters today has seen the same drum beat.

By 0748 GMT, the stock had slid 37 percent to 11.05 rand in Johannesburg, adding to a more than 60 percent plunge in the previous session. It was down about 34 percent in Frankfurt where it had had its primary listing since 2015.

You may be wondering how a story which might ( in fact is…) a big deal and scandal arrives at the twin towers of the ECB or European Central Bank. The first is a geographical move as Steinhoff has operations in Europe and two years ago today listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange. I am not sure that Happy Birthday is quite appropriate for investors who have seen the 5 Euros of then fall to 0.77 Euros now.

Next enter a central bank looking to buy private-sector assets and in this instance corporate bonds.

Corporate bonds cumulatively purchased and settled as at 01/12/2017 €129,087 (24/11/2017: €127,690) million.

One of the ( over 1000) holdings is as you have probably already guessed a Steinhoff corporate bond and in particular one which theoretically matures in 2025. I say theoretically because the news flow is so grim that it may in practice be sooner. From FT Alphaville.

German prosecutors say they are investigating whether Steinhoff International inflated its revenue and book value, one day after the global home retailer announced that its longtime chief executive had quit…The investigators are probing whether Steinhoff flattered its numbers by selling intangible assets and partnership shares without disclosing that it had close connections to the buyers. The suspicious sales were in “three-digit million” euros territory each, according to the prosecutors.

In terms of scale then the losses will not be relatively large as the bond size is 800 million Euros which would mean that the ECB would not buy more than 560 million under its 70% limit but it does pose questions.

they have a minimum first-best credit assessment of at least credit quality step 3 (rating of BBB- or equivalent) obtained from an external credit assessment institution

This leaves us mulling what investment grade actually means these days with egg on the face of the ratings agencies yet again. As time has passed I notice that the “high-quality” of the Bank of England has become the investment grade of the ECB.

The next question is simply to wonder what the ECB is doing here? Its claim that buying these bonds helps it achieve its inflation target of 2% per annum is hard to substantiate. What it has created is a bull market in corporate bonds which may help economic activity as for example we have seen negative yields even in some cases at issue. But there are side-effects such as moral hazard where the ECB has driven the price higher helping what appears to be fraudulent activity.

How much?

For those of you wondering about the size of the losses there are some factors we do not know such as the size of the holding. We do know that the ECB bought at a price over 90 which compares to the 58.2 as I type this. Some amelioration comes from the yield but not much as the coupon is 1.875% and of course that assumes it gets paid.

My understanding of how this is split is that 20% is collective and the other 80% is at the risk of the national central bank. So there may well be some fun and games when the Bank of Finland ( h/t Robert Pearson) finally reports on this.

Comment

There is much to consider here. Whilst this is only one corporate bond it does highlight the moral hazard issue of a central bank buying private-sector assets. There is another one to my mind which is that overall the ECB will have a (paper) profit but that is pretty much driven by its own ongoing purchases. This begs the question of what happens when it stops? Should it then fear a sharp reversal of prices it is in the situation described by Coldplay.

Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle
So I turn to run
And thought of all the stupid things I’d done.

The same is true of the corporate bond buying of the Bank of England which was on a smaller scale but even so ended up buying bonds from companies with ever weaker links ( Maersk) to the UK economy. Even worse in some ways is the issue of how the Bank of Japan is ploughing into the private-sector via its ever-growing purchases of Japanese shares vis equity ETFs. At the same time we are seeing a rising tide of scandals in Japan mostly around data faking.

Me on Core Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/will-bond-yields-ever-go-higher/

 

 

Negative interest-rates and QE have created a house price boom in Germany

A feature of these times is that is called easy monetary policy and this is particularly true in the Euro area. There the European Central Bank has a deposit rate of -0.4% and is undertaking asset or bond purchases of 60 billion Euros a month as well. This means that as of last week over 1.8 trillion Euros of bonds have been bought including some 216 billion Euros of covered bonds which support banks and then mortgage lending. Last week we discovered that some countries “have been more equal than others” in terms of where this 1.8 trillion Euros has ended up. From the ECB.

Excess liquidity has been persistently concentrated within a group of banks located in a limited number of higher-rated countries, i.e. around 80-90 % of excess liquidity is being held in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg (see Chart 1) and even their country shares have been fairly stable across time.

It is fascinating that a country geographically as small as Luxembourg merits a mention. But Reuters updates us on the two main beneficiaries.

The study shows that 60 percent of the money spent by the ECB and national central banks on buying bonds ends up in Germany, where sellers, mainly UK banks, have their accounts. France accounts for a further 20 percent.

Okay and the consequence of this is?

But the fact that the money keeps accumulating in the bloc’s richest countries rather than flowing where it is needed the most risks undoing some of the ECB’s efforts and shows the European Union’s objective to create a banking union is still far from reached.

This makes me wonder about asset prices in the main beneficiary Germany as after all these QE ( Quantitative Easing) policies are claimed to have “wealth effects”.

House Prices in Germany

Let us step into the TARDIS of Dr.Who and go back to February of 2014 when the Financial Times reported this.

House prices in Germany’s biggest cities are overvalued as much as 25 per cent, the Bundesbank warned on Monday, adding to fears that international investment has helped to fuel a property bubble in the eurozone’s largest economy. The German central bank said that residential real estate prices in 125 cities rose by 6.25 per cent on average last year. In October, it reported that property prices in the biggest German cities were 20 per cent overvalued, suggesting the problem is getting worse.

If we move forwards to March 2016 then this from Bloomberg is eye-catching.

German house prices went nowhere for years. Recently they’ve grown faster than the UK.

So what had they done?

House prices have increased 5.6 percent a year over the past five years, according to UBS, which is double the average annual rate of increase since 1970.

As we see in so many other places the rises were concentrated in the major urban areas.

Prices are rising particularly fast in urban areas, where young people increasingly want to live. A gauge of advertised apartment prices in seven major cities including Frankfurt and Berlin rose 14.5 percent in 2015, the most since 2000, according to Empirica, a research institute.

As to “wealth effects” there was something else which is somewhat familiar to say the least.

So far the biggest beneficiaries have been Germany’s listed residential landlords. Cheap debt has enabled them to snap up housing portfolios and smaller rivals, thereby achieving cost savings through scale

What about now?

The Bundesbank calculates its own house price index which covers 127 cities and it rose by 8.3% in 2016 following 7.6% in 2015 and 5.7% in 2014. So according to its own index then prices must be very overvalued now if they were already overvalued back in 2014. Putting it another way the index which was set at 100 in 2011 was at 141.4 at the end of 2016. So quite a rise especially for a nation which has little experience of this as for example the period from 2004 to 2007 which saw such booms in the UK,Spain and Ireland saw no change in house prices in Germany.

In January my old employer Deutsche Bank looked forwards and told us this.

In 2017, we therefore expect rents and property prices in the major German cities, and across the country as a whole, to rise substantially once again…….Munich remains the most dynamic German city when it comes to property, with its fast-rising population and historically low vacancy rate likely to lead to further price increases for many years to come.

There is an element of cheerleading here which of course is a moral hazard issue for banks reporting on property prices which will not be shared by first time buyers in Germany. Those in Berlin will have particular food for thought.

Property prices in Berlin are now twice as high as they were in 2005 and have reached the level of some of the major cities in western Germany.

As of the latest news Europace have constructed an hedonic (quality adjusted) index which rose by 7.6% in the year to March.

What about rents?

These have risen but not by much if the official data is any guide. The rent section of the official Euro area CPI measure rose at an annual rate of 1.6% in March. Although Frankfurt seems to be something of an exception as Bloomberg reports.

The monthly cost of a mid-range two-bedroom apartment in Germany’s financial capital rose 20 percent in 2017 from a year earlier, while the cost of an equivalent living space in London fell by 8 percent, according to a Deutsche Bank study.

Frankfurt rent rises will of course be particularly painful for Deutsche Bank employees.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but what is unarguable is that the easy monetary policy of the ECB has been associated with house price rises. These are noticeable in international terms but are particularly noticeable in a country which escaped any pre credit crunch boom. Also if we use the Bundesbank data above house prices rose by 41.4% in the period 2011-16 whereas real wages only rose by 6.6% ( Destatis) which is quite a gap! I think we know how first- time buyers must feel and yes there is a fair number as whilst Germany has fewer owner occupiers in proportionate terms than the UK they still comprise 51.9% of the housing market.

It is hard to avoid the thought that this house price boom is what central bankers would call a “wealth effect” from their policies, especially if we note that the liquidity seems to have mostly headed to Germany. Of course some of that will be the equivalent of a company name plate on the door but some will be genuine. Meanwhile as we note wealth transfers and inflation there is of course the near record high bond prices and the highs in the Dax 30 equity index seen last week.

 

 

 

The confusion around the Target2 system of the Euro

As the Euro crisis developed there were a wide range of discussions and disagreements. One of the longest lasting and most polarised was and indeed is the one over the Target2 settlement system. There has been a new outbreak of this which has been triggered by a letter published on Friday by ECB (European Central Bank) President Mario Draghi. Let us cut straight to the chase.

If a country were to leave the Eurosystem, its national central bank’s claims on or liabilities to the ECB would need to be settled in full.

Boom! This opens more than one can of worms and one rather large one is opened if we step bank in time to July 2012 and the emphasis is mine.

And so we view this, and I do not think we are unbiased observers, we think the euro is irreversible. And it’s not an empty word now, because I preceded saying exactly what actions have been made, are being made to make it irreversible.

That speech was also famous for something else which is relevant to the discussion.

Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.

So how can you leave something which is irreversible? Accordingly you will not be settling up partly because Mario will not let it happen. That July 2012 speech was a success for keeping the Euro going forwards although reading it again exposes a fair bit of hot air and boasting about relative economic success of which the clearest critic is the ECB’s 1.5 trillion Euros plus of QE (Quantitative Easing) and -0.4% deposit interest-rate.

But as I read the crucial sentence in the letter to Mr Marco Valli (MEP) and Mr Marco Zanni (MEP) my other thought was that Mario Draghi had just boosted the credibility of those who have argued that Target2 balances matter.

How has this come about?

Ironically this is another side-effect of the QE programme.

the recent increase in TARGET2 balances largely reflects liquidity flows stemming from the ECB’s asset purchase programme (APP).

Oops! Also the change is how can one put it? Geographically concentrated.

Almost 80% of bonds purchased by national central banks under the APP were sold by counterparties that are not resident in the same country as the purchasing national central bank, and roughly half of the purchases were from counterparties located outside the euro area, most of which mainly access the TARGET2 payments system via the Deutsche Bundesbank.

As we note that foreign investors have been selling Euro area bonds to the ECB on a large-scale we see this as a consequence of who they have chosen to sell them too.

This, in turn, resulted in an increase in the Deutsche Bundesbank’s TARGET2 balance vis-à-vis the ECB.

With Germanic accuracy we are told that this amounted to 754,262,914,964.24 Euros as of the end of 2016. It may be hard to believe now but back in the early 2000s there were occasions when the German Bundesbank was a debtor in this system but the amounts back then were far far smaller. You will not be surprised to read it became a creditor as the credit crunch hit and at the end of 2008 that amounted to 115.3 billion Euros. At the time of Mario’s “whatever it takes” speech the balance was 727.2 billion Euros. This of course poses the problem that it we are in so much of a better place now why are we seeing a new record surplus? Here is the official reply.

However, the current increase in TARGET2 balances is not a symptom of increased stress and is therefore inherently different from the previous episodes of rising balances.

Ah, so this time is different!

What is Target2?

It is a settlement system which represents the monetary side of transactions described below by the Bundesbank.

These payment transactions can take a wide variety of forms, such as payment for a goods delivery, the purchase or sale of a security, the granting or repayment of a loan or the depositing of funds at a bank, among many others.

Now this reminds me of the case of the way changes in UK £M3 were represented some 30 years or so ago. This is because back then just because there was an accounting identity we were told there had to be a causal identity as well. Sadly that did not go so well. However the scale of Target2 leads to worries.

An average of around 350,000 payments with a value of just under €2½ trillion are processed using TARGET2 each working day, a figure which is broadly equivalent to the size of Germany’s GDP.

Other central banks have settlement systems but you see where the difference is comes from the fact that the Bank of Japan works in an environment of political and monetary union so nobody worries much about balances between Kobe and Osaka. The problem is created because the Euro is an economic concept which crosses national boundaries. Thus these cash-flows cross national boundaries. But the Target2 balances are not a causal force they are a consequence of financial actions elsewhere. For example back in 2011/12 they built up because of the banking crises seen and now they are building up ironically as part of the ECB’s response to that and the subsequent economic problems.

How could it go wrong?

There are two possibilities. The mildest would be something that cannot be settled under the current structure as described by Beate Resazt here.

in Target2 there is always a danger that one leg of a transaction is paid and the counterparty is not willing or able to fulfil its part of the business. For this eventuality banks have to provide collateral. If collateral turns out to be insufficient to realize the full amount the resulting loss is shared by the euro area NCBs in line with their capital shares.

So a risk but after so many stresses we have avoided that so far meaning it is there as a risk but the ECB has so far kept on top of it. The bigger issue is of course someone leaving the Euro as Mario Draghi stated. This poses all sorts of questions. The current fractious state of Brexit negotiations would presumably be considered to be something of a tea-party compared to this so there are genuine dangers. In such an environment the worst case scenario would be if the departing state refused to settle its deficit as after all it would likely be in deficit. Some argue that there is no deficit only claims and perhaps they have a point when everyone is still in the Euro as you can then argue that in essence this is simply a settlement system run by the ECB. But we return to what if you leave when you are now outside the system and refuse to settle up what would now be a deficit?

Comment

As I indicated earlier to my mind rather than being a problem in itself the Target2 issue indicates problems elsewhere. For example the German current account surplus or the way that ECB QE is settled mostly at the German Bundesbank. So when we see headlines like “debt” or “profit and loss” I am not convinced as it is an accounting system telling us about flows of cash. Of course cash flow leads many companies to come a cropper and indeed can do to governments as we are reminded again that this would not be a subject for debate beyond regional policy if there was fiscal and political union.

Somebody leaving seems likely to be an explosive event both politically and economically and in the turmoil lots would happen. For example a new currency for the country concerned and probably an element of default on debts too. This would bounce around the Target2 system but it would be an accounting identity rather than a cause.